When we talked about Vlingo’s voice-controlled BlackBerry application last week, I promised to take it for a test spin. Since then, we found out that there are some issues with the software, and that for some users it does not work as advertised. This was later to be found by Vlingo to be mainly with T-Mobile and Rogers users. I’m a CDMA faithful, though, so let’s see if I can get through this test drive without issue. The goal is to prove or disprove Vlingo’s hype that this will change the way we use the BlackBerry forever.
Before we begin the review, let’s go over the features Vlingo advertises. We’re looking at the service in terms of voice dialing, text messaging, email, application launching, Web search, and note to self.
Installation and setup
Like most BlackBerry applications, download was a cinch. Just head to Vlingo.com, and right on the main page there’s a form which, once filled out, will send the download link to your BlackBerry. From there, it’s a standard install process.
The first time you run Vlingo, you will have to allow the program to access most parts of your phone. You’ll be prompted to allow Vlingo to do this, which will bring up a long list of connections and interactions. You’ll have to allow it to access such aspects of your phone as USB, Bluetooth, the phone itself, GPS, user data, and your carrier Internet service. Once you look that over, click in the track ball, and save the changes.
You’ll then hit the back button, which will bring you to the Vlingo terms and conditions. After that, it’s onto the setup wizard. First, you have to set the convenience keys through your options. The wizard takes you right there, where you’ll click “Screen/Keyboard.” Go down to “Convenience Key Opens” and select “Nothing.” (Thankfully, mine was already there, since I never use the native voice dialing client.) Back out and save.
After you back out, you’ll be prompted to click in the convenience key. Do that, and you’ll get a dialog box if successful. You then run a test, and Vlingo will finally run you through all that you can do with the service. At this point, I got really excited. If this does work as advertised, you really can do anything with your BlackBerry via voice. The final step is the syncing of your contacts, which takes just a few seconds.
So let’s dig in!
As I mentioned, I don’t use the native voice dialing feature on my BlackBerry. I’m not sure why, but plenty of other people I’ve talked to have the same feeling. Maybe it’s because you have to set everything up manually. Maybe it’s because I’ve never really taken to voice dialing applications. However, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t give Vlingo a shot.
While there might be nuanced flaws in the voice dialing system, I couldn’t find them. After you say “Call [Contact] [Home/Mobile/Work], it comes up with a list of contacts matching your voice search string. You can click “cancel” if it starts to dial the wrong number (say, you wanted to call home, but called work instead), and you can easily click over to the appropriate number.
As far as the voice recognition goes, there are no complaints on this end. I tend to enter in most of my friends with nicknames, and it had no problem picking up such contacts as “Snap Crackle” and “Rimster,” though it had problems with “Hizzle.” Not that I could reasonably expect a voice recognition program to pick up on such an uncommon nickname.
We’ve all had a case of BlackBerry thumb in the past. Normally, the warriors among us battle through it, continuing to type messages. Too bad it’s leading to more thumb surgeries. With Vlingo, this kind of strain isn’t necessary. You can use their voice activated text messaging feature to get that message out without killing your thumbs.
Click in the convenience key — heretofore known as the Vlingo Key — and say “send message,” followed by the recipient and then your message. You can say the word “Message” after you say the contact name, too, just to make sure the message is right. After you let go of the key, Vlingo transcribes the voice string and brings you to a text message page. The automated voice will confirm that you are sending a text message to the right contact. You can then edit the message in the message box, or just hit send. If you want to add more to the message, make sure the cursor is in the message box, click in the Vlingo Key, and add what you need to.
As far as transcription goes, I’m wholly impressed. I wonder if this is integrating with oneSearch, in terms of learning my voice. It got nearly every word right in my series of tests, only flubbing easy to misunderstand words, as well as words that I stumbled over. All in all, I’d rate this transcription somewhere right under GotVoice.
On the road? Need to send an important email? Vlingo Key to the rescue? Just click it down and begin the email string. This is “Send email to [contact] subject [say your subject] message [your message].” Yes, it’s that simple to send your email through Vlingo. Let’s see how it tests.
The positives: The transcription is of the same quality as the text messages. I guess that’s to be expected. Vlingo also does a good job parsing the string, as it had no issues putting the recipient, the subject, and the body of the message in the correct place. So for the basics, it passes with flying colors.
The negatives: It takes a while to work through and transcribe the message. This is because 1) the message itself is longer and 2) it has to parse out the recipient, subject, and body, which takes extra processing time. It also doesn’t use punctuation, capitalization, or any kind of line breaks. I even took deliberate pauses, hoping that a moment of silence would mean the insertion of a period. So, like text messaging, it’s best used for short emails and replies.
Now here’s something I’m really looking forward to using. As a geek, I’ve got tons and tons of applications on my BlackBerry. To the point where I now have to delete one for every new application I add, obviously depending on the size of the added and deleted applications. It’s tough to say goodbye to apps, but it’s necessary, I suppose (considering you can’t launch apps from your memory card).
The keywords for launching applications are “Open” and “Start.” It just so happens that I wanted to launch the BBGeeks version of Viigo. Unfortunately, it wasn’t able to do this. So then I tried to have it open Brick Breaker. Still no go. So what gives?
Vlingo can only open certain applications on your BlackBerry. The following are valid: browser, memo pad, email, messages, task manager, voice dial, maps, calendar, and address book. Other than that, you’re pretty much out of luck. If there was one thing we’d want Vlingo to improve in its next release, it would be the ability to launch any application on our BlackBerry devices.
Web search with Vlingo rocks, if for no other reason than it doesn’t really require a prompt word. It recommends you say the words “Web search” before saying your search string, but I’ve found that isn’t necessary. Before you begin, you might want to check out the options menu, found when you click on the Vlingo icon on your applications menu. The fourth option down lets you set either Yahoo! or Google as your default Web search engine. Make sure to click the menu button and save your settings.
Once you depress the Vlingo Key and say your search string, you’ll be brought to something of a confirmation page. The voice will read back your string, and you just have to click in the trackball to approve it — which will then launch the browser. If you need to edit it, just slide the cursor into the search dialog box and re-enter the string. Additionally, there is a list of other searches below, so you might not even need to manually enter your search string.
I do wonder, though, if this will undercut Vlingo’s own work with Yahoo! oneSearch. Of course, some people prefer the way oneSearch handles results. Then again, why have both applications on your BlackBerry? Since Vlingo gives you the ability to search either Yahoo! or Google, it seems that Vlingo’s application could compete with it’s work on oneSearch.
Note to self
Before creating a note to yourself, you’ll want to head into the options screen again. Scroll down to the item that says “Note2Self Action.” You’ll have the option to add the note as a memo, as a task, or to have it sent to you via SMS or email. So select which works best for you, and then hit the menu button to save up.
The best part is that you can set the Note2Self to send to your email or SMS, and still be able to create new tasks and memos. Just say “New Task” or “New Memo,” and Vlingo will still save it to the appropriate application. However, if you want that SMS or email reminder, just say “Note to self,” and your memo will go to the pre-specified location. It will, as always, read back the message, and then it will fire away a text message when you hit “send.” And it’s pretty instantaneous, too.
Pardon me for gushing, but I absolutely love Vlingo. While there are people who are having problems with it, I had none during my trial. The transcriptions were as accurate as reasonably expected, and the voice command rarely did something I didn’t want it to do. T-Mobile and Rogers customers, you will be mighty happy when the service is fixed and available to you.
Yet, I can’t help but notice the negative reviews out there. If you’ve had a bad experience with Vlingo, I ask that you leave a comment describing it. Just because I had a nearly flawless experience doesn’t mean that everyone will. It also doesn’t mean that everyone will like it as much as I did. So check it out, run your own trials, and let us know.