Computers, in one form or another, have become indisposable tools for business trips. You can travel with just a tablet, but most people aren’t comfortable with typing for extended periods of time on a soft keyboard, and let’s face it — if you pack a Bluetooth or USB keyboard, you may as well have packed a laptop. However, there is another option: voice input.

We’re seeing a lot more voice input options these days, particularly with mobile devices. The Hacker’s Keyboard app is great because it uses a more traditional layout, and it’s customizable in several ways (see Jack Wallen’s post, “The Hacker’s Keyboard will become one of your top 10 Android apps“). If you don’t get along with soft keyboards, the voice input function will allow you to “write” that report without the help of keyboard hardware. Let’s take a closer look at Hacker’s Keyboard.

  1. Download Hacker’s Keyboard from Google Play
  2. Accept the terms
  3. Tap Open

Hacker’s Keyboard should give you a shortcut to the Configure input methods, but if it doesn’t, follow these steps:

  1. Navigate to your system Settings
  2. Tap on Language and input
  3. Under Keyboard settings, tap Configure input methods
  4. Mark the checkbox next to Hacker’s Keyboard

You can also use these steps to switch back to the stock keyboard if you want. Alternatively, if you see the small keyboard icon in your taskbar, right next to your clock if you don’t have any apps already occupying that space, you can tap that to switch between keyboards.

Next, open a word processing application, such as Kingsoft Office or Google Docs. Whichever app you choose, once you’re in the text field and the keyboard has popped up, you’ll see a microphone key next to the escape (Esc) key. If you tap on it, your keyboard will disappear, and it will be replaced by a bar with a microphone icon, denoted by the words “Speak now.” Speaking into the microphone will transcribe your words into text on the field. This feature isn’t perfect. For best results, speak with natural pauses (i.e., pause long enough for the app to convert your speech if you’ve reached the end of the sentence). You also have to make sure you enunciate and speak at a reasonable volume.

The voice input feature is useful anywhere you can enter text, including searching, emailing, chatting, and browser navigation. It’s especially nice if you have difficulty typing with the soft keyboard or need a free hand. There are, of course, some caveats of its strategic usage that should go without saying. For example, you shouldn’t use it in a meeting, on a plane when the person next to you is trying to sleep, or other situation where it might not be appropriate to speak freely.

A handy companion feature is Dolphin Browser HD’s new voice command, known as Sonar. It’s reasonably new, so they’re still working out some of the bugs. However, you can use it to go to the last page you were on, back to the page you were on after that, bottom of the page, top of the page, and more.

Let’s install this app, and then I’ll walk you through some of its handiest voice commands.

  1. Download the Dolphin Browser HD app from Google Play (if you already have it, make sure you install the latest updates)
  2. Accept the terms
  3. Open Dolphin Browser HD
  4. Shake your tablet from side to side. You should see a green overlay with the words “How can I help?” on top of a microphone icon.

So, what can you do with Sonar? Let’s say you want to go to TechRepublic. Shake your tablet and say, “Open TechRepublic.” Sonar will respond by navigating the browser to TechRepublic.

Here are some of Sonar’s incorporated commands:

  • New tab
  • Refresh
  • Close tab
  • Back
  • Forward
  • History
  • Add a bookmark
  • Zoom in
  • Zoom out

These commands allow you to go almost completely hands-free. When you combine Sonar with Hacker’s Keyboard’s voice input, you can save a lot of time (and frustration) by not hassling with the soft keyboard.

What voice input application do you use on your tablet? Share you experience in the discussion thread below.