Google+, if you don’t already know, is Google’s attempt at building a social network to compete with the likes (no pun intended) of Facebook and Twitter. They have announced the service and launched it into a private “field test” beta, which really became pretty public once we found out we can send invites to anyone with a Gmail. Obviously, with Google trying to push Google+ out and get it exposure, they had already developed an Android app to partner the desktop version for the product’s launch. The app is free, and in the Market for anyone with a Google+ invite to download. This article is not a review of Google+ itself, but merely the Android app that accompanies it.
Google+ was launched with the basic components of a social network, and four specific components that set it apart: Hangouts, Sparks, Circles, and Huddle. Hangouts is a way for you and your friends to get together via video chat, and “hang out” without actually being with each other. This is great and all, but as of right now that only goes as far as the desktop. On the Google+ Android app Hangouts is nowhere to be found, and if you try and join one of your friend’s Hangouts you are told “this device is not supported”. Now, Google just launched this product, and clearly told us it is only a taste of what’s to come. I am just hope “what’s to come” integrates Hangouts into the mobile app. No this isn’t a crippling problem, Hangouts is still a great feature, but how much better could it be if you and your friends could Hangout on the go? A lot better.
Next we have Sparks. This is probably the one feature that didn’t have me too excited when I first heard about Google+. Sparks is a way to search for things you are interested in and add them to your interests so you can connect and share with your friends. One good thing about this is that is uses Google’s search engine to find the best results and stories to what you’re interested in, and this can lead to really replicating the real life experience of you and your friends being into something. Other than that, Sparks just tells me what I already know, if I’m interested in Android, I don’t need Sparks to tell me that and show me stories I’ve already read. That’s just me though, for some people, this may be a great feature. I’m just one of the people that does my own researching and reading when I’m interested in something. Sparks seems like it was directed at a time when you’re bored and there is nothing going on so you go read online. This may be why they didn’t include it into the Android app. Most of the time when you’re out and about you’re not online bored trying to find new interests. This, unlike Hangouts, is a feature that I can understand not being included in the mobile application.
That covers the two main features not included in the mobile app, so now let’s move on to Circles, my personal favorite. Circles is a way to add your friends to certain groups just like you would in real life. You share certain things with certain people in real life, so why can’t you do the same thing on the internet. This is a good idea, and it really works well for Google+, but does it work well with the mobile app. My answer is yes. At the home screen of the app you can see an option to choose Circles. When you choose this option you can view and edit your Circles, and even add new people to Circles. This offers the same features as the desktop site, except for deleting, which really isn’t an often used feature anyways. From the Circles page you can start Huddles, view profiles, and do just about anything else you need. Circles in the Android app is a success in my book.
The only “mobile-only” feature of Google+ besides Instant Upload is Huddle. Huddle is a mobile group chat between you and your friends or Circles. Huddle is available to choose in the Google+ app, but also has it’s own standalone app on your phone when you install Google+, much like Navigation and Places comes with Maps. This really shows the emphasis Google is placing on Huddle, which is one of the main ways people can take advantage of Circles. You can quickly and easily chat with all of your friends and Circles using Huddle, and it really has a nice, clean UI. Pictures are shown next to names, and if tapped they take you to the person’s profile. The whole system is just very well put together and executed in the Android app for Google+. One thing that I am REALLY glad Google did with Huddle is add the option for non-smartphone users to participate. Sure us Android users have the Google+ and Huddle app, and iPhone users get a mobile site, but what about people with feature phones? After reading up on Huddle, Google has given specific commands that can be sent and received from SMS to join and participate in Huddles just like your smartphone friends. This is VERY important for Google to push Google+ to those who are less tech-savvy, even to the point of no using smartphones. I am happy to see everyone given the option to participate in Huddles.
Other than those four main features, there is also the ability to view your stream. This is very fullt featured, and functions well. You can follow conversations, swipe between Circles, Incoming, and Nearby posts (just like the swipe feature added in the Google Docs app). +1-ing things is also there, and just about everything you would expect to see in the stream is there and functioning properly so far. Again, job well done.
Google+ is no doubt a new service, and the Android app is no doubt a new app. I love Google+ don’t get me wrong, but the Android app really doesn’t give me the same “connected” feel as the desktop version. Obviously, the desktop versions will always be at least a little more fully featured, but I feel there is still room to improve with the Android app. Most of the things that need to be there are, the stream is stellar, Huddle works great, Circles is there, but what about Hangouts? Notifications come, but are slightly delayed, unlike other Google apps like Gmail or Google Talk. Yes, I know this is still a new app and service, I am just pointing out where I see room for improvement. Google always gets it done (except for Buzz…and Wave…), and I really think they will give a TON of support to Google+ and its apps. Overall, it’s a fantastic app that functions well and does all of the core things. Still though, there are some things they can improve and I’m sure they will. Google+ is definitely worth checking out, and if you do have an Android phone (which most of TheDroidGuy readers do), then definitely download the app. I would really like to see Google+ be a success, and it can only come from the support of users, so tell people about it. Happy +1-ing.
about the writer: Elijah Ketchum is a 16 year old sophomore in High School in Cincinnati OH. His Android experience started with the Motorola Droid and his since upgraded to the HTC Thunderbolt. He enjoys everything about Android and convincing his iPhone fan boy classmates to switch. He recently convinced his father, a long term Blackberry user to switch to a Motorola Droid X. Like Elijah’s writing? Have questions? email firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @ElijahIsMe & @thedroidboy