I’ve had my Motorola Atrix now for seven months and I am pretty happy with it. I have the standard, car and multimedia docks and use them all every day. Other than a few niggles, they work pretty well and do what I want them to do.
However, there is one facet of integrating your smartphone into your life that continues to frustrate me, and that is voice-activation and -response. Back when I owned my first smartphone (a BlackBerry Storm), I began to use Vlingo. In fact, Vlingo is the ONLY app I have ever paid for (and I paid handsomely – $14.99 on sale). When I first got Vlingo, I loved it. I was amazed at how well it worked in terms of voice recognition and response.
After a short time, however, I began to realize that Vlingo’s only real value was as a “toy”. When you’re playing with your phone in your backyard, the fact that Vlingo gets 80% of your dictated message correct is impressive. When you’re driving somewhere and want to send a text message and Vlingo messes up 20% of what you are saying, it’s annoying. You can’t edit via voice. After awhile, I basically stopped using it.
When I got my Atrix (an Android phone) a year later, I discovered that Vlingo was available for Android and was free! So I got the app again and went about seeing whether it had advanced in the intervening year. What I found was that Vlingo had grown and improved in some ways but, ultimately, it is still not ready for primetime (at least in my life).
The old problem (imperfect voice recognition) remained, and a new one appeared: Vlingo for my BlackBerry could read back emails and ignore HTML coding, whereas Vlingo for Android reads back every character of the HTML coding – every bracket, every slash, everything. And while it truncated regular text emails, it would go on and on reading out the HTML.
Vlingo for Android also had a new feature – InCar. This was meant to be a total solution for hands-free use while driving. However, using this feature also causes nothing but frustration. First, Vlingo can only read back your emails/texts to a Bluetooth headset if the headset is A2DP compliant. That’s fine (though not ideal), but if you use an A2DP headset, the music you are playing through your phone also comes through the headset, rather than the car stereo I have plugged my phone into via the car dock. Don’t want that.
Another issue is getting Vlingo’s attention. With InCar, you can have Vlingo listen all the time and respond to “Hey, Vlingo!” This works even if you have music playing. However, if you are using any music app other than the native one, the music will continue to play while you are conversing with Vlingo. Getting Vlingo’s attention is better when using the native music app, as Vlingo pauses the music when it opens. However, it doesn’t restart the music after it has responded to your request or while it awaits the next command.
This all may sound somewhat esoteric, but what it all comes down to is that, while I’m driving down the road listening to my music, I can’t wake Vlingo with a voice command, have it pause the music, make a call and then restart the music after. I think that is a pretty fundamental problem. And now that the police are cracking down on drivers using hand-held devices, the ability to really go hands-free is more important than ever.
I should point out that, when I am using my Atrix in the car dock, I can voicedial using Bluetooth, while playing music from my phone through the car speakers, with no problem using the native Atrix Android functionality. The music pauses while the call is active and restarts after the call. If Vlingo can’t even do that, how can it bill itself as a hands-free solution? And for me, if it is not a hands-free solution, it is of no value…except as a toy.
Now that Siri has been released for the iPhone, I am curious as to whether it can ultimately be more than a toy for iPhone users. I will never know first-hand, though, as I am not an Apple person…