Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the lights on at MakeUseOf. Read more.
A while ago, we took four Android sliding keyboards and put them to the test. Using the same paragraph of text, we checked which of the well-known available keyboards gets the most accurate results in swiping. The clear winners in that test were SwiftKey Flow and Swype, providing the most error-free text compared to the original.
But swiping is not the only input method on your Android device. Voice recognition has become increasingly popular, and more options are becoming available over time. One can hope that with this increased popularity comes increased accuracy as well. Can you really dictate whole sentences to your Android device, without wasting more time than it’s worth correcting mistakes?
To find out, I took two major voice recognition keyboards, and one lesser known one, and put them all to the test. Which one offers the best accuracy? Read on to find out!
How Was The Testing Done?
As mentioned above, I tested three different voice-input keyboards: Jelly Bean’s default (Google voice typing), Swype, and TouchPal. Each of these keyboards offers voice recognition which you can use to dictate emails, text messages, notes, and anything else you can think of. The feature is very easy to use in all these apps — simply tap the voice icon and start talking.
As a test, I used the following paragraph from the book Life of Pi:
“Can you believe it, Richard Parker? People, food, a bed. Life is ours once again. Oh, what bliss! The ship came closer still. It looked like an oil tanker. The shape of its bow was becoming distinct. Salvation wore a robe of black metal with white trim.”
As you can see, there are no big or complicated words in this paragraph and no weird names, so I was in no way trying to trip or fail the apps. As most people don’t tend to use big or complicated words in emails, text messages and notes, this seemed like a good enough test. I tried to speak fairly slowly while dictating the paragraph, but not much slower than my normal speech. I used DiffChecker to find the differences between the original paragraph and the dictated ones.
For the purposes of this review, I did not go into further features available in every app. I was only interested to see how accurate their voice-recognition feature it.
Google Voice Typing
Google voice typing is available as part of Android’s default keyboard in Android 4.0+ (ICS) and up. If it’s not already enabled, you can enable it by accessing your device’s settings, tapping on “Language & input”, and ticking the box next to “Google voice typing”.
Google voice typing is also included in a another Android keyboard called SwiftKey, which you can purchase on Google Play for $1.99. A 30-day free trial is also available.
Usage: Google voice typing types on the screen as you speak, so you can see the result as you go. It’s not immediate, though — there’s actually quite a lag — so you might get confused if you try to read the output while speaking. This lag also means that if you speak too quickly, the engine might miss or skip entire sentences.
Results: Can you believe its, Richard Parker? People, the bed. Wife is ours once again. Oh, what do list! The ship them closer still. It looks like the oil tanker. The shape of its value would be coming to stink. Salvation Warroad of black metal with white trim.
To be fair, I should disclose that I tried this paragraph on both the default keyboard and on SwiftKey, so it turned out that I tried Google voice typing more times than the other two. While they both use the same engine, I somehow managed to get better results while using SwiftKey, but this was probably just sheer luck.
Results, SwiftKey: Can you believe it, Richard Parker? People, food, a bed. Life is hours once again. Oh, what’s list! The ship came closer still. It looks like an oil tanker. The shape of a spell was becoming distinct. Salvation for a robe of black metal with white trim.
Conclusion: Between “Oh, what to do list!” and “the shape of its value would be coming to stink”, I don’t think much of my initial try. The second one looks much, much better, but I felt that I had to go a bit slower than I would like to get that result, and it still wasn’t perfect. And no matter what I did, Google heard “list” when I said “bliss”.
Swype (Dragon Dictation)
Swype is probably one of the most familiar keyboards available for Android, and now also incorporates the Dragon Dictation voice dictionary. Swype is available for Android 2.2+, and you can download it from Google Play for $0.99 [No longer available]. A 30-day free trial is also available.
Usage: Unlike Google voice typing, Swype’s output doesn’t appear as you speak. Rather, you get to record your entire speech, in this case, my Life of Pi paragraph, and the app will transform it to text as soon as you hit “Done”. Depending on the length of your dictation, the analyses phase may take longer or shorter times, but is generally very fast. It’s worth noting that if you go too long without stopping, the screen might turn off and you’ll lose all your work, so it pays to stop for analysis every once in a while.
Results: Can you believe it, Richard Parker? People, food, the bed. Life is ours once again. Oh, that place! I should can closer still. It looked like an oil tanker. The shape of its bow was becoming distinct. Salvation for rogue black metal with white trim.
Conclusion: Swype failed on the word bliss as well, but also on the much simpler word “ship”. In addition, it took a pretty simple phrase such as “wore a robe” and turned into something more complicated: “for rogue”. All in all, I was pretty satisfied with this result, but it still failed in places I felt it shouldn’t have.
Just for laughs, I’ll also share what happened when I went too fast with Swype, talking as I would to a regular person standing in front of me:
Some of this is still perfect, but I had to laugh at “it’s an editorial tanker” and “the shape of its dad was becoming distinct”.
For those of you who don’t own an Android 4.0+ device, TouchPal is the only option on this list that is completely free, no strings attached. While the app itself is available for Android 1.6+ devices, the voice-recognition feature, which is what we’re interested in, is only supported by Android 2.2+ devices. A promising option for those of you with older devices, but can it really deliver?
Usage: Using TouchPal for dictation is a completely different experience than the other two apps I tested. While both Google voice typing and Swype let you speak freely until you were done, TouchPal cuts you off after each sentence. When you dictate a period, or when it just thinks a sentence is over, is simply stops recording and lets you choose between several difference suggestions for your sentence. On the one hand, this is a good way to ensure you have less mistakes by choosing the best suggestion for each sentence, but it also makes the dictation process slower and harder, with unexpected stops and a frequent need to repeat a sentence that was cut off in the middle. In order to test the app like all the others, I simply chose the first option the app suggested for each sentence I dictated.
Results: can you believe it, Richard Parker? people, food, the bed. life is hours once again. Oh, what do list! you should come closer still. it looks like an oil tanker. the shape of a Down was the coming to stand. salvation Warroad black metal with white trim.
Conclusion: The first thing that jumps out is that TouchPal did not automatically capitalize the first letter in most sentences. This is surprising, because all my periods appeared as they should, and still TouchPal could not do the basic task of capitalizing for me. As for speech recognition, I wasn’t impressed. It seems that TouchPal took the mistakes made in all other keyboards, combined them, and added some of its own. So again I got the infamous “Oh, what to do list!” but I also got a “Warroad black metal”, and “the shape of a Down was coming to stand”, whatever that may be.
Which Is Best?
I must say, I’m pretty disappointed in all three of these after this test. I haven’t been using this kind of speech recognition much in the past year or so, and I definitely expected something a bit better, especially since Google’s voice typing in Google Now seems to always be pretty accurate. The only thing I can think of is that longer paragraphs are just harder to deal with than a simple query.
If I had to choose one, I would go with Swype. If you don’t go too fast, its recognition abilities are superior to the others, if not perfect. If you own an Android 4.0+ device, you might as well use the default keyboard for free. Just make sure you speak slowly and give it time to catch up with you every once in a while, and you should be fine.
Do you use speech recognition on your phone? Which is your favorite voice recognition keyboard option? Share in the comments!