How to use the new Circle to Search tool

It’s not uncommon for me to see something on my phone screen that I want to know more about, and Google always wants to make it easier to get to, well, Google. And so we have Circle to Search, a new way to look up information on mobile devices.

The idea is quite simple – and in fact simplicity is its main selling point. In a video, Samsung (which makes one of the phones that has this feature) gives the example of someone seeing an orange dog light in an image, and instead of doing a text search describing what he’s looking at, he discovers that they can simply circle the lamp with their finger to get matches from the Internet.

Shopping is the obvious use case here, but you can also identify plants and animals, look up words, and get context about everything you see—in other words, everything a Google search can be.

Nice is not it? Yes, it is – if you have the right device.

Circle to Search was announced at the launch of the Samsung Galaxy S24 in mid-January and is available on the Samsung Galaxy S24, the Galaxy S24 Plus and the Galaxy S24 Ultra. From the end of January it also came to the Google Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro.

Hopefully the feature will be available on other Android phones in the future, although we wouldn’t bet on anything launched before 2023.

If you’re using Android with navigation buttons, long press the Home button (the circle) to launch Circle to Search. If you use gestures to navigate, long-press the navigation handle at the bottom of the screen to access the feature.

The first time you do this, you will see an introductory screen explaining how the feature works. Crane Try it nowand you’re good to go. (This screen will not appear for subsequent searches.)

Despite the name of this feature, you don’t actually have to circle anything to base a search on it. You can drag a line over it (useful for text), you can scribble on top of it, or you can just tap it and let Android’s AI smarts try to figure out what you’re trying to select. (Usually it’s quite accurate.)

If you have the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra, you can use the S Pen instead of your finger. You’ll see handles around whatever you’ve selected, and you can tap and drag them around if you want to expand or narrow the search selection.

The results that appear on the screen are very reminiscent of what you get with Google Lens. In fact, as far as I know, Circle to Search is simply a faster way to access the visual search available in Google Lens. Scroll down to see more results and tap a result to view it on the web.

Once you’ve mastered the basics, you can expand your searches with additional context. The pop-up results have a search bar at the top: tap here to type an additional search query (or tap the microphone icon to use your voice instead).

So you might ask yourself, “What can I wear this to?” for a condiment (Google’s own example), or ask, “Why is this trending?” or “What country is this in?” It’s a useful way to create searches that are a little more complex than simply searching an image.

What you can’t do yet, as far as I know, is select multiple items on the screen and then compare them or perform multiple searches at the same time. Additionally, some results may be hit or miss depending on the quality of your selection and the number of other similar-looking images on the Internet.

Still, this seems like a really useful addition to Android. The real beauty of it is the way it works alongside other apps: an Instagram caption, for example, or a web page image or artwork on a podcast. It doesn’t matter whether the app in question allows you to select text or save images.

To exit Circle to Search, tap the X in the top left corner. Tap the three dots in the top right corner and you’ll be given options to view your Google search history (across all apps and services) and delete the last 15 minutes of your search history.

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