Google has evolved into more than a search site. Gmail started as an invite-only experiment, and now it’s enrolled more than a billion active users. Today, a Google account will land you seemingly limitless power, storage and versatility. You can automatically use Drive, Docs, Calendar, YouTube, Google+ and so much more.
But that’s just scratching the surface. Google has more freebies you’ll love to use. And most Google users have no idea the full extent of their powers.
To fully appreciate what’s available at your fingertips, let’s dive into some of this service’s overlooked abilities. We’ll focus mostly on Google Docs, but we’ll also look at some fun extras from elsewhere in the Googleverse.
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1. Go beyond text documents
Google Docs is more than just a word processor; it’s an entire suite of programs that have gotten steadily more powerful through years of development.
The elephant in the room is this: Microsoft Office has long been the standard for a basic desktop workflow. Microsoft Office isn’t free, and some would argue it’s overpriced. Google Docs has nearly all of these essential features – word processor, spreadsheets, presentation software – for free, and you can access your files from almost any computer, anywhere.
To be clear: Google Docs do not provide a superior desktop experience to Microsoft Office, but this free virtual program is a fierce competitor. Many users prefer its simple, malleable interface. The cloud-based programs are what make Chromebooks so practical and economical. Any place with a WiFi signal can become your office, and you needn’t save a single kilobyte to your laptop’s hard drive.
2. Dictate to Google Docs
This may sound dramatic, but it’s true: dictating to your computer is one of the most underrated powers of the modern era. Part of the reason is medical; years of typing can aggravate arthritis. People with visual impairments or missing limbs have difficulty using a keyboard. Voice recognition software has empowered untold numbers of people to compose their thoughts.
Meanwhile, some people articulate best through speaking. Dictation is slow and unnatural, yet works surprisingly well if you take the time to speak clearly and not rush. You can add basic punctuation by saying “period,” “comma,” “exclamation point,” “question mark,” “new line” or “new paragraph.” If you want to use voice typing a lot, then it’s wise to brush up on some of its more advanced capabilities with Google’s voice-commands guide.
Google Docs will take dictation as long as you have a microphone connected to your computer and you’re using the Chrome browser. Go to the Tools menu and select “Voice typing” to get started. Your browser may ask permission to use your mic.
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3. Collaborate with others
Working in Google Docs doesn’t mean you have to fly solo. It offers some powerful collaboration options that let you share documents. Look for the “Share” option and you can either invite people directly or get a shareable link to your document. You can specify if collaborators can just read a document, comment on it or if they can also edit it.
To help keep track of changes, go to the File menu and select “Version history.” From there, you can choose to name the version you’re working on or look at the history to see who changed what and when they did it. Collaboration is great for work teams, but you can also use it in your personal life. You could get the whole family together through Google Docs to plan out a birthday party or work up a holiday dinner menu.
4. Translate an entire document
“Universal translation” has long been the realm of science fiction. Google has shown an intense interest in languages since its inception, and Google Translate is the most powerful mainstream translation technology in use today.
However, even if you’ve used Google for basic phrases, instantly translating an entire document is still a startling ability. Just head to the Tools menu, select “Translate document,” and choose which language you want. Google will generate a translation in a separate document. Just keep in mind that machine translation isn’t perfect, and some languages translate more fluently than others.
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5. Translate by drawing
Outside of Docs, Google offers a different way to translate a foreign language. Head to Google Translate in your browser or open the Google Translate app on your mobile device. In your browser, look for a drop-down menu at the bottom of the translation box that lets you select handwriting as the input tool. In the app, this looks like a little pen icon. Now you can write out a word or symbol in another language and get a translation.
6. Get to know Google Lens
Lens is one of Google’s newer tools. It came to Android first, but recently rolled out to iOS devices as well. The primary way to access Lens is through the Google Photos app, though you can also find it tied into Google Assistant on some flagship phones.
To use Lens, open your Photos app, choose an image, and select the icon that looks like an incomplete square with a dot in the middle and a smaller dot in the lower right corner. Lens will analyze the picture and offer up related search results.
Lens has some nifty capabilities beyond just the search function. It can recognize breeds of cats and dogs, identify flowers, scan business cards to add to your contacts (for Android phones), tell you more about landmarks and even help you add events to your calendar when you snap a photo of a flyer.
Google Docs: You’re probably only using 10% of what it can do
You take many pictures, and they all have to go somewhere, so you store them in Google Photos. You use it as an archive to back your snaps up to the cloud. Maybe you search it from time to time or use it to share a photo with friends. If that’s all you’re doing with Google Photos, then you’re missing some of the service’s coolest features.
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