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Comparison shopping with Google Android

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Using your cell phone to find online deals isn't new, but T-Mobile's G1 is taking the concept to a new level. Currently, there are three barcode-scanning applications that use the Internet and the G1's GPS capabilities to zero in on low prices. We put the three Android-based apps to the test to find out how well they worked.

App: Barcode Scanner

What it does: Developed by ZXing, this open-source app takes advantage of the G1's built-in camera and lets you scan barcode images on the fly. Upon identifying a product, it uses either Google or Google Product Search to find the lowest price available.

Real world test: Of the three shopping apps we looked at, Barcode Scanner was the simplest, with no extra features or GPS-tracking functions. On average, it took about 10 seconds to identify a barcode and then it instantly delivered pricing information for that product. In terms of actual price comparisons, Barcode Scanner solely relies on Google Product Search and Google to find pricing information. (It falls back on the latter if a product isn't found in Google Product Search.) While Google Product Search boasts a massive database, it's a pretty awful price comparison engine — it's hard to use, full of false results, and filled with merchants of questionable quality. As a result, Barcode Scanner didn't always find the lowest price on a given item. In addition, it's up to you to sort through the resulting prices, Barcode Scanner only performs the search.
Verdict: Don't download (Score: 2/4)

App: Compare Everywhere

What it does: In addition to scanning barcodes and offering price comparisons, Compare Everywhere takes advantage of the G1's GPS capabilities and provides turn-by-turn directions for local stores that carry the items you scan. Other features let you create shopping lists and wish lists for products you want.

Real world test: Unlike Barcode Scanner, Compare Everywhere was fast at scanning barcodes (it usually identified them in under 10 seconds) and it provided a wealth of information on practically every product we threw its way. Although it's unclear where the app gets its pricing info, on average it provided over 10 merchants for each product we scanned. The stores were categorized as "local" or "online." Upon clicking on a local store, the app would provide that store's phone number and map out directions to that store using either the G1's browser or Google Maps. Clicking on an "online" store would launch the Web browser and take you to the appropriate product page.

We particularly liked that if a barcode wasn't in Compare Everywhere's database, it offered you the option of manually typing it in and uploading the information to UPCDatabase.com. Our main gripe with this app lies with its vendor affiliations. While it listed many national retailers like Circuit City, some of its smaller merchant affiliations were with stores we had never heard of, such as iUnitek and Viperspace Business Technologies.

Verdict: Must download (Score: 3/4)

App: ShopSavvy

What it does: Like Compare Everywhere, ShopSavvy can scan barcodes, map out directions to local stores, and let you create wish lists for products you want to buy. It also has a few features that Compare Everywhere lacks, like the ability to find new and refurbished products and the ability to alert you when the products you want reach certain price points. In addition, it provides user reviews for select products and lets you sort through reviews via their rating.

Real world test: As of this writing, ShopSavvy is the smartest shopping app in Android Market. Though it performs the same functions as Compare Everywhere, we found ShopSavvy to be a bit more polished than its competitor. The user interface is slightly more intuitive and the app seemed to offer more vendors than both Barcode Scanner and Compare Everywhere. We also like that it lists new and refurbished items, and if you have trouble scanning a barcode, ShopSavvy lets you manually enter the product's UPC, ISBN, or ASIN code with the G1's keypad.

Another feature we liked is ShopSavvy's price alert function, which e-mails you when a product you want reaches a designated price point. Unfortunately, we ran into a few problems while using ShopSavvy. For instance, some of the prices the app listed were no longer valid when we clicked through to purchase them. In some occasions, the item was out of stock, or the price had increased significantly.

Verdict: Must download (Score: 4/4)

Final Verdict

Of the three shopping apps, ShopSavvy is the clear winner. In addition to its great UI and extra features, it was the only app that successfully scanned and recognized our food items (which ranged from pretzels to Fruit Roll-Ups). Our only gripe with the app is that it doesn't provide vendor ratings. In fact, none of the apps provide vendor ratings, which is a must if you're shopping at an online store you're not familiar with.

Will any of these apps replace your computer for comparison shopping? Definitely not. In addition to requiring a G1 smartphone, these apps also need solid cellular reception and patience, as some barcodes are harder to scan than others. On average, it took us about 3 to 4 minutes to scan a product, browse through the results, and select a store. (For comparison, this process takes less than 30 seconds on a home computer.) Nevertheless, all of the apps are fun to use and they're a novel way to show off the power of T-Mobile's G1.

Louis Ramirez is dealnews' Features editor.

Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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