First Look: Google Docs App for Android


My company has been using Google Apps (s goog) for a few years now; it provides a simple way to collaborate on documents and spreadsheets, and it’s easy to share documents with clients. Google has now released a Google Docs app for Android to complement the web app. I’ve installed it on my HTC Evo 4G, and it looks like it will be a useful tool, offering the ability to create, edit and collaborate on documents while on the go.

The app installs quickly, and it’s reasonably sized at around 2.5 MB. Unfortunately, it can’t be moved to an SD card.

When I first launched the app, it didn’t ask me to log in to my Google Apps account, since my phone already syncs with my account. It took a few minutes for the documents in my account to appear in the app’s home screen. You can scroll down to see previous documents, or click the search icon.

Once in a document, you can edit it by clicking on the “Edit” button, which appears to take you to the mobile web version of Google Apps, but it’s so tightly integrated with the app that it’s hard to tell. You can also upload documents from your phone, print documents through Google Cloud Print, and access a web-based help function.

Editing word processing documents is pretty easy; just click anywhere in a document and the current paragraph will be outlined in blue and the keyboard will pop up. Editing spreadsheets is a bit trickier, but still reasonably easy to navigate. I’m not sure I would care to write an entire document in this editor, but it’s fine for minor edits.

The Google Docs app also lets users create documents from photos taken with the phone’s camera, and even tries to convert them into text using optical character recognition (OCR). Just click on the new document icon and select “document from photo.” Take a picture with the camera, give your new document a name (or let the app assign one), then wait a few seconds for the new document to appear in the document list, or go off and do something else. The app notifies you when the conversion is finished.

Unfortunately, the results were less than stellar. Here’s a sample of a document created from an 8″ x 6″ card that I happened to have, about a solar charger I recently wrote about. As you can see, Google Docs only managed to recognize a couple of lines. Results weren’t any better with several other printed documents and business cards that I tried. It’s hard to say whether Google’s OCR system is limited (although Simon has previously reported reasonably good results from using Google Docs OCR), or whether the photos my camera takes just aren’t good enough, but at least the Google Docs app also includes the original image in the document, so you can edit it manually as needed.

There’s also a widget with direct links to open the app, go directly to starred documents, take a photo to upload, and create a new document.

I’m impressed with the app so far, with the exception of its OCR capabilities.

The free Google Docs app is currently available in English and works on Android 2.1+ phones. It’s  available by scanning the QR code, or by visiting the Android Market.

Have you tried the Google Docs app? What do you think?

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