Free Up Your Hands With Speech-to-Text on Android
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According to the National Center for Voice and Speech, the average American speaks English at a rate of 150 words per minute. By comparison, according to Pocketables, a smartphone typist using the “two-thumb” method may average around 30 words per minute.

Why settle for basic typing when you can dictate your text up to five times faster? Sure, you can speed things up a bit with a keyboard that supports gesture typing What is the Best Alternative Keyboard for Android? What is the Best Alternative Keyboard for Android? We take a look at some of the best keyboards in the Play Store and put them to the test. Read More , but even then you won’t get anywhere close to the same speed. That’s why you should consider using speech-to-text.

Note that speech-to-text isn’t only for convenience. It’s also an effective way to make your device more accessible, alongside several other device tweaks Accessibility on Android: Make Your Device Easier to Use Accessibility on Android: Make Your Device Easier to Use Android includes features to make sure that everyone can enjoy their phone. Even if you aren't disabled, the Accessibility menu holds some neat tricks to look into. Read More . And we aren’t just talking about recording your voice as audio What's the Best Voice Recording App for Android? What's the Best Voice Recording App for Android? There are lots of moments in life you might want to record. Make sure you have a great app to help you do just that. Read More — speech-to-text takes voice input and converts it into text on-the-fly.

Turn On and Set Up Speech-to-Text

The following instructions are based on a non-Samsung device running Android 5.1 Lollipop. Other versions of Android may differ slightly from step to step, but the overall procedure should be the same.

Free Up Your Hands With Speech-to-Text on Android android voice input settings

To set up speech-to-text, go to Device Settings, scroll down to the Personal section, and tap on Language & input. Scroll down to the Speech section and tap Voice input. Here you can choose between two voice input services.

  • Basic Google recognition — Nothing more than the core speech-to-text recognition engine provided by Google.
  • Enhanced Google services — Additional features on top of Google’s core speech-to-text recognition engine, including always-on voice monitoring and voice control for third-party apps.

While writing this post, I tried using both to see if there were any practical speech-to-text differences. The enhanced engine failed to identify any word I said, and no amount of tweaking fixed it. The basic engine didn’t have this issue, though I had to speak directly into the microphone for it to pick up. Your mileage may vary depending on your device and Android version.

Once you’ve picked an engine, tap the gear icon beside it to tweak its settings.

Free Up Your Hands With Speech-to-Text on Android android voice input options

First, tap Languages and scroll down until you see the one that you need. Pay attention to the parentheses next to each language as these indicate accents. If you speak UK English but accidentally select US English, Google won’t be able to identify half the words you say.

Next, tap Hands-free and enable (or disable) whether you want speech-to-text to be recognized on external microphones that are connected either by a cable or by Bluetooth. This can come in handy when you want to voice-type text messages while driving, for example.

Next, tap Offline speech recognition, switch to the All tab, and download the language/accent packs that you want Google to recognize when your device is offline. This can also speed up speech-to-text conversion even while online since your voice no longer needs to be sent to Google’s servers for conversion. But if you need more device space, feel free to uninstall them.

Lastly, consider turning on text-to-speech How to Tweak Google Text-to-Speech Settings on Android How to Tweak Google Text-to-Speech Settings on Android Google's text-to-speech on Android has gotten more powerful recently, but you can still tweak it to your needs if you like. Read More . As far as convenience goes, speech-to-text is only half of it. It’s one thing to “speak” your text messages while driving to increase safety, but you should also “listen” to your text messages so you never have to take your eyes off the road.

How to Use Speech-to-Text on Android

Now that speech-to-text is set up and ready to go, let’s try using it.

Open up any app that normally requires typing: memo apps, SMS apps, to-do list apps, etc. Tap any text input area to bring up the on-screen keyboard. In the screenshot below, I’m using Gboard with a Colemak layout. Yours may look different (and some keyboards don’t support voice input).

Free Up Your Hands With Speech-to-Text on Android android voice input activity

Tap the microphone icon to switch the keyboard into voice input mode. At the bottom, tap and hold the Hold to talk button to begin voice recording. Speak into your microphone, then let go when you’re done. The converted text will be “sent” as if you had typed and tapped Send. (I personally wish it would just type the text and allow me to revise it, but oh well.)

When you’re done, tap the keyboard icon to revert to normal input mode.

What’s nice about speech-to-text is that this feature can be used anywhere the keyboard is used. SMS messages? To-do lists? Note-taking apps What Is the Best Free Note-Taking App for Android? What Is the Best Free Note-Taking App for Android? If you want to take notes on your Android smartphone or tablet, you need one of these apps. Read More ? Web searches? Google Search, Google Now, or Google Docs? Yes, everywhere.

To minimize frustrations, heed these tips:

  • Speak clearly. Google’s recognition engine is good, but it isn’t perfect. Don’t speed too quickly and don’t slur your words together.
  • Reduce background noises. If you’re driving with the windows down, or if you’re at an outdoor dog park, the ambient sounds will interfere with the clarity of your words. Cupping your mouth around the microphone might help, but don’t count on it.
  • Keep using it. As with most things, speech-to-text gets better with practice. Not only does Google learn to better understand you, but you’ll learn how to deal with certain quirks and nuances.

The only downside is that holding the button to talk can be problematic for long-duration input. Imagine trying to record a lecture this way. (Good luck with that.) So while speech-to-text is great for simple sentences, for anything more involved, you should record voice notes with a third-party app 12 Tips to Take Better Notes with Microsoft OneNote 12 Tips to Take Better Notes with Microsoft OneNote These 12 tips show you how to take better notes in MIcrosoft OneNote. Today, digital note-taking is as much about skill, as it is about the tool. Read More instead.

One notable exception is the Google Keep app. It has a built-in feature that can translate voice to text Why You Should Use Google Keep for Voice Notes Why You Should Use Google Keep for Voice Notes Most note-taking apps support voice memos as a way to dictate notes, but there's a good reason why you should prefer to use Google Keep. Read More . If you want long-form dictation in a non-audio format, this is the way to go.

Expand Your Voice Control on Android

Once you get comfortable talking to your Android device, you may want to graduate from speech-to-text to full-blown voice commands. Why bother tapping through all kinds of menus when you can just tell your smartphone or tablet what you want it to do?

For example, Google Assistant provides several features that make hands-free driving more convenient Do Everything in the Car Hands Free With Google Now Do Everything in the Car Hands Free With Google Now You don't have to text and drive. In fact, you can do a lot with only your voice while driving -- even more than texting! Read More . If you use Google Maps, start using these nifty voice commands 8 Voice Tricks for Google Navigation That You Never Knew About 8 Voice Tricks for Google Navigation That You Never Knew About With "OK Google" enabled, you'll never have to touch Google Maps again. These voice tricks will make sure of that! Read More to control your navigation. (Waze isn’t as good for this Waze vs. Google Maps: Which App Will Navigate Home Faster Waze vs. Google Maps: Which App Will Navigate Home Faster Waze and Google Maps are both solid navigation apps, but which one is the best? Read More .) Other third-party apps are, slowly but surely, adding voice control too.

If you become proficient with Google Assistant, you can even control your entire device by voice How to Control Your Android Device Entirely with Your Voice How to Control Your Android Device Entirely with Your Voice Want to control your Android phone or tablet completely with your voice? This official app from Google makes it surprisingly easy. Read More . If you don’t like Google Assistant for whatever reason, maybe you’d prefer one of these other smart voice assistants 7 Siri Alternatives for Android: Google Now, Cortana, & More 7 Siri Alternatives for Android: Google Now, Cortana, & More There are a lot of personal assistant apps in the Play Store, so we help you sort through the best of them. Read More instead.

How do you feel about using speech-to-text and voice control? Is it the future of mobile interfaces or just a passing fad? Let us know in the comments!

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  1. Kim J. Duran
    August 29, 2017 at 7:17 pm

    I ABSOLUTELY LOVE THE HANDS-FREE

  2. Kim J. Duran
    August 29, 2017 at 7:16 pm

    I want to be able to use speech control all the time my son had it set up to type even my cuss words somehow I change that and I need to know how to type or change it back. Because it made a big difference of what it types on here and what it does it. I LOVE A HANDS-FREE TEXTING LOVE IT. WOULD LOVE TO BE ABLE TO OPERATE MY PHONE MOSTLY WITHOUT HAVING TO PUSH BUTTON JUST SPEAKING TO THE PHONE.

  3. Bud Hines
    February 1, 2017 at 6:55 pm

    Hi, I just talked to my car mechanic. He was using an iphone and created a voice message that he attached to a memo he left for himself.

    Does android provide the ability to store that text message as a memo?

  4. Kelly S.
    September 28, 2016 at 1:53 pm

    It slows me down because it keeps spelling "Rachael" without the second "a" so I have to go back and correct it. There should be a way to teach the voice recognition to spell names the way you intend. I don't want to have to spell her name when sending a text to her father.

    • Jolinda Marshall
      October 23, 2017 at 3:38 pm

      I am having the same problem as my name, JOLINDA is often spell Joe Linda or chill Linda or Joylinda

  5. Debbie
    May 28, 2016 at 3:37 am

    Thank you, thank you for clear directions!

  6. Graham
    April 24, 2016 at 3:25 am

    I need the output to be in the same language as I speak. I am set up for English (UK) but the text output still mangles it to the English (US) equivalent or worse.

  7. Banyin
    March 16, 2016 at 10:25 am

    I've just discovered this voice to text function. No more hunching over to type, which gives me stress on my shoulders and neck. This is just so excellent for me.

    I voice to text in Onenote and pick up the text on my PC. Probably not the best way but I haven't found a better way.

  8. Anonymous
    September 21, 2015 at 3:27 pm

    This is without question a joke of a product.

    If you want to spend more time correcting what the conversion gives you than you would actually pecking out the keys and typing it yourself, this is the way to go.

    Certain words? It absolutely REFUSES to recognize. If you're on Tinder? Get ready for "Tender" over and over and over again. But that's OK. When you go to correct it, it gives you Tinder as an option.

    So, it KNOWS it sucks. It has a ready list of suggestions for what you were actually trying to say.

    I speak on the radio and in commercials for a living and I wouldn't let this thing translate my grocery list. WASTE OF TIME. Carrier pigeons would be quicker and less frustrating.

  9. kelli
    February 22, 2015 at 7:34 pm

    LG ACCESS. LTE DOES NOT CONTAIN. TEXT BY USING VOICE... WASTE OF MONEY... BACK TO IPHONE

  10. Nitish Verma
    February 12, 2015 at 2:23 pm

    What is the way of using speech to text feature in offline mode?

  11. Marc
    February 12, 2015 at 9:58 am

    Hi.
    The speech-to-text disapearred from my HTC Desire X :(
    No more microphone on keyboard ...
    I don't know what's happen ...
    How can I reactivate it ?
    Thanks

  12. teanna
    January 28, 2015 at 1:16 am

    I don't have a microphone on the keyboard on this phone. It is the galaxy avant. I just switched from the exhibit and it had one. I can't figure out how to get it on there. It was already there on my other phone.

    • Ferol
      December 28, 2015 at 1:01 am

      On the key pad, touch and hold setting, the mic should pop up. Then touch the mic and speak.

  13. Mitesh Budhabhatti
    June 27, 2011 at 6:55 am

    I have a Samsung ACE and it takes a while when it does speech to text.  Is it normal in Android or its an issue with ACE?

    • Angela Alcorn
      June 27, 2011 at 7:15 am

      I can only speak for my HTC Desire, which isn't slow at all. You might also want to consider that your internet connection is slowing it down. The speech-to-text service accesses Google's voice-recognition servers to do the transcript.

      • Mitesh Budhabhatti
        June 27, 2011 at 12:20 pm

        It accesses Google's server?? I did not know that.  If thats the case, that could be the reason for the slowness as my internet is damn slow.  Thanks

  14. riz
    June 10, 2011 at 3:50 pm

    it gives me a connection problem...when i tried using it for an sms, it says "could not connect". i'm using swype but the keyboard does have a mic button.

    • Angela Alcorn
      June 10, 2011 at 3:51 pm

      Ah yes, you need to be online for it to work, since it connects to Google's servers in order to work out what you're saying.

  15. Anonymous
    June 10, 2011 at 3:14 am

    No dice for Gmail or Google Voice for texting on DroidX. Fail.

    • Angela Alcorn
      June 10, 2011 at 7:50 am

      Are you running Android 2.2? I have seen screenshots of 2.1 users using this, but it should definitely work for all users of 2.2.

  16. bragTAG
    June 10, 2011 at 12:03 am

    The "Taskos" android app is a task manager/to-do list app which not only allows text input, but also syncs with Google Tasks!  Taskos also has a nifty widget which also allows text input right from the home screen...not affiliated with Taskos in ANY was, just passing this along as I enjoy using it!

  17. Anonymous
    June 9, 2011 at 10:35 pm

    No luck with my Samsung ACE, does swype has something to do it with this?

    • Angela Alcorn
      June 10, 2011 at 7:48 am

      Swype could have something to do with it. Are you unable to see a microphone button anywhere?