A Phone That Takes Dictation: Testing Voice-to-Text Function

A Phone That Takes Dictation: Testing Voice-to-Text Function


Cellphone text messaging, long popular abroad, is finally catching on in the U.S., especially among younger users. But cellphones are notoriously frustrating to use for entering text.

If you're unfamiliar with using a numerical keypad to enter text (lucky you), spelling out a simple word like "dance," for example, would require pressing 3, 2, 66, 222, 33. Typing out full sentences using this method is even more annoying, leading users to get creative with abbreviations and short-spellings. "R u goin 2 b l8?" is text-speak for "Are you going to be late?"

Phone makers have tried to solve this problem by squeezing little keyboards into the bodies of some phones. But these keyboards usually make phones bigger and bulkier than normal, and often show up only on costlier models, like the Treo or BlackBerry.

This week, my assistant Katie Boehret and I tested a new phone that attempts to solve the text-entry problem in a novel way that doesn't involve typing, and can be used on a small, inexpensive phone with just a numerical keypad. This new phone lets you dictate your text messages by just speaking into the phone.

The Samsung p207, $79.99 with a two-year contract from Cingular Wireless, has built-in "speech-to-text" technology: It turns what you say into text on the screen. This technology, called VoiceMode, was created by a small Massachusetts company called VoiceSignal Technologies Inc. If it works properly, VoiceMode should make composing a text message as simple as dictating a voice-mail message.

Unfortunately, it doesn't work very well. In our tests, the system made so many errors requiring tedious corrections that it might have been faster for us to peck out our messages the old-fashioned way -- especially if we used the abbreviations and shorthand phrases so common among text-messaging fans.

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[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: The Cingular Wireless lady here in Indpendence also sells Erickkson phones in addition to Nokia. The Erickkson phones she offers have a tiny little minature typewriter like attachment which plugs on the bottom of the phone; it is called a 'chat board'. Although it will (apparently) match up with the Nokia 6100 series phone like I have, the 'pinout' does not quite work the same way. It would be nice if it did, however. PAT]

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Monty Solomon
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