Apps give drivers hands-free option for getting texts while on the move
Typing on your cell phone while driving could cost you, with bans against the practice in Austin and passed or pending in other parts of the country.
Technologies that let you text by talking can cost a lot less. But do they work? I’ve checked out some recently, with mixed results.
Vlingo Corp. of Cambridge, Mass., has one of the more attractive solutions. Vlingo Plus costs $10 for the iPhone and Google Inc.’s Android operating system, or $20 for the Nokia or BlackBerry editions.
Vlingo Plus can automatically read incoming text messages and e-mails. You don’t have to do anything. As soon as a message arrives, it’s read out in a metallic, female voice.
Talking back isn’t altogether hands-free. On my BlackBerry Bold, it required pushing a button on the side of the phone. It worked — sometimes. But after all these years, computers still have trouble understanding human language. With Vlingo and other speech-texting apps, I frequently had to repeat myself, and the background noises of a moving car further reduced Vlingo’s accuracy. The system recognizes numbers better than words, so it helps to recite the phone number you’re trying to text, rather than the person’s name.
A different texting service, VoiceAssist, doesn’t require a special app. Subscribers, who pay $4.95 a month at VoiceAssist.com,
register their phone numbers and upload a contact list onto the company’s server. Then, when they dial VoiceAssist, the network recognizes them. It will read incoming e-mails aloud or send text messages to contacts by voice. But the current version of VoiceAssist can’t read incoming text messages.
I had slightly better luck with Voice On The Go. This service costs $6 a month, or $50 a year, at voiceonthego. com, and works with any phone. It can also be controlled through a handy software app for iPhones, BlackBerrys, and Androids. Voice On The Go will send voice-generated text messages, but it won’t play back the replies. But the same company now offers DriveCarefully, a separate app that runs only on BlackBerry phones and can play incoming e-mails and text messages.
A better solution comes from ZoomSafer, maker of a $25 app that automatically locks a smart phone when it’s inside a moving car. At ZoomSafer.com, you can now buy an upgraded version featuring VoiceMate, a system for playing and responding to text messages. VoiceMate is available for BlackBerry and Windows Mobile phones and costs an additional $4 a month, or $40 a year, on top of the price of ZoomSafer.
For texting addicts, ZoomSafer and Vlingo are the best of this bunch, but that’s not saying much — they all suffer from the usual mediocre accuracy of speech recognition products.