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5 Tips for Smartphone Voice Tools

A decade ago, Apple integrated Siri right into its iPhone software and mainstreamed the voice-activated assistant. But the assistant is just one of the voice-powered tools in your smartphone’s ever-growing audio toolbox. Your device can also be a digital recorder, a dictation machine, a podcast production studio, and more. Here’s how to get things done with more talking and less typing.

1. Get More From Your Assistant

You’ve probably already introduced yourself to Apple’s Siri, the Google Assistant for Android (and iOS), or Samsung’s Bixby during your phone’s setup process. You may have even already tried it out by asking for the weather report or setting a timer. But the biggest challenge with using a voice assistant is knowing the various tasks the software can handle and the devices it runs on, including tablets, speakers, smart-home hubs, automobile systems, and streaming TV boxes.

2. Make a Voice Memo

Notes apps are great for jotting down quick ideas, but it can be even faster to record an audio clip; your assistant can even open the app for you. You can also record interviews with relatives for family-history archives or school projects.

The phone’s recording app works just like a physical recorder — push the Record button to start and the Pause or Stop to halt the session. You end up with an audio file you can play, transfer to a computer and back up online. Third-party apps abound, but your phone probably has its own free recording program.

Apple’s iPhone includes a Voice Memos app, and Google’s Recorder app for Android is free to download in the Google Play Store. Samsung has its Voice Recorder on many of its Galaxy phones and makes it available in the Galaxy and Google app stores.

3. Type by Talking

Need a personal secretary to take dictation — or find typing difficult? Your phone can convert your spoken words into text. Just look for a microphone icon on the keyboard or search bar, tap it and start talking to see your words appear on the screen.

When dictating long passages of text like an email message or sections of your novel-in-progress into a word-processing app, you’ll need to call out the punctuation by name. For example, say “period” when the sentence ends or “new paragraph” to start a new paragraph.

The speech-to-text feature may be on (or off) by default, so check your settings. Apple’s site is a guide for using the dictation feature on its devices, as does Google for its Android system (and the Gboard app for iOS). Bixby has a Dictate feature of its own, with instructions on the Samsung site.

4. Send an Audio Message

An audio clip shares the sound of your world. Sending audio can also be helpful if you can’t type at the moment, although your assistant can also take and send a text message.

To send an audio clip in Apple’s Messages app, press and hold the sound-wave icon in the message box and record your pin. You can preview it before you send it. (To save space, the audio clips are automatically deleted two minutes after you listen unless you select the Keep option.)

Google’s Message app for Android similarly sends audio messages: Just press the microphone icon in your conversation to record a clip to send. If you send a message to someone on a different phone platform, you may have to register the pin in another app and send the file as an attachment.

5. Record a Podcast or Song

Podcasts have replaced blogs as a medium of self-expression for many people. If you’re thinking of starting your own show, you don’t need a lot of expensive equipment. Free or inexpensive apps like Spotify’s Anchor, Podbean’s Audio Recorder, and Spreaker Studio for Android and iOS provide recording and editing tools right on your phone, as well as publishing and distribution platforms for your podcast.

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