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How to Use Your Smartphone Camera to Search

by on June 10, 2019
in Time Savers, Phones and Mobile, Mobile Apps, Android Apps, iPhone/iPad Apps, Tips & How-Tos, Shopping, Top Picks :: 18 comments

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Searching with images is the wave of the future. Whether you're trying to identify something you'd like to buy, checking for deals or looking for information on what you see in the world around you, visual search apps can help. Armed with a smartphone and one of these apps, all you have to do is snap a photo and the app will try to identify the object or landmark and find information on it.

Ready to get started? Here are our favorite visual search apps.

Google Lens

Best App for Searching for Anything and Everything: Google Lens

With Google Lens, all you have to do is point and shoot at any object, and Google Lens does a pretty good job of telling you what it is. I took a picture of a flowering plant I'm growing on my terrance and and found it's an Alyssum. The camera also recognized a church I visited earlier this year in Oaxaca, Mexico and did a nice job of translating Spanish into English in real time of everything from signs to menus. You can also snap pictures of clothing and other objects and find similar items for purchase. It’s a great app if you want to learn about whatever you’re looking at (or if you've forgotten the name of something and really want to remember it).

You can access Google Lens through the Google: Search, Discover, News app or Google Photos app for iPhone users and through the Google Camera app and Google Photos app for Android. You can easily analyze photos or screenshots you've taken or analyze an image in real time.

Price: Free for iOS and Google Play

Ebay Image Search

Best App for Searching for Hard-to-Find Items: Ebay

See the perfect pair of shoes, an old-fashioned truck or vase? You can use an image to find it, or something similar, on Ebay. Image search is an option in the standard search box, allowing you to snap a photo or select a photo from your camera roll to search. eBay will sift through over a billion items to find similar products — though just how similar will depend on the photo and the item. A search for a pair of shoes, for example, will give you shoes with a similar style, but may not necessarily be the same shoes.

Price: free for iOS and Google Play

Amazon Visual Image Search App

Best app for all kinds of shopping: Amazon Mobile

If shopping is what you're interested in, Amazon Mobile makes it easy for you to find anything they stock using your smartphone camera.

Just fire up your Amazon app and click on the camera next to the search bar. The camera then turns on and little dots will try to find the outlines of what you’re taking a picture of, then offer suggestions. There is also a fashion specific search option, called StyleSnap. You can pull in a photo from your phone's camera roll (select upload photo) or turn on "Select recent screenshots" for easy access to looks you've saved while browsing (the yellow dress is from a story that Elle did on summer fashion finds). Sometimes, Amazon doesn’t recognize the object itself and asks if you want to search for the category it thinks the item is; for example, I pointed the camera to my UE Boom Speaker, and while it didn’t recognize that it was the UE Boom, it did recognize I was pointing my camera at a speaker.

If you want to shop on Amazon, this is the perfect helper. 

Price: Free for iOS and Google Play Visual Search App

Best for house hunting:

Looking for the perfect home? is the app for you. If you see a property you like while you're driving around looking at neighborhoods, take a photo of the for-sale sign using the app to pull up the home's complete real estate listing.

You'll get easy access to the property's full details plus photos, all without having to get out of your car to grab a flyer.

Price: Free for iOS and Google Play

Snipsnap Visual Search App

Best App for Searching for Deals: Snipsnap

If you are a couponer, chances are you’re pretty strategic about where you buy; after all, the fun is in the search for the lowest price! Snipsnap is perfect for that — just take a photo of any paper coupon and the app will turn it into a mobile offer to be scanned. Even better, if you take a photo of a product, the app will recognize it, then find the prices of it from huge databases of stores and coupons. You’ll always get the best price.

Price: Free on iOS and Google Play

Pinterest Visual Search

Best App for Pinners: Pinterest

That’s right, if you can pin it, you can find it (well, at least a close approximation of it from other pins). Pinterest's visual search tool is really easy to use. Just click on the pin with the item you fancy, then tap the search icon in the corner. You can then adjust the box that appears to only search for what’s in it. Pinterest then gives you a set of pins that look similar to the image you selected so you can hopefully find where to get the item. Now that you know about this feature, we can guarantee you’ll be using it all the time.

Price: Free on iOS and Google Play

This post was updated on 6/10/2019

[woman with smartphone camera image via BigStockPhoto; Other images via Google, Snipsnap,, Ebay and Pinterest]

Discussion loading

Android Able?

From David M. Dunn on April 04, 2016 :: 7:35 pm

Can I use any of these on my Fire tablet?


The SnipSnap app is available

From Suzanne Kantra on April 04, 2016 :: 9:25 pm

The SnipSnap app is available for Fire tablets:

and Pinterest for relatively new Fire tablets:


So Good To Know!

From David M. Dunn on April 10, 2016 :: 10:45 pm

So good to know and so nice of you to answer my question.  I hope some of the other apps will make the required changes for my Fire.
I do appreciate your responding to my question so a BIG thanks.



From David on October 08, 2018 :: 10:45 am

Is there an app on my Google pixel 2 phone where I can take a picture of something and it search it and tell me what it is?


Yes, Google Lens

From Josh Kirschner on October 09, 2018 :: 1:55 pm

If you pull up a photo in Google Photos, you’ll see an icon on the bottom, second from the right, that looks like a square with a magnifying glass. Click on this and Google Lens will analyze your photo and provide more details, if it can figure out what it is. I’ve found it to be somewhat hit or miss, but it does an okay job and it’s very easy to use since it’s integrated with the photo app.

Using a picture to search the Internet for the item

From Michrlle on August 05, 2016 :: 6:44 pm

I took a picture of my daughters north face fleece and want to find it on the Internet; she outgrew it. The one now is a 3t and she wants the same one, thanks.


Mobile apps

From Banu on February 09, 2017 :: 1:57 am

I am expecting more interesting topics from you. And this was nice content and definitely it will be useful for many people.


What is this?

From Nana on July 29, 2017 :: 10:20 pm

I have been using my knowledge to find this item and cannot locate it.  Can you help or advise where I could go?  I can take a picture of item for you also.


Online search

From Lurrics angel on March 03, 2019 :: 1:06 pm

Am here to search through camera


Old Kindle 7 Built-In Identifier App

From janis comstock on October 16, 2019 :: 10:51 pm

I lost my first Kindle Fire that came with an app already installed where you pointed the camera at something and it would tell you what it was.
What was it called?


If i have a list

From Dishahin on November 28, 2019 :: 12:42 am

If i have a list of names on paper and want to search for a particular name.. how do I use the mobile for this purpose?


Just type in the name in Google Assistant

From Josh Kirschner on December 03, 2019 :: 12:18 pm

Google Lens has text recognition capability, but if you just want to search for a specific name, it’s probably easier just to type that name into Google Assistant and do a standard Google search.


To find artwork

From Tanya Tapley on December 23, 2019 :: 3:02 pm

I have a painting stolen that meant allot to me. Is there an app you could recommend that I could use to see if anyone ever put it up for sale online?


Red and

From aziyaann davis on October 28, 2020 :: 7:46 pm

Can you tell me all the stuff that’s red and black


For Sale

From Kelly Reeves on February 01, 2021 :: 2:44 am

Hi Josh,

I have a few things I want to sale before I move. A few things like new medical equipment I no longer need like a wheelchair, electric scooter and a cane. I also have boxes of old crystal China and other odds and ends. My question is, is there a free app I can download where I can take a picture of my items and it will automatically price them for me to today’s pricing? Then I can advertise them on their website? I thought I came across something like that a few years ago but I can’t find it now.

Thank you so much.




From Creative on June 03, 2021 :: 9:54 am

I want to sale my old doll house but I don’t know how much I should sale it for


To check value or price see price of object

From Rita on July 07, 2021 :: 12:08 pm

Vase by renata gaudio



From Rowland Whittet on February 06, 2022 :: 12:41 pm

Two birds, nesting 50’ high, 100 ft level from Sennebec road, opposite bank on union street,and second floor of houses


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