Nuance Communications Inc. are a company specialising in voice recognition software. Many of you may be familiar with their Dragon line of computer software, superb pieces of kit that write your spoken words on-screen in real time.
Their new program for Android, Dragon Go, isn’t exactly the same sort of software. It’s a searching and browsing application that uses your voice to interpret your queries. So is this application as impressive as Nuance’s desktop product? Let’s find out.
When you load Dragon Go you’ll get a very simple window prompting you for a search string or instruction. Some examples scroll across, both above and below the entry field. If you want to speak a search string press the red record button; you can type the string if you prefer.
The interface is simple and slick: once you enter a search query or instruction Dragon Go attempts to process it, and then links you to the search pane it finds most appropriate. For example saying “Wikipedia Chocolate Cake” should take you to the Wikipedia pane and bring up the chocolate cake entry.
I really enjoy the technique for switching between panes with the same search term. Perhaps you said something ambiguous like ‘Gears of War 3’. Since you didn’t say a word like ‘Buy’ or ‘Images of’, Dragon Go defaults to just plain googling. To switch to Google Images, you grab the Google logo at the top of the screen and smoothly drag it over as far as you like to select one of the many other panes. You browse the content vertically, and change it horizontally. I like that a lot.
Dragon Go allows the following default operations with the words you provide:
- Google – Use Dragon Go’s built-in browser to travel around the web. View webpages like you would in any other browser, and enter full-screen mode if you want to remove the search bar from view.
- Google Images – Same as the above, but Google Images is the focus of the search.
- Music – This is the first impressive feature. The application delves into your music collection and fishes out artists and songs with strings that match your search criteria. Selecting one opens it in your music player.
- Map – Your search string is Googled and the matches are placed around your current location. Very useful if you want to find a nearby restaurant or shop.
- YouTube – The search string is popped into an embedded mobile web version of YouTube. Not too great, to be honest – I would have preferred them to forward the string to my YouTube application.
- Twitter – Your string is put through Twitter’s ‘Real-time search’ system and any public tweets with the matching keyword are displayed for you. If you want to search a hashtag you would have to type it in, which makes Dragon Go no better than a real Twitter application.
- Wikipedia – Probably the most useful of the lot, your key term is matched to Wikipedia articles. So if you ever want to find out about something on the move, you are covered.
Other services, such as Netflix and Pandora, can also be searched, as long as the app is installed. Pressing the Menu button and selecting ‘What’s Supported?’ shows you the current extent of Dragon Go’s functionality. For a list of all the things you could ever say, regardless of what is installed or not, press Menu and then ‘What can I say?’.
Lack of a Widget
This is a pretty big flaw for an application who’s primary function is convenience and speed. Without a Widget on your homescreen you have to tap the icon and wait for the application to load. Having a small ‘Tap To Speak’ icon would make Dragon Go so much more attractive to use. Hopefully Nuance will put one in with an update.
Talking to Your Phone..?
What I find a bit odd is that companies continue to produce voice recognition and dictation software, even though 95% of us only use it when we are alone. I don’t know about you but if I were to suddenly hold my phone to my face and say ‘Wikipedia Nicosia’ I would attract a few odd looks, so I refrain from it. A clearly visible Bluetooth headset calms people down when you are talking to yourself, but is that same effect carried over to enunciating a few words out of nowhere.
Furthermore speech recognition technology still makes lots of mistakes, especially in the smartphone world. Even if it works well in your living room I doubt it would work as well as you walk down the street or in a coffee shop.
Ironically, the time we spend loading speech applications and enunciating words to them could have been used to type what we wanted in the first place. We make far fewer mistakes through typing. Even if an application understands me correctly nine times out of ten, I still don’t hold the search button to activate Google Voice or Jeannie, and then tell my phone to call someone. It is always quicker to open my contacts and select the person I want to call by scrolling, typing, and tapping.
Her Majesty Wouldn’t Approve
When I first tried Dragon Go I was left shouting at it for a few minutes before I realised that it is designed for American accents. I have a very British-British accent, and so saying ‘Call Home’ kept resulting in Dragon Go googling ‘Cool Home’. Only by putting on an American accent could I actually call my house. Which reflects well on my acting skills, but badly on Dragon’s speech detection.
Altogether, I have mixed feelings about Dragon Go. Though it’s obviously a smart and attractive application, it doesn’t have much to offer besides its voice recognition. Everything else is just pretty layouts and embedded windows. The lack of a widget (meaning I have to run the application each time) doesn’t impress me either. I’m going to attach a 7/10 rating to Dragon Go. It works as advertised, but has great potential and a lot more should be done with it.