Android Intelligence Advice

6 handy hidden features in Google Docs on Android

Boost your mobile productivity with these power-packed, time-saving features in the Docs Android app.

Google Docs Android - Hidden Features
TukTukDesign/Google/JR Raphael (CC0)

Android Intelligence Advice

Show More

Few apps are more critical to mobile productivity than the humble word processor. I think I've probably spent a solid seven years of my life staring at Google Docs on one device or another at this point, and those minutes only keep ticking up further with practically every passing day.

While we can't do much about the need to gaze at that word-filled white screen, what we can do is learn how to make every moment spent within Docs count — and in the Docs Android app, specifically, there are some pretty spectacular tucked-away time-savers just waiting to be embraced.

Make a mental note of these advanced shortcuts and options, and put 'em to good use the next time you find yourself staring at Docs on your own device.

Docs feature No. 1: In-app multitasking

We'll save the best for, erm, first — 'cause the easily overlooked feature we're kickin' things off with really has the potential to change the way you work from your phone. It's called Explore, and it's one of those options I always forget to use and then periodically realize how much I'm missing out on as a result.

The basic point of Explore is to let you research any subject you're writing about without ever leaving the Docs app. Just tap the three-dot menu icon in Docs' upper-right corner while you're editing a document and then select Explore — and just like that, you'll get a list of suggested topics and images related to terms found within your document.

Google Docs Android: Explore JR

You can tap on any topic to drill down further and browse through actual web results for the term, and the results will pop up right then and there as an overlay atop your in-progress document. You can even view entire web pages in that same arrangement, without the need for any cumbersome app switching or clunky split-screen setups.

Google Docs Android: Explore - web JR

And if you find something you want to copy over to your document for quoting, all you've gotta do is highlight it — and Docs will give you a one-tap "Insert" option to pull the text in.

Google Docs Android: Explore - insert text JR

You can even do the same with images:

Google Docs Android: Explore - insert image JR

And if Docs' suggested terms don't hit the mark for what you're after, you can also open up Explore and then search for anything you want. It's basically just an easy way to browse the web from right within the app and then optionally bring some of the info you find directly into your document.

Pretty handy, wouldn't ya say?

Docs feature No. 2: Smarter document organization

Dealing with a complex document from your phone can be a real hassle. Who wants to waste time scrolling through endless-seeming screens to find the section of info you need to read, edit, or work on at any given moment?

I sure as hell don't — and if you remember to use Docs' out-of-the-way Outline option, you'll never have to do it again, either. While viewing or editing any document with any sort of headers in it (be they actual header-formatted text or even just bolded section titles), tap that three-dot menu icon and then select "Document Outline."

And by golly, wouldya look at that?

Google Docs Android: Outline JR

Jumping to any part of the document is now just a single tap away.

Docs feature No. 3: Easier Word integration

When you're working with clients, colleagues or even cousins who prefer the Microsoft editing ecosystem, you don't have to do much to bridge that gap. The Docs Android app can already open and allow you to edit Word files, without any work — and with one simple flip of a switch, you can create new files in the .DOCX format just as easily.

To find it, you've got to back out of any actual documents and get onto the main Docs screen — the screen with the search box at the top and all your documents listed out beneath it. Tap the three-line menu icon in the upper-left corner of that screen and head into the Settings section of that main menu. There, you should see the very switch we need:

Google Docs Android: Create word files JR

Flip that into the on position, then back yourself out to the main Docs screen. The next time you tap the circular plus icon in its lower-right corner, you should see "New Word file" show up as an option right above the default "New Docs file" command.

And just as a reminder, if you ever want to save an existing Docs file into the .DOCX format, you can do that, too: Just tap the three-dot menu icon while editing a document, select "Share & export," then select "Save As" and choose the "Word (.docx)" option.

Google Docs Android: Save as Word JR

You can also save the file as a PDF or other common document format from that same menu.

Docs feature No. 4: The local file finder

Ever download a document onto your phone — be it from an email, a Slack channel, a website, or whatever — and then later find yourself struggling to find it? You'd be forgiven for not noticing, but Docs actually has its own file finder right within the Android app.

It's that gray folder icon within the search bar on the main Docs screen — something I must've seen about a thousand times before I ever thought to try tapping it.

Google Docs Android: File picker JR

When you do, though, the app will prompt you to find a saved file from either your local phone storage or from your online Drive storage. And once you select either option, you can browse through the associated place to see what's there or search to find exactly what you're after.

Docs feature No. 5: The direct document shortcut

If you find yourself working on a specific document or set of documents frequently — whether they're evolving documents you access all the time or just specific projects on your radar at one particular moment — save yourself the steps of opening the Docs app, finding them there, and then tapping their titles to get into them and instead give yourself one-tap shortcuts to open the files directly from your home screen.

The option to do that is pretty buried, but it's well worth digging up. Start by finding the document in question on the main Docs screen. Long-press it, and then look way down on the menu that pops up for the "Add to home screen" command. (Depending on the size of your phone, you might have to scroll down that menu a bit before you'll see it appear.)

Google Docs Android: Add to home screen JR

Tap that bad boy and follow the prompt to place the shortcut wherever you want it –  and say "hocus pocus" for good measure — and before you know it, you'll have an app-like icon sitting right on your home screen. Tapping it will take you directly into the document you selected, without any extra steps required.

You could even get ambitious and create a folder on your home screen where you store a variety of high-priority or in-progress documents.

Google Docs Android: Home screen folder JR

Three cheers for seconds saved!

Docs feature No. 6: Quick function shortcuts

While we're on the subject of home screen shortcuts, you can actually follow that same pattern and put shortcuts for common Docs commands like creating a new document or searching your existing documents right onto your home screen, too. That way, you can perform the associated commands quickly and without any wasted effort opening up the app and hunting around for them — and what's not to love about added efficiency?

These are actually part of Android's oft-forgotten App Shortcuts system — the thing that came around with 2016's Android 7.1 Nougat release and is annoyingly out of sight and out of mind for most of us.

Open up your app drawer, though, and find the Docs icon — or find the Docs icon on your home screen, if it's there. Press and hold it, and you should see a series of options for direct shortcuts to actions within the app appear.

Google Docs Android: App Shortcuts JR

You can always get to those by long-pressing the Docs icon, but if you find yourself using the functions often, you can make it even easier by pressing and holding one of 'em within that pop-up menu and then dragging it directly onto your home screen for one-touch access.

You could even build yourself a nifty little Docs command center for super-fast access to the stuff you use the most:

Google Docs Android: Command center JR

You may still end up spending a ton of time in Docs, but at least now you'll make the most of every second there and avoid wasting your effort on piddly little tasks that can be made more efficient.

Sign up for my weekly newsletter to get more practical tips, personal recommendations, and plain-English perspective on the news that matters.

AI Newsletter

[Android Intelligence videos at Computerworld]

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

  
Shop Tech Products at Amazon