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Test Drive: Personal assistant app Hound hears you (and gets you)

Hound test drive screenshot 1Last summer, SoundHound shared an early look at its plans for a new personal assistant app. Hound promised to have a fresh take on voice activation and control, offering a step up from the currently available crop of programs. This week, the free standalone app emerged from beta. How does it stack up?

The big upgrade to Hound over voice assistants such as Siri is the ability to speak naturally. Overall, Hound was successful on that front. And it is pretty good at contextualizing based on recent searches. For instance, with an upcoming trip to Pittsburgh, I was able to search first for coffee near Carnegie Mellon, then narrow it down by wifi access and hours. My statements centered on local businesses and pop cultural figures did turn out consistently correct.

However, I did have issues getting some queries to work quite as expected. Most of the errors centered on time. I couldn’t get it to give me the most recent Bruce Springsteen album (just the most popular ones), and an effort to find Chris Rock performances went directly to a google search (although it did register exactly what I said). It also stumbled on getting some of my friends’ names correct. Using it as a hub for texting and calling may not be the best interpretation of Hound’s skills, but its ability to generally sort and find information from the web (without actually resorting to displaying search results) was much better than other programs of this nature that I’ve tried.

Hound test drive screenshot 2For RAIN News readers, the music tie-ins are probably of high importance. Even though the results for my queries did show up accurately, I wasn’t able to get any of the track previews to load. Hound does include the traditional SoundHound song identification, and that worked like a charm. But no matter what artist or genre I looked for, nothing would play. The play button just displayed an endless loading spiral. Even more unfortunately, I couldn’t find an answer within the app as to how or why that wouldn’t work. However, the app does have links to the iTunes Store, where you can preview and/or buy a song.

In terms of providing a step up from the current crop of personal assistants, Hound has succeeded. But we’ll probably need a few more iterations before the technology has reached its full potential.

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Anna Washenko

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