One of the nice things about sending traditional SMS messages is the option not to type them. Using the Google app (or an Android Wear device), you can just say "OK Google, send a text to Mom: Look Ma, no hands!" You can do the same through Hangouts and email. The feature is a life saver while driving, when messages would otherwise go unanswered.
Now you're able to use third-party messengers as well. Google has announced support for WhatsApp, Viber, WeChat, Telegram, and NextPlus. Just say "send a Viber message" or "send a Telegram message" in place of text or email.
Most of the app updates this week were relatively quiet, with the notable exception of Play Music with its new ad-supported radio feature. That doesn't have to mean some of the updates don't have something new to offer. The Google app (formerly "Search") was bumped up to v4.8 yesterday, but it doesn't seem to have any noticeable changes right now. However, a look under the hood reveals some pretty interesting features on the horizon.
Disclaimer: Teardowns are necessarily speculative and usually based on incomplete evidence. It's possible that the guesses made here are totally and completely wrong. There is always a chance that details may change or plans may be cancelled prior to the launch of a new feature discovered in a teardown.
If you've been drooling over Amazon's version of Google Now and Siri (or perhaps HAL-9000... in a good way), you can now buy it without an invitation. Starting today, the Echo is available in the United States for $179.99. That's $20 off of the original "retail" price, but $80 more than Amazon Prime customers have been paying after going through the invitation process. Those who purchase today will also have to wait a bit, since the Echo isn't shipping until July 14th.
The Echo is basically a physical implementation of Google Now that ties into Amazon's services instead. Users can speak "OK Echo" or "OK Alexa" (the device's anthropomorphized digital voice) and an omni-directional microphone will record voice commands.
Part of using Amazon revolves around ordering cool new stuff, 80% of which probably consists of impulse buys. But for people who use the site for more mundane things—say, soap—the online retailer spends a good amount of time resending the same stuff. Those who happen to own an Amazon Echo can now use the cylindrical voice assistant to re-order supplies without having to pull out a phone or head to the nearest PC.
To get Echo to send you another shipment, just say something along the lines of, "Alexa, re-order toilet paper." It will search through your order history for the item and then place an order using your default payment information.
Some bugs only cause problems for a select few users, but that was not the case when Google bungled the reminders voice command in a recent update to its back end. A lot of people noticed. Instead of setting a reminder when you asked for one, Google Search would set an alarm, which isn't really as useful. Now that appears to be fixed.
Back in 2014, one of the changes spotted in Google Search was support for settings toggles through voice commands. At the time, the feature wasn't complete — it merely gave you a shortcut to open the corresponding settings panel. That wasn't helpful at all, since you had to use your fingers to make the change, which would have been done much faster through the drop-down quick settings. In Lollipop, starting with 5.0, some of these toggles work as they are supposed to, through voice commands alone and without the need for some third-party hack like Commandr.
"Turn on/off Wifi, Bluetooth, or Flashlight," are all currently working in Google Now. You get an audio feedback letting you know that the action has been triggered, then the magic happens.
Today Amazon unveiled what may be its most peculiar hardware to date, and it's not what you would expect. It's... wait, did you hear that?
Sorry, it was just an Echo.
Amazon Echo is a cylindrical speaker that responds to your voice commands. If you want music, tell it what to play. If you want to know the weather, ask it the question. It can handle alarms, pull up information from Wikipedia, or update you on the news. All you have to do is say its name and ask.
The idea of essentially snatching Google Now or Siri out of a phone and shoving them into a standalone product is an interesting one.
If you practically live out of your car like I do, there are probably cables loosely hanging from just about every outlet, and at least a couple awkwardly laying across the passenger seat. Even if you're not sporting a ride with a Bluetooth-enabled stereo, you can get rid of at least one cable by adding your own car kit to the mix. You could already get the GOgroove SMARTmini AUX Bluetooth Audio Receiver Car Kit for just $24.99 from Amazon, but now you can also knock another $5 off with a coupon code at checkout.
The SMARTmini receiver is a simple dongle that can be plugged directly into the AUX port on your dashboard, or into an included base for mounting just about anywhere.
IR ports are becoming a thing again with flagship devices from Samsung and HTC now commonly sporting them. They aren't used for terribly slow data transfers like back in the old days, but for controlling TVs and stuff. The built-in apps on the phones are okay, but Smart IR Remote is in a league of its own, and now it's added voice commands through Google Now. Take a gander at this video and be impressed.
The app needs to be added as an accessibility service so it can pipe commands through Google, but that's nothing to worry about. When that's done, you can start talking to your phone to control the TV.