Speech personal assistant in Windows Phone 8

Take a look at Speech, the Windows Phone 8 built-in speech recognition software.

Windows Phone 8

The iPhone has Siri, Android has Vlingo and Evi, and Windows Phone 8 has its own, built-in speech recognition software -- called, simply enough, Speech. With Speech you can:

  • Make a call
  • Send a text message
  • Take a note
  • Open an app
  • Search online

You can do all of these things just by using your voice. Is it magic? Not at all. It's your smartphone doing what it does best -- making your mobile life easier. Thankfully, there's nothing you need to install to get this feature up and running. The only thing you're asked is if you want to enable the Speech Recognition Service, which is a service run by Microsoft to help improve the speech recognition system. You should know that, by turning the Speech Recognition Service on, the words you speak (and the data discovered by what you speak) will be sent to Microsoft. 

If you've turned that service on, and (now that you know what it does) you want to switch it off, follow these steps:

  1. Swipe the home screen to the left
  2. Scroll down and tap Settings
  3. Scroll down and tap speech
  4. Tap to disable Enable Speech Recognition Service (Figure A – if it's checked, it's enabled)

Figure A

Figure A
Speech settings on a Verizon-branded HTC Windows Phone 8.

If you're in kinder, more trusting spirits later, you can always re-enable the service at any time. There's one caveat to turning off the Speech Recognition Service (there always is). Some apps will not function with the service turned off, including:

  • Texting to contact
  • Searching the web

If you want those features to work, you must leave the service enabled.

Finally, you'll need to select the language pack to be used for Speech. To configure this, do the following:

  1. Swipe your home screen to the left
  2. Scroll down and tap Settings
  3. Scroll down and tap Speech
  4. Locate Speech Language and tap the associated box
  5. Locate and tap the language to be used (Figure B)

Figure B

Figure B
Make sure to select the correct language pack or you could have trouble getting Speech to recognize your voice.

Using Speech

To access the Speech tool, hold down the Windows button until the Speech interface appears (Figure C).

Figure C

Figure C
At this point, it's time to start speaking.

As with every speech-to-mobile interface, the spoken command takes on the structure:

COMMAND text to be used by command

For example:

Call Stephanie


Call phone number

where phone number is an actual phone number.

Every command is followed by the text to be used by the command. Here's the full list of commands (and their descriptions):

  • Call: Call a phone number
  • Redial: Redial last dialed phone number
  • Text: Send text to a contact name
  • Note: Take a note
  • Call voicemail: Call your voicemail
  • Open: Open an application
  • Find: Search online

With the Call command, you can also specify which number to call for a contact. For instance:

Call Stephanie mobile

will call the mobile number associated with the Stephanie contact, whereas:

Call Stephanie work

will call the work number associated with the Stephanie contact.

You can also use Speech to dictate the contents of an email. Here's how:

  1. Open Email
  2. Tap the plus sign [+]
  3. Tap the “To” section and locate the contact
  4. Tap Subject and type the subject
  5. Tap in the body of the email until the keyboard appears
  6. Tap the microphone icon (Figure D)
  7. Dictate the body of your email
  8. Tap the Send button when complete

Figure D

Figure D
The microphone icon is on the bottom right corner.

Although Speech might not offer the full-blown functionality of Siri or Vlingo, this Windows Phone 8 feature will certainly make your mobile life more efficient. Have you used Speech on your Windows Phone 8 device? Share your experience in the discussion thread below.