Testing the Google+ iPhone App: Fast, Sleek and Buggy (As It Should Be)

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Despite a few incompatibility issues that were causing it to crash with developer versions of iOS 5, the Google+ iPhone app is a hit. It’s already the top free app in Apple’s app store (though it’s noticeably missing from both the “Featured” tab and the “What’s Hot” tab— what gives, Apple?), and it’s already amassed 1,664 ratings with an average of three stars. That number will probably grow considerably today, even though G+ is still in beta.

Here’s a look at some of the new-ish features after spending some time with it this morning. (Or you can just skip to the end. I’m fine either way!)

A Much Faster, More User-Friendly Stream
Like the mobile web app (which in itself was already pretty impressive), the iPhone’s native interface allows users to intuitively swipe left and right to navigate between three types of Streams: Circles, Nearby and Incoming (users who are aren’t in your Circles that you may be interested in). However, whereas the web version seemed to hit walls causing you to change your swipe’s directions, the app allows users to swipe continuously either left or right. Not only does it make an already fast experience even faster, but the directive nature of it is pretty damn comfortable.

Even the “Checking in” option (with the checkbox in the upper-right hand corner) is incredibly quick (the menus open faster than Foursquare!) and the list of places in your proximity is as accurate as it should be. (It automatically checked me into 52nd Street even though I’m on 50th.)

(PHOTOS: A History of Google Doodles)

However, I encountered a few bugs when actually trying to post an update into the Stream. Every few times I clicked into the share screen it would freeze up; it’s a bug worth noting, even though it passed after a few seconds. Also, whenever I tried to tag other users with the “+” sign, it’d bring up people I’d corresponded with over Gmail, or people I deliberately hadn’t placed in Circles. It’s a minor irk that’ll hopefully be fixed soon, but I wasn’t able to tag anyone I’d actually wanted to, which is a bummer.

A New Way to Group Chat: “Huddle”
The Huddle feature is a shiny new additive that didn’t exist in the mobile web version. Essentially, it allows you to create group-like Huddles for your friends that function similarly to chat rooms where messages can be left and exchanged (think of it like a slower version of BBM group chats). It’s a nice alternative to the video chat Hangouts feature the full-blown web version of Google+ has, and takes advantage of something mobile does well: Connecting people when they’re bored.

There are some flaws, however; a major one being that you can’t attach media within a Huddle (i.e. no pictures or sound attachments). Also—at least from what I can tell—you can’t access your Huddles from the desktop version of G+. (Though I’m probably just an idiot. If someone has this figured out, let me know!)

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A Lovely, Glitchy Photo Menu
Navigating photos is a lovely experience, at least at first glance. However, when you start actually using it you come across a few hiccups that hold it back from being a 100% pleasant experience. The first photo screen is sorted into big Polaroid-shaped thumbnails categorized in ways you’d actually use: 1. From your Circles, 2. Photos of you, 3. Your albums, and 4. Photos from your phone.

However, after you click on a picture’s thumbnail, it takes you to another promising subset that divides your photos into even smaller Polaroids.

Where things get a bit sticky, though, is when you try to select photos from your phone to upload: Whereas you typically click on a photo to be taken to a larger version of it, when you click on one here it takes you back to the main menu screen. In order to select the photo you want to upload, you have to check off a tiny, non-obvious circle underneath the photo. I have pretty skinny (and some would say awkwardly feminine?) fingers, but even for me it was difficult to check the circle I actually wanted. I understand that Google wants you to be able to upload multiple photos at a time, but I honestly feel that this experience can be made much, much better.

That Profile Thing
Profiles are as standard as they come, although you can’t make any edits on the go (i.e. basic info, or current employer, etc.) Could be annoying to some people keen on tinkering, but it’s a pretty big “meh” overall.

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Circles, Circles, Circles!
Ah, the core competency of Google+. You can tell they’ve devoted more resources to making the mobile Circle experience as complete and user-friendly as possible (check the screen shot above). Everything is a breeze here, from organizing your Circles, to sorting your friends, to even navigating suggested people to follow. It’s easy to connect with who you want to, when you want to. Like like like. (Er, +1 +1 +1?)

If you skipped everything else and came straight here, all you need to know is this: Yes, the Google+ iOS app is already better than Facebook’s. Hands. Down. And it’s still in beta! The short of it is that it’s already more user-friendly and lets you spend time doing more important things like, you know, actually interacting with other people. For anything to succeed on mobile it has to be so easy my mother could use it. Here? I think she could.

I’ve been as critical of Google+ as anyone, but this iOS version plays to Google+’s strengths and is a great, non-thinky experience. I can honestly say I’m looking forward to actually using it.

Anything I missed? I’m sure I did. Let me know down below.

MORE: Oops: A Third of iPhone Owners Think Their Phones are 4G

Chris Gayomali is a writer-reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @chrigz, on Facebook, or on Google+. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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