Visually splashy Google+ for Android catches up to iOS

The photo-first look brings new polish to the Google+ app for Google's mobile OS. You also can start hangouts from Android devices. But it still needs improvement.

The new Google+ app for Android puts photos front and center.
The new Google+ app for Android puts photos front and center. screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

Google has released the Android version of an overhauled Google+ app, part of the company's attempt to move to a "simpler, more beautiful Google," in the words of Vic Gundotra, the company's senior vice president of engineering.

The new app catches up with the iOS Google+ app that Google released a couple of weeks ago with a new visually rich, photo-first interface. And in some ways it surpasses it, for example in its support for tablets.

Google trails Facebook by far when it comes to the magnitude of membership on the overt social-network Google+ site, but the company is trying to compensate by wiring Google+ social interactions into major properties including Gmail, YouTube, and search. And it's trying to outdo Facebook in features, too -- thus today's app update.

Among the new app's features:

The new interface can get cluttered with busy images combined with text, comment boxes, and the +1 icon.
The new interface can get cluttered with busy images combined with text, comment boxes, and the +1 icon. screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

• Most obviously, a new interface that puts images front and center, with the text of a Google+ post overlaid on the top. It's supposed to be more visually rich, but I find the new look often cluttered and jumbled.

• The old home screen is replaced by a navigation ribbon that slides down the left edge of the screen. That's a lot less dorky for tablets, which before had five tiny icons amid an ocean of wasted space.

• An ability to +1 a post directly from the stream of posts.

• The ability to start a video chatroom "hangout" from an Android phone or tablet using the navigation ribbon. Hangout requests also can ring the phone like an incoming phone call.

• An option to directly turn a photo seen on Google+ into an Android device's background.

• The ability to edit your posts from the app, not just from a personal computer.

It's a step in the right direction. I don't think it's all the way there yet, given the clutter and awkwardly wasted space in landscape orientation that a lot of people prefer when using tablets. But I expect it'll increase activity, which a big deal. I've seen discussions pick up after Google added the ability to hold Google+ comment conversations from directly within Gmail.

The Google+ app for Android tablets makes photos look particularly good.
The Google+ app for Android tablets makes photos look particularly good -- at least in portrait orientation. Holding the tablet in landscape makes for awkwardly wasted empty space. screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET
 

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