Google+ for Android is still a visual stunner. Someone tell Facebook that this how a mobile social-networking app should look and function.
Editors' note: This review was updated on August 19, 2013, to cover features added in the latest version.
The latest version of Google+ for Android has a beautiful interface with clean lines and sharp angles that match up closely with the look of the Web version. As always, the slide-out navigation menu on the left is still the best way to get around the app, giving you easy access to your Profile, Hangouts, Photos, Circles, and more.
New to the Google+ app is an easy account switcher. Now, you can add multiple Google accounts, and right from the navigation bar on the left, quickly jump between them in just a few taps.
The Home screen is the lifeblood of Google+. With the little drop-down at the top, you can choose to show feeds from All Circles, Nearby, What's Hot (trending posts), or any of your individual circles. As of yet, though, you can't create a custom feed with more than one circle (Family & Friends, for instance). Visually, this screen absolutely blows Facebook's Timeline out of the water. Icons are sleek and the large photos are eye-catching. Also, in the latest version landscape mode gives you a two-column layout similar to the three-column experience in the latest version of Google+ on an Internet browser, and I think it looks great.
From your Home screen, you can do almost everything you can in the full desktop version of Google+. You can easily comment on, Reshare, and +1 items, and, of course, you can create and edit your own posts with pictures, videos, and location tags. In the latest version of the app, you'll now also see auto hashtags, which let you search for more content about what's in the post. With the new auto hashtags and the new interface in the latest version, the Home feed feels both more attractive and more useful for getting to new content.
Here, you can see your Google+ public profile page, all of your posts, and all of your photos. You can edit much of your profile information from the Google+ app, which was something you couldn't do in previous versions. From the Settings screen, you also can choose to share your current location on your Profile if you like. Just turn Location Sharing on and choose which Circles you want to share the information with.
As expected, this is the hub for all of your photos and videos. It provides a simple interface for viewing and commenting on items from your circles, items you're tagged in, and, of course, all of your own album items. What's more, Google+ Photos can now link to your Google Drive (with your permission). This means you can share, add tags to, or download photos from your cloud storage account, too.
With recent additions to Google+ for Android, you get a few more ways to enhance your photos that you didn't always have. Now, you'll be able to enter an edit mode and use the buttons at the bottom for quick edits. The Enhance button automatically color-corrects and brightens up your image; it worked pretty well in my testing, but you always have the option to go back to the original if you prefer. The Crop screen lets you freely set the cropping area by dragging handles on each side of the image, or you can have it crop a part of your photo to a perfect square. There's also a rotate button for one-touch 90-degree rotations.
The most exciting addition to Photos is the capability to add filters and frames to your photos. You get nine filters to choose from, and and you can cycle through variations for each by tapping the filter button again. Another button at the bottom lets you switch to Frames, giving you 11 different treatments to choose from along with variations that you cycle through by tapping. Photo filters were already a part of the iOS version of Google+, but the frames are something new to the Android version exclusively.
One thing that was already great about the Google+ app is that it includes an Instant Upload feature, which automatically backs up pictures and videos taken by your Android device. By default, these items go into the private "From your phone" album, where you can easily access and share them at your convenience. Of course, you can disable Instant Upload if you're worried about battery drain, but I think it's a superconvenient feature that should be taken advantage of.
The Communities section lets you manage the news items and hobbies you follow. You can share communities you like with your friends or invite them to the community directly. You get display counts for unread messages in your communities, and the moderation tools have been improved as well.
Here, you can manage your own events as well as those to which you have been invited. With a single tap, you can start setting up a new event, complete with date, time, invitees from your circles, and even a location tag.
Hangouts replaces Messenger
With Google's standalone Hangouts app now in wide circulation, the Messenger function has been completely replaced by a Hangouts button in Google+. Tapping the button seamlessly pushes you over to the Hangouts app or, if you don't have it installed, to the download page in the Google Play store.
Overall, the Google+ app provides an excellent way to interface with the Google+ social space while on the go, whether you're on a smartphone or tablet. The newest version looks beautiful and runs smoothly, and extras like photo tools and location sharing make it a tough social networking tool to beat.
My only issue at this point is that photo functions of the app can be a little confusing. While the Photos button in the sliding navigation bar brings you straight to your albums, a seemingly redundant Photo button on the bottom of the screen inexplicably bring you to a photo picker. The user experience here is obviously wrinkled, but it's not a major issue that will affect your regular usage. In the end, whether you're a regular Google+ user or you're just interested in the app's photo-editing or auto-upload features, you don't want to miss the Google+ app for Android.