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Catching Siri: An in-depth look at voice command apps on Android

Posted: , by Michael H.

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Don't bother

Eva/Evan

Eva/Evan has the dishonor of being our number one app that you should avoid at all costs. Eva(n) really tries to personify the personal assistant idea, but ends up being a sloppy cash grab. Users can get a free trial of the service through either the Eva Intern or Evan Intern apps. As you can guess, Eva is the female voice option, and Evan the male, but both are the same app otherwise. Not only is this the only app that has a limited free trial before requiring a purchase, after the free trial, the app will cost you $8.99, which is 3 times the cost of the only other voice command app that even has a paid option. 

Catching Siri: An in-depth look at voice command apps on Android
Eva(n) does try to play up the personal assistant idea, but fails for a few reasons: first, the picture of Eva stares at you with dead eyes; second, it repeats everything you say back to you in a way that reminds more of someone just learning a language rather than an (artificially) intelligent service; and third, it has no real personality. It does offer a number of options for voice commands, but not much that sets it apart from other, better apps. Two commands that only exist in Eva(n) are to create journal entries, and make expense reports. Theoretically, you could say something like "I just spent $30 on gas" and it will build an expense report for you. 

We say "theoretically" because Eva(n) is actually completely useless in practical application. Eva(n) is extremely slow because it not only reads back your every query, but has long delays in finding answers, or even figuring out what your question is. Even though it uses the same Google voice recognition as everything else, it pulls all of the possible phrases along with the most likely match of what you said. This means that no matter what command you give, Eva(n) will give back a list of possibilities for what you said, scroll through them, then more often than not, it will tell you that it understands you, but doesn't know what to do. Or, it will ask you to tap on the command you want, which not only takes up absurd amounts of time, but also completely defeats the point of voice command. It's never good enough to say "I understand," when you can't show that you understand.

One last note isn't specific to Eva(n), but is a good thing to keep in mind: some of the Android voice command apps offer an option to have the app trigger when you shake your phone. This sounds good in theory, but again, in practice it tends to be a bit useless, because the app will be triggered simply by the phone being in your pocket as you walk. That option can be turned off, so that's a good setting to check when you first fire up Eva(n) (assuming you ignore our recommendation to burn this app), or if you choose Jeannie. 

Iris

Iris is best known as the Android Siri alternative that was built in just 8 hours, and that is readily apparent right from the start, even though we reviewed this app after it had been updated (so we're assuming it had at least 16 hours of work done). The two most important features for a voice command app on Android are: 1) mapping to the long-press of the search button, or failing that 2) a widget. Iris has neither even after its recent update. This means the only option for using the app is to leave whatever you're doing and open the app itself, unlike other options which would be available at all times by long-pressing the search button, and some which can be triggered by shaking your phone. The entire point of voice command is speed and efficiency, so not having the most efficient and fastest way to call up the app itself is a deal-killer for us. 

Catching Siri: An in-depth look at voice command apps on Android
Aside from that failure, Iris does have its strengths. Iris does well for quickly finding specific information or initiating Google searches, and it will read answers to you. By specific information, we mean things like most who/where/when/what questions for data. Iris easily answered when we asked "Who is Charles Barkley?" or "When was the Declaration of Independence signed?" or "What is the population of London?" The new version 2.12 has also added hooks into Google Maps, allowing you to search for nearby places. 

However, outside of those types of questions, Iris can have trouble. It is a bit wonky with math, answering the question "What's 5*38?" with "10 I think, but I'm not good at math." But, it also knows a bit more than Drake and was able to accurately give the square root of 69. More opaque questions won't get you anywhere. We asked "Was Michael Jordan the best basketball player of all time?" To which, Iris answered, "Ask again later. Ask Dancing Alice if it is." And, when we asked, "Who is Dancing Alice?" Iris didn't know. 

But, the main point of voice commands is in the commands, not just being able to get information read to you, because every app that we tested could do everything that Iris can as far as searching, but all had extra commands beyond the basic. Again this is a weakness for Iris. The only options available for commands are to initiate calls, send a text, and lookup of contacts. Even in this, Iris doesn't customize, as all texts are sent through the Messaging app, with no option to use Google Voice or any other SMS app you may prefer. 

Overall though, Iris is fairly impressive for such an early build of an app. Version 2 shows that the team is still working on Iris, but still has a lot of work to do. But, right now, we can't really recommend Iris for much, because you can get more value from most other apps available. 

Cluzee

Cluzee is a hot mess. The app was released just as we were putting the finishing touches on this piece, and received the "praise" of certain websites as the first true Siri competitor on Android. The trouble is, we're pretty sure none of those sites actually tried using the app before doing those write-ups. 

Catching Siri: An in-depth look at voice command apps on Android
First, Cluzee is a beast. It clocks in at over 20 MB installed and cannot be moved to an SD card. Of course, this won't matter so much to users with newer handsets, but it made testing the app on our Nexus One a bit tricky. It is also a resource hog though. It routinely set off our Watchdog warnings for using up over 65% of the CPU, and slowing down everything. Second, Cluzee is lousy with bugs. It force closes so often that after being in the Android Market for just a day, it had 500 ratings and just 2 out of 5 stars. 

That said, Cluzee is also extremely ambitious. It is designed well, with an intuitive UI. And, on top of the standard commands and queries that most other apps can handle, it claims to offer a number of features that no other can match, such as having a health planner, travel planner, and personal radio (aka weather and news headlines which are read to you). We say "claims to offer" because of course the app has to work before anyone can use said features. When we tried to use the daily planner, the app hung on populating the calendar (even though there were likely no more than one or two things per day at most on the calendar.) Many of the options led to force closes or general slowdown.

The biggest problem with Cluzee isn't that it's a buggy mess, it's that beyond the buggy mess, we can see the start of what looks like a great idea. The addition of personalized recommendations, deals, personal planner, health planner, and headlines adds quite a bit to the standard voice command experience. To a large extent, Cluzee seems to be trying to mesh Vlingo (which Cluzee has almost completely ripped off as far as car mode and UI, just with a color change from blue and black to white and orange,) with the functions found in other options. If Cluzee can clean up its bugs and shrink the app to a more manageable size, there could be something special here, but right now there's no point in even installing it.

87 Comments
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posted on 30 Nov 2011, 15:42 12

1. cncrim (Posts: 458; Member since: 15 Aug 2011)


Apple need something to market it with...... 4s. Can't impresstion camera or processor and App Store is getting old, so something diffirent is Siri.

posted on 30 Nov 2011, 15:47 37

2. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2649; Member since: 26 May 2011)


Oh don't worry, I wasn't expecting people to bother reading this before commenting. I just hope you shared the link!

posted on 30 Nov 2011, 15:51 10

3. remixfa (Posts: 13902; Member since: 19 Dec 2008)


omg.. SNAP! :)

posted on 30 Nov 2011, 15:57 31

7. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2649; Member since: 26 May 2011)


Sorry, I just find it rude. I spent a lot of time working on this piece, and someone has to chime in 4 minutes after it's posted with a comment? Show some respect. That's all I ask

posted on 30 Nov 2011, 17:11 6

22. systamatics (Posts: 63; Member since: 16 Nov 2011)


i read it :)

posted on 30 Nov 2011, 20:58 5

34. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2649; Member since: 26 May 2011)


Thanks!

posted on 30 Nov 2011, 19:23 7

31. RazaAsad (Posts: 100; Member since: 24 Nov 2011)


Nice article. I read it and liked it :)

posted on 30 Nov 2011, 20:58 3

35. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2649; Member since: 26 May 2011)


Thanks!

posted on 01 Dec 2011, 00:15 3

43. robinrisk (unregistered)


Michael, you make the best articles on this site!

Every article that isnt just news, but actuallysomethought and reflection always has your name, and you write very well.

posted on 01 Dec 2011, 07:03 4

54. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2649; Member since: 26 May 2011)


Thanks! I'll try to keep it up.

posted on 01 Dec 2011, 03:36 3

52. saiki4116 (Posts: 325; Member since: 31 Mar 2011)


really an awesome article...whenever i see an article by Micheal H,I am pretty sure it is well worked out article with critical reasoning and sufficient information to back it up...

posted on 01 Dec 2011, 07:03 2

55. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2649; Member since: 26 May 2011)


Thanks!

posted on 01 Dec 2011, 14:53 1

72. rendHELL (Posts: 304; Member since: 09 Nov 2011)


We read it at work and we all liked it... Keep on making great articles like this... keep up the good work!!..

posted on 01 Dec 2011, 20:56 1

73. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2649; Member since: 26 May 2011)


Thanks!

posted on 02 Dec 2011, 00:28

76. nghtwng68 (Posts: 73; Member since: 26 Nov 2009)


Don't let that HATER (cncrim) ruin a great and informative article. The entire mobile community appreciates you bro on this write up and many others.
Keep it up and forget that fool.

posted on 02 Dec 2011, 06:32

78. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2649; Member since: 26 May 2011)


Thanks! Will do.

posted on 30 Nov 2011, 15:57

6. protozeloz (Posts: 5369; Member since: 16 Sep 2010)


Of topic: you think IO might have being moved to allow them to present a new assistant app with more powerful tools? I mean Google seem to be more interest in finding out about the way you speak rather than what you are saying could it have a deeper meaning ?

Nice article. I still kinda like Jeanie the most tho

posted on 30 Nov 2011, 16:02 3

8. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2649; Member since: 26 May 2011)


I think Google definitely can put out a very compelling product as far as features. Google has a ton of data on how we ask for things, so it could make that quite a bit better. Personality has never been Google's strong suit tho...

posted on 30 Nov 2011, 16:04 6

10. remixfa (Posts: 13902; Member since: 19 Dec 2008)


who has more data on us than google? lol.

i love google and most of the stuff they do, but they need a stronger advertising department.. lol. or at least some beta testing where we are allowed to rate the products on certain credentials and give our input. group think google project.. has a nice ring to it. :)

BTW, michael, i almost fell out of my chair when i read your retort. lol its rude to blind comment, but that was straight up funny. :)

posted on 30 Nov 2011, 16:23

16. protozeloz (Posts: 5369; Member since: 16 Sep 2010)


I think they can do an outstanding job if they put their mind to it, there are so many things they could do to boost "assistance" at least make one that tries to actually understand you and acomodate your life rather than being commanded to do so. this smartphone world needs another good shaking its being a bit boring lately, and a true assistant could do the trick

posted on 30 Nov 2011, 18:14

24. speckledapple (Posts: 877; Member since: 29 Sep 2011)


you got a point. Google has just as much as Apple in terms of data, to a point much much more. Finding uses for that data is where they need to become crisp at. I use Vlingo and it does me just fine in terms of voice control. Better than what my previous blackberry had before. You were right though. Advertising (with so many vendors) and ability are things that need work.

posted on 30 Nov 2011, 19:30 3

32. Synack (Posts: 659; Member since: 05 Jul 2011)


To be honest Michael, we don't really want or need Siri. Apple is TELLING the world that they need Siri but in fact only 1% of people will talk to their phones. I have yet to see one person use Siri. Most people tell me they just shut the bitch off because it interferes with the things they do.

posted on 30 Nov 2011, 20:59 2

36. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2649; Member since: 26 May 2011)


I've said exactly that in other pieces (and it's also why the first thing I mention in this piece is FlexT9). I think gesture keyboards are much more useful. Maybe I live in a noisy place, but I don't find many times when I CAN talk to my phone, let alone want to.

posted on 30 Nov 2011, 21:03 1

38. firelightx (Posts: 71; Member since: 13 Oct 2011)


On the flip side, when I showcase Google\'s Voice Search and how cleanly it can send quick text messages, the customers I deal with light up.

Then again, Voice Search doesn\'t talk to you. It just does what you ask. It\'s more function than fluff. And that\'s why it stands as my favorite to this day.

Although I keep Speaktoit installed for any Siri fanatic who wants to have an iPhone vs. Android argument with me.

posted on 01 Dec 2011, 00:23 1

44. robinrisk (unregistered)


IMHO i think the same thing. There are a few situations where its nice to have voice interactions, like when you´re too drunk to input anything on the keyboard, or when you´re in a quiet room, but google voice actions does it for me.

All other assistants are just Hype, or might work for other people, i dont want to generalize.

posted on 01 Dec 2011, 08:14

60. bossmt_2 (Posts: 429; Member since: 13 Oct 2009)


When you're too drunk to text it's your body's way of stopping you from making a bad decision.

posted on 01 Dec 2011, 10:37 1

62. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2649; Member since: 26 May 2011)


I was going to say, if you're too drunk to text, I wouldn't expect voice recognition would work all that well either.

posted on 01 Dec 2011, 11:56

64. Larry_ThaGr81 (Posts: 294; Member since: 26 May 2011)


too hilarious

posted on 30 Nov 2011, 21:42 1

40. Slammer (Posts: 929; Member since: 03 Jun 2010)


Wow! When Moderators go bad.

posted on 01 Dec 2011, 12:20

67. Larry_ThaGr81 (Posts: 294; Member since: 26 May 2011)


Sounds more like a individual regardless of their title stating some facts and voicing their personal opinion, but nothing more.

posted on 30 Nov 2011, 23:11

42. abdane (Posts: 473; Member since: 07 Oct 2011)


the best siri-like app on android is JEANNIE !!!

posted on 01 Dec 2011, 12:12

66. Larry_ThaGr81 (Posts: 294; Member since: 26 May 2011)


Jeannie is cool, but you must have that confused with Voice Actions Plus, the paid version of Jeannie.

posted on 01 Dec 2011, 14:26

70. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2649; Member since: 26 May 2011)


It's essentially the same app, the paid version is just a bit faster and wittier.

posted on 30 Nov 2011, 15:53 3

4. remixfa (Posts: 13902; Member since: 19 Dec 2008)


you have given me some new ideas for apps to play with. thanks. Ive used vlingo (waaay back when, might need to retry it), and i like showing customers iris just because people want that siri style wit. I've got jeannie installed too (didnt know what it was at first since it used to say voice actions before the update.. lol)
I do however just use google voice actions the most.. probably because its just right there. But it works fine for me. Once u get used to "talking" to it, and it gets used to u, it works rather well. I use voice actions quite a bit actually.

I shall, however try some of these new apps you mentioned!

posted on 30 Nov 2011, 16:05 2

11. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2649; Member since: 26 May 2011)


Yeah, I almost always have a wired headset in, so Jeannie just wouldn't work properly for me, but it does have an amazing feature set, and it can be quite funny. I hope they fix the bugs, so I can use it more.

posted on 30 Nov 2011, 16:12 2

14. remixfa (Posts: 13902; Member since: 19 Dec 2008)


it doesnt work with wired? Ive never tried. I just talk to my phone a lot while im driving... eerr... parked at a red light :)

posted on 30 Nov 2011, 16:16 2

15. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2649; Member since: 26 May 2011)


It does work on wired, but when I first tested the app, it would trigger just by single-pressing the play/pause button, so it would trigger every time i paused music. They've since changed that behavior to only trigger the app on a long-press or double-tap, so that should work quite a bit better.

posted on 30 Nov 2011, 16:23 2

17. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2649; Member since: 26 May 2011)


I bumped Jeannie to the top tier because of this fix.

posted on 30 Nov 2011, 20:19

33. remixfa (Posts: 13902; Member since: 19 Dec 2008)


would u still say speaktolt is better than jeanie?

posted on 30 Nov 2011, 21:03

37. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2649; Member since: 26 May 2011)


I'm not sure. SpeakToIt seems to be a bit more accurate in returning what you're looking for, and the mini browser/map window can be pretty nice rather than loading a full instance. Jeannie has a couple extra features, and has funny responses. But I really did grow attached to my SpeakToIt avatar.

I'd say they are pretty well on par. Hard to give a definitive answer. They are top two for me on functionality.

posted on 01 Dec 2011, 12:25

68. Larry_ThaGr81 (Posts: 294; Member since: 26 May 2011)


It's going to go back and forth based on which app is better. It will come down to how much time each developer can dedicate to their app.

posted on 30 Nov 2011, 15:56 4

5. mad5870 (Posts: 59; Member since: 21 Nov 2011)


Good read Michael.

I use vlingo but i just need basic so it works for me. haven't tried others but i will get around to it.

My brother has an iPhone and I messed with siri and it is a very nice program.

Apple did a good job. simple and powerful.

I agree with your conclusion Michael that each one of those programs fit the needs of certain people and its up to the user to decide which one would fit them best.

posted on 30 Nov 2011, 16:03 3

9. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2649; Member since: 26 May 2011)


Thanks! Yeah, as usual Android has choices that fit certain needs, and Apple tries to make something that covers what everyone would need. Each has its strengths and weaknesses.

posted on 30 Nov 2011, 16:07

13. mad5870 (Posts: 59; Member since: 21 Nov 2011)


double post my b post 12 should be in reply to 9

posted on 30 Nov 2011, 16:05 3

12. mad5870 (Posts: 59; Member since: 21 Nov 2011)


that's exactly it. couldn't agree more.

posted on 30 Nov 2011, 16:47 3

18. ZEUS.the.thunder.god (unregistered)


nice read. loved it. btw Jeannie actually sounds quite interesting lol

posted on 30 Nov 2011, 21:03 1

39. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2649; Member since: 26 May 2011)


Thanks!

posted on 30 Nov 2011, 16:56 2

19. SilverUberXeno (Posts: 1; Member since: 30 Nov 2011)


This is a quality article. I find articles like these to be much more interesting and satisfying than bloated headlines. I understand the necessity and need for those as well, but this is so much more.

Personally, I find Siri to be a "neat" thing that nobody will really use after the novelty wears off. I have never, ever seen anyone using FaceTime, or any video chat client from a handset either. I do use my google voice search to "navigate to" various places frequently, but text dictation and the like, even when accurate, does not add much to my life.

Asking Siri about the weather and waiting/listening for her response, in my experience, takes more time and yields less information than using my weatherbug app. It's a neat idea, and it is INFINITELY more worthwhile than having BEATS AUDIO on a handset, but still does nothing for me.

Really, why do anything that omits a chance to use these big, futuristic displays? If I have a 300+ppi on a 4+ inch screen, I don't want voice commands!

That is the beauty of choice. Great article, Mike.

posted on 30 Nov 2011, 17:06 2

21. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2649; Member since: 26 May 2011)


Yeah, especially on Android where widgets remove the need for a lot of the Siri options.

Thanks!

posted on 30 Nov 2011, 18:17

25. speckledapple (Posts: 877; Member since: 29 Sep 2011)


i dont think voice control is less important versus the use of widgets but even with a high quality large screen, the ability to just talk to your phone without touching it so much is at least helpful. Though I will admit that gestures via some interface with the front facing cameras might just be even better (i.e. kinect for Win Phone 8)

posted on 30 Nov 2011, 18:31

30. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2649; Member since: 26 May 2011)


It\'s not a matter of importance, but when you have widgets flashing weather and news, email etc, there\'s less need to drill into apps or use voice commands.

posted on 30 Nov 2011, 16:59 1

20. cybervlad81 (Posts: 83; Member since: 04 Apr 2011)


I guess I'm a meh type of person, I am happy with google's app, I may try some of the La Crème, but probably just stick with google. Great article.

posted on 30 Nov 2011, 17:30

23. networkdood (Posts: 6247; Member since: 31 Mar 2010)


There is a cool app out there on the market that will actually speak to you on who is calling ....

posted on 30 Nov 2011, 18:22

27. networkdood (Posts: 6247; Member since: 31 Mar 2010)


Talking Caller ID

posted on 30 Nov 2011, 18:21

26. jackhammeR (Posts: 1548; Member since: 17 Oct 2011)


Fact is that siri is better than anything what android or other platforms can offer right now. And is closer to almost futuristic usage of phone we saw in so many movies.

posted on 30 Nov 2011, 18:24

28. networkdood (Posts: 6247; Member since: 31 Mar 2010)


good point - except in the future....IT WORKS....it works best on the AT&T network....wife has Verizon and it is useless.

posted on 01 Dec 2011, 02:26

51. Stuntman (Posts: 707; Member since: 01 Aug 2011)


In movies, voice reco is 100% accurate. Also, in movies no one every makes a mistake typing. You never see anyone press the backspace key. In real life, I hit backspace fairly often. I expect in real life, voice reco has some inaccuracies even in the future with better technology. You always have to confirm what you said.

posted on 01 Dec 2011, 11:02

63. jackhammeR (Posts: 1548; Member since: 17 Oct 2011)


Yes, but experience with siri is closest to this "movie reality"

posted on 01 Dec 2011, 22:32

75. Stuntman (Posts: 707; Member since: 01 Aug 2011)


How does Siri handle long pauses? All this discussion about voice entry made me try using it again. I was texting a friend and decided to use voice reco. Well, I said my first sentence and then I had to think. VLingo thought I was finished. I had to cancel, think my text through and then say the whole thing in one go. After that, I decided to just use my keyboard for my next text.

Texting with a keyboard allows me the luxury of pausing and thinking through my next words. VLingo requires me to say the whole message in one go. For very short messages, its OK, but anything longer than a simple sentence is difficult to compose on the fly.

posted on 02 Dec 2011, 06:32

77. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2649; Member since: 26 May 2011)


You can definitely stop and think with Vlingo or any other when dictating. Just hit the microphone again, that shouldn't be a problem.

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