OPEN SOURCE SMARTPHONE OS Android has received an update to its voice recognition software allowing more actions to be carried out hands free, so we've taken for a spin to see how we like it.
Previously it had been possible for Android to recognise basic voice commands, however the latest update allows Android 2.2 'Froyo' users to issue far more than just search orders. This version supports voice commands not only for calling and web search but also navigation, music playing and dictation of SMS messages and notes.
Curious to find out how well we could bark orders at our phone, we downloaded the application from the Android Market onto a Nexus One and set off trying to bring our phone to heel using voice recognition.
Initially it's hard to see what's different as the voice search application is still represented by the small microphone icon next to the search widget. An understated appearance belies what is actually a very powerful application. Now commands are issued in the form of: command, argument.
For instance, if you wanted to send a SMS message to John Smith, the command would be "send text to John Smith hello John". The commands are pretty intuitive so learning them shouldn't be a problem. There is an issue, though, and it has to do with accurate identification of names, places and words.
Even when in a quiet room, the system is flummoxed by pronunciation of names, either resorting to a search box with possible matches or simply taking an age to analyse the command. In environments where there is background noise, the system is even more hit and miss. Given that the Nexus One has two microphones to offer better noise cancellation abilities, the performance was disappointing.
When it came to navigation, voice commands usually resulted in a list of possibilities being shown. That's not particularly surprising given the repetition in street names, however it leads to the question, if finger input is required, why waste time faffing around with voice commands in the first place?
Indeed, issuing commands by voice seemed to not only prolong our interaction with the Nexus One but increased our frustration at seemingly being unable to carry out the most basic of tasks in that manner.
The software itself is pretty lightweight considering what it does. With the powerful 1GHz chip inside the Nexus One, voice analysis was quick most of the time. Jumping to GPS navigation from the Voice Search application was particularly impressive, with very little lag.
The problem with Voice Search was that many times we found that it would simply be quicker to input the text by hand rather than repeat words at the phone. With a noticeable deterioration in accuracy when in noisy environments, shouting orders at your phone still remains more of a way to show off than useful. µ