Google Instant for mobile: First impressions

Taking Google's newest search tool on the road is handy, but not without shortcomings.

Google recently launched a beta version of Instant, the company's search solution that displays results as you type, for Android and Apple iOS 4 mobile devices. For now, the beta test is available only to users in the U.S. and you can access it only through your handset's browser instead of Google's mobile apps. To try it out, just go to Google.com from your mobile device and then click the "Turn on" link for Google Instant located below the search box.

In my brief experience with the feature, Instant worked as promised, and could be a handy search tool to find things faster when you're on the go. But it's not an ideal solution just yet.

Fast -- but not instant -- search results

In my tests using an iPhone 3GS over a Wi-Fi network, Google Instant was slower than its desktop counterpart, but still speedy enough to get the job done. I also noticed that results pages changed faster the more I typed.

Your mileage may vary depending on your phone's connection speed, which fluctuates more often when you're on the go compared to using a stationary Wi-Fi network. If Google Instant ever gets too slow, you can easily flip it off by clicking the link below the search box.

Google search stew

Just like the desktop version, Google Instant on your mobile phone displays Instant results, Google Suggest options and past searches while you type. That's something I never really noticed much on the desktop, but on a small 3.5-inch display this approach gets a little messy.

The virtual keyboard takes up close to half the screen, and then Google Suggest blocks up most of the remaining screen space. This means you can only see one search result at a time while you are typing, making Google a little less instant if you don't like your results.

I also found that on the iPhone it gets a little tricky to navigate to the search results page without hitting one of Google's suggestions (and starting the search process all over again) or a link on the results page. I could see how people with larger hands might get easily frustrated using Google Instant for Mobile since it's relatively easy to inadvertently hit a link.

The best strategy is to dismiss the keyboard instead of plunging straight onto the results page, but that is admittedly less intuitive. Google could also reduce the number of suggestions it displays to account for the smaller screen real estate.

No Google Instant app love, yet

Since Google Instant is still in beta, you can only find it on Google.com and not Google's search apps. It will make its way there eventually, although I wonder how often people will prefer Instant instead of Google's voice search.

Ideal for mobile phones

Despite a few minor gripes, it was very clear during my tests that Google Instant is an ideal search tool for mobile devices. Instant noticeably reduces your wait time for results page to load, and also cuts down the amount of typing you need to do on those tiny smartphone keyboards.

Give Google Instant for Mobile a try and let us know what you think.

Connect with Ian Paul (@ianpaul) and Today@PCWorld on Twitter for the latest tech news and analysis.

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Ian Paul

PC World (US online)
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