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Google Lens: My 7 favorite ways to use this amazing image tool

If you're not using Google Lens every day, then you're not taking full advantage of this enormously useful tool. Consider some of these entertaining and practical applications.
Written by Maria Diaz, Staff Writer
Google Lens for plant ID

One of my go-to ways to use Google Lens is plant identification, but it goes far beyond that.

Maria Diaz/ZDNET

I recently stumbled upon a Google blog post detailing various ways to use Google Lens -- from translating street signs to searching for skin conditions. To my surprise, many of my favorite uses of Google Lens weren't on the list. So, I made my own list!

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Google Lens is an image recognition tool that uses artificial intelligence through advanced deep learning algorithms trained on massive datasets to identify objects and text. It can identify items within an image captured in real-time with your phone or uploaded to the Google Lens app. According to announcements at last month's Google I/O, Google Lens is also coming to Bard, allowing users to upload photos to Google's AI tool.

These are some ways that Google Lens helps improve my life every day.  

1. What is that bug or plant?

Woman photographing flowers though mobile phone in garden - stock photo
Westend61/Getty Images

This is probably my favorite way to use Google Lens. As a gardener, I enjoy spreading wildflower seeds each spring. The only problem with those big bags of wildflower seeds is that many different kinds of flowers are in them, so you don't always know what you'll get. 

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Whenever a surprise beauty blossoms, I love launching my Google app and looking it up with Lens. Within seconds and without fail, I have my answer.

And it's not only great for flowers; it is an excellent feature for any outdoor lover who wants to identify a mystery plant or an unfamiliar insect. 

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At the request of my young kids, I frequently find myself looking for bugs; as a result, I've learned more than I'd ever expected about Japanese beetles, carrion beetles, and cucumber beetles, to name a few.

Beyond bugs, Google Lens can identify different species of almost any animal. It can also recognize dog and cat breeds if you're wondering about a pet.

2. Digitize your handwritten notes

Candid shot of two young businesswomen sitting at coffee table in a modern office, having a project briefing. They are looking at something on smart phone and analyzing data on a clipboard while engaging in casual discussion.
fotostorm/Getty Images

As a pen-and-paper fan, I prefer to take notes by hand, but I always wish to have that information on my phone too. I don't carry my notebook or bullet journal everywhere but I always have my iPhone

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With Google Lens, I can scan the text in an image, and Lens will select it and give me the option to copy and paste it wherever I want -- for example, into my Notes app or Freeform. This way, I have my notes wherever I go, and Lens has proven to be pretty reliable at reading my cursive writing, which is a plus. 

3. Be your travel companion

Rear view of a young man taking pictures of Montmartre street with smart phone, Paris, France - stock photo
Alexander Spatari/Getty Images

When traveling, Google Lens can serve as a translator and tour guide.

Automatic translation

If you're somewhere you don't speak the language; Google Lens can help you read menus at restaurants, signs above shops and museums, and street signs -- in over 100 languages. 

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All it takes is scanning the text you need to translate with your phone camera using the Translate feature, and Google Lens will show the translation onscreen, overlaid above the words. You can also upload or snap a photo.

Recognize buildings

Google Lens can also recognize buildings and landmarks from images in case you need to find your way or want to figure out which one is the Leaning Tower of Pisa. (Hint: it's the leaning one.)

4. Figure out that peculiar gym equipment

Woman taking photo of dumbbell through mobile phone while sitting on floor at home - stock photo
Westend61/Getty Images

Many gym goers know the feeling: There's that one machine they avoid because they have no clue what to do with it or what it will do for them. If you feel unfamiliar with a piece of equipment at your local gym or are unsure if you're using it correctly, you can capture and look it up with Google Lens.

This will help you figure out how it's supposed to be used, how to do it safely, and what benefits it has for your physical health. 

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And Google Lens isn't only excellent for unfamiliar gym equipment; you can also use it to take a photo of your favorite free weights and find inspiration for new strength exercises to do with them.

5. Help your kid with homework

Father helping teenage daughter with revision - stock photo
Justin Paget/DigitalVision/Getty Images

This is one of the best ways to use AI, as it introduces children to use it as a tool for work and makes everyone's lives easier, parents included.

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If your kid is stumped by their math homework and comes to you to help them with their equations, you can easily impress them by scanning the equation and letting Google Lens handle it.

Aside from visually handling homework tasks, Google Lens can also take on translations, which can come in handy for your child's foreign language classes; and, as shown above, it can quickly help digitize notes, which is a plus when your students need to study for an important exam.

6. Shop around, instantly

Lens and Bard

The phrase 'Where did you get those shoes?' will have you whipping your phone from your pocket faster than a toddler with a candy bar. With Google Lens, you can take a photo of the lovely pair of shoes or beautiful purse you admire and instantly get a list of similar items to shop for online.

Of course, this isn't limited to fashion. Lens can be a lifesaver for a parent of a preschooler when a favorite-but-unique stuffed animal goes missing. If you're ever in that position, use Google Lens to look up a photo of the toy and it'll give you a list of similar ones available to buy. 

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Anything you can think of could be available for sale on the vast terrains of the internet. If you break a TV remote and need the exact replacement, Lens can probably find it for you. That plumbing part in your shower that you have no idea what it's called, but you definitely need to replace? Lens can probably find the right part, though you should also contact a plumber. 

7. Find out what's for dinner

Girl taking photo of vegan Lunch bowl with cell phone, close-up - stock photo
Westend61 via Getty Images

I remember the moment I first met a Brazil nut. I was a young child eating trail mix and encountered an enormous piece, so tough it should be illegal -- but I had no idea what it was. For years I didn't know the name of the Brazil nut; I only knew to avoid it in my bag of trail mix. Not until my teens did I learn the name of the nut that had taunted me for years -- how I wish I had Google Lens back then.

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The 'Dining' feature on Google Lens can recognize the foods in your photos. If you ever see a dish that looks appetizing in a picture but you aren't sure what it is, Lens can look it up. 

Bewildered by the menu at a new exotic restaurant you decided to try? Google Lens can scan menus and show images of each menu item when you tap on them. This feature is perfect for identifying individual ingredients -- fruits and vegetables -- and complete dishes, from paella to pasta primavera.

Those are some of my favorite uses of Google Lens. What are your favorites? Let me know in the comments below.

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