Search the web without typing: How to use your voice, pictures and even songs to find what you want
You don’t need to use your keyboard to find what you want online. Here we explain the best ways to search with a minimum of typing and tapping using your voice, pictures and even songs.
Use your voice
We’re sure you’re familiar with Google’s ‘Search by voice’ function, which has been available on Android since 2008 and on its homepage in Chrome since 2011. To use it on your phone or tablet, open the Google app and either say “OK Google” or tap the microphone, then speak your query. On your desktop PC, click the microphone in the Google search box.
This is a very useful feature, but if you use it in your browser, you’re limited to searching with Google (on mobile it also works with other apps). To unleash the full potential of speech recognition, you need a Chrome extension called Voice Search. Powered by iSpeech, this tool lets you search sites including Google Maps, YouTube, Wikipedia, Bing and DuckDuckGo using your voice. Simply click the microphone button on your toolbar and speak the relevant command. It can enter frequently used terms automatically, so if you say “my name”, it will fill in your name.
Firefox has been lacking built-in voice-search functionality, so we’re delighted to see that Mozilla has finally addressed this deficiency with a feature called Voice Fill. Currently available as a Test Pilot experiment (bit.ly/voicefill431), it places a microphone button next to the search boxes for Google, DuckDuckGo and Yahoo, so you can speak your query rather than type it. You’ll need to install the Test Pilot add-on and allow access to your microphone, and you should be aware that during the test phase, Mozilla will collect and analyse data about how the tool is used – anonymously, of course.
Use a picture
Reverse-image search engines such as TinEye and Google Images are a useful way of identifying the subject of a photo, and they also save you having to type anything when you’re looking for higher-quality or related images of something in particular. To use either service, visit its site and either upload the image file, paste its URL or drag and drop the image into the search box. Alternatively, you can install TinEye’s add-on for Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Opera or Google’s Search by Image Chrome extension and simply right-click a web image to look it up. Both search engines find online matches for your picture, so you can view information about its content and source, download a better-quality version and see “visually similar” shots of the same subject, as well as modifications of the original.
Wolfram Alpha’s Image Identification Project goes a step further by trying to guess the subject of a picture – with varying degrees of success!
Use your camera
Do you remember Google Goggles, the revolutionary way of searching online for items in the real world by snapping them with your phone’s camera? Possibly not, because Google had lost interest in it by 2014, deeming the app “of no clear use to too many people”. However, you can still install it from the Play store. The new Google Lens is also said to be a more advanced spin on the Goggles idea, and lets you scan anything with your camera to receive instant and relevant information.
You can also try CamFind for Android and iOS. Take a photo of a mystery object, and this innovative visual-search engine will find details of it on the web, as well as related items. CamFind can also fetch trailers from images of movie posters, get reviews from restaurant signs, find the lowest prices for products and more, without you needing to type a single character. It’s fast and accurate, and keeps a record of all your searches.
Use drag & drop
A quick way to search without typing in Chrome is to highlight some text, right-click it and choose ‘Search Google for…’. An even faster and more flexible option, with no right-clicking required, is to install the extension Simple Drag & Drop Search, which lets you choose from multiple search engines. Highlight your search term and a small panel opens showing icons for sites including Google, Wikipedia, YouTube, Twitter and Google Maps. Click the one you want to use to open the search results in a new tab; or click the ‘S’ to view alternative options or to copy the selected text to your clipboard. You can customise the icon panel to show only your favourite search providers; or hide it in favour of the drag -and-drop approach that gives the add-on its name.
You may not realise that you can also search for a term using your browser’s default search engine simply by dragging and dropping the highlighted text to the address bar.
As mentioned in the previous tip, most browsers let you search for a highlighted term on a web page by right-clicking, but this limits you to your default search engine. You can expand your options by using an extension such as Context Menu Search for Chrome or Context Search for Firefox, both of which add extra search engines to your right-click ‘Search with’ menu. You can choose between Bing, IMDb, Amazon, Wikipedia, iPlayer and more, so you can select the best option for a particular search. It saves you having to open a new tab and post your query manually.
Use a song
If you want to identify a music file you’ve downloaded or received, you could search online for the lyrics (if there are any), but a better way is to upload the file to Audiotag. This site suggests possible matches for the song, giving each a likelihood rating, and even tells you which albums the track is on. It’s very easy to use, although to see the results you need to “prove you’re a human” by performing a simple sum. You can also use Audiotag to identify online music by copying and pasting the song’s URL.
Another option is to play a tune into a music-recognition app such as Shazam or SoundHound. Both free apps can identify millions of songs in a couple of seconds, and they provide detailed information about each track, including lyrics and artist biographies. Shazam is available for Windows 10, as well as Android and iOS.