Let's face it, while accessing information on a PDA isn't the most difficult thing to do, if you're on the road and your hands are busy doing something important--like, you know, driving--finding a particular entry in your PDA's contact list can suddenly become challenging. You have to fish through various menus, pecking at numerous icons with a little stylus, and really, where's the fun in that? That's where Microsoft Voice Command steps in. Compatible with Windows Mobile 2003 (no support for Second Edition yet) and Pocket PC Phone Edition devices, this $40 program allows you to work your handheld with the sound of your voice. Not to be confused with a comprehensive speech-recognition program, such as Dragon NaturallySpeaking, where the computer transcribes speech to text, Voice Command allows you to perform only basic tasks, such as launching programs and your next appointment. Still, for mobile professionals or anyone constantly on the go, Microsoft Voice Command can be a valuable addition to your high-tech arsenal.
Getting started was a breeze. We installed the software on the HP iPaq H4150, and it was only a matter of loading the installation CD and performing a hot-sync operation. Once this is done, you'll find a Voice Command utility under the Settings menu where you can turn on the feature and choose which functions you want voice-enabled (Calendar, Contacts, Media, and Start Menu). The user's guide also recommends that you turn off the automatic gain control (found under Settings > System > Audio or Microphone) for better speech recognition. One other tweak you might want to make before diving in is assigning Voice Command to a shortcut key. The program was automatically allocated to the Calendar key after setup, but we frequently use this shortcut, so we chose to reassign it to the iTask button. Of course, this will be a matter of personal preference.
Enough with the shop talk, let's get on with the show. To start using the program, you press and release the Voice Command key, and a small microphone icon appears onscreen along with a sound alert to cue you to speak. We first called up a name in our address book by saying "Show first name, last name," and lo and behold, the contact information came up. Be aware that you have to be specific with names, as "Jen" won't return any entries for "Jennifer." We also would have liked it if you could call up specific information such as a work address. You can, however, dial numbers on devices with Pocket PC Phone Edition by giving one of several commands, such as "Call John Smith," "Call 555-1212," or "Dial 411."
Next, we checked our upcoming appointments. You can use a variety of commands, including "What's my schedule today?" "What's my next meeting?" and "What are my appointments tomorrow?" to get the information. We were pretty impressed by this feature, giving us the time and subject of our next meeting. Other Voice Command capabilities consist of starting applications (note: you have to say the full title of the program--for example, Pocket Word rather than Word), getting help, and playing music. With the latter, you can instruct Windows Media to play in shuffle mode, advance to the next track, and ask for the current song name. And while you can choose music by artist, genre, or album, strangely, you can't search by title.
Overall, Voice Command's accuracy was dead on. It understood a majority of our requests and even performed admirably when there was background noise such as a TV or a radio. Of course, all wasn't perfect, and there were a couple of times when we had to repeat ourselves (when the application doesn't recognize your command, it will say "Try again."). Also, the computer-generated female voice was hard to understand at times, with words sounding garbled and cut-off. That said, there's no denying the ease and utility of this application for road warriors and consumers alike.
Microsoft offers several technical support options, but we found the program so easy to use that we don't foresee any problems. Still, if you need any assistance, free phone support is available Monday through Friday, 5 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Saturday through Sunday, 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., PT. The call isn't toll-free, so long-distance charges may apply. You can also e-mail your query to Microsoft with a promised turnaround time of one business day, or check out the company's Web site for troubleshooting tips, tutorials, and more.