One of the most-used apps by far on my Android phone as a person with low vision is the Google Lens app. In the last 24 hours, I’ve used it seven times for various tasks around my house and tasks related to accessing my schoolwork, and I love showing it to people with newly diagnosed low vision because it can be a game changer for how they access items in their environment. Here is my Google Lens review for low vision users from my own personal experiences using the app.
What is Google Lens?
Google Lens is a free Android app that uses image recognition technology to provide information about objects that it identifies. Google Lens is also part of the Google Assistant camera, though I chose to download the app as it was a bit easier to use.
Google Lens can do the following things:
- Translate text in another language
- Copy text from the camera with OCR
- Identify objects through image recognition
- Scan barcodes or identify items and provide information about a product
- Give more information about dishes on a menu
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Download Google Lens
Google Lens can be downloaded for free on the Google Play Store at the link below. It is currently not available for iOS, though I highly recommend the Seeing AI app which has similar functionality.
If the app is not available for download for your phone, I recommend checking out your existing camera app as Google Lens may already be a built in function- this was the case with a family member’s new Motorola phone.
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The Google Lens app works like any other camera app, as users have to press on an icon to take a picture. Users can choose what mode to use by swiping on the bottom of the screen to access the translation, text, automatic, shopping, and dining modes that can provide specific information. Once the user presses on the icon at the center of their screen, there will be a pop-up on the bottom of the screen that provides information about the item or takes the user to a Google search page with additional information. Pictures taken in Google Lens are not stored in the gallery or camera unless the user takes a screenshot.
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Learning to use Google Lens
When one of my family members with acquired vision loss got a new Android phone, I spent about twenty minutes teaching them to use Google Lens with their new phone by doing the following things:
- First, I talked to them about challenges that they have with identifying certain objects, and got an idea of what they would need the most help with. In this case, it was with identifying labels, reading small text at their job, and identifying different objects.
- I then had them open up the Google Lens app and showed them the different options they could use to complete these tasks, going over each mode individually
- Next, we went into the kitchen and practiced scanning labels from cans of soup with the product feature, and then practiced reading expiration labels that were on poor contrast backgrounds.
- After that, we found some examples of small text that they would read at their job and used the flashlight option at the top of the screen to make it easier to illuminate the text.
- Finally, I showed them how to take pictures of objects and have them be identified. We practiced this with plants and items on the floor, as well as their dog who was excited to be included in the technology lesson
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Google Lens supports the large text on my phone well, and if information is cut off I am able to copy it to another app or pull up a page in Google Chrome with ease. The app also works well with Select-to-Speak and can read text results easily, and also works well with TalkBack, though I found that I often had to open the text results in Google Chrome to get all of the information.
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Google Lens vs Google Lookout
One of my friends asked me if there was a difference between the Google Lens app and the Google Lookout app, and I had this question as well when I first tested the Lookout app at the ATIA conference. While they are powered by the same technology, Google Lens is more like a still image camera, as the user has to press a button in order to get information about an object, while Google Lookout is more like a video camera that is constantly giving user information about objects around them and reading information out loud. I have both apps downloaded, though I tend to use Google Lens more often.
What I use it for
Some examples of ways that I use Google Lens include:
- Reading short notes from my friends
- Identifying different breeds of dogs or different plants
- Learning more about art and getting high resolution images of artwork in a museum
- Checking for more information about a product at the store or finding the product online
- Getting more information about an unfamiliar food on a menu
- Translating a Christmas card written in French to English
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I love the Google Lens app, and consider it one of the most important apps for someone with low vision to have on their Android phone, as I rarely go more than a few hours without using it. I cannot recommend it enough for completing simple tasks and making objects and information easier to recognize and access.