EletiofeHow to Use ‘Circle to Search’ on an Android...

How to Use ‘Circle to Search’ on an Android Phone

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As you’ve no doubt noticed, tech companies are pushing artificial intelligence into as many of their products as they can at a ferocious rate. One of the newest AI-powered features to make its way to Android phones is called Circle to Search.

Here’s the idea: There’s something on your phone screen that you want to search the web for, whether it’s the name of a restaurant in a text message or a cute new lamp in a photo you’ve found on social media. Rather than having to copy the text or save the image to move it over to a browser app, you just … circle the item with your finger, and your phone searches for it.

It’s particularly useful for image searches, because you don’t need to work out a text prompt that Google will understand. The feature is partially powered by Google Lens, the visual search tool that’s been around for several years.

Circle to Search is quick, convenient, and genuinely useful—not something you can say about every AI feature launched in the last few months.

It’s not available on every phone though. At the time of writing, you need a Google Pixel 6 (from 2021) or later, or a Samsung Galaxy S23 (from 2023) or later. There have been hints that it’ll come to more handsets in the future, and a quick web search should tell you whether or not your own model is currently supported.

Enabling Circle to Search

Make sure Circle to Search is turned on.

Courtesy of David Nield

First of all, make sure you’re running the latest software for your phone: Circle to Search was announced in January 2024 alongside Samsung’s Galaxy S24 series, and has since been pushed out to more handsets. On a Pixel phone, choose System and Software updates from Settings; on a Galaxy phone, it’s just Software update from Settings.

To enable Circle to Search on the Pixel phones, open up the main Settings page, then pick Display and Navigation mode. You’ve got two options here: Gesture or button navigation. Whichever you’re using, tap the gear icon next to the current mode, then turn on the Circle to Search toggle switch.

Over on the Samsung Galaxy phones, open up Settings, then tap Display and Navigation bar. Again, you have the option to jump between the gesture and button navigation modes, but here there’s just one Circle to Search toggle switch that covers both modes. As long as it’s enabled, you can use Circle to Search.

Using Circle to Search

You can scribble to search, if you prefer.

Courtesy of David Nield

Part of what makes Circle to Search so helpful is you can use it anywhere: In your web browser, in a social media feed, or in a text conversation. All you need to do is press and hold on the navigation handle or the home button at the bottom of the screen, depending on whether you’re using gesture or button navigation. The handle is a little harder to hit accurately, but you’ll get the hang of it. You’ll have to hold your finger there for a second or so; again, you’ll get the hang of the timing and it will become second nature.

A blue tint covers the screen, and you’re ready to start circling. Although you wouldn’t know it by the name of the feature, you can either circle whatever you want to run a search on, or scribble over it, or just tap it. Whatever the method you use, your phone will try to work out what you want to select; for this reason, it works best for objects clearly distinguishable from their backgrounds.

In addition to images, you can also search pieces of text, headlines, book titles, or entire paragraphs. It can even be used on math equations; tell your kids they can use it when they get stuck on their physics homework.

You’ll see borders appear around whatever it is that Circle to Search thinks you want to know more about. You can use the handles in the corner to adjust the selection if it’s not quite in the right place or if it’s not selecting what you want to use as your search prompt. At this point, you should see search results pop up at the bottom of the screen—if you’ve selected text, you’ll also see options to copy or translate it.

You can search for images and text.

Courtesy of David Nield

Just tap on any search result to jump to it. To add to the search query—maybe you want to ask where to buy something, or you want to know exactly what it is, or you want to know where in the world it is—just tap in the search box and type in your additions. (Use the mic button if you’d rather speak them out loud.)

Tap on a search result and you won’t be taken straight to it. Instead, you’ll be given more information about it, together with some related searches. You then need to select Visit to jump to the website, YouTube video, or whatever it is. (Your phone will launch the relevant app.)

There are a couple of options you can get to by tapping the three dots up in the top right corner of the Circle to Search interface: You can see your search history, and delete the last 15 minutes of search queries. (For more options on deleting your search history, visit your Google account page on the web.) To quit out of the Circle to Search interface, tap the X in the top left corner.

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