Everything You Didn't Know You Could Do With Google's Voice Commands

Voice search is one of those Google features that seems silly, but is awesome once you start using it. Not convinced? Here are a few ways to turn voice search from a silly gimmick into a useful productivity tool.

Why Voice Commands Rock

Google has been pushing voice actions for a while, adding lots of new features and trying to make it seem more appealing. I, like many of you, thought the whole thing was pretty silly until I actually started using it. Now, I realise that it actually solves my biggest mobile phone annoyance: typing on phones sucks.

Voice search, on the other hand, is fast. Really fast. On Android, all it takes is a quick swipe up from the bottom of your screen to access Google Now, after which you can just say what you want and be on your way (iPhone users have to do a bit more work, unless they're jailbroken).

No tapping, no correcting typos (as long as you're in a reasonably quiet room), and no scrolling through menus for contacts if you're trying to call a friend. You can do everything nearly instantaneously — and it's more than just basic search.

Search For Information

Obviously, searching the web is one of Voice Actions' biggest features, but it's more than just a faster way to type a search query. The more Google's "Knowledge Graph" grows, the more voice search actually becomes worthwhile, since it gives you a very straightforward answer to the things you ask. Here are some of the cooler things you can ask:

  • How many pounds are in a kilogram? Everybody knows Google can make calculations and perform conversions, but boy, it's a lot faster to ask it than it is to type it in. This is especially handy when you're in the kitchen and just need a quick answer, when you want to convert Celsius to Fahrenheit, or any other time you're forced to grapple with imperial measurements.
  • Define "bellwether". My friend and I didn't know what this word actually meant, so I just asked Google.
  • Show me a video of how to peel garlic. If you specify that you want a video, Google will ensure videos show up at the top of your search results. The same works for images, too: Show me pictures of the Playstation 4 will push image search results right to the top. You can even give it more detail, like Show me pictures of the Lincoln Memorial at sunset.
  • What's the weather like this weekend? Weather apps are usually just a tap away, but this is nice if you want to see the weather for a specific day without having to scroll through a bunch of information, I suppose.
  • When is Father's Day? I hate holidays that change date every year.
  • What's a good Thai restaurant near me? Google will search nearby Thai restaurants. If you change your mind, you can then ask How about Mexican? It will understand you're still searching for restaurants nearby and act accordingly.
  • How long is The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey? As if you didn't already know the answer was "too long".
  • Who is the CEO of Ford Motor Company? Google knows who a lot of people are.
  • What time is it in Tokyo? Never try to convert time zones in your head again.
  • What's the theme song to Firefly? Shocker: it's not called "You can't take the sky from me".

You get the idea. Google knows a lot more than you probably think it does, and anything you can ask, it can probably answer. Of course, if you're doing real research, this isn't helpful — but it's great for that quick stuff that you just need an answer to right away.

Integrate It With Your Android Apps

That's all fine and dandy, but if you're on Android, voice actions also integrate with a lot of apps on your system — and not just the built-in apps, either. Here are some really cool uses for it:

  • Text Kathleen "when are you coming home?" This will send a text message for you. You can do the same thing with calls.
  • Create new calendar event, lunch with Zach at 12:30 pm. Creating calendar events is a lot faster than it used to be on your phone, but it's still one of the slowest, most annoying processes I've come across. This is so much faster.
  • Note to self: I'm parked on level C3. This used to just make a draft in Gmail with that text, but now you can use it to add a note to Google Keep, Evernote or Catch, which is awesome.
  • Set alarm for 30 minutes from now, label, get laundry. This is much faster than opening up the clock app and setting it manually.
  • Remind me to call mum tomorrow at 2 pm. Clearly essential.
  • Navigate me to The Alibi Room. This immediately starts navigation to my favourite taco restaurant, no searching or addresses necessary. You can also add phrases like "on foot" if you want to walk.
  • Call the Culver Hotel. Similar to the above; if Google can find what you're talking about, it will help you skip the search step and get straight to your call.
  • Listen to Never Gonna Give You Up. This will start searching your music library for that song, but you can also pull it up on YouTube if you don't have it on your phone, which is pretty cool.
  • What's this song? No need for Shazam anymore. This trick will work for finding out what's playing wherever you are. (You can also just tap the mic, then tap the music note icon instead of saying "What's this song?")

Do voice commands work perfectly every time? Absolutely not. It doesn't really work in loud rooms, and sometimes it just doesn't understand you (I tried to look up what a "morel" was the other day, but it just kept telling me what "morals" were). But, once you start using it, you'll get the hang of which stuff it does well and which stuff it doesn't. After that small initial learning curve, you'll realise you can save a lot of time using it rather than opening your browser and typing.


Comments

    Google voice commands are good, but I prefer Vlingo in terms of usefulness - particularly the 'In Car' mode. ('In car' allows you to dictate a message, and it will then read it back to you and allow you to correct it and then send it by voice. It is designed to be entirely hands free.)
    Sadly, Vlingo voice recognition doesn't seem as good as Google's.

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