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

La Crème (cont.)

SpeakToIt

SpeakToIt is actually very similar to Jeannie in a couple of ways. First, where Jeannie injected personality to its app in the spoken responses, SpeakToIt has decided to give you a customizable avatar to connect with. It's a nice touch, especially compared to the photo avatars for Eva(n), and offers a sizable number of options for customization. And, unlike Eva's dead eyes, your SpeakToIt avatar is animated and can show a range of emotion, which helps a lot in creating a connection with the app. Second, like Jeannie, SpeakToIt offers a huge array of commands, but has flaws in execution, although we found the flaws to be less troublesome than Jeannie. 

SpeakToIt does offer great array of voice commands, the most along with Jeannie. And, where Jeannie offers silly things like "paint me a picture" and one special feature with the Android Market search, SpeakToIt has a couple site specific searches which are quite useful like searching IMDb, and Amazon, although the results can be spotty if the voice recognition doesn't understand "IMDb". We had it hear "I am db" a couple times, but overall recognition and searches were on point. Although once, when asking "Who is Adrian Brody", SpeakToIt gave the bio for Stuart Price, which was quite odd. SpeakToIt also offers the option to type your question in addition to the voice commands. 

The only real annoyance that we had with SpeakToIt is that it tries too hard to keep you in the app. Where other apps will pop open the browser or Maps app to handle various searches, SpeakToIt just opens a small window within itself to show you the results, but still allow you to easily ask another question. It can be annoying if you prefer having your search results in full screen app instances, but it's not much of a problem really, and aside from some maps searches, which can be laggy on slower hardware, it often makes a search a bit easier.

While we were creating this piece, SpeakToIt got an update that made it even better. The newest update added 4 voices from iSpeech to choose from - a male and a female in each US English and British English. These voices are much smoother than the stock voice and are free, rather than paying extra for a new voice through SVOX. One slight oddity with the update was that these new voices wouldn't work if the ringer was off on our device. With the phone on vibrate, the voice would be muted, but with the ringer on, the voice worked normally. This seems like a bug that will get ironed out in a future update, or it may turn out to be a feature. It would follow if you don't want your phone to make a noise, you wouldn't want your "personal assistant" to speak to you either. 

Overall, we would give the ultimate recommendation to SpeakToIt though, because despite an odd way of handling requests, and general troubles with initiating commands, it does offer commands on par with Jeannie, but without the more annoying behavioral issues, and we couldn't help but enjoy our animated personal assistant avatar.

Vlingo Virtual Assistant

Vlingo is the one voice command app that predates all the rest on Android. Vlingo was there before Google launched its Voice Search app, although before that Vlingo charged $10 for its app, which dropped to free when Voice Search came along. That extra time in the game definitely shows as Vlingo is by far the most polished app available, and the speech recognition is fast, reliable, and very accurate. Even better, since Vlingo doesn't use Google's speech recognition, you get proper capitalization and automatic punctuation when dictating a message. No more need to say "question mark", "comma", or "period", because Vlingo puts it all in automatically.

Vlingo can handle all of the basic voice commands that you would normally like search, sending messages, making calls, and updating social networks, and it has a couple of extra bells added in to help you book hotels or buy movie tickets. An odd thing here: when searching for hotels, Vlingo will give you the option to search the web or use the Kayak app if you have that installed on your phone. However, when searching for movie tickets, it will search the Fandango website, but it can't use the Fandango app if you have it installed. This very well could be the fault of the Fandango app and not Vlingo, but it's still a bit annoying.

Unfortunately, there are a number of actions which seem like they should be standard, but are conspicuously missing from Vlingo. There are no commands to set alarms or calendar events, no options to open music on your device, or various specific searches, like searching for news. What Vlingo does, it does very well, but it has a noticeably smaller command list than Jeannie or SpeakToIt. Vlingo also has completely ignored the new trend of adding voice read-back and personality to its app. Vlingo will not read answers to you, or make sassy comments. It is pure function.

Vlingo does have the added bonus of having a great hands-free mode. Vlingo can be set to be always-on, and activated when you say "Hey Vlingo". Vlingo has worked together with companies like Jabra to offer better compatibility with the app and various Bluetooth devices, and has an In-Car mode, which will automatically turn on the auto-listen as well as a feature which will speak your messages to you. Although, this feature only works with the standard Messaging app, and will not read messages from Google Voice, or e-mail. Additionally, Vlingo only sends messages through the stock Messaging app with no options to use other SMS apps. Vlingo's message composer is also by far the best available, as it allows you to choose different contacts, or even switch what phone number or e-mail address you send messages to, where other options don't offer that kind of granular control.

Vlingo also excels in the widgets department with 4 different widgets available, if you're into that sort of thing.

Conclusion

As we said, no app on Android completely matches what Siri does, mostly due to the speech recognition and understanding more natural language, but a few come extremely close. And, there are a number of options and commands available in various Android choices that Siri simply can't do. As tends to be the case with Android, there is no shortage of choices when looking for a voice command app. We have been finding ourselves drifting back towards the friendly eyes of our SpeakToIt assistant, although if you find yourself in a car or using a Bluetooth headset more often, or mainly use it to send messages, Vlingo is likely the best choice because of its hands-free mode and quality dictation. But, ultimately it kind of depends on what you are planning to use voice commands for. If you want to search, but don't care about having things read back to you, maybe Google Voice Actions is good enough. Maybe you want some more irreverence and weirdness, and a great feature set, Jeannie is a great option. Overall though, we have to give the nod to SpeakToIt, because it has just as many features as Jeannie, but now includes the extra voices which are much better than the stock voice.

We know that may not be the most helpful conclusion, but cut us some slack. We've been talking to our smartphone for weeks putting this piece together, and we may have forgotten how to deal with real humans. We hope these overviews help, and point you towards the personal assistant that is best for you, because it is a personal choice. We know what we like best. What do you guys like?

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