Google+ invites are open again and almost anyone who knows someone already using Google+ can jump in. While the desktop version of Google+ is compelling, the real potential lies with its mobile app. If you're on an Android phone, the Google+ app and bundled Huddle app are yours to download. Much like Facebook's app, the Google+ app gives you quick and easy access to your profile, Stream, photos, Circles, and Huddle-- the group instant messaging feature of Google+.
Google+ even includes NFC capabilities in the new app for reading and sharing tag, though you'll have to have one of the few NFC-enabled phones on the market for it to work. However, it demonstrates that Google+ isn't a project that will soon be cast aside by the Googleplex since NFC chips will soon be showing up in more devices.
In the meantime, you've got an Android device and you've got Google+. Here's how to take full advantage of this social network on the go.
When you first open the Google+ app, they layout is eerily similar to Facebook's app. There are five large icons on-screen for Stream, Huddle, Photos, Profile, and Circles with a notification bar displaying the current number of notifications at the bottom.
Clicking on Stream takes you to the most current news from your friends in your circles. Swipe your finger to the left along the light grey bar with arrows on either side to see incoming posts. Incoming posts are from people you are friends with, but who you haven't added to a circle. Swipe your finger to the right along the light grey bar to see posts happening near you. If you don't have friends posting near you, Google+ will display a feed of public posts happening in your area.
At the top of the screen are posting options. Tap the check mark to check in somewhere, the camera to take or upload a photo, or the pencil to write a post. When you compose a post, you can choose who you want to share it with by clicking the arrow just below the Post button. This takes you to a list of your circles and of your friends. From here, you can easily fine tune exactly who you want to read your post. In addition to sharing your thoughts, you can also add the location you're posting from (unfortunately you can't create locations yet) and add a photo.
Huddle is the feature that sets the Google+ Android app apart from its desktop sibling. It's basically group instant messaging for your circles, but with text messaging convenience. Want to let the whole group you're running late? Go into either the stand alone Huddle app or access it from Google+. Tap on the message bubble at the top of the screen. Next, start entering a name, email address, or circle (such as Friends). As you type, Google+ will auto-populate search results with names from your phone contacts in addition to Google+ contacts.
Type a message like you would a regular text or instant message and hit Send. All of the people or the entire circle you included in the "To" section will receive the message and receive a notice that there's a new message via the notification bar. Overall, we really like how Huddle works. It seems just as a quick as a group text message, but we like how everyone can see who is included in the message and respond accordingly.
Photos and Instant Upload
The Photos section of the app divides your images into four categories which are visible after you tap on Photos from the app's homescreen: photos from your circles, photos of you, your albums, and photos from your phone. Every few seconds the images will change to different photos-- it's a nice touch.
Another feature that is specific to the Google+ app is Instant Upload, which automatically uploads all of the photos you take with your camera to a private web album within your Google+ account and Picasa. It's a great way to keep track of the photos you take with your phone and even see them on a full-size laptop screen. To enable Instant Upload on your phone, press the Menu button from the app homescreen and then tap Settings> Instant Upload Settings. Check the box at the top to enable Instant Upload, then fine tune your preferences. If you choose to upload all of the existing photos and videos on your phone, the app will start uploading them. Otherwise, it will only upload pictures and videos you take from this point forward.
Whether you choose to upload all of your photos or just some of them, you can specify when to upload your media by tapping Mobile Uploads. If you're on a capped data plan, you'll probably want to only upload photos and videos when you're connected to Wi-Fi. If you want instant access however, you can also opt for uploading photos and videos-- or photos only-- via mobile networks. To further customize Instant Upload, you can select to upload while your phone is roaming or to only upload when the phone is charging. We really like the granular controls for Instant Upload; it's easily customizable for almost any phone data plan-- whether it's an unlimited plan or restricted to just 200MB a month.
In addition to Instant Upload, Google+ also gives you the option of geo-tagging your photos before posting them to your Google+ profile. Just like the location options for a regular post, you can't add fake locations that Google doesn't recognize as real places.
Just like on the desktop version, Circles holds the key for organizing your friends and your relationships with them. Much like Facebook's friends list, you can view all of your friends in a list by tapping on Circles from the app homescreen, then the Friends tab at the bottom of the screen. At top of the screen is a shadow of head and a + sign which allows you to search through your friends list, your device's phone book, or public profiles on Google+. If the person you search for is already in one of your Circles, it'll show which one. If the person is just in your phone book, you're given the option of added them to a Circle, or contacting them via one of the ways listed in your phone book. Finally, for public profiles, you have the option of adding the person to a Circle.
If you decide to add someone to a Circle, the app will prompt you to add them to a current Circle or to create a new one. You can view your circles by tapping the Circles tab at the bottom of the page. The only way to create a Circle from the app is to either add a new person or click on the person whom you want to put in a new Circle. Then tap the current Circle listing next to their profile picture to edit which Circles they are in or to add a new one.
Note that the e-mail address listed underneath your friend's name pulls from your phone book entry for that person, not their Google+ profile information, which means older contacts could have defunct e-mail addresses. Tap on the person's profile to see the information they list (if any), and update your phone book as needed.
Tapping on the Profile link from the homescreen of the app takes you to your personal profile. However, the version of your profile shown within the app is much less detailed than the one shown on the desktop version. You can only see the About, Posts, and Photos parts of your profile and you cannot currently edit it from the app. As of right now, any changes you want to make must be done online. It's not clear whether Google will add this functionality to the app at later date, but we certainly hope they do.
Google has definitely built a solid app for its social network and we look forward to seeing how it develops-- both on Android and on other platforms. Stay tuned.