Monday, February 27, 2012

iPhone users have Siri…I've got Sami!

(left: Speaktoit, right: Eva)

By now you'd be hard pressed not to know that Siri is the amazing "personal assistant" app that came with the new iPhone 4S during Fall 2011.

You've heard the commercials with the calm female voice offering up info on things from gas stations to rodeos, and can apparently pin point your location in a matter of seconds.

This was what made the jump from the iPhone 4 to iPhone 4S a little more palatable despite still being within a 2 year Verizon contract.

When Siri first came out I wondered why there wasn't something like that for Android. I actually discovered a program called Iris. In all honesty, it seemed to be more about being a sarcastic takeoff of Siri, which added little to my cell phone experience.

Recently, I saw a reference to several new Android apps that would take on Siri. Intrigued I checked things out, planning to avoid what Iris offered. This lead me to Speaktoit Assistant.

Speaktoit is interesting in that it's not just a computer screen on your phone. It's actually an avatar, where you can change hair, eyes, clothes, voice and gender. There are three different skin tones, and both male and female versions for your selection. You can also give her any name you want, in case Sami isn't good enough for you.

After launching for the very first time, she asked me to provide my name. Doing so, I was immediately greeted with a computer female voice that sounded remarkably close to Siri saying, "Hello Robert. My name is Sami!" Fortunately, I had the ability to change Sami's voice to something more naturally sounding, so I choose one with a soothing English accent.

Calling people is as simple as saying, "Call Robert Marshall mobile." Sami tells me "Calling Robert Marshall mobile" and it dials. Sending an SMS text message is just as easy. After it recognizes the person from your address book she asks you want to send? Sammi was able to recognize pretty much whatever I threw at her consistently. It was only when I was using uncommon words that she had a few hiccups. Still, I was quite impressed.

Calling up programs is as easy as saying "Open GMAIL." If you want to look up some info, such as what's the temperature," it's not as polished as the Siri commercials make the iPhone out to be. Sammi says let me check that, and opens its own browser window, which you have to maximize to really see it properly. If you try to maximize it, you're prompted which browser on your phone to use. One funny thing is that when she acknowledges something with OK, she reads it as "awk" not "O-KAY."

Now, for the really annoying feature missing. To use Speaktoit, you have to either push a microphone symbol on the screen, or type your command in. The app does NOT listen for a push of your Bluetooth headset's button. For that matter, even after you've pushed the button on the screen, it does not use the microphone on your headset, and you have to speak into your phone's main microphone. This is a lack of a MAJOR feature as far as I'm concerned. I'm in a Hands Free state, and if you're caught doing pretty much anything on the phone's screen, you could be subject to a citation. At the very least I cannot understand why they wouldn't allow using of the Bluetooth microphone.

Additionally, the app resides in memory so your battery does take a hit, but it's not bad if it's just sitting there. However, any regular usage at all, and it seemed to eat my HTC Thunderbolt's battery for lunch. Granted, the Tbolt is known as a battery hog, but I've got it rooted, and am using SetCPU to turn down the CPU's speed to 300mhz when not in use, which has usually given me a full day's worth of standby life.

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There's another app, called Eva (or Evan if you want a male avatar) which has the major plus of working through the Bluetooth headset. Unfortunately, it's only as good as the headset you're using. There is a huge delay with my Samsung WEP460, which probably explains why I've been having problems with the built-in voice dialing sometimes. It opened any apps on my phone with the command "Open app name" and even reminded me I'd have to upgrade to the paid version when I told it to update my Facebook status. Eva doesn't rely on her own built-in browser. When I asked her where I was located, she actually used the Google Maps app I've installed.

Downfall with this app is it does not come with any normal-sounding voices. However, it works with the SVOX Classic engine, and any of the English-speaking voices they offer. Unfortunately, each voice you add is going to set you back $2.99.

Eva's paid version is a whopping $9.99. However, there is a free version, with most of the same functions. It's missing a few things, but what exactly is missing, beside the updating of your Facebook status, is unclear.

* * *

For those wondering, yes, there is a voice navigation system already built into Android, called Voice Navigator. Frankly speaking, I've never had any success with it, and usually takes four or five attempts for it to understand what I said. Either that, or it will hear me, but then offer to dial some number in some far off land. Rumor has it they're working on a new version called Majel, which is to be the official Google response to Siri. I will believe it when I see it. It will most likely require something like Ice Cream Sandwich or Jelly Bean to work, despite 90%+ phones still being on Froyo or Gingerbread.


Just a quick follow-up to my original blog posting. I emailed the maker of Eva asking them what the difference is between the free version and the paid version. Turns out the free one (Eva Intern) runs for a limited amount of time, and then you have to buy the $9.99 version to continue using it. WHY Google Market allowed for a crippleware version in their market is beyond me.

Additionally, I've ended up uninstalling both Eva and SpeakToIt at this point. My battery life was absolutely hideous, to the point of not making it more than a few hours if I used the product much at all. Your mileage may vary, as the HTC Thunderbolt is known as a battery hog. If you experience something different, please post a comment.

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