(Credit: Lance Whitney)

You spot an appealing product at a store, an interesting animal in nature, an unusual dish on a menu, an intriguing landmark in another country, or a fascinating painting in a museum. And you want to learn more about that item or object. Normally, you might run a regular Google search. But in this case, you may not know what to search for. That's where Google Lens can help.

Using Google Lens on your phone, you can take a photo of an object, open an existing photo from your library or just scan something in real time. Google analyzes the image to identify your mysterious subject and then serves up an explanation or description. In this way, you can use Lens to help you shop at stores, identify animals or plants, find information on public places and learn more about the everyday world around you.

Google Lens even understands words displayed in your photos, so you can search on names and other text. You can look up words, copy email and website addresses, call phone numbers and get directions to addresses.

Depending on whether you have an iOS or Android device, you can enlist the aid of Google Lens a few different ways. The feature is built into the Google Photos app for both iOS and Android. It's integrated into Google Assistant on Android and into the Google search app on iOS. For certain Android phones, it's also accessible through the camera app and available as a standalone app. Google Lens works the same no matter where or how you access it. But each method offers certain advantages. Now, let's look at 10 ways you can use Google Lens to search the real world.

SEE: Take, Edit, and Share Photos with the Best Mobile Photo Apps

1. Search an image in your photo library

You already have a photo of an item that intrigues you. To search on this item, run Google Lens from the Google Photos app. On Android, your photos are automatically stored in your Google Photos library. On iOS, make sure the photos you take are synced to Google Photos (you can do this through the Settings screen).

In Google Photos, tap the image you want to search and then tap the Google Lens icon (the one with the dot in the broken square). Google analyzes your photo, painting the image with a series of dots. Depending on the image, Google might come up empty or suggest potential matches. Ideally, though, the search will be a success, conjuring up a brief description or explanation of the item on a card. You can then tell Google if you found the results useful.

(Credit: Lance Whitney)

2. Drill down for more information

Beyond the brief description, Google Lens typically can dig up more details on your subject. At the description card, tap the Google icon to launch a full Google search. At the search results page, you can check out all results as well as results for images, books, news, videos, shopping and other types of content.

(Credit: Lance Whitney)

3. Search for text in a photo

Google Lens can come in handy if you want to search for a dish on a menu, a name in a book or magazine, a phrase on a sign or poster and other words or phrases. After the Google Lens search has run, tap the text that interests you. You may need to adjust the fill handles around the text to narrow or expand the selection. Google searches on the highlighted text, bringing up the card with a brief description. From there, you can run a full Google search on the text.

(Credit: Lance Whitney)

4. Search on a live object

You see a nearby object that you want to learn about. No need to snap a photo. Instead, use Google Assistant to scan the item in real time. On your Android device, activate the Assistant by holding down the Home button or saying: "OK, Google." Tap the Google Lens icon. Point your camera at your subject. If prompted, tap the dot on the screen. Google describes the item and gives you the option to run a full search. You can also search on items in real time through the Google search app for iOS, the Camera app for certain Android phones and the Google Lens app for Android.

(Credit: Lance Whitney)

5. Search for text on a live object

Next, you can search text on an object in real time. After the Google Lens search completes, tap any text you see in the live scan. Google displays the card with a description and a search icon for you to run a full search. Again, you can use Google Assistant, the Google search app for iOS, the Camera app for some Android phones and the Google Lens app for Android.

(Credit: Lance Whitney)

6. Copy text in a Google Lens scan

You've found text in an image that you want to insert in an email, document, address book, calendar or some other app. No need to type it when you can just copy it. After the description card appears, an option to copy text should pop up as well. Tap the command to Copy text, move to your destination and then paste the text in the appropriate spot.

(Credit: Lance Whitney)

7. Translate text

You've run a Google Lens scan of a sign, a menu item or other text written in a foreign language. How do you know what it says? At the description card, tap the option to Translate. Google opens a web page with a translation of your selected text.

(Credit: Lance Whitney)

8. Contact a business

You can use Google Lens to dig up information on a business by scanning its name or logo. But you can also contact that company without even knowing the phone number. At the description card, tap the Call icon to automatically call the business.

(Credit: Lance Whitney)

9. Get directions

Search on a business or other spot through Google Lens, and you can uncover directions to that locale. From the description card, tap the Maps icon. Google Maps pops up to steer you in the right direction to reach your destination.

(Credit: Lance Whitney)

10. Sync your Google Lens searches

Google keeps track of your Lens searches on the device on which you run them. But your Google Lens activity can be available on any device via your Google Account. To set this up, browse to the Activity controls page for your Google Account and make sure the switch for Web & App Activity is turned on. Just read the fine print on privacy at Google's Safety Center to see if you're cool with the company tracking your online activities.

(Credit: Lance Whitney)

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  1. With Google Lens, you can find information about objects in the real word though an existing photo or a live scan in real time.
  2. Google Lens is available for both iOS and Android through Google Photos, Google Assistant, the Android camera app and its own dedicated app.

Also see

Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books - "Windows 8 Five Minutes at a Time" and "Teach Yourself VISUALLY LinkedIn."