Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Secret New Tools For Google

Secret New Tools For Google

Think you know Google inside out? Well, think again. David Ludlow lifts the lid on 30 of the search giant’s newest and most useful hidden features in the services you use every day

Google tools such as Maps, YouTube, Chrome, Drive and of course search have become so integral to our lives - both online and off - that it’s hard to imagine how we’d survive without them. And although there are valid concerns about what Google does with our data, no other company can claim to offer so many sites and so much software of such good quality and ease of use.

Much of Google’s success is down to the fact that it never stops improving its existing tools and developing new ones, so there’s always something new and useful for us to try. Over the following six pages, we round up our favourite new and lesser-known features from the search giant, spanning all its most popular products and a few that have launched more recently.


Search a site from anywhere

If you visit a website that has a search box, such as Amazon, Chrome learns how the site’s search works and adds the site automatically as a search option. To try it, type amazon.со.uk kitchen roll into Chrome. Instead of pressing Enter, which will make Chrome search Google, press Tab. You’ll see that ‘’ changes to ‘Search’. Now press Enter, and you’ll be taken to the Amazon website, with the search results for your term. In our case, the page listing kitchen rolls.

Use Chrome's Task Manager

Chrome has its own built-in Task Manager, which you can use to shut down websites that have stopped responding. To launch this useful tool, either press Shift+Esc or open the main menu, click More Tools and select Task Manager.

Websites are listed in the Task Manager with the word ‘Tab:’ at the start, but you can also see Plugins and Apps, which run in the background. Select the tab that isn’t responding and click End Process to shut it down.

Stop background music

There’s nothing more annoying than having lots of tabs open, only for one noisy website to start playing music or a video. Fortunately, Google provides an easy way to stop the racket.

If sound starts coming out of your computer’s speakers, cast your eye across the row of Tabs until you see the one (or more) with a speaker icon. These are the Tabs that are making noise. Right-click any you want to silence and select Mute Tab from the menu. Repeat as necessary to reclaim your peace and quiet.


Get definitions of words

You can use the search term ‘Define:[name]’ to turn Google into a handy dictionary. Typing Define:montage, for example, brings up a search box explaining the meaning of the word 'montage'. You can even click the speaker icon to hear how the word should be pronounced. Typing a word by itself often yields a similar result, but using the define command forces the issue.

Find related websites

If you’ve got a favourite website and you want to find others that are similar, you can use the Google search phrase ’related'. Type related:[domain name], where [domain name] is the web address of a site minus the ‘www.’. For example, brings up a list of sites for other Premier League football clubs. The ’related’ keyword is a powerful tool that saves you having to wade through irrelevant search results.

Search for specific numbers

You can get Google to search for a specific number by using double dots ('..'). For example, searching for world cup winner ..06 tells Google that you want to know who won the World Cup, but that the search result must contain ‘06’. You can also search for ranges of numbers by putting numbers before and after the double dots. For example, ‘1..4’ searches for sites that have the numbers 1, 2, 3 and 4 in them. This tip is, perhaps, a little niche, but if you need to narrow down a search by numbers, that’s how you do it.

Perform simple calculations

Google not only finds information on other websites, it can also perform calculations of its own. Type in a simple maths formula (3x7+12, for example) and Google will give you the result and display an on-screen calculator to help you make further calculations. To use the calculator, you can either click the numbers and operators with your mouse or type them on your keyboard.

Convert currency

Google can convert currency for you, too. It uses the latest bank exchange rates rather than tourist rates, but it’s good enough to give you a ballpark conversion figure.

You can use the service in two ways. First, you can simply search for the currencies by name. Type US dollars in British pounds sterling, for example, to see the current exchange rate. You can then use the boxes that appear to enter the precise figures you want to convert.

Alternatively, you can perform the conversion straight away using symbols. For example, $15 in £ will show you exactly how much $15 is worth in pounds.

Track flights through Google

If you’re about to head off on holiday or pick someone up from the airport, you can use Google to search for flight information. Type the flight number into Google for up-to-date information on the flight, including when it took off (or is scheduled to do so), when it landed (or its estimated arrival time), where the flight took off and where it will land, including the airport and terminal. It’s a brilliant and speedy way of tracking flights and is much faster than using an airport’s own service.


Block adverts on YouTube

To provide revenue for video creators, YouTube often shows ads, known as ‘pre-rolls’, before a video plays. Some of these can be more than five minutes long, although these epic adverts usually give you the option to skip after five or 30 seconds. If you’re stuck watching an awful ad that you can’t skip, try refreshing the page, because you may be shown a different ad instead - and hopefully a shorter one.

If you keep seeing the same annoying ad, you can block it to ensure you never have to sit through it again. To do this, click the small ‘i’ button in the bottom-left corner of the video and click ’Stop seeing this ad’. This has the added benefit of skipping the current ad and taking you straight to the video. We're not sure how many times you can get away with doing this, but it’s less extreme than using an ad blocker.

Avoid the worst YouTube videos

YouTube isn't likely to serve up videos it thinks you’ll hate, but sometimes it’s nice to know that you’re about to watch a video you’ll probably enjoy. YouTube Ratings Preview ( is a handy extension for Chrome that adds a blue bar to the thumbnail of every video link on every page on YouTube. It looks a bit like a progress bar, but it shows how much the video has been liked.

The extension offers plenty of scope for customisation, including colour, size and an option to highlight the best-rated videos on any given page. It’s a must-have for avid YouTubers.

Force YouTube to play in HD

YouTube can stream all its videos in a variety of resolutions and sizes, and it automatically picks the one it thinks is best for your device and connection speed. This ensures your video starts quickly, but it’s annoying if you’re using a desktop computer with a fast connection and you’re denied one of the HD streams. If you don’t see the HD label over the Settings button when a video starts playing, it means YouTube is playing it as a lower-quality stream. To change this, click the cog icon, click Quality and choose the resolution you want.

Alternatively, you can use the Chrome extension Auto HD for YouTube ( to ensure the website always plays videos in HD. This extension lets you specify the default settings you prefer for YouTube videos, including resolution and player size.


Crop and rotate images perfectly

One of the most useful tools in Google Photos is ‘crop and rotate’ - the icon looks like a square with arrows around it. When you drag the square to crop a photo, it divides the selected area into nine equal boxes, each one a third of the width and height of the selection. This lets you use the rule of thirds to make your image more appealing. The idea is to line up one of the lines with the part of the image that should draw attention, such as the subject’s eyes.

To the right of the photo is a slider marked with degrees. If a picture looks wonky, you can use this slider to straighten it. Finally, you can change the aspect ratio of an image using the drop-down menu at the top (the icon has a rectangle with dots in it). The options include Original, Square, 16:9 (the same as a widescreen TV), 4:3 (the same as most phones and compact cameras) and 3:2 (used in professional cameras).

Create an instant photo collage

Google Photo lets you bundle your best shots into a collage. Simply select between two and nine images, then click the '+’ icon and choose Collage. Google Photos will put the images together on a single page, and save the result as a new photo. Annoyingly, you can’t change the order of the images or the layout.

Turn your photos into a movie

If you want to create a video slideshow of your images that you can then share, you need the mobile version of Photos for Android or iOS. Select the images you want to include, then tap '+’ and select Movie. Photos bundles the images into a moving slideshow, but before you save it, you have some options, which you can access via the icons at the bottom of the screen. From left to right, these let you change the style of the slideshow, choose a soundtrack and change the order in which your photos appear. Click the arrow to save your finished video, which you’ll find in Albums, Videos in Google Photos. Confusingly, videos are labelled with the date of the most recent image, rather than when you made the video.


Access selected folders offline

You can use Google Drive offline by downloading the app to your PC or Mac. This will automatically download files from your online account to the Google Drive folder on your computer; similarly, any files you copy into this folder are automatically backed up to your online Google Drive account, so you can access them over the web - a green tick next to a file shows that it’s been backed up.

If you don’t want to synchronise everything from your online Drive account with your computer, there’s a selective sync option that lets you choose which files and folders to back up. To change the setting, click the main menu in Google Drive and select Preferences. Change the sync options from ’Sync everything in My Drive' to ’Sync only these folders’. Remove the tick from any folder you don’t want to synchronise and click Apply. You’ll then be able to access those folders offline.

Restore previous versions of files

It’s easy to accidentally overwrite a file with a new version, losing work in the process. Fortunately, Google Drive makes it easy to correct this type of error because it keeps multiple versions of files. By default, versions are kept for 30 days, so you can easily roll back to a previous one. The rollback process differs depending on whether the file is a Google one, such as Docs or Sheets, or a regular file you’ve uploaded from your computer.

To view an earlier version of a Google Drive file, open it, click the File menu and select ‘See revision history’. Find the version you want and click the ‘Restore this revision’ link. You can also copy and paste data from the preview window, which is handy for grabbing text that you’ve overwritten.

To restore revisions of a non-Google file you’ve uploaded, such as an image or Word document, right-click it and select ‘Manage versions’. This brings up a list of versions, sorted by date. Simply find the version of the file that you want to restore, click the main menu and select Download to save a copy to your computer.

Save files to multiple folders

Google Drive doesn’t have to be organised in the same way as your hard drive, and files can exist in multiple locations so you can share them while also keeping personal copies. Better yet, any changes made to a file or folder in one location are automatically applied to their duplicates in other places.

To use this feature, open your Drive and select the files that you want to save in multiple folders (hold down Ctrl to select more than one at a time). Press Shift-Z and navigate to the folder you want your files to be stored in. You can use the New Folder button to add a folder if one doesn't already exist. When you’ve made your choice, click the Add button and your files will now appear in two locations. You can edit your files in any folder they appear in, but note that deleting any instance of a file will delete it from all locations.


Add animated GIFs to messages

Why write loads of words when one brilliant animated GIF can do the job so much better? Giphy (, the world’s largest and most popular animated GIF website, can now integrate directly with Gmail. Just install the Giphy for Gmail extension ( to add a Giphy button to the Compose window in Gmail. Click this, enter a search term, select your hilarious GIF and click Send.

Control Gmail using keyboard shortcuts

Although Gmail runs in your browser, it still behaves like a Desktop application. This means that there’s full support for keyboard shortcuts, which can make Gmail a lot faster to use than using your mouse.

Annoyingly, the default setting in Gmail is for the majority of keyboard shortcuts to be disabled. To turn them on, click the cog icon in the top-right corner, select Settings and scroll down the General tab to the ‘Keyboard shortcuts' section. Select ‘Keyboard shortcuts on’ and then scroll down to the bottom of the page and select Save changes. You can now start to use keyboard shortcuts.

See our table below for a selection of the most useful ones.

Gmail keyboard shortcuts

Delete specific messages from Gmail

If you want to find and delete all emails from a particular person or company, just search for their name. When you’ve found an email from them, hover your mouse over their name to bring up a pop-up window, then click Emails. This will list all emails to and from that address, so you can bin them all in one fell swoop.

To delete all unread messages, type is:unread into the search box. This will find any emails that are marked as unread. You can use the similar is:read to find all read email if you only want to leave the messages you haven’t got around to reading yet.

Get notifications for new emails

Knowing when you’ve got new messages isn’t always easy with Gmail, which is why you need Checker Plus for Gmail ( This handy Chrome extension monitors your Gmail inboxes and displays pop-up messages when you get new emails. You can also click the notification icon in your browser to see a preview of any messages without opening Gmail.


Create custom Google Maps

You may find that standard Google Maps don’t show all the information you want. With custom Google Maps, you can correct this by building your own plans, complete with directions, marker points, measurements and drawings. For example, you may want to create a map, showing people how to get to your house, a pub or another location.

To create a custom map, go to and click ‘Create a new map’. This will load a new map view. Use the search box to find the area you want to map, such as your home postcode. Click Untitled on the left and give your map a name.

Custom additions to a map are handled through layers. A layer can be toggled on and off, updating the map view, and can contain a mixture of different markers. It makes sense to create a layer for each type of information you want to display, because it makes map management easier in the future.

You can also add markers to a layer, highlighting points of interest. Click the balloon icon to select the ‘Add marker’ tool, then click the map where you want the marker to appear. Enter a name for the marker and, optionally, a description in the large box underneath. Click Save when you’re done.

Download maps to browse offline

Using Google Maps while on holiday makjes it easy to find your way around an unfamiliar location, but data-roaming costs can make it expensive to use. With a bit of planning, you can use hidden features in Google Maps to save all your maps and the places you want to visit for viewing offline. First, search for the place you want to view offline - Lisbon, for example - then pan and zoom around the screen, so you can see the entire area you want to save, up to 50 x 50km.

Pull up the info panel from the bottom of the screen and tap Download. Note that saved maps ‘expire’ after 30 days. To stop this happeneing, just open it when you’re online to refresh its data.

Send maps to your phone

If you’re using the web version of Google Maps to look up a place you want to visit, you can use the ‘Send to phone’ feature to save you repeating the search on your mobile device. Search for a point of interest, address or location, then click the marker icon on the map to open the sidebar. Click the ’Send to your phone’ link and select your phone in the list. You’ll get a notification on your phone, giving you the option to start navigation, view directions or just view the address on your phone’s map.

Search along your route

Google recently added a feature that lets you search along your route for petrol stations, restaurants, supermarkets and coffee shops. Tap the search icon for the options (although not when you’re driving!). Alternatively, you can say, “OK Google" and ask to see specific stops on your route, for example, “Show me petrol stations”.


Alio (, Google’s rival to WhatsApp, lets you send text messages to friends and family over the internet, rather than using SMS. If you want your Alio chats to be secure and discreet, switch to incognito mode. Messages sent in this mode are encrypted, so Google can’t read them. You won’t see previews in the Alio inbox, either, and their details won’t appear in notifications. To use incognito mode, tap the New Chat icon (the speech bubble), then tap Start incognito chat and select a contact. You can tap the timer icon to specify the chat’s expiry time: when the time is up, it’s securely deleted.


Google Keep ( lets you set reminders for your notes, so you can be alerted about something you need to do. As you’d expect, you can set these reminders to trigger at a set date and time, but you can also seta location. Provided you have the Google Keep app on your phone; you’ll be reminded about your note when you get to your set location.

To set a reminder, create or edit a note, then click the reminder icon (a hand with a string tied around an upward-pointing finger). Choose a time to be reminded, then select Place and enter an address. In the web version, just start typing and Google will autocomplete for you; in the mobile app, you’ll also see a map that updates in real time.


Google’s new Trips app for Android and iOS ( pulls in travel information from your Gmail account to build you a ‘trip’ that contains all your reservation details, essential travel advice (currency, tipping, transport and the like) and a sightseeing itinerary. For major cities, Google Trips has pre-defined Day plans to help you visit top attractions, but you can also create your own. Go to a trip, select ‘Day plans’ and tap the + icon. Choose if you want your plan to be for the Morning, Afternoon or ‘Full day’, and the day of the week, which can change plans based on which attractions are open. Tap Done and you’ll see the attractions highlighted on the map, with information cards at the bottom of the screen.