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Published on August 9th, 2012 | by John I.


No Shortage of Android Voice-Controlled Virtual Assistants

With latest update to its Android operating system, Jelly Bean, Google has integrated a voice assistant called Google Now. It can go head-to-head with a lot of convenience features that Siri offers on Apple’s iPhone.

Unfortunately, a lot of Android users are stuck with an earlier version of the operating system on their device. Voice search and voice command just don’t stack up against Siri’s ease of use.

But are there apps to fill the gap? You bet. The only challenge is choosing which one to use.

Speaktoit Assistant: Ever wish Siri had a face? And a smokin’ hot cartoon bod? Assistant’s look is customizable, so your anthropomorphized electronic helper can look pretty much however you want, but he or she is actually useful, too. From Web searches to posting social network updates, it can turn your natural language commands and questions into action. Best of all, it’s free.

Skyvi: Also free, allegedly for a “limited time,” Skyvi supports pretty much the same features as Assistant: Facebook and Twitter updates, weather forecasts, directions, texting and calling contacts, and Web searching. The interface looks more professional, with no cartoon avatar taking up the screen.

Vlingo Virtual Assistant: Claiming to be “the original,” Vlingo can launch other apps and check in with Foursquare in addition to most of Speaktoit’s and Skyvi’s features. You can activate its car mode, in which it’s constantly listening for commands, by pressing a little steering wheel icon. And yes, it’s free.

EVA: This virtual assistant (and its male counterpart, EVAN) touts integration with specific other apps like Evernote and home automation program INSTEON. It also supports performing actions based on your location or time, and you can start the app by shaking your phone. The “intern” version is free; the upgrade is $9.99.

Jeannie: The full name of this app in Google Play is “Jeannie (like Siri),” so it clearly has Apple’s assistant in its sights. It understands natural language a bit better than other options, so you don’t have to memorize command phrases or computer grammar. There’s an “experimental” free version and “Voice Actions Plus” for $2.99, which is supposed to respond more quickly and more accurately.

Robin: A somewhat newer entrant into the virtual assistant space, Robin is positioned as a hands-free assistant for use while you’re driving. It specializes in questions about directions, traffic, parking, gas prices, weather, and the like. Brush your hand against your phone’s light sensor to bring up the app. It’s also free.

All of these apps have their quirks. Speaktoit Assistant opened the default Android Music app to play a song, but spoke some unintelligible code as the song began. Skyvi played a song within its own app, with very few controls. And neither app could find the band Thirteen Senses in my collection because it searched for “13 Senses” and didn’t find that exact text. Jeannie kept advising me to travel safely without actually bringing up my navigation app, and Robin kept hearing its own tones and complaining that it couldn’t understand them, forcing me to turn the volume way down or use headphones.

Moreover, none of them is a task-for-task equivalent to Siri. Still, each has unique advantages. You might even find yourself using more than one.

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