Last Christmas I was given a present of a Belkin LiveAction microphone, so I thought I’d give it the once over.
On the box it stated that it was for iPhone / iPad type devices, however it uses the standard jack plug that’s common across most devices. It worked without any problems on the two different Samsung phones I have.
It’s about 12 cm / 4.75 inches long, so not that large, but is quite big compared to the size of a phone. If plugged into the phone and you’re using the camera that facing the way the microphone is pointing, then end of the mic may come into view. (Just something to be aware of.)
Once plugged in, there is a small knob to turn that helps to secure the device to the phone. On the side there is a three position switch. Off, close-up directional, long distance ‘super-directional’. It uses a standard AAA size battery.
Over the years, phone manufacturers have spent a lot of time, money and effort in improving their internal microphones. Under standard indoor conditions I didn’t find any huge advantage to using the Belkin. Where it really did come into play was outside. Using its standard directional setting it picked up my voice quite nicely while cutting out (or at least reducing to an acceptable level) most of the other background sounds. At one time I was standing beside a busy road where the level of traffic noise was such that if I was talking to somebody standing beside me I’d have had to shout, however the Belkin picked up my speech nicely. I can see this having some potential in a gig or live event type situation where you want the sound from the stage while minimising the noise from the crowd beside you.
Using it switched to its super-directional mode it did pick up speech from quite a few metres / yards away. The quality of sound was not particularly good, however I’d rather have some sound that may be poor but I can work with that no sound at all! I can’t see myself using it in this mode very much, though I guess it’s handy to have there.
Overall I rather like it. With phone video quality improving more and more people are using this function when out and about, and under difficult conditions this Belkin does do a better job than the phone’s internal microphone. It does however still pick up wind noise, I must look out for a windshield / dead cat screen for it.
It must have been well over 10 years ago when I first played with voice recognition and dictation software on my home PCs. I experimented with it as a lazy way of getting my essays done for a degree course I was doing. It were quite fun and did work, however they required a lot of effort, were not that reliable, and overall I thought not worth the effort, so in the end I was back to fingers on keyboard.
I’m not sure when voice activation for initiating calls and texts on mobile phones arrived, but it’s been around for a few years, however I’ve never yet met anyone who has actually seriously used them.
Siri was first brought to my attention when Apple included it as part of the iPhone 4S. Here we had an ‘intelligent personal assistant’ that should be able to recognise most commands and instructions which are given in the user’s natural language style, and then to respond accordingly. The trick with Siri compared to earlier systems was to transfer the language interpretation demand (and processing requirement) from the local device to Apple’s various data processing servers. My Apple hardware (3GS and iPad 2) could not run Siri, but again those people I know with appropriate hardware played with it to begin with, but once the novelty wore off now rarely use it.
This brings us to ‘today’ and owning a device with both Google’s Now and Samsung’s S Voice. Both of these have worked far better than expected. Both when given a phone action command will carry out that action. The only real difference between them is when you give them a general question, Now usually gives its responses as Google web page links and only occasionally speaking the answer, where as S Voice tends to speak the answer and only if it gets stuck directs you to relevant web page search results.
I think here is something I could actually start using, especially for web searches. It’s still far from perfect, but has reached a stage where I’m starting to get results more quickly by asking it rather than by using the keyboard to enter in my request.
I wonder how long it will be before it is constantly monitoring your speech as a background task, so that if you are discussing arranging a meeting with a colleague it will automatically put an entry into your calendar, and if that meeting then involves you talking about ordering up some spare parts it will already be scanning local suppliers for availability and prices. Or if you’re discussing something the government doesn’t like…. soon Big Brother may be closer to you than you realise!