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Google Goggles vs. itself on iPhone, Android

Google's Goggles recently made its way to iPhone users, letting them snap a photo of something to start a Google search. But is it better than the Android version that came before it? We find out.

Josh Lowensohn Former Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
Josh Lowensohn
3 min read
Giving Goggles a spin against a wine bottle label using the iPhone. Josh Lowensohn / CNET

As a longtime user of both the iPhone and Android, I was pleased to see Google's Goggles service make its way to iOS devices this past week. Even though it's missing a feature or two compared to its Android sibling, both versions are able to figure out what you've just taken a picture of, and give it back to you as a Google search.

It's one of those simple applications that I keep coming back to, mainly for its speed and accuracy, which can be scarily good. Though, when Google released it on the iPhone, it got me wondering how well it matched up to the Android version, which is offered up as a standalone application.

The short answer? Android is just a tiny bit faster, but not by much. As for accuracy, in our testing it continued to be very good on both sides.

For out testing setup, we pitted an iPhone 4 against Google's Nexus One on 10 objects in controlled conditions. Both phones were set in airplane mode and sharing the same Wi-Fi hot spot. Each phone was set up on a different Google account, and all the photos were taken from the same angle in an identically lighted situation. We also switched the order of whatever phone was used first for each item.

Items tested:
1. Windows Live OneCare packaging
2. SSX PlayStation 2 game box
3. Box of chewing gum
4. "="" book"="">A "Dilbert" book
5. A bottle of mustard
6. iPhone 4 dock packaging
7. Nikon SLR camera lens packaging
8. A Sprint Overdrive mobile Wi-Fi hot spot (out of the box)
9. A cheap bottle of wine
10. Text from a National Geographic magazine

The average time for each search on these items was 2.8 seconds on the iPhone and 2.4 seconds on Android. The shortest search was just a single second, which was on the iPhone for Windows Live OneCare. This item also ended up being the longest search over on the Android app at 5 seconds. Most searches in between that ran around 2 to 3 seconds.

The one thing that Goggles was not able to pick up was the front of our wine bottle, though both versions of the app were able to correctly scan the barcode on the back. Besides the bottle, there were a handful of other items, including the Overdrive and the iPhone's dock packaging where both apps came up short. These can simply be chalked up to Goggles being a labs product.

Goggles on Android
Grabbing a block of text from an issue of National Geographic magazine on a Nexus One running Goggles Josh Lowensohn / CNET

So what are some things Android users get that iPhoners currently don't? A shooting grid for one, which gives users a 3x5 grid overlay to line up their shot. The Android version also has a cropping tool, which lets you crop down an image before you shoot it using an on-screen guide.

Cropping ends up being pretty useful if you're using it on text, as became the case for us when we were scanning the text from the National Geographic magazine. The camera on both phones ended up picking out text that was slightly off the frame, since both cameras capture more than they let on through the digital viewfinder. Using the crop tool, we were able to get the text we needed the first time around.

So what can you learn from this? Google may have taken its time bringing Goggles to the iPhone, but it brought a product that's pretty much equal, spare a feature or two. Given different network conditions, and a different Android device, the iPhone very well could have come out on top.