Software

Get a Siri-like interface on Android with Vlingo Virtual Assistant

Vlingo Virtual Assistant is Android's answer to Siri envy. Jack Wallen explains how to get the most out of Vlingo.

Are you jealous when you watch the Siri commercials that make the iPhone look like the single greatest mobile functionality ever created? Do you ache and long to have such a feature on your Android phone? You can have that, you know, with Vlingo Virtual Assistant.

Even though Vlingo isn't a sexy name, it does have a pleasant feminine voice that reads back your incoming texts and email, as well the ability to take your spoken input and achieve plenty of results. There are a few tricks to getting it working as expected, so let's get this baby up and running to make your life infinitely easier.

With Vlingo you can:

  • Send texts and emails
  • Voice dial
  • Search the web
  • Find local restaurants, shops, and other businesses
  • Get directions
  • Update your social status on Facebook or Twitter and check in with foursquare
  • Get answers to just about any question
  • Buy movie tickets and book hotel rooms
  • Open other apps
  • Have incoming email and texts read aloud as they come in

Installation

Installation is as simple as:

  1. Open up the Android Market
  2. Search for "vlingo"
  3. Tap Download
  4. Tap Accept & Download

That's it! Vlingo can now be found in the App Drawer on your mobile device.

When you first run Vlingo, you will be greeted with a quick tutorial on using the application. The tool is pretty straightforward to use. However, there are a couple of "gotchas" that you don't get from the tutorial (more on that in a bit).

Once you've walked through the tutorial, you'll find yourself on the Vlingo main screen (Figure A). Here you can access the landing screens for:
  • Sending texts
  • Placing phone calls
  • Finding restaurants
  • Finding businesses
  • Searching
  • Updating social networks
  • Getting answers
  • Opening apps
Figure A

Here you see Vlingo install on a Verizon-branded Droid Bionic. A perfect match of power and useability.
If you simply tap an entry on this screen, you'll see hints about what it can do. If you long press an entry, it will take you directly to that function's landing page (Figure B). Figure B

Here's the landing page for the Social Network status update page.
From the main screen, you can simply tap the Speak It button and then speak your search string into the mic to get a plethora of results. Tap the desired result entry, and you can select what you want to do with the results (Figure C). Figure C

Call, get directions, or view on the web at a touch of a button.

Text to speech

As I mentioned earlier, it's possible to have Vlingo read your incoming texts and emails. There's a caveat to this. Vlingo reads everything, so if an email is long (or a reply in a long thread of conversations), this can get rather tedious and annoying.

In order to enable this feature, open the Settings menu from within Vlingo (tap the Menu button on the handset), and then tap SafeReader settings. In this new screen (Figure D), check the box for the app you want Vlingo to read incoming messages from. Figure D

You can enable both texts and emails.

If you enable email, you also have to make sure you select which account you want Vlingo to read. Tap the Email accounts button and then select the account you want to enable.

You're not done. Although you've enabled the apps, you haven't enabled the SafeReader option. To do this, go back to the main screen and then tap the speaker icon (in the top left) to enable (the "x" sould go away and Vlingo will speak to you "Safe reader is on"). Now, whenever a text or email arrives, Vlingo will read it out to you.

Vlingo InCar

There's a beta version of an in-car dashboard that makes it even easier to use Vlingo. To get to the InCar dashboard, click the tiny steering wheel icon in the upper-right corner of the main screen. When the new screen opens (Figure E), you can tap one of the large buttons and then speak. Figure E

Scroll the main pane to the left to see the Settings pane where you can enable Wake-up Command.

The Wake-up command is very handy for the Vlingo InCar. Having this on allows you to say "Hey, Vlingo" and Vlingo will then follow your next command. So, if you wanted to Text a contact, you would say:

"Hey, Vlingo."

Once Vlingo responds with, "What would you like to do?" follow the rest of the vocal prompts. It's really quite simple.

Vlingo has a number of other amazing options that go a long way to making your Android mobile experience as safe and easy as possible. From within the app, you can even purchase a premium version for $1.99 (USD) that doesn't include ads. I'm fairly confident that once you start using Vlingo, you won't go back to the old finger-tiring, unsafe-driving method.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

18 comments
mike_armstrong
mike_armstrong

Everytime I hit print, the webpage goes Bye-Bye and then the tab is recovered.

jfsiv
jfsiv

I have been using an app called Jeannie by Pannous. I thought it was a pretty good Siri clone, but I have only used it a few times, mostly when I am driving.

tcurtispc2
tcurtispc2

I tried an app called Iris - I thought that it was the Droid community's "tongue in cheek" answer to Siri. When asked a question, instead of directing you to a search web page, it answered the question with the data. For example - "How much caffeine is n a can of Mountain Dew?" - returned the size of the can, the content of caffeine and the percentage of caffeine to liquid. I have to admit, after upgrading recently to a modern droid phone, I am pleased at how they have improved the voice recognition for simple hands free commands. Previous versions (droid 2.x) were terrible.

tsadowski
tsadowski

The thing that gets me about Vlingo, is that if you want to remove ads, you need to purchase, and the only way to purchase is from within the app, NOT through the marketplace. I made the mistake of purchasing this way, and then I had to remove and re-install the app, and clear settings. Now it thinks that I have an un-registered version and it is showing me ads again. I haven't yet figured out how to get it registered again without purchasing it all over again.

aroc
aroc

I tried to install it for my Dell Streak 5 and Archos 43, but neither is "compatible". It would be nice if it stated what the requirements are. They both have Android 2.2+, very good audio capabilities, and reasonable processing power (well, maybe not the Archos so much...), so what's the "incompatibility"? Ridiculous Android inflexibility on the "diversity" of devices is almost (but not quite) enough to make me think about the iP* jail; definitely keeps me on my WinMo 6.5 phone for "real" phone use, and reliable, familiar PIM apps and Pocket Office, and on x86 Linux for more choice/control/power.

Gisabun
Gisabun

Watch Apple take the company to court claiming it's solely their idea. :-)

dprahn
dprahn

It's also available on BlackBerry, Windows, Nokia, and.. well.. Apple. It's nice too that it will actually go into the solution app such as maps..

dcolbert
dcolbert

There are a number of alternatives for Siri like functions in Android. Vlingo is also the framework used for several voice-recognition apps, as I understand it from my research on this. I had a lot of trouble on Vlingo, and gave up on it on my Droid 2. Andi seems to be dead-ware. It just doesn't respond well to anything but acts more like a proof of concept app to illustrate that yes, your Android phone is capable of making a witty response when you ask it what it is wearing or ask it to tell you a story. It might have been unfair of me to expect much out of either of these apps on a Droid 2, though. I'll have to revisit Vlingo on my Droid 4 and see if I find it more useful now that I'm sporting some relatively modern hardware specs. But that is something that might be important for your readers to note. I wouldn't expect very satisfactory results out of this kind of voice recognition software unless you've got fairly powerful hardware to run it on.

technomom_z
technomom_z

VLingo's Assistant technology, including its hand-free car mode, predates Siri by at least a year. Your headline should be reversed. Siri was Apple's answer to VLingo. Not the other way around.

aroc
aroc

What is so magical about that particular phone?

dancoiv
dancoiv

I installed Vlingo on an iPhone 3Gs and don't see the options to have it read text and emails to me, etc as it doesn't appears to have the inCar virtual assistant piece for this. The app basically acts as a central point to use your voice to navigate various features, instead of using the specific applications voice input capabilities. Not quite nearly Siri level for the non-4S iPhone owners. Looks like the Android version is much closer then what is available to Apple users.

Sonja Thompson
Sonja Thompson

and really wasn't that impressed with the results. Since it required more permissions than I was comfortable with - and didn't work as good as I had hoped - I uninstalled the app in short order. Seriously, if it worked well, I would overlook the permissions issue. Long story, short: I still have Siri envy.

DLeh
DLeh

The completely hands free operation in InCar mode blows everything else out of the water. No touching, no looking at the screen, at all. "Vlingo. Text Sonja, message, Can Siri do this?" "Say send to send..." "Send" Eyes never off the road, hands never off the wheel. I was wondering what you meant by too many permissions. Send and Read SMS - Without it, the text function doesn't work. Make calls - Without it the voice dialing doesn't work. Record Audio - Kinda self explanitory there. Contact data - Needed to say a person's name to text or call. Besides GPS, I really don't see anything else extraordinary. Siri knows at least that much, and whatever else Apple baked in. Also, Vlingo is available for iPhone, so obviously Apple had no problem with it in their approval process either. But, I'm looking at the permissions here: https://market.android.com/details?id=com.vlingo.client&hl=en Maybe I'm dense, but I'm really not seeing anything out of the ordinary for a multifunctional voice app. I've had keyboards ask for more permissions than this. BTW, for those who don't know. Nuance owns Dragon Naturally Speaking (long time, as in for Win95) speech recognition apps for business and medical transcription, Swype, and Vlingo. They're pretty much cornering the market now with Dragon GO, Swype, and Vlingo. Dragon Go is a little more Siri-ish, less voice action oriented.

dcolbert
dcolbert

Still haven't had a chance to play with it much. I'll demo it this weekend and write back here with my results. From what my #1 iPhone fan friend has to say, Siri isn't really a whole lot to envy, itself. He was saying it has to do more with servers not being able to handle the load, but either way, it isn't as effective as the ads would lead you to believe, according to him. Quick update: It is giving me mixed results. "I'm hungry" returned places nearby that sell food. "I want a hamburger" returned nothing. "Where can I get a hamburger close by" returned nothing. "Where can I get a hamburger" returned a list of nearby burger places. (But listed an out of business Cheeseburger's in Paradise and missed a newly opened 5 Guys). It failed on the cutesy answers to: What is the answer to the universe and Tell me a story But responded "A lovely outfit of silicon and printed circuit boards". When I asked it what it was wearing. Not bad.

dcolbert
dcolbert

Not sure why it would be available for phones and not for tablets when you can back it up to .apk and side-load it anyhow. Just want to note, I was having problems with my ICS update *before* I side-loaded Vlingo on my tablet - so, that isn't what is causing my problems there. :)

jlwallen
jlwallen

Vlingo, at the current moment, is only availble for Android smartphones. There is a tool called EVA - Virtual Assistant that does work on tablets. This tool is $9.99, but you can get a feel for how it works by installing EVA Intern - Virtual Assistant. EVA is probably the best "Siri" clone for tablets that I have found.

dcolbert
dcolbert

It wasn't available in the Android market for my tablet - but I was able to back it up to an .apk on my phone and copy it and install it onto my Transformer. This doesn't always work - "This program failed to install" or "this program is not available for your device" - but worked fine in this case. Not sure why Google or Vlingo would want to limit availability to tablets or to ASUS Transformers in particular. Can someone else check and see if it is available in market for their tablets? Jack, you have a Xoom, right? Have you tried installing it there?