What's a QR code and how do I scan it?
A QR or Quick Response code is a two-dimensional bar code, which you can scan to access a website, an application, or other media. It’s like scanning a bar code in a supermarket, but better.
Why use QR codes?
Scanning QR codes can save you time and effort in your everyday life.
It's likely that you have already used your smartphone or tablet as a QR code reader to:
- Access information without typing (e.g. URL, text, images, GPS coordinates).
- Share your Wi-Fi password with friends (Android 10).
- Pay by scanning digital or paper QR codes (e.g. using mobile payment apps like PayPal).
- Use a QR code as your flight ticket.
- Use QR code authentication to log into a website.
- Scan a WhatsApp QR code to add a friend on WhatsApp.
- Scan a QR code in a restaurant to read a digital menu on your smartphone
QR codes have many advantages over linear bar codes. They consist of black squares arranged on a white background, which can store more data than linear bar codes. The more squares per side there are, the more data is encoded in a QR code. You can also scan QR codes from digital screens. This is not the case for linear bar codes, which you can only scan from paper.
The fun bit is that you can generate a QR code yourself. Below is a QR code generated using a free online QR Code generator. Scanning it will take you to the Sony support website.
How to scan a QR code with a smartphone?
Use the overview below to find out which Android and iOS versions have built-in QR code reader apps, and which need a separate app.
Scanning QR codes is different for smartphones running:
- Android 9 (Pie) and 10
- Android 8 (Oreo)
- Android 7 (Nougat) and lower
Option 1: Android 9 (Pie) and Android 10.
Your smartphone has a built-in QR code reader in the Camera app. You don’t need to download a QR code reader app.
Open the Camera app settings and activate Google Lens to scan QR codes. You can access Google Lens:
- From the Camera app.
- Via Google Assistant: Say ‘OK Google’ → Press on ‘Google Lens’ icon.
The Google Lens icon will only appear if it has found information about the scanned object. Google Lens offers more features than scanning QR codes. It uses image recognition technology to identify real-life objects (e.g. animals). Visit Google’s support website for more information about Google Lens.
Option 2: Android 8 (Oreo).
You can use Google Screen Search to scan QR codes. Your smartphone doesn’t need a separate QR code reader app. However, if you want to use Google Lens, you must download the Google Lens app.
To use Google Screen Search, you must activate Screen Search. To do this, open the Google app → Navigation → Settings → Enable Screen Search.
To scan a QR code using Google Screen Search:
- Point your smartphone’s camera at a QR code.
- Press and hold the Home button.
- Click on ‘What’s on my screen?’ when it appears on the screen.
- Tap on the push notification which will pop up on your screen to access the information stored in the QR code.
Option 3: Android 7 (Nougat) or lower.
Smartphones running Android 7 or lower need a separate QR code reader app to scan QR codes. Free apps can be downloaded from the Google Play Store.
The 2017 iOS 11 update allowed iPhone users to scan QR codes using their smartphones’ Camera app. You don’t have to download a QR code reader app.
Point your camera at a QR code and it will automatically scan the QR code (no need to press any buttons). A QR code link should then appear on your screen.
iPhone or iPad users can also use Google Lens via the Google Photos app.
I can't scan a QR code with my smartphone. What should I do?
If your smartphone doesn’t have a built-in QR code reader (Android 7 / iOS11 and lower), download a QR code reader app. Free apps can be downloaded from the Google Play Store.
Here are some tips on how you should scan QR codes with your smartphone:
- Hold your smartphone about a foot away from the QR code when scanning.
- Slowly move your smartphone towards the QR code.
- Make sure the QR code is clearly visible on your device's screen.
- Don’t scan at an angle.
- Don’t shake your device when scanning.
- Place the QR code on a plain background without patterns.
- Scan QR codes in bright lighting conditions.
- Make sure your shadow is not covering the QR code.
- Clean your smartphone’s camera lens.
Your device will either scan the code automatically once your camera's focussed or you will have to press a button in your QR code reader application. Keep in mind that scanning and processing QR codes can take a few seconds.