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April 28, 2008

Speech recognition for cellphones: one upgrades, one quits

First the one that quit.

I had signed up for Sprint's Voice Command ($5/month) for my Treo 700p over a month ago only to recently receive a letter saying that they are discontinuing this service as of July. Basically, you dialed "*" and then a prompt would come on. You then spoke the contact's name, but this wasn't using the contact manager on your phone (or at least on the Treo, I don't how other phones work). You had to go online to the Sprint Web site and enter these contacts into a contact database. I recall using their import function to pull the names off my phone, but this didn't work at all. Maybe that's why this service is being stopped.

The Sprint Web site is working a lot better than it did not too long ago. Whenever you change your plan, they send you an SMS and an e-mail. If you have a question about your plan, you can chat with a rep online, and then the transcript of this conversation is sent to you via e-mail.

And the one that I upgraded.

I was also trying out the Voice Control based on Nuance technology ($6/month), but initially I didn't think that I'd keep it.

The Nuance Voice Control Web page is very helpful for setting up your phone and learning how to operate the software. It even has screens customized to represent your phone. (The screenshot here is showing an old version of the software.)


On the Treo, after you install the software, the side button is reprogrammed so that when you hold it down, it launches the software and beeps to let you know it's ready. While still holding down the button, you speak the command according to the list they provided on the Nuance Web site. It sends the info to their services which then sends the text and commands back to the phone to do the task. The time it takes to do this is the big issue.

I decided to finally review this product after getting the Sprint letter to see if I was going to discontinue both services. Voice Control prompted me to download the new version 1.5, which also made me download the new Palm installer before that. The upgrade was free and went on without a hitch, so I began my testing.

The fastest function is a Google search, and it works remarkably well. I was able just to say "Search New York Cancer Consortium" while still on the dial pad screen, and in less than 10 seconds it brought up the Treo browser and some hits on Google. This particular search would have taken some effort with thumbtyping, so for searches like this one, it's a real convenience. Or, you can say "Find bookstore 10019," and it will give you a Google map of bookstores in Manhattan. Another real convenience.

You can also create a small e-mail message, or add an appointment to your calendar, but this is only a convenience if you're on the go and can set the phone down or put it back in your pocket while it does its thing. It might take 20 seconds or more, or even sometimes not at all. I would like to have the ability just to make a quick note into the memo pad, but it won't allow this.

As far as calling people in your phone's contact manager, it averages around 5-10 seconds, so if you're willing to accept this wait, it works well.

I have to say that overall, I wish Voice Control would work faster, but even then I think it's worth keeping


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