Speaktoit handled most of its assignments well, including checking the weather, making phone calls, and answering questions (for instance, "How tall is the Empire State Building?"). When I asked Speaktoit to search the Web or to find a location on a map, it brought the results up in a window of its own, rather than opening my default browser or mapping software. But you can touch an icon in the corner of the window to bring up the same information in the default apps.
I liked the app's approach to sending texts and email. It would transcribe my message and then put it in the message field of my phone's default app. That arrangement left it to me to manually choose the recipient, add a subject (in the case of an email), and press Send. Though the approach isn't as hands-free as the way Siri handles the same tasks, it's superior to how many other Android assistants do it. Speaktoit also successfully tweeted and posted status updates to Facebook, which Siri can't do without a workaround.
Speaktoit was one of the few Android assistants I tested that could figure out how to play music from my collection, with this limitation: Whether I asked it to play an album or an artist, it played just one song from the album or artist, a selection that it seemingly chose at random. Another idiosyncrasy: Speaktoit can tell you your agenda for today, but not for any other day.
Google Voice Actions
Most virtual assistants claim that they can figure out what you want regardless of how (within reason) you phrase your requests. Google's free Voice Actions assistant--part of its Voice Search utility--demands a more consistent approach. To use this app, you must employ Google's set phrases. To play music, for instance, you have to say "Listen to Benny Carter" rather than "Play Benny Carter." Google's app is somewhat more limited in what it can do, too: In addition to playing music, it can send texts and email, make calls, map a location, give directions, write a note, search the Web, and go to a specific site.
If you play by Google's rules, though, you'll find that the app is smooth and helpful. Perhaps because Voice Actions is a Google-developed app interacting with a Google-developed operating system and (in many cases) with other Google-developed apps such as Maps, the whole system works fairly seamlessly.
For a number of tasks, however, Voice Actions wasn't quite as hands-free as I might have wished from a virtual assistant. When I asked for the day's weather, for instance, instead of reading me the day's forecast--as Speaktoit Assistant did--Voice Actions searched the Web for a weather report that I had to read off my screen; this arrangement isn't a problem if you're walking along the street, but it's definitely inconvenient if you're driving.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.