Don’t deny it. You feel a little pang of jealousy every time a Siri ad appears on your TV. You know you want to talk to your phone. You want it to do things for you since manually doing tasks is both boring and under us. The sense of superiority you’ve always felt over mere iPhone users is now gone; they finally have something cool that you don’t. Ice Cream Sandwich doesn’t let you talk to a handy assistant. Don’t lose hope just yet! There’s always Android’s 3rd party alternative to Siri: Iris. Read on for the full review:
Since she’s only in the alpha stage of development right now, Iris is nowhere near as capable as Siri. Iris has most of the web-based benefits of Siri. For example, she will tell you about nearby attractions, the weather for the next few days, information about a song you just heard, stock prices, movie reviews, recipes, and just about anything you can find with a Google search. However, the main difference between the two services is the integration with the rest of the OS. Iris cannot set up an alarm for you, play music, open up a new email, address you by name, read aloud a text message, or tell you about your day. In fact, the only system related commands Iris can handle right now are to call or text a specified contact. Why? The developers haven’t taken the time to fully use Google’s APIs to access the user’s Email, Calendar, SMS, and more. Integration for clock and music may be more complex, since as of now there is no universal way to access alarms, and music players only share a few common commands; play/pause/next. Of course, the developers can get around both of these obstacles by using the system time to make their own separate alarms and by coordinating with the makers of popular media players. Ultimately, the app is still only in the alpha stage, so there’s no reason to doubt that these missing features are on the way.
You can activate Iris from anywhere by holding the Search button down. After installation, you will be prompted with a dialog window asking to set a default application for the Search button. Once you set Iris as the default over Google Voice Search, she’ll be handy from any application.
Here are examples of what you can do with the location integration. Unlike Siri, the response won’t always appear inside the voice command window. Instead Google Maps will open with marked locations. However, weather data displays inside Iris.
That’s not to say that she doesn’t have a sense of humor. Again, the scope of personal questions iris can comprehend isn’t as large as that of Siri, but she’s sure to make you chuckle.
To use Iris, you must have Voice Search and TTS Library (Text-to-Speech) installed on your Android device. Since most phones come with them, it’s not something to worry about unless you’ve flashed a barebones custom ROM.
It’s easy to see here that she needs a bit of work.
I’m sure Iris will be much more capable by the time she is out of alpha stage, but as of now, she functions like a baby cousin of Siri being able to spit out small words and phrases, but not being able to handle the larger big girl tasks.
Recently, the interface was updated to conform with the Ice Cream Sandwich UI. The original layout was more like an SMS client. Now, the new version looks much more polished, but still feels bland. The color scheme is fine, but all you see are lines of text and a blue ball on the bottom. The iris. logo at the bottom is obnoxiously large. Siri’s design, although similar, with its the activation button on the bottom and info on top, appears much more professional.
On the left, we see the Google Search interface found throughout Android. On the right is the Settings Menu.
When you activate the microphone, the traditional Google Voice Command window pops up. Her settings menu only gives two options, which toggle question and answer voice playback. Disabling either will cripple her functionality, since the whole point of the application is vocal feedback. Talking to your phone and receiving a textual response feels awkward. With the most recent update, a slider to toggle network timeout was added, with a default value of 15 seconds. However, the service is quite snappy, so I doubt you’ll ever need the function unless your phone is connected to 2G/EDGE.
A message appears while she processes your input. Four examples are above.
Graphics (GUI): ★★★★
Both Siri and iris feature a similar voice; a robotic female that struggles to pronounce uncommon words. However, Iris sounds as if she suffers from a sore throat. The audio quality of her voice is less than optimal and cracks on high pitched notes. It’s hard to notice any issues with the audio unless you use headphones. Once you put on a headset, you’ll be annoyed to death by her cracking voice. However, if you prefer using your phone’s speaker, audio won’t be an issue.
Once you get used to talking to your phone, there is really no going back. In any non-public place you’ll find yourself asking Iris to find random things. Chances are, you’ll enjoy the experience as long as you focus on asking for valid information and keep the flirting to a minimum. If you simply want an assistant you can fool around with, Iris may not be the very best companion. As I said before, she’s sure to make you chuckle, but she sometimes interprets clever remarks too literally and gives you data you may not want. Additionally, you may not be very fond of getting awkward stares when you’re seen talking to your device.
Iris is free and very useful. Can you really complain? She’s no Siri just yet, but she’s a much better alternative to nothing at all. Memory isn’t much of a problem either, that is, unless you’re struggling to keep an enormous 450KB of free space on your phone. She processes your input quickly, regardless of whether your device is connected to Wi-Fi or Mobile Data. From my experience, you’ll rarely see the loading message for more than a split second on Wi-Fi, and over AT&T’s HSPA+ it never takes longer than 2 seconds. I can’t see why someone wouldn’t download Iris.
As I said before, Iris has a lot of potential. With the most recent update, integration with Location Services and Google Maps was added to enable the user to easily search for nearby points of interest. Since they decided to keep the “alpha” tag, there’s no reason to doubt that the developers at Dexetra are hard at work trying to add integration with Email, Clock, and Google Music. Obviously, they aren’t a part of Google and probably won’t be able to provide a service as compelling as Siri, but they are giving us the best option we have until a true competitor emerges from the Googleplex itself.