Add voice recognition to your smartphone with Google Voice Search and Google Voice Actions

By Enrique Serrano

Google Voice Search review

When you’re walking down the street or commuting to work on a train, sending an email or searching for information on a smart phone can be a challenge. The small screen and tiny keyboard makes typing difficult. Auto correct might speed up the process as well as introduce unintended errors.

There are apps that provide voice-to-text conversion, which allow you to dictate text. This week, Lawyer Tech Review tests Google Voice Search and Google Voice Actions.

How to Install Google Voice Search and Google Voice Actions

Most modern Android phones have voice recognition features enabled by default which means Google Voice Search is already integrated as a little microphone icon next to your main search bar.

Android Google search bar with voice search

Google Voice Search can also be installed as a standalone, free app. It is available for:

  • Android phones, from the Android Market.
  • BlackBerry and Nokia at m.google.com.
  • iPhone (you will need to download the Google Search app from the iTunes App Store.)
  • The Google Chrome browser, as the Chrome Voice Search extension from the Chrome web store. But using it from a laptop or PC, where you’ve already got a full keyboard, the voice recognition extension might not be as useful.
Voice Search extension for Google Chrome

Google voice search allows you to perform any search by speaking instead of typing. Essentially, it translates your voice into a Google search query, allowing you to find information in a quick, hands-free way. Click the microphone icon, directly speak your search query, and then you will get the desired search results. It also provides text input by voice in any app using text fields.

In Android phones with Android 2.2 (Froyo) or higher installed, the latest version of Google Voice Search will also provide access to Google Voice Actions. These actions go beyond searching, and allow you to control your phone with your voice. However, voice actions only work if you set your phone language to English.

Features of Google Voice Search

The voice recognition process takes place on Google’s servers. That means the app isn’t very demanding on the phone’s resources, allowing it to run smoothly on most smartphones. However, you need an Internet connection in order to reach those servers. Without an Internet connection, the app won’t launch.

Google Search for BlackBerry

The app has been programmed to work in noisy environments, filtering out the unwanted sounds in the background.

Google Voice Search supports voice recognition in several different languages, including regional variants and dialects. These languages include English (from generic English to different English variants, such as US, UK, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Canada, etc.), Spanish (including several variants, from Spain, from US, and from countries of Latin America,) several Chinese dialects, Czech, Dutch, Afrikaans, French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Malay, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Turkish, Latin and, yes, even Pig-Latin.

The app recognizes your speech as a search query or voice command. It can recognize your contacts’ names. It also recognizes punctuation elements such as “comma,” “period,” “exclamation mark” or “question mark,” and even “smiley face” which is translated as “;-)”

Once dictated, Google Voice Search performs corrections to recognized words. To make a correction, say the word again, delete it, change the word with the keyboard or select other possible recognized words.

Complete list of Google Voice Actions for Android

Here is a complete list of voice actions which will work if English (US) is configured as the main voice recognition language in your smartphone with Android 2.2 or higher:

Send text to [name] [text message]Sends an SMS text message to the specified contact
Send email to [name] [email text]Sends an email message to the specified contact
Call [contact name] [phone type]Starts a phone call to the selected contact on her chosen phone type (office, cell, etc.)
Call [business name] in [city]Performs a search for the phone of the desired business and starts a phone call to that number.
Navigate to [address]Uses Google Maps Navigation and the phone GPS to get turn-by-turn directions
Listen to [artist]Finds several sources (like last.fm or Spotify) with free music from the desired artist
Go to [website title]Opens the web browser and navigates to the chosen webpage writing the URL for you
Map of [business / landmark type] in [city]Opens Google Maps and highlights all the chosen businesses in the target area
Directions to [street name and number] in [city]Provides turn-by-turn directions about how to get to that location from your current location
Note to self [note text]Opens a writable field where you can dictate a note for yourself
Any spoken text is treated by default as search query input on Google searchJust speaking to your phone will trigger a Google Search with your voice input as the search query
Google Navigation with voice actions

The verdict about the reviewed apps Google Voice Search and Actions

We have reviewed Google Voice Search for Android in an HTC WildFire smartphone, trying it in English from the US and in Spanish from Spain.

Dictate text with Google Voice for Android

The short action commands and voice searches were fairly accurate. It can speed up queries in most situations in which speaking your searches aloud is appropriate. The app seemed to tolerate noisy environments.

Nevertheless, writing longer emails or text messages was challenging. Initially, I thought the voice recognition issues I encountered while speaking English were due to my accent. But other English speakers encountered similar problems. I also had accuracy problems with the Spanish version of Google Voice Search. The app is not very accurate in its voice-to-text conversion when writing long sentences in a text message or email.


At a Glance: Google Voice Search and Actions

  • Google Voice Search is available for Android, Chrome, Nokia, BlackBerry and iPhone.
  • Google Voice Actions are available for Android 2.2 (Froyo) or higher.
  • Many different languages are supported, including English and Spanish with several variants.
  • It requires an Internet connection to work. If you’re not on WiFi, the data traffic can be expensive.
  • Using it frequently seems to deplete the battery faster than typing.
  • Most voice actions and spoken search queries can be time-saving shortcuts.
  • We didn’t find it very accurate writing long sentences, so dictating long emails or text messages in a single step wasn’t its most useful feature.

I didn’t have the voice recognition problems with the free Dragon Dictation for iPhone. Dragon was accurate with about 90 percent of my dictation in both English and Spanish. The precision of Google Voice Search was probably around a 70 percent.

Even with the built-in correction features of Google Voice Search for text messages, emails or notes, the editing process is awkward due to selection, scroll and button placement issues. This becomes more difficult when editing long sentences. And since corrections of the automatically recognized words were frequently needed, the app didn’t save much time when dictating long notes, texts or emails.

On the other hand, the accuracy is acceptable with the rest of commands and it can be a useful shortcut to perform searches, calls, get directions and even dictate short sentences.

Google Voice Search and Google Voice Actions aren’t meant to be a 100 percent hands free solution to use your cell phone in your car. You still need to tap the small app icon to launch it. Nevertheless, it is useful to perform searches and tasks when you cannot type comfortably.

Even though the app runs smoothly – probably because every process-intensive voice recognition task is processed in the cloud of Google’s servers – I think that the battery of my smartphone didn’t last as long while using the app.

Speak to Google Voice prompt

If you’re on a WiFi connection then you will have no problem with the app. If you have a non-flat-rate Internet data plan on your mobile network, this free app can get expensive because of your increased data traffic.

In a nutshell, Google Voice Search and Google Voice Actions offer time-saving shortcuts when performing searches or calls or getting directions. But the low accuracy of the speech recognition doesn’t seem to be good enough to be a real time-saver when dictating long emails or text messages to your smartphone.

Have you ever used Google Voice Search and Actions? What was your experience with this app?