Voice is the new frontier for control. Telling your tech exactly what you want it to do has gone from an unreliable novelty to a useful feature that’s being adopted wholesale by some of the biggest brands in the world.
Apple, Samsung, LG, Microsoft, Google and Amazon are all releasing scores of voice-controlled devices, featuring the dulcet tones of Alexa, Bixby, Google Assistant and Siri, from smart hubs and phones to TVs and speakers. You could have one of these devices at home already. In a recent survey of Which? members, we found that 52% already had some tech with voice control.
There aren’t many devices that can only be controlled with your voice and convincing people to try it out is one of the biggest challenges facing tech companies. We don’t think voice control should fully replace buttons and remotes, not yet at least, but they are ideal for certain requests.
Here are eight ways voice control can cut down the amount of time it takes to do what you want with your tech and make you life that little bit easier.
Top three smart hubs for 2018 – use your voice to control your smart tech with these top-rated hubs.
Voice assistants in brief
- Alexa Made by Amazon and found in Amazon Echo smart hubs, Amazon Fire TV sticks with Alexa remote and some smart speakers.
- Google Assistant Made by Google and found in Google Home smart hubs and some TVs and smart speakers.
- Siri Made by Apple and found in iPhones, iPads, Macs and the HomePod speaker.
- Bixby Made by Samsung and found in Galaxy smartphones and Samsung’s 2018 4K TVs.
1. Put down your device
New devices mean new controls. Getting to grips with touchscreens and remotes takes time, even if they are well designed, and for the visually impaired or anyone with dexterity issues they can be all but impossible to use. There are numerous ways voice control can mitigate how much you need to hold a device to use it. Try dictating a text message to Alexa. Tell Siri who you want it to call from your iPhone. Ask Google Assistant what the weather will be like, or tell Bixby what song you want to listen to.
Check out our voice-controlled speaker reviews to make sure your music sounds great.
2. Control your smart home
You control the majority of smart tech, from light bulbs to thermostats, with an app on your phone. As the number of different internet-connected devices increases so too does the number of apps you’ll need to grapple with to keep them all under control. The four leading voice assistants let you talk to some of these devices. Rather than using your phone, you can ask Google to dim your smart light bulbs, or tell Bixby you want to increase the temperature.
3. Help in an emergency
If you can’t get to your phone, how do you call your loved ones to let them know something’s wrong? If you have an Amazon Echo or Google Home you can tell them to call anyone in your contacts, but they can’t contact the emergency services. Google Homes can call most landlines and mobile phones, but an Amazon Echo can only call other Echos and phones with the Alexa app installed.
The Amazon Echo Show can even make video calls. Is it a Best Buy smart hub? Here’s our Amazon Echo Show review.
4. Quick requests
Think about the most recent thing you Googled – odds are you could have done it quicker with your voice. Requests, such as converting measurements, checking exchange rates and finding out when a shop shuts, are all easily handled by any voice assistant and much quicker than typing out the whole question.
See if Google’s hub is best for these requests in our Google Home review.
5. Read less
Reading is great. But when you’re in a rush, having your voice assistant tell you the latest headlines or the weather, or give you a rundown of what’s in your calendar is an invaluable time saver. When you’re not rushed off your feet, you can have your assistant read audio books, too.
6. Get reminders
Being forgetful could mean you don’t pick up some milk on your way home or you miss a dose of important medicine. Setting a reminder means your voice assistant will alert you at set times. It’s more than an alarm, though. Alexa, Bixby, Google Assistant and Siri will tell you what to do.
7. Stop using on-screen keyboards
Typing with a TV remote is borderline unbearable. The slow plod of the cursor as it moves to each letter. Sometimes you get impatient and hold the buttons down a bit too long even though you know it’s foolish. And, yes, you’ve got over eager and the cursor has zoomed past the letter you wanted. Using your voice to search for shows on your TV is much easier, but not many TVs can do it yet. You’ll need a 2018 TV from LG, Samsung or Sony.
Browse all our 2018 TV reviews and see which Best Buy sets have voice control.
8. Make a list
Next time you use the last stock cube, don’t trust that you’ll remember to pick some more up – ask your assistant to add it to your shopping list. Each assistant will add things to a different list app on your phone, so you can check it next time you’re at the supermarket.