Voice Input Challenge: Going all-in on dictation

Taylor Martin
 from  Concord, NC
| Published: July 27, 2012

Aaron and Sydney have both made the rounds with their own set of challenges. Aaron has spent 30 days with a BlackBerry Bold 9930, Samsung Galaxy Note, Samsung Galaxy Nexus, Nokia Lumia 900 and the Samsung Galaxy S III. And Sydney survived a month-long stint with the BlackBerry Torch.

To be honest, I've been wanting to do a little challenge of my own for a while. But I didn't want to try any of the market's current devices. I've had most of them as personal devices anyway. And coming from someone who thoroughly enjoys switching phones and digging through new platforms, what would that prove?

I thought about switching back to a legacy device, such as the HTC DROID Incredible or DROID X since I have both of them just laying around collecting dust. But no matter what phone I carry, I always find a way to snuggle in and find a way to use it that lies within the bounds of my comfort zone. One of the most obvious struggles I would encounter would be lag, and on a short-term basis, I could get over it. And with any newly activated device, I immediately peruse any associated digital content store and find apps, games and the like that will make daily life with that particular device – and its respective software – more bearable.

In other words, by choosing any form of hardware, old or new, the results would little to no different from the expected. Aaron's challenges are more of an extended review, a way to dig deeper into a particular device that would otherwise have been tossed to the side after the standard review period. It allows him to really get into the nitty gritty details that might have been otherwise overlooked. And, in some cases, they truly do pose a challenge. For instance, Aaron found the Galaxy Note to comfortably use day in and day out.

Instead of doing practically the same thing Aaron and Sydney have already done (just in written form), I wanted to do something a little different, something that changes the way I interact with the phones I already have and regularly use each and every day. I wanted to do something that places me outside of my comfort zone and seriously challenges me.

That in itself was a bit of a challenge. I didn't want to pitch a half-hearted idea to Aaron and it get shot down, along with any other subsequent ideas. So I sat on it and let the cogs turn in the back of my mind for the better part of three months. It eventually slipped my mind and I moved on. And then, on a solo drive home from Charlotte last night, it hit me.

Both Android and iOS have pretty solid dictation software options built-in. Tap anywhere in a text entry field, once the keyboard appears, tap the microphone icon. From that point until you are done speaking, the phone is all ears, ready to turn your every spoken word into text for a search query, a text message or an email. In the most recent updates from both Google and Apple, the voice input software is noticeably more robust. Google introduced offline dictation and an improved voice search function, paired with the automated and eerily all-knowing Google Now. And Apple added a short list of new (and arguably very useful) features to Siri in iOS 6.

(Note: iOS 6 is not officially available yet, but I have been successfully using it since the day of the announcement when the developer's build was released. I am currently on beta 3 and this is the version I will be using throughout this experiment, mainly because I cannot revert back to the latest official build.)

Earlier this month, I wrote a piece titled Talking to my devices is becoming less gauche. Since installing Jelly Bean on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus and using the Nexus 7, I have been using Google voice search much more often than before. And I explained back in June that I have found myself using Siri more with the added functionality from the iOS 6 beta.

So, starting Monday, I'm going to put my money where my mouth is (metaphorically) and will use nothing but dictation and voice input on all of my phones for an entire week. (Notice I specifically said phones, not tablets. I use my iPad to write a majority of my articles here at PhoneDog, and writing those entirely using dictation would be a nightmare.) That means no SwiftKey predictions and no typing out emails or text messages on my phones. Any form of text entry that will be done on my phones between the time that I wake up on the Monday morning (July 30) and the time I fall asleep on Sunday night (August 5), will be done solely by speech-to-text.

What's the point, exactly? Primarily, it's just an experiment to see highlight some of the advantages and disadvantages of mobile dictation software, to see if it can adequately replace standard soft keyboard entry we all have become accustomed to. Also, I simply want to see how I will fare. I've been getting more and more comfortable with talking to my devices, so why not push the envelope a bit?

I will be actively using the iPhone 4S running iOS 6 beta 3, the HTC One X running Android 4.0 with Sense 4 and a Samsung Galaxy Nexus running stock Android 4.1. If time permits, I may also try squeezing in some Swype for its robust voice capabilities. And I will be spending some of my spare time this weekend (if I can find any) looking up some of the ins and outs of each platform's dictation software (any verbal commands, tricks, etc.), and I will be reporting my progress throughout the coming week.

If any of you have any tips, suggestions or thoughts to share in the comments below, feel free. And wish me luck. This has the potential to end very badly, in an out-of-control rampage where I may break a few devices.