A feature I've always wanted in Google Photos is text recognition. The service can parse through my pics to find a specific face, place, thing, or even more abstract concepts like "sunset" or "happy," it can even associate an emoji with images in my gallery, but it couldn't find simple pieces of text through OCR. Well, now it can.

The feature is slowly rolling out to users. To test it, type any text you think shows up in your images and wait for the results to pop. When it works, it's absolutely amazing. In the three searches below, you can see it found "open" in blue in the bottom right corner of a box, "coffee" in a far away Starbucks sign in the mall and inside the Subway store, and "bounce" despite the odd N letter font.

It even supports non-latin characters and non-English searches, as shown in the images below with both Arabic and Cyrillic.

Once you find the image you're looking for, or even when you have a regular image with text open, you can simply tap the Google Lens button in the bottom bar to have all the text parsed. After that, it's only a matter of selecting the bits you want to translate, search, or copy to paste elsewhere.

However, you'll notice I said "when it works" at the top. That's because I tested the searching aspect for a while and some results that should have been very easy to surface were never found. Lens could easily read the text in those images, so it's not an OCR issue. Maybe the search feature isn't fully working yet or maybe there's some wonkiness in the algorithms that stops them from finding bits of very clear text in some pics.

Since the feature is rolling out server-side, no specific version of Photos seems to be required. I'm running v4.22, FYI.

Google Photos
Google Photos
Developer: Google LLC
Price: Free