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While Android has included voice commands for some time, the most recent version – Jelly Bean – also has Google Now, which isn't quite the same thing as Siri or S-Voice as it's based around Search and other Google services. Nor is it the same as the other stock Android Voice commands system that focuses more on hardware control. That's not to say Now can't be used for handset control functions too, although it is a little more limited in this department than some of its competitors.
For example, while you can say "where is the nearest Nandos?" (it gave the best answer of the bunch, pictured above) or "navigate to nearest petrol station" and it will do what you ask, you can't carry out system functions such as turning Wi-Fi on or off. I could only seem able to open certain Google-made apps through Now. Given the integration with things like Google Maps, telling it to take me to London Bridge automatically popped open Google Navigation with a route all loaded.
The level of voice recognition and understanding of Google Now was very impressive, with it easily understanding individual words (particularly ones that are easy to misinterpret) or slightly vague questions, such as will I need a coat tomorrow, which it answered with ease. Google Now's voice recognition was easily the best overall at understanding what is being said.
Google Now, is in some ways limited by its lack of ability to perform some system functions, but it can do things like open third-party apps that you've installed on the phone.
Open Now and ask it to send an email, call or text one of your contacts and it will have no problem understanding the words, but bizarrely – in my testing at least – word recognition when asking it to add one number to another was atrocious; it simply couldn't understand the word 'add' or 'sum'.
If I told it divide, multiply or work out the square root it got there first time, though.
Strangely, while newer Android phones have Now and the older Voice Control both apps are accessed separately.
S Voice is Samsung's voice control system found on handsets, like the Galaxy S3 or in this case its Galaxy Note II 'phablet'.
Like the other systems in the test here, S Voice is well skilled in performing tasks like switching Bluetooth on or off on the phone, or sending a text message to a contact. Weirdly though, the S Voice system can't seem to send an email. You can also use it to update third party apps like Twitter or Facebook, though.
On the occasions that S Voice doesn't quite hear the instructions clearly (or correctly) it will search for the nearest match to what it heard. The system also does better than some of the others in the test with things like scheduling. For example, if you try and schedule an appointment for the same time as another that is already in your calendar, it will warn you and pop the other meeting info to check you want to schedule two things for the same time. The BlackBerry voice system doesn't do this, but Siri does.
S Voice was also one of the only other systems (in addition to Siri) to correctly put a reminder in the calendar when asked to "buy flowers on Valentine's day". It also did pretty well on the Nandos test – asking where the closest was automatically resulted in a web search, though there was no mapping result to be found.
However, asking S Voice "how to get to London Bridge" resulted in Google Navigation popping open an address box that required pressing a button to select the precise destination.
For me the voice recognition seems to be a bit hit-and-miss with S Voice: on some occasions I was impressed that it could pick up what I wanted it to do, but in others, it repeatedly got things wrong, such as when using the calculator. It also doesn't seem to understand computational function, as when it did finally recognise me telling it to add 460 to 320 it responed: "I don't know if I can answer that properly, do you want me to search the internet for 460 + 320?".
BlackBerry's voice control system on the BlackBerry 10 OS is the new kid on this block.
Like Siri it can be used for things like sending text messages, placing calls or scheduling a meeting or reminder. It can also be used to take notes or to dictate other text.
Word recognition on the BlackBerry system is actually pretty accurate — most of the time it seems to understand what is being said if you speak clearly — but it can't understand natural language in quite the same way as Siri and Now. For example, if you say 'take a picture', the handset responds with 'do you want to search the internet for take a picture?' However, say 'open camera' and it can do that.
Like Siri, the BlackBerry system asks for confirmation of commands. I asked it to send an email to Ben Woods and it responded by asking which Ben Woods email address in the address book I would like to send it to, all achievable through voice commands.
It also has quite a granular level of control of the information being entered or edited, for example, when scheduling an appointment or writing an email it will allow you to select and edit each part of the message (time, title – for an appointment, or things like subject line, body, recipients for an email) without needing to touch the handset.
It did occasionally find it difficult to recognise confusable commands. Such as, instructing it to set a reminder that it was Ben Woods' birthday tomorrow ended up in a calendar entry saying 'Ben would birthday'. It's only a minor point, but worth keeping an eye on if you're sending messages to people that have similar sounding names.
Asking the BlackBerry Z10 where the nearest Nandos is resulted in the phone offering to search the web for the closest branch.
Where the BlackBerry falls hardest is the lack of a partnership with a service like Wolfram Alpha, as offered by Siri. Asking it any kind of mathematical addition or division simply resulted in it offering to search the web, despite understanding every word, rather than displaying the result.
However, the voice commands are pretty powerful overall. You can open any app on the phone or search for any phrase, contact, word or anything else all via search and it will understand what you are saying quite a lot of the time. And if social networking is your thing, you can update your status on Facebook or post a Tweet without using your hands.