Since it arrived in Froyo, the Voice Actions we loved in Android has provided a streamlined alternative way to interact with our smartphones and tablets. It may not be packed with a sharp wit like the iPhone 4S’s Siri, but a more or less the same sophisticated voice recognition algorithm lies underneath.  And, with discovering all its functionalities, you can make use of Voice Actions to the fullest.

Available Commands

Perhaps the most common command is to call a contact. You simply say “Call” plus the name and which phone type you want to call (e.g., mobile or home). Even if they’re not in your contact list, you can also call businesses and local stores by saying “Call” plus the name, after which the phone connects to Google for the phone number.

Similarly, you can also send messages via SMS without navigating to the app’s screen.  All you need is say “Send text to” plus the name and your message. If you want to send email, you say “Send email to” instead. This is especially useful when your hands are busy, say, handling the driving wheel.

Surfing the Web is also simplified. Instead of typing the URL, you merely say in Voice Actions, “Go to” or “Open” plus the website. Popular Web destinations such as Yahoo are easily identified, whereas lesser known websites might not be recognized. Also, if Voice Search fails to identify any voice command, it will instead find results through Google Search and display the results in your browser.

Voice Actions is very useful when you are on the road, too. When you are new to a place and don’t know how to drive to your destination, just say “Navigate to” plus location or street address. Or, if you only want directions without voice guidance as you drive, say “Directions to” instead.

For music aficionados, let your phone play the soundtrack of your choice by saying “Listen to” plus the song or album. By default, it will open the Android music app. But, other related apps such as, Pandora, and YouTube will also be detected if installed.

Lastly, you can say “Set alarm” to set an alarm for a particular time of the day or remind yourself later of something by saying “Note to self,” which creates, er, a note for yourself.

Personalize and Customize

If you are dissatisfied with the results, you can tweak some voice recognition settings. Simply navigate to your Android device’s settings menu and find where Google Voice Input is located.  I found mine at Language and input.

A couple of customizations can be made. First and foremost is the language. While Siri is somewhat limited to US English, Voice Actions has a wide selection of available languages. Even Pig-Latin is included.

In the meantime, you can specify using SafeSearch whether you want search results (that are queried using Voice Actions) to include adult content or not. You can even complement it with the option to block offensive words.

So that Voice Actions can even recognize your voice and pattern of speech further on future queries, enable personalized recognition. By recording your input, it promises a more accurate performance later on.

Privacy Matters

You may be wondering if Personalized recognition has a catch that you need to know of. There is. All the recordings used to let Voice Actions know you and your speaking style better are uploaded to Google’s servers. But, don’t go back and turn the feature off just yet.

One last setting is the Google Account dashboard. Here you can see some data regarding your voice recordings, amongst other things Google has about you from other services like GMail. To delete the stored voice samples, click “Anonymize recognition.” After confirming deletion, you may feel relieved of your privacy concerns but at the cost of accuracy of results.

What I simply love about Voice Actions is that it gets the job done without the bells and whistles. Voice recognition is, after all, mainly used for easier interaction with your device, which some Apple fanatics may have forgotten with all the silly questions they ask Siri about.

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