There are those of us who use the Voice Memos app religiously. Why not? It’s great for capturing thoughts and ideas, good for interviews, and not bad for lectures. The iOS built-in app is free, easy to use, and as reliable as a wheel.
What more could you ask?
That’s what I was wondering while considering what to write about in this week’s Free on iTunes. After all, Voice Memos is likely the most solid iOS app there is. Why mess with perfection?
Because it isn’t perfect. If Voice Memos where perfect it would let me remind myself of important events just by speaking the reminder into my phone, or it would (and this is the Holy Grail of the voice memo crowd) translate my verbal meanderings into text.
That’s quite a lot to ask, even for a desktop computer, much less a phone, regardless of how smart it is. Even so, we are talking iPhone here, the WünderPhone. It’s suppose to be able to do all sort of cool stuff. Enhance voice memos should be a piece of cake, right?
Well, not quite. The key to the two features I mentioned requires on-the-fly translation to work the way I think it should. Take the reminder feature for instance; I should be able to fire up an app, and once in the app I can tell it to set up a reminder at such and such date, and so and so time, record the reminder message, then get a vocal verification, all without looking at the app or pressing any buttons.
There are a few apps that make an attempt at voice reminders. Unfortunately, none work the way I’ve just described. VolCal Lite, however, does show what is possible with current technology.
Looks like HAL 9000, but not as smart
VolCal Lite integrates a calendaring system with voice memos. You record a memo, give it a date and time to remind you, then go your merry way. When the reminder time arrives the app alerts you that there’s a reminder waiting to be heard. Press the “Listen” button on the alert and listen. It doesn’t get simpler.
This is a good app. The interface, while not the voice interface I dream of, is easy to use. There are options for titling your reminders, setting reminder time intervals, turn on auto-playback, and more. There’s even a one-way sync to your main calendar.
Lots of features and options
Reminders even when the app in not running
Regrettably, that simplicity comes at a price. Ads! These are iAds, however, and they are not intrusive. There’s an ad-free upgrade that, at US$2.99, is a little pricey, but the free version is just right for quick todos and such. Just wish I can tell VolCal Lite what to do, but for that we need our phones to understand us.
Dragon Dictation gets us tantalizingly close on-the-fly voice to text translation. Once in the app you can say what you want, then Dragon Dictation quickly transcribes what you’ve said into text. The accuracy is scarily close to 100%. You can then go through the translation making corrections before using the text as an email or SMS message, an update to your social tool of choice, or save it for use later.
Dragon Dictation requires an Internet connection, unfortunately, so the speed of the voice-to-text process is heavily dependent on the quality of your connection. It would be nice to be able to defer translation so you can say what you want now, then have it transcribed when your connection is better.
There’s no easy way to delete you translated text on the iPhone, which is kind of silly. You have to tap and highlight the entire text to delete it and start again. And there is a small, but significant learning curve if you want to use Dragon Dictation to its fullest potential.
It took only a few seconds to translate!
As the name implies, Dragon Dictation takes your dictations, not your directions, so it won’t set up a reminder in your calendar, automagically sync your warblings to a cloud of choice, or wash your socks. But if you’re looking for accurate speech-to-text you won’t find anything else like Dragon Dictation.
There are other voice recording apps, in fact, the iOS platform is filthy with them, so you are bound to find one that fits your needs. However, VolCal Lite and Dragon Dictation offer a set of unique features the iOS’ Voice Memos can’t touch. And they do it for free!
That’s a wrap for this week. Next week I will finish up this series of iOS replacement apps and move on to bigger things. Stay tuned.
More free voice apps below with direct links.