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How to Get the Most of Voice Input on Android

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Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) may be coming with new capabilities, but Froyo (Android 2.2) already has a feature under-utilized by most users. Google (s goog) has included sophisticated voice input technology in Froyo that can turn handling an Android phone into a largely hands-free experience. This guide lays out how to get the most out of voice input on Android 2.2.

Voice Search

Google is synonymous with search, and Voice Search makes it easier on Android phones than on any other platform. Long-press the search button on the phone (hold the button down for a few seconds) and Voice Search fires up. You can also tap the microphone button in any search box. When the dialog box tells you to “speak now,” that’s what you do. Don’t preface your search term with anything about search; just speak the phrase you want to use in the search. When you pause your speech for a few seconds, Voice Search will convert what you’ve said into text. If it determines you’ve spoken a term for a web search, it fires up the default browser to a Google search of the term. If it detects a name in your contact list, it opens that app to the desired person.

Text Entry

One of the most useful functions for voice input in Android is text entry in any app. Instead of typing your text into the app’s text box, you simply speak it, and Android converts it to text and inputs it for you. This method is surprisingly accurate as long as you keep the entry short and sweet. The longer the entry, the more prone to error voice input is with the interpretation. Google handles errors smartly, however, as several interpretations of the speech are presented in a dialog box, allowing you to tap the accurate one. Using voice for text entry is as simple as tapping the microphone key on the displayed keyboard that is presented when a text entry box has the focus on the screen.

Voice Actions

Google has enabled a variety of common functions that can be triggered by voice on Android. These run the gamut of mapping searches, navigating to locations, calling people/ businesses, sending texts/ emails and browsing to web sites. Here’s a list of voice actions (and what to say) that can be performed:

  • Call contact — “Call Joe Smith Mobile” to call him on his mobile phone
  • Call business — “Call Pizza Hut (s yum) Cypress” to call their location in Cypress (will search for it)
  • Go to web site — “Go to Wikipedia”
  • View a map — “Map of Mexican restaurants in Houston”
  • Navigate to location — “Navigate to 123 Main Street”
  • Send text message — “Send text to Joe Smith I’m running late”
  • Send email — “Send email to Joe Smith How are you? I am fine.” Format name, subject, email body
  • Listen to music — “Listen to Aerosmith”. Strangely, this will only play music in certain third-party apps, not the Android music app. Apps that will work are Pandora, and a few others.

Search Within Apps

Searching by voice works in a number of apps, and it’s worth trying in your favorite app if you often search while running it. You can search by voice in e-books in the Kindle (s amzn) app, although the newly released Google Books app does not support search. Google’s own Reader app doesn’t support voice search either. The trick is to try a search in your apps and see if the microphone button appears in the search box.

Google Translate

International travelers have a friend in Android with Google Translate installed. The app can translate between many languages so the proper phrase is always at hand. It accepts speech input making entering the phrase as easy as saying it. Translate can speak the translated phrase in some languages with the proper accent, making it a good way to find what you need while traveling abroad.

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6 Responses to “How to Get the Most of Voice Input on Android”

  1. nexus one owner

    How about a little mention how (i) google search on android woefully fails at searching contacts, email, etc (ii) voice actions are a total fail and google’s forums are awash with people complaining about the feature not working (ie voice actions not recognizing names as being in the contacts on the phone and doing an internet search, instead of calling that person …)

    WTF is voice actions good for if I say “Call John Smith” and android opens the browser and searches the internet for “Call John Smith” instead of fvcking calling him????

    • N1 owner – you have to go into the market and install the newer version. The one on your phone is slightly older and wont do the stuff In the article. It won’t show as an update, but rather as an install. Then when you launch it, it will go right into a tutorial slideshow outlining exactly what this article says.

      I was having the exact same frustration as you, but I just this morning did the install and it’s doing everything I wanted.

      If your Voice Search window is smaller than the one in the screenshots here, or lacks the ‘help’ button, you’re definitely on an older version, from before they implemented Voice Actions.

      Hope this helps! You’ll love it.


        Still even with the update it doesn’t hold a candle to nuance on blackberry for speech recognition. If you don’t have 3G at the time you fire it up your screwed. Still shows how immature the android os is. It does a lot of cool stuff kind of OK. It doesn’t excel at any in particular.

  2. Phone Geek

    Whats up with all this GingerBread talk ?
    I thought the future was about HoneyComb since that is what was demo at the D conference by that Ruby guy.

    Also you guys need to get off your Android train, jump the tracks, and explore iOS more for your readers. New data suggest that Android use has peaked with its 172 devices and its sales growth have actually slowed recently while the Apple is poised for massive growth in new markets, could this be true? Who knows. But you guys should have never pulled a Benedict Arnold move with your iPhone gear and jumped to the dark side imo you are just not as balanced in your stories anymore.

  3. The fact that the command “Listen To” doesn’t allow you to listen to the music ON the phone is an outright travesty.

    Fortunately, someone created an app to fill the void. It’s called “ListenTo” and it allows you to pick which app to play music from when you say “ListenTo”. The best part about it – it even works with Winamp.