Editors' note: This review has been updated with new features announced November 5, 2013.
The Google Search app brings the company's many Internet resources to your iOS device, and the recent addition of hands-free Voice Search, along with improving Google Now features and new notifications makes the app even better.
A familiar interface
The app offers a clean layout for searches, with the familiar Google logo on a white background as your home page when you launch the app. Across the bottom you have three buttons to access Google Apps, Voice Search, and Google Goggles, the feature that lets you snap a picture of something to find out more about it, related products, and other information.
Performing searches is where the app really shines. When you enter a word into the search field, Google Search shows the results you'd expect of Web sites that are relevant to your search term, and now automatically gives you results based on your location. If you touch a Web site link, the site shows up in a tab. If the site doesn't have what you're looking for, you can go back to your search results by simply swiping to the right to "get rid of" the Web site. Across the bottom of the search results are buttons to search Images, Places, News, Shopping, Videos, Blogs, Discussions, and Books. I really like how you can touch each to see what turns up for your search terms, and it takes almost no time to switch quickly among categories.
The Voice Search features seem to take a page from Apple's Siri, but Voice Search uses Google's search engine to find your answers. In my testing, it is much faster. When you ask Google Search a question, the voice recognition is almost always spot-on. The app will only answer your question aloud (rather than just performing a search) when it knows the answer. But what is really striking is how fast it is compared with Siri. Ask Google Search where a good pizza place is, and it returns results almost immediately. To be fair, Siri offers a cleaner interface when it returns results, but you can't beat the speed of Google Search.
I like how Google search handles common answers as well. When I asked, "Who is Michael Jordan?" Google Search spoke a short bio about him being an NBA star, now an entrepreneur, and other details. Siri displays a nice-looking page with all of Michael Jordan's information, but doesn't say much about it. This is probably more a matter of taste, but I preferred the short spoken bio, and again, Google Search returned the information much more quickly.
In the latest version of Google Search released November 5, you won't even need to touch the microphone button to perform a voice search. Taking a page from the voice command system for Google Glass ("OK, Glass") Google Search will now let you start by saying "OK, Google" to perform searches, create reminders, and several other useful actions. The app can also now send push notifications so you can use the voice system to send yourself a reminder. For example, you could say, "OK, Google, remind me to buy new light bulbs when I go to Ace Hardware." When you walk into an Ace Hardware store (if the particular store's location is indexed on Google) you should receive a notification to buy light bulbs. Part of what made Google Search somewhat inferior to Apple's Siri was that it was not fully integrated and couldn't perform actions like these. These new features make Google Search an even more attractive option for your every day search engine.
With Google Now, you get "cards" that show up based on your location, time of day, and other criteria to bring you information you might need right now. It does this by checking with all the Google services you use (like Gmail and the calendar) and then delivering the most pertinent information for where you are currently. Here at the office, Google Now displayed a card to give me the current weather here in San Francisco and another one to tell me how long it would take for me to get home with current traffic. The latter lets me touch a map to open Google Maps for the best routes to take to get home. The more you use Google Now, it will tell you more things based on your habits, like the scores for your favorite teams, public transit times, flight information, meetings in your calendar, and even currency conversion rates when you go on vacation.
Using Google Search over time, the Google Now features have been a great addition. As an example, I watched an Eminem video some time ago on YouTube, and just the other day, Google Now pointed out I could buy his new album. I have performed searches for my sports teams and later got sports team cards to tell me when the game was coming. The point of Google Now is to deliver the information when I need it, and it seems to do a pretty good job of remember what I'm interested in (even if that is a bit unsettling).
All that said, Google Now's cards do take some getting used to because they're a more or less passive experience and they can seem a little random at times. Unavoidably, you will encounter cards that Google thinks are relevant to you, when in fact they aren't. Just the same, you'll probably find yourself wanting a particular card to show up, and it won't. So, the service isn't perfect, but it seems to improve the more I use it.
More than just search
Along with all the search features, you can access Google's apps, edit your documents, update your calenders, and all the other things that Google has to offer. In an earlier review, I didn't like how the app wouldn't let me edit spreadsheets, but I am now able to edit without incident. It still seems to have problems listing large spreadsheets, however, but if you switch to landscape it works better. Hopefully, this is something Google will address in later updates.