This story was originally published and last updated .
QR codes have almost infinite uses. Be it simply sharing a URL, a Wi-Fi password, acting as a web authenticator, or helping your pay for goods and services, these little black-and-white jumble squares have evolved into a truly ubiquitous part of our lives. But when you're not using an app or phone feature that specifically knows you want to scan a QR code, you may find yourself a bit puzzled, and that's led many people to just rush to the Play Store and download one of a million ad-filled scanner apps. The fact is, there are far better ways to scan QR codes on Android that don't involve installing a sketchy app, using everything from Google Lens, to your smartphone's own camera app, to a lightweight website that does the job without trackers and ads. Some Android browsers even come with built-in scanners.
Use Google Lens
Almost every Android phone comes with the Google app, and you don't need anything more to scan a QR code. The application has a built-in scanning tool called Lens. It helps you identify objects, landmarks, text, and numbers you see in the real world, but it's also capable of processing QR and bar codes.
There are multiple ways to start Google Lens. You can do it by invoking Google Assistant and tapping the Lens icon left to the mic button, or by downloading the official shortcut app that adds a familiar app icon for the service to your homescreen, available on the Play Store.
Left & Middle: Google Lens. Right: Google Photos.
Once you've started Lens, just point the camera at a QR code. As soon as it deciphers it and notices it's a web link, you'll see a preview of the address, which you can tap to visit it. If other values, like numbers or passwords, are saved to the code, you need to tap the search button at the bottom of the viewfinder to see what they are. Lens is also accessible in Google Photos, so if you've ever snapped a picture with a QR code in it, you can easily identify it after the fact. Just open the image in full view and tap the Lens button at the bottom.
You have to agree to Lens' terms when you use it for the first time. As with any cloud service, you be okay with sending the images you take to Google's servers; otherwise, Lens won't work. If you don't want to do that, try one of the other solutions.
Try your camera app
Some phones come with integrated QR code scanners. For example, you can enable scanning in Samsung's camera settings or use Bixby Vision. There's also a shortcut to the built-in QR code scanner on Samsung phones' Quick Setting tiles, accessible by swiping down in the notification shade.
Google's Pixel phones have Lens built into the camera app, and you can invoke it by tapping and holding anywhere in the viewfinder — sometimes the URL even pops up as a toast before you start Lens, as seen in the image at the top of this post. A few Android One phones have the same integration.
Use this web app
There are tons of apps on the Play Store that allow you to scan QR codes, but many of them come with extra features, advertisements, or shady tracking practices that no one really needs. That's why we recommend an open-source web app instead, accessible on qrcodescan.in. Grant it the permission to use your camera, and you're all set for scanning. As soon as the app recognizes a code, a pop-up will show you what it is. You can also have it search for codes in images you've previously taken by tapping the floating camera button in the bottom right corner.
It's possible to add the web app to your homescreen via a tap on the three-dot menu in the top right corner in Google Chrome and "Add to Home screen" (there might even be a toast at the bottom of the website that lets you do that). Once that's done, it mostly behaves like a regular app, complete with offline support.
Use a third-party browser
While Google Chrome supports QR code scanning on iOS, it doesn't do so on Android, but thankfully, some third-party browsers fill the void. The upcoming version of Firefox, Firefox Beta, has a scanning shortcut above the keyboard when you tap the address bar.
Left: Firefox Beta. Middle: Activating the QR scanner in Samsung Internet. Right: Samsung Internet.
Then there's Samsung Internet, which is pre-installed on Samsung phones, but also available for other devices. Using its scanner is a little less straightforward, though: You need to head to Settings -> Useful features and activate the QR code reader there. Only then you'll find a button for it to the right of the address bar.