Improve the search functionality on your Android device

Jack Wallen offers a few ways to make searching easier, more accurate, and more powerful on your Android mobile device.

When you have a lot of data, searching becomes a crucial task to make work more efficient. Most Android users know of the Search button and widget, but many of those users don't really know how to make the most of that function. Not only are there ways to maximize your search, but you can also download apps that enable deeper searching.

Here's how to make searching easier, more accurate, and more powerful on your Android mobile device.

Select what you search

Did you know that you can configure the Android Search tool to search just specific "locations"? For example, if you want to contain your search to only your phone Contacts, tap Menu | Settings | Search | Searchable Items. From this screen (see Figure A), select Contacts -- or People, depending on what Android device you own -- and de-select all other items. Now when you search, only Contacts will be available.

Figure A

Not all items in the above image will be listed on your phone. Go through the list on your Android device to find what "locations" you want to include in your search.

Of course searching only your Contacts (People) is a fairly limiting, especially considering you have several other search options:

  • Web
  • Memo
  • Apps
  • Calendar
  • Docs
  • Music Player (Music)
  • Messaging (Messages)

Any application that you've installed that has searchable items (such as Twitter, eBay, and Amazon Kindle) can also be enabled from this screen.

The big confusion about searching is this: When you enter a search string, does the Android automatically search everything and then list it all out with identifiable markings to indicate where the results originated? No. If you tap on the Search button, the Search tool will appear. There's an icon to the left of the text input field that is actually a drop-down menu, where you can select what "location" you want to search (see Figure B).

Figure B

Tap the default Google icon to reveal all of the searchable "locations" you enabled in Searchable Items.

But what if you want to dig deeper, especially in Contacts? By default, the Contacts search only searches in the Title field, but this can be a problem when a user includes notes and other bits of information about their Contacts that they need to search. With the help of one of the more impressive single-purpose apps out there, Contact Search+, the Android mobile can dig deep within those Contacts to root out any information you need.

Contact Search+ is not a free app ($3.99 USD), but it's worth every cent -- especially if you're a Contact junkie. Once it's installed, make sure to go back to the Searchable Items configuration and check Contact Search+ for inclusion in searching. Now, when you go to search, Contact Search+ will be available to select for searching.

A word of warning... if you have a lot of contacts with a lot of information contained within, searching with Contact Search+ won't be nearly as speedy as the standard Contact search. But for those users who need to be able to dig deeper into their Contacts, this application is priceless.

Gesture Search

Another outstanding tool is the Google Gesture Search. Once you install this free application (the installation from the Android Market is quite simple and offers a great walk-through explanation of how the tool is used), all that's necessary is to fire up the app and then, using your finger, draw the first letter of the word you want to search. As you draw the word, fewer and fewer items will display. To open the desired item, simply tap on it.

From the Settings window (tap Menu while in Google Gesture Search), you can configure what items you want to search. You won't find as many available items here as you do in the standard search, but there are enough to make this application incredibly handy.

Searching the Android mobile is one of the better search experiences you'll find on the smartphone (or tablet) platform. And with the addition of the applications listed here, searching is not only easy, it's powerful and quick.