Apps give driv­ers hands-free op­tion for get­ting texts while on the move

Austin American-Statesman - - TECHMONDAY - By Hi­awatha Bray

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.

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