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How to scan a QR code with an Android phone

Those square barcode-looking things? Here's how they work with your Android smartphone.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

QR codes (Quick Response, if you're curious) are those square barcode-looking things you might have seen that, when scanned by your Android smartphone or iPhone, can send you immediately to a relevant webpage or download an app without having to type in a complicated URL. 

They can be great time-savers but they're not always obvious in how to use them, particularly if you have an older Android phone. Here's what you need to know.

New Android phone? Your camera might scan them automatically

As QR codes have become more common, more manufacturers have built QR scanners directly into the default camera app. Samsung's Galaxy S21 will read them, as will the Pixel 5, but other phones -- particularly older models -- may not.

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Give it a try: Scan this QR code with your phone's camera.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

You can easily find out if your phone does this by opening the camera and pointing it at the QR code above (load this article later on a different device if you're reading this on your phone). If your camera supports it by default then a small link will appear on screen to take you to CNET.com

If not, you'll need to download a QR code scanner.

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Got a scanner? Scan that code!

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

While there are loads of QR scanners available for free in the Google Play store, the best option is Google's own Google Lens, which offers a variety of text scanning and translation tools but also has a QR scanner. Download and install the app (if it isn't already a default app on your phone) and when you open it, grant permission to use the camera. 

Then, point it at your QR code and the app will reveal the hidden information, be it a website link or whatever. Keep the scanner app in a location you'll remember as you'll need to use it whenever you want to scan a QR code.