Say hello to Sherpa, a new competitor in the fast-growing field of digital assistants for your mobile device. For some time, the app has been a big hit in Spain and Latin America, but today it officially makes its way to the United States, albeit in beta form. Sherpa Beta is available on Android, and is free to download on Google Play. No word yet on a target date for the official (nonbeta) release.
Similar to Siri and Google Voice Search, Sherpa offers a voice-driven interface for conducting Web searches and performing common tasks on your mobile device. It uses Android's Speech Recognition API to take in what you're saying and can respond to queries using voice, text, or both.
Before you start using Sherpa, I suggest going to the Settings screen to link your Facebook and Twitter accounts. Doing so will allow you to use Sherpa's voice interface to fire off tweets and status updates, and I can tell you that the functionality works as advertised. Of course, when using Sherpa for these purposes, you will have to (verbally) specify any punctuation marks that you want to include, but that's the case for other digital assistants I've seen as well.
As for basic Web searches, Sherpa is good at those, too. The app can perform searches using Google, Yahoo, or Bing, and it can process standard keyword searches or questions posed in natural language. In my tests, both types of searches yielded adequate results, with Sherpa speaking back a prepared answer or, in a few cases, pulling up links to relevant Web pages. And when I asked Sherpa to show me the new trailer for the Man of Steel movie, the app brought me directly to YouTube and gave me a few options to choose from, which was nice.
But of course, Sherpa is more than just a tool for searching with your voice. I was able to use the app to add appointments to my calendar, send text messages, and place phone calls. The app even comes with a feature for making transfers through PayPal, which I didn't get to try.
My favorite thing about Sherpa is its ability to stream music on command -- something that clearly sets this app apart from competitor Google Voice Search. For instance, if you tap the microphone button and say, "play me a song by Kanye West," the app will automatically pull up its built-in player and start streaming. You can also request specific songs or albums for the app to pull up. Just know that when doing so, there's a chance you'll have to scroll through a few choices to ensure the app plays the right hit. Still, the streaming functionality is, unique, incredibly convenient, and is made possible by a partnership between Sherpa's developers and a European company with rights to 4 million tracks.
Overall, I am impressed with Sherpa's snappy performance, broad functionality, and ability to understand my voice commands. I also love that it comes with a few different Home screen widgets, which are unquestionably the best way to access the app. As for the company's claims that Sherpa gets smarter the more you use it, we'll have to wait and see.