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

The Meh

Next up, we have the apps that are good, but just not good enough for one reason or another. 


Andy is one of the newer additions to the voice command options on Android, but it certainly doesn't show too much. Andy is similar to Iris in that it gets most of its functions from Google search, such as getting info, performing calculations, currency conversion, getting distances and direction information, etc. Unfortunately, it doesn't push past that too much into more useful things like updating social networks, or with the extra flare of personality.

Andy's best feature is that it can do well in understanding a lot of variations on different queries. This is of course how Siri mimics understanding natural language, but Andy even lists out all of the options in its manual. There are about 30 different ways to ask for your location, about 50 phrases that will work for getting directions and 20 ways to ask how to spell a word. Of course, that last one is more of a gimmick than anything useful, because if you can't spell a word, it's probably too complicated of a word for speech recognition to understand easily.

Overall, Andy is definitely good, and is pushing towards the more natural language side of the voice command equation, but it is lagging behind in terms of personality, and functionality.

Voice Search (Google)

Google's Voice Search seems like the most limited of the apps on the surface, but is really quite powerful, which is why most of the other options are built on top of this app. Unlike other options, Google doesn't try to read answers back to you. If you want to know something, you'll find it in the Google search pages. This is something of a double-edged sword, because on certain queries (like "Who is" questions), it may lead to a longer time between asking a question and getting an answer, because you have to drill into the first search result. But, for many things, like math questions, currency conversions, etc, Google search gives it to you quickly and clearly above other search results anyway, you just have to read. 

Voice Search gives options for Google searches, Maps searches, directions, sending texts or e-mails, making calls, sending yourself an e-mail note, listening to music on your device, or creating alarms. If you don't need advanced options like toggling settings, creating new calendar entries, searching the Android Market or updating various social networks, Google Voice Search can be a solid option. It is also a very old-school Google product in that it is functional, but has no design flare or personality to it. You just say what you want, and it either opens up the search in a browser, Maps, etc. Other apps try to add flare with images or jokes, but Google just gives you information. It is nice though that when sending texts or e-mails or when creating an alarm, Voice Search will let you set your default app, even including 3rd party apps, which is a feature that surprisingly few apps had. 

Ultimately though, Google's option has no personality, and is limited compared to other apps available. It can be very fast, but sometimes drilling down into search results and reading the answer you need isn't fast enough.

La Crème

Voice Actions (Jeannie)

Voice Actions is one of the grandaddies of the voice command apps for Android, and we really struggled with putting it in the "Meh" category. It's been around almost as long as Google's own Voice Search, and it is the best of the bunch when it comes to adding in the personality that you can get from Siri. Once Siri was released, developer Pannous decided to rename Voice Actions as Jeannie (although you can change its name), and has done a great job at adding in little witty responses, and irreverent commands. You can ask Jeannie to read you poetry, or even paint a picture, although the pictures tend to be completely random. For example, when we asked it to paint a picture of Charles Barkley, we received a diagram of a human skeleton with major bones labeled. 

As far as functionality, Jeannie is one of the best option for voice commands on Android, because it has a great array of commands including all of the most popular commands for calling, texting, searching, setting alarms or notifications, and even the deeper functions that Android still has a lead on like toggling WiFi or Bluetooth on and off. Jeannie also has extra features like searching for images or even sounds, and updating your Twitter or Facebook status. There are controls to have Jeannie speak faster, slower or louder. Even commands to make a video, or record audio. Best of all perhaps, you can search the Android Market using the "install ..." keyword. 

The command set is great, the recognition is accurate and can handle a wide variety of phrasing, and responses are fast and often witty (and even faster and wittier if you buy the $2.99 pro version.) The problem with Jeannie is in execution. You can turn off the "shake to wake" option, which is nice, but there is no way to turn off the behavior that wakes the app when you click the play/pause button on a headset, or if you have lockscreen music player controls, that play./pause button with wake Jeannie as well. This means that not only are all of those media controls useless when this app is running, but if you do make the mistake of waking Jeannie, you'll have to unlock your phone and use the back button to put it away. And, that's another problem, often using the home button will not put Jeannie away, just put it in the background, meaning it will still be waiting for input and messing with you until you close it properly. *Update* After this piece was done, developer Pannous contacted us to confirm that the inline control behaviors had been changed. Now, Jeannie will not be triggered unless you double-tap or long-press the headset controls.

Jeannie may even give it our top nod overall because it has one of the best feature sets, and it really does try to inject the humor and personality that makes Siri something unique. Also be warned that there is no widget for Jeannie, but it can be mapped to the long-press on your search button. 


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