Google’s Lookout App: Your Android Swiss Army Knife

Red Swiss Army Knife with Google Outlook Logo

You’ve heard about Microsoft’s Seeing AI App, and all the cool stuff it does on the iPhone: it reads printed text, scans labels, describes scenes, and more! But what if you have an Android phone and Seeing AI doesn’t run on Android? Well, now the wait is over for the Android version. Google’s Lookout app is here with many of the same features, just a tried-and-true Swiss Army knife, Lookout has many useful tools. 

Opening the App 

Until recently, Lookout opened in the Text Mode, one of the five modes available in Lookout. In the new version, when Lookout first opens, it now prompts you to speak which mode you want to open. The various modes appear along the bottom of the screen and include: Explore (listed as beta), Food Labels, Text, Documents, and Currency. There is also a Change Language button located at the top of the screen and offers the option of selecting any of 22 languages. To the right of this button is the Account Menu, which contains options for Settings, Help and Feedback, and Contact Info. Help and Feedback is a great place to get started with support articles that explain the different modes and settings options. 

Text Mode 

Text Mode is designed to read any text the camera is pointing to, whether it’s on a product label, newspaper, or computer screen. Text Mode is very sensitive to motion so moving the camera around will result in jumping from one item to the next.  This can be a bit confusing. For best results, hold the camera steady and gradually move it across the text.  

This mode is great for reading short bits of text like reading an address on an envelope, a pamphlet, business card, or the label on a medicine bottle. The app uses the light on the phone in low-light settings. For nearby observers, this can look like a strobe light as it goes off and on to light up the text. Lookout does an adequate job in dim settings, without the extra light and the light can be disabled in the Settings menu for more discreet reading. 

Reading in Text Mode is responsive, quick, and pretty accurate. The text to speech voice pitch and rate can also be changed in the Settings menu. 

Document Mode 

lookout app
screen shot of document mode setting in lookout app
Screen Shot of Document Mode

For longer text recognition, the Document Mode will scan a page of text and convert it to digital text that is accessible to screen readers like TalkBack or Select to Speak. Document Mode offers nearly continuous hints to help you align the document properly before you take the picture. You might hear, “Too close, move the device away,” or “Move device left,” etc. until the document is within the camera frame. Once framed, Lookout will report, “Hold still,” or “Try taking a snapshot.” The camera automatically takes a picture after saying, “Hold still.” To take the picture manually, press or double tap the Take Snapshot Button. Text recognition is fast and seems very accurate. Text recognition occurs even in Airplane Mode so you don’t need to be connected to the internet to process the text. 

Once a document is processed, the text can be read, copied and pasted, or shared using the Share Button in the top right of the display. Document texts can be shared with other apps or email. Unfortunately, you can’t scan multiple docs and save them as a file for later use, as you can with an app like KNFB Reader. As long as the Lookout App remains open, you can open the Recents Button, on the right side of the screen, just above the Modes list, to reopen any recent scans. Once the app closes, the list disappears. 

Explore Mode (Beta) 

Explore Mode describes objects in the environment as the camera is moved around. During my review, I was using it in the kitchen and it quickly identified cabinets, the oven, a microwave, coffee cup, tableware, window, door, etc. It identified the cat as a dog and failed to ID the fridge and other smaller appliances. One of the more impressive identifications was identifying a backpack as a bag, and then reading the text on a business card in a clear plastic sleeve attached to the bag. At the time, the bag was about three feet away and in dim light. 

Like Text and Document modes, the Explore Mode functions in Airplane Mode. Although in beta, it certainly appears useful for identifying many of the major features in the immediate surrounding, such as the door, window and furniture, making it a useful tool.  It may be a bit too early, however, to delete your Be My Eyes App or any other app using a human to identify objects or describe details in the environment around you. 

Food Labels Mode 

The first time Food Labels Mode was opened, an additional data file was downloaded, The download took a couple minutes, and was specific to the United States. The U.S. is just one of 20 countries available from which to select. The onboard support article indicates that data files are not available for all countries. It also indicated these data files enable offline barcode recognition.   

Like Document and Text modes, Food Label Mode is very responsive and fast. One of the most impressive features was the ability of the camera to locate the barcode on a wide variety of products. In most cases, when products are slowly rotated in front of the camera, they are identified quickly. Like Text Mode, the flashlight is used for dimly lit situations, such as in a kitchen cupboard or pantry. One of the best features in Food Label mode is the way that barcodes and text recognition are incorporated, so if the barcode is not immediately recognized, the text on the product label may be recognized first and read. Once the barcode is identified, it often provides more details about the product than what is read from the label. Because the Food Labels Mode is fast and doesn’t require the internet, this feature will really be handy while shopping in a grocery store, where internet access might be spotty. 

Currency Mode 

Like the other modes, Currency Mode takes its settings from the phone, so if you are in the U.S., the currency will be read as U.S. Currency.  At least 20 other countries are listed in settings, so it is simple to change which currency Lookout will describe. Like the Text and Food Label modes, Currency Mode is fast and accurate. During the review, various bills were identified in a variety of conditions—folded up, upside down, etc.; in each case the response was accurate and nearly instantaneous. Because identification happens on-device rather than relying on cloud service, this can be a really handy feature anywhere. 

Lookout Wrap-up 

Like Seeing Ai for the iOS devices, Google’s Lookout for Android is an Ai (artificial intelligence) game changer. With text and barcode recognition on the device, processing seems nearly instantaneous in all five modes. Text, barcode and currency accuracy is quite reliable, even with some of the stylized text formats recognized on package labeling. If you’ve been waiting for Microsoft to migrate Seeing Ai to your Android, just download Google’s Lookout, on the Play Store right now. Who knows, if Seeing Ai does become available on the Android, you may just stick with your trusty Ai Swiss Army knife, Lookout, instead!