Phone Scoop

printed April 17, 2014
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Review: Apple iPhone 4S for AT&T

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Menus Calls/Contacts Messaging Siri  

By now you've seen or read a lot of the funny things that people have asked Siri. We’ll spare you that and talk about Siri's practical side.

Siri is the iPhone 4S's voice-activated personal assistant and probably the biggest feature the 4S has to offer above and beyond the iPhone 4. It can be launched in several ways. The first way is to lift the phone to your head as though you're going to make a phone call. The iPhone's sensors detect this motion and proximity to your face, figure out that you're not making a call since you didn't turn the phone on, and launch Siri instead. Or, you can press-and-hold the home button when the phone is asleep to launch Siri.

(Pro tip: if you don't think you'll use method one very much, turn it off and save on battery life. You'll see immediate battery life gains if you do.)

 

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Siri asks, “what can I help you with?” If you want to have fun with Siri, you can certainly do so. But it takes a bit of time to figure out how best to use it (or her).

First, know what you're going to ask. If you pause, or lose your train of thought, the microphone stops listening and you'll have to start all over again. I suggest composing the question in your head before launching Siri.

How does Siri do with its voice recognition? Pretty darned well. You can speak at a natural cadence and even quickly, in a think accent, and Siri will still get a lot right. (You can also dictate text directly into most text fields on the iPhone 4S, such as emails, text messages, and so on.)

I asked Siri to set a calendar appointment for November 2. Siri saw that I already have something on November 2, and asked how I wanted to resolve the conflict. I was able to use Siri to add people who had just called to my contacts, to open web pages, to perform Google searches, to define words, to dictate text messages and emails, and to access the MP3 player and so on. I asked it to tell me when the next solar eclipse will be in my town, why it is so hot outside, what color roses are, and questions that made Siri “blush”.

Siri's usefulness is really only limited by what you choose to ask it. If you ask something that it doesn't know, it will tell you so, and often suggests you perform a basic web search instead.

While it isn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination, it is a really neat tool that will only get better over time. Of course, you have to also learn that it is OK to speak with an inanimate object and not feel crazy. I wouldn't want to use Siri out in public, but it's great for composing text messages from my quiet office.

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