If editing or even creating a Google Docs file on a five-inch touchscreen sounds nuts to you, listen up: It’s totally doable, once you’ve mastered a few tricks.
Composing fresh documents won’t seem as tedious once you’ve tweaked your on-screen keyboard a bit, and your editing tools are just a tug of the screen away. Need to look up a few facts and figures? You can do so without leaving your document. There’s also an easy way to grab clip art from the web, review comments and “suggested” changes from fellow Google Docs users, and even edit documents without an Internet connection.
Read on for six ways to make the most of Google Docs for mobile, starting with…
Make the switch to “gesture” typing
Probably the biggest obstacle you’ll face in composing text documents in Google Docs (download here for Android, or here for iOS) is the thought of typing lengthy sentences using a slippery touchscreen keypad. No, it doesn’t sound like much fun at all, but there’s a clever way to ease the pain.
The first: “gesture” typing, Google’s term for typing with a swipe. Instead of tapping each key with your fingertip, you swipe the keypad with long, looping gestures, essentially tracing a path over the keys you want to type. It takes practice, no question, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be swiping out sentences far faster than you could ever tap them.
If you’re using the standard Google keyboard on your Android phone, you can turn on gesture typing by tapping Settings > Language & input > Google Keyboard > Gesture Typing > Enable gesture typing.
Another option (and the only option for iOS users) is to install a third-party keyboard like Swype (the original swipe-to-type keypad) or SwiftKey. Here’s the scoop on some of the most popular downloadable keyboards and how to install them.
Pull down to access your editing tools
Once you actually start editing a Google Doc (just tap a document on the main Docs screen, then tap the blue Edit button in the bottom corner), the diminutive Google Docs interface will shrink down to the essentials: your keypad, seven editing buttons (bold, italics, underline, a couple of justification settings and two buttons for lists). All well and good, but what if you want to change the formatting of an entire paragraph, or tweak the font size?
The trick: tug down a bit on the screen. Doing so reveals a series of editing tools along the top of the screen: Undo and Redo buttons, a + sign for adding graphics, tables and other elements (more on that in a minute), a three-dot overflow menu (where you’ll collaboration features, a find-and-replace tool, and other goodies that we’ll cover in a bit), and—most important—the formatting button (the one with the ‘A’).
Tap the formatting key to change fonts and font sizes, apply text styles, change text colors and backgrounds, indent paragraphs and fine-tune line spacing.
Pluck images from the web [Android only]
There’s no need to switch back and forth between the Docs app and your web browser to find the perfect piece of clip art to illustrate a point. Instead, try this: Tug down on the screen to reveal the editing tools, tap the + button, then tap Image > From web.
Now, just tap (or swipe) in some search terms, pick an image that’s to your liking, then tap Insert. When you do, the image you choose will automatically be downloaded and pasted into your document, no app-switching required.
Note: You should, of course, be prudent about the usage licenses required for any images you’re snagging from the web.
Research while you write [Android only]
When I’m composing a Google Doc on a desktop, I often have a second browser window open for quick web searches or any other reference material I might need. Unfortunately, a two-window setup is a trickier proposition on a cramped mobile screen.
That’s what makes the Research feature in the Android version of Google Docs so handy. Just tap the three-dot menu button in the top-right corner of the screen, select Research, and enter a Google search term. Once you do, your search results will appear in a window in the bottom half of the screen; meanwhile, your Google Doc will still be visible in the top half of the screen.
In addition to simply using the Research pane for reference, you can also select text, links, or images and tap the Insert button to paste them directly into your word document.
If you need to start typing, the Research window will shrink into a thin blue strip just above the keyboard; tap it to restore the pane to full size.
Take a document offline
Sure, it’s nifty being out and about with your Google Docs on your phone, but it also means you may wander out of network range—and no network, no Google Docs, right?
Well, not exactly. You may, if you’d like, take individual Google Docs files offline. Once you do, you’ll be able to view and edit them even without a Wi-Fi or cellular connection. Once you’re reconnected, all your changes will sync back to Google Drive.
If you’re viewing your list of docs in the main Google Docs interface, just tap the three-dot menu button next to the document you want to save, then tap Keep Offline.
If you’re already in the document you want to save locally, the procedure’s pretty much the same: tap the three-dot menu button in the top-right corner of the screen, then tap Keep Offline.
Review any “suggested” changes
One of my favorite Google Docs feature lets you “suggest” edits in a shared Google Doc. Once you’ve added your suggested changes, another Google Docs user who’s sharing the same document can go through and accept or reject your changes.
The bad news is that you can’t make suggested edits using the Android or iOS version of Google Docs. The good news, though, is that mobile Google Docs users can review, accept or reject suggested edits that have been made by someone else.
Just tap any highlighted sections of text in a Google Doc. In the case of standard comments, you’ll be prompted to “resolve” the comment in question. If you come across a suggested edit, however, you’ll be asked to “accept” or “reject” the change. Any suggested additions to the text will be noted by a “hidden suggested” tag.
Ben has been writing about technology and consumer electronics for more than 20 years. A PCWorld contributor since 2014, Ben joined TechHive in 2019, where he covers smart speakers, soundbars, and other smart and home-theater devices. You can follow Ben on Twitter.