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Update 7/29/2017: Google released Voice Access inside of the Google Play Store. You no longer need to install the XDA app.
Google quietly released a voice-control app: Voice Access. It’s great for two groups: disabled people who have trouble using their smartphones, and able-bodied people wanting voice control over their Android device.
Voice Access requires enrolling in its now-filled beta program, but XDA members managed to pull the installer so anyone can use the app. Unlike AutoVoice, it works without an Internet connection.
Here’s an introduction on how to get the app, how to use it, and potential uses for a voice-controlled Android device.
How to Get Voice Access?
Voice Access requires either the official XDA app or downloading an installer from an unknown source. I highly recommend using the XDA Labs application. I pulled the application from my own Nexus 9, in case you want to take a gamble — but my recommendation is to install XDA’s application.
First, enable the option to install from unknown sources. You can find it in Settings, nestled within the Security section. Second, install the XDA Labs app, select the Apps tab, and search for Voice Access. Third, once the Voice Access page loads, tap on the download icon on the right-side of the screen. This downloads the Voice Access . APK file (Android installable). After it finishes downloading, from the pop-up menu, choose the install option.
After installation, you must go to Settings, then Accessibility. Choose Voice Access and switch the service on. A brief tutorial runs after switching the service on (do the tutorial). You can pause Voice Access from any screen pulling down the notifications bar and tapping on Voice Access.
Voice Access requires Always On Google Now, which enables the operating system to process vocalized commands from any screen. Enabling Always On in Google Now requires heading to the Google App, navigating to Settings, then choosing Voice from the left-pane. Then switch on From the Google app and Always on. You’ll receive a prompt to train Google Now to recognize your voice.
Using Google’s Voice Access App
The Voice Access app enables an Android device (Android 4.1 Jelly Bean or newer) to receive vocalized commands. The app also overlays numbers over every interactive element displayed on the screen. It contains three basic modes of operation: Text composition, navigation, and gestures.
Text composition allows voice transcription. First, launch the application which receives text input, such as email.
You can launch apps one of two ways: Speak any of the numbers displayed on-screen or say open followed by the app name. For example, if you want to send an email using just your voice. From the home screen, vocalize the number of the email client (24, in the screenshot above).
Alternatively, you can say “open Gmail.” Then the number of the email that you’d like to read (9, in the screenshot below).
Composing an email won’t require much effort. Speak the number of the compose icon (19, in the screenshot above), then begin speaking. Voice Access’s recognition capabilities seem about 90% accurate. For the remaining 10%, say each individual letter in the word and then rely on Google Keyboard’s autocomplete function.
Voice Access also recognizes commands, such as “backspace” and “enter”. It includes a large number of advanced composition voice commands, such as “delete sentence”, which erases an entire sentence, and “delete word” which wipes out the word next to the cursor.
There are a lot more commands than the ones shown in the screenshot. For a complete list, say “show commands“.
Users can also use their voice for menu navigation. The commands allow complete control over their system’s wireless and menu navigation.
Because Voice Access is an accessibility tool for the disabled, it rewires gestures into voice commands. If an app requires a particular gesture to perform an action, users only need to vocalize the gesture.
The best example is on the unlock screen. Users can say “unlock” which activates the unlock gesture (swipe up).
Combined, composition, navigation, and gestures make Voice Access capable of doing anything users do with their fingers. This makes it suitable for a wide range of roles.
Potential Uses for Voice Access
With Voice Access, any Android 4.1+ device can function as a voice-controlled hub, similar to the Amazon Echo (our review). Some possible roles include: voice-control smart hub for Internet of Things devices, a media center remote, and as a voice-control method for Android Auto.
Those using Smart Home devices, such as D-Link’s range of Connected Home products (such as the ULTRA router), should try Voice Access combined with an Android device. You’ll just need to configure your Android device to constantly listen for voice commands.
The configuration process only requires the following:
Unhide Developer options in the Settings menu by tapping multiple times on the Build Number under About Phone.
Within Developer options, turn on Stay awake. This allows the device to keep listening even while plugged in. Do not enable this option if your device uses an AMOLED screen. AMOLED screens suffer from burn-in, even on newer models of AMOLED panels, despite manufacturer claims.
Additionally, leaving your device plugged in isn’t good for your battery’s long-term viability. Leaving it perma-plugged only offers a good option if you want to repurpose an unused device.
Users can then control their Smart Home using whatever app they prefer.
You can output an Android device’s video to a larger screen. Compatibility varies from device-to-device, but most use the Display Cast (also known as Miracast) feature, which allows the wireless video output from Android to either a SmartTV or a Miracast adapter.
When combined with Voice Access, an Android device can function as a keyboard-less means of controlling your media center. Unfortunately, it will also process the audio outputted from the television, so pausing or stopping media content requires physically interacting with the device.
With further development, Voice Access may offer a unique interface for Google’s Android Auto app, which turns your smartphone into a control system for your car’s head unit.
Unfortunately, Android Auto doesn’t offer complete hands-free control over your device, but Voice Access can help fill in the soft spots.
An interesting development is Remix OS 2.0, an x86-compatible installable operating system. Users might one day be able to create their own carputer (see: ways to make a carputer) using off-the-shelf PC components.
Voice Access is Looking Really Good
Google’s Voice Access already offers some very useful features. It’s one of the essential Android accessibility apps for users with disabilities and can be useful for anyone looking to control an Android phone or tablet solely with their voice. It’s a great way to make use of obsolete devices.