Nuance Communications makes excellent speech-recognition software for PCs and Macs. The company’s Dragon Dictation for iOS is a quality app that mostly does a great job transcribing speech into text.
And then there’s Dragon Mobile Assistant 4 for Android.
The free virtual-assistant app is a Siri and Google Now competitor for Androids. It was updated on June 18th with a new feature called “intelligent hands-free Driver Mode.” Unfortunately, I had little to no success using the feature—but I did get a funny surprise from it.
Driver Mode, when enabled in the app’s settings, is supposed to help you keep your eyes on the road. Version 4 of Dragon Mobile Assistant is designed to detect when you’re in a moving vehicle and give you more voice responses than you'd receive if you weren’t in motion.
That was not my experience. In the app’s settings, I made sure to turn on "Enhanced location services," which let Driver Mode be auto-enabled. I also tapped another setting, "Auto-enable Driver Mode," which lets you specify when Driver Mode kicks in. The options include: While Driving (isn’t that the point?); On Wired Headset; On Bluetooth; and In Car Dock. I enabled them all.
As I drove around San Francisco this week, I initiated commands by using the app’s "wake up word." As long as the app is open, you can say something like "Hey You," provided you select the term as your wake-up word, and Dragon Mobile Assistant snaps to attention, ready for your request or command. (You can opt to have Dragon Mobile Assistant wake up when the app is running in the background, but that could seriously drain your device’s battery and might interfere with other voice-enabled apps.)
So far, so good. But none of my spoken requests were answered with helpful responses. For instance, I asked for the current weather, and Dragon Mobile Assistant displayed a multi-day forecast chart for San Francisco. I asked the app to read me the latest status updates on Facebook, check emails and tell me what my upcoming calendar appointments were. On all fronts, it was a no-go. I either received a "Sorry, something was not working well. Please try again later" message, or I was informed that the information I requested was not supported.
On Wednesday, I read a complaint on Dragon Mobile Assistant’s Google Play Store page from a reviewer who said she kept receiving the same error message. Nuance’s response: “Due to heavy demand for our latest release, our service was down for a short period of time earlier today. Service is now restored, and you can use Dragon Mobile Assistant with full functionality. Please give it another try and tell us how you like it!”
So I gave the app another try on Wednesday. My experience was the same.
The only time Dragon Mobile Assistant provided anything worthwhile was when I asked where I could hide a dead body. The response: “Ask Siri.”
I have faith in Nuance. It’s a good company that makes otherwise solid products. And Dragon Mobile Assistant has lots of features I didn’t touch on. It has an average 4.3-star rating in Google Play, so obviously the app has its fans. But in my experience, the app’s Driver Mode has a long, hard road to travel before it provides any real value.