As smartphones are becoming ever more omnipresent, so do QR codes. These mazelike squares are a type of matrix barcode containing data — usually, QR codes point to a website or open a designated app.

Despite appearing confusing, QR codes are ridiculously easy to use. Follow the steps below to transform your phone into an instant QR code scanner using nothing more than your standard camera application.

Total Time: 5 minutes

How to scan a QR code on an iPhone

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Step 1: Open up the camera app

Apple’s iPhones have built-in QR code scanning capabilities right in the camera app itself, so you don’t have to download a separate scanning application unless you really want to. Additionally, there’s even a direct QR code reader in the Control Center since iOS 12, so you can start it even faster.

If you don’t see your iOS control center’s QR code icon then simply go to the Settings app, tap Control Center, then tap Customize Controls. Then find the QR Code Reader under the section More Controls, and tap the green “+” icon to add. Now, it will be easily accessible from the iOS Control Center whenever you need it straight — which you can access by swiping down from the top right of the screen.

Step 2: Position your phone so the QR code appears in the digital viewfinder.

The camera app should recognize the QR code automatically. The right distance and angle, of course, can help. The QR code need not fill the entire screen, but it should be visible to all four corners. If your camera is too angled the app might have trouble recognizing the code, so it’s best to have a straight-on approach. Image stabilization technology helps the shakes a lot, but try not to move too much so that the code square stays visible.

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Step 3: Launch the code

If you are scanning a QR code via the QR Code Reader found in the Control Center, the corresponding app or website will be started automatically. However, if you’re scanning the QR code using the iOS Camera app, your iPhone won’t automatically initiate QR code activity. Instead, a notification bar pops up at the top of the screen, showing that the QR was understood, usually with a handy brief description of what the QR code is going to do — like opening a specific web page. If you think the QR code is secure, tap the notification bar to start code activity.

How to scan a QR code on an Android phone

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Step 1: Check to see if your Android phone supports QR code scanning

Not all Android phones still have that ability, so you may need to take some extra steps before scanning. The Google Assistant may, however, detect QR codes. Just press the Home icon for a long time, or say “OK, Google,” then tap the Google Lens icon on the bottom right. If you have a Samsung phone with Bixby capabilities, then Bixby can also detect QR codes automatically. Otherwise, you might have to add an app. We suggest downloading the QR Code Reader, which is an option that is simple and highly effective (though one that comes with ads).

Step 2: Open your scanning app

Open the app, whether it’s Bixby, QR Code Reader, Samsung Optical Reader, or whatever the option on your Android phone is installed. These applications should have a “scanning” function that you can immediately choose from, or open directly via the camera to a scanning window.

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Step 3: Position the QR code

Remember, the corners of the code should be fully visible in the scanning window, and for it to work, the camera should be more or less directly above the code. Hold the phone steady while the code is identified.

Step 4: Choose the correct option

Then, the app should provide a pop-up option to take a QR code-based action. You may be asked to navigate to a website, download something, or open an app that you are currently using. If you trust the source, believe the QR code is safe, and understand what it’s going to do, choose the most appropriate option.

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