Tested: The Google+ App for Android Smartphones

By Ryan Whitwam

Take a look around before the service officially launches.

As Google+ invites continue trickling out, many Android users are about to have their first encounter with the new Google+ app. This app brings together all the pieces of Google+ with some unique features for mobile devices. it’s not just the Stream and updates. Google+ for Android is cunningly designed to make it easy to fall into the new Google social ecosystem.

Whether you want to chat, share, or backup your content, the Google+ app has you covered. Read on for the full rundown along with some tips and tricks.

Home screen and notifications

When you open Google+, it presents you with all your options represented by these handy icons. You’ve got Stream, Huddle, Photos, Profile, and Circles. Tapping each of these will take you to the corresponding part of the app. For us, the first real test of an app like this is how often it sends you to the web for pieces of functionality. In the case of Google+, all the content you need is contained within the native app.

Down at the bottom of the screen is the notification pane. It’s sort of the reverse of the system notification shade. Tap it to slide up a list of your notifications. New items are bolded, and you can tap on any of them to go to the item you are being notified about. You can scroll through this to see the last few days of notifications as well.

Now lets take a look at each of the sections in Google+

Stream

The stream is the timeline of content your Google+ friends have shared with you. You get the main post along with any +1s and comments below it. Thankfully, Google+ does not expand all these by default on a mobile device. It will show the two most recent comments, and the total +1 score. You may tap on the comment area to go to a new screen with all the comments laid out. This is also where you can +1 a post.

Currently, the order of posts in the Stream are determined by the last activity. If a post gets a lot of attention from other users, it hovers near the top of your stream. If you follow popular users, the Google+ Stream might end up overloaded with them. We’re not super-pleased with this system, but Google is reportedly tweaking how this will work in the future.

Up at the top of the Stream is the omnipresent options bar. On the left is a shortcut back to the home screen. Off to the right are Check-in, photo, and compose buttons. So right there you have all the tools you need to crate new posts. Already, checking in through Google+ feels more useful than Latitude. You find the location, add any text you like, and you can even toss in your own images as well. Throughout Google+, your posts can be constrained to difference circles, or even made public. Google has gone to great pains making the process of selecting circles as easy as possible.

When you are viewing the Stream, try swiping side to side to see the Nearby and Incoming feeds. Nearby is just the public posts that are near you geographically. You probably won’t know these people, but you might make some new friends. Incoming is a little odd. This is a feed just of people that have you in their Circles, but you do not have them in yours. Maybe it’s an easy was to evaluate the stuff they share so you can decide if you want to add them? At any rate, it’s interesting to have.

Huddle

This is a mobile-only feature of Google+. Huddle is group messaging for anyone on a smartphone, but to really make use of it you need an app. Tap the icon in the corner of the Huddle UI to start a new conversation. You can enter a name, email, or circle up top to invite users to the chat.

Fellow Android users with the app installed will get a notification like any other message. When you send something to one person, there will be a little gray envelope next to your text. When it is viewed by your chat buddy, it becomes an open envelope. This has shades of BBM and we really dig it. For actual group chats, the envelope isn’t present. We would like to see individual read receipts someday.

If one of the users does not have a Huddle enabled app, they will get an email telling them they’ve been invited to a chat. It directs them to the mobile web client. This interface works, but not nearly as well as the native app.

One last tip here: you can add a huddle shortcut to the home screen by finding the dedicated Huddle icon in your app drawer and dropping it on the home screen. This will open the Google+ app right to Huddle.

Photos

Google wants you to share, and making your photos easily accessible is a good way to do that. To those ends, Google has added a truly useful feature to the app called Instant Upload. Hit the main app settings to enable this. When enabled, you can set parameters for uploads like usage of mobile data, roaming, and battery level.

When your conditions are met, Google+ will sync all your new photos and videos to Picasa, thus adding them to Google+. Everything uploaded in this manner is stored in a private album that you are free to share as you like. If you want to get your backlog of old content into Google’s cloud, just tap “Upload existing photos”. If you’ve got a lot of content, we suggest doing this over Wi-Fi. If you want to pause the upload, tap that line again. You can resume at any time.

Keep in mind that this will pull pictures from everywhere on your SD card. Not just in the DCIM folder. Videos seem to be limited to the camera folder, though. We would like to see the option to exclude various folders added later.

We uploaded about 3GB of data to Google+. That was possible because of some changes to Picasa. Google+ users have unlimited storage of photos 2048x2048 or smaller and video 1080p at 15 minutes or less. So your images are probably going to be scaled down a bit, which is a bummer. But having your pics in Google+ makes for really convenient sharing. In the Photos section, you will have an entry called “From your phone” that makes it easy to share. Just fill the checkbox under images you want to post. In Photos you can also see comments people have left on your pics.

Profile

This is mostly what it sounds like. This icon links you to your profile, and opens to your post history. Tap the buttons along the bottom to see your About screen, and Photos. This will only be the information available to others on Google+. Your private photos won’t be listed.

This is also the UI used when you view other users’ profiles. You cannot edit anything in your profile here, which is sad but expected.

Circles

This is one of the killer apps for Google+ in our opinion. The Circles interface will list all your circles and tell you how many people are in each one. Tap on a circle to view the full list and check out the buttons at the bottom of the screen. You can see posts or photos from this just this Circle. We really like this option.

Back on the list of Circles, you can also hit the People button at the bottom to see everyone in a list along with the option to view suggested people. Adding people by name or email is accomplished by hitting the ‘+’ button up top and filling in the search.

Whether you find your way to a person’s profile through Circles, or from elsewhere in Google+, just tap the Add to Circles button under the person’s name to add them. You get the option to check the Circles you want them in, or you can create a new Circle.

Google+ is a robust social networking app for Android that brings some really useful functionality. We especially like Huddle and Instant Upload, which you can really only use effectively with the app.

Like most apps, Google+ has its own individual notification setting. It works well for the most part. Huddle messages are delivered promptly, but some less important notifications come in much later that the corresponding email notification would. Another issue we have is that you cannot alter your profile from within the app. We’re not holding our breath, but it would be nice. Lastly, it would be nice if Google would up the limit for photo resolution. Even 5MP shots will be scaled down. We understand why they’re limiting it, but Google+ could be the ultimate photo backup service if they raised the limit.

If you've had a chance to check out Google+ on Android, let us know how you like it.

Lead image via Pocket-Lint