We’ve seen a spate of Android apps that aim to compete with Siri, and like their Apple counterpart, they often fail to deliver on the promise of being an always-connected virtual assistant. The latest entrant into the Android market is Robin, which takes a similar tact to Siri, but puts the focus on searching points of interest while you’re behind the wheel.
Robin, available for free from Google Play, comes to the party with a novel approach to inputting voice commands – you simply wave your hand above the phone, slightly brushing up against the light sensor, and the familiar voice control dialog appears awaiting your instructions.
Intentionally or not, Robin seems to be more focused on in-car usage than similar apps, allowing the driver to find everything from movie theaters to gas stations, the latter displaying the price of fuel directly on the map. You can even specify what kind of dino juice you’re running on – from premium to diesel – and when you tell Robin to navigate to the nearest station, it automatically brings up Android’s built-in Navigation app.
Even more useful is Robin’s ability to find parking near your destination, filtering the results by closest and cheapest, and if the lot is linked up, you can reserve a spot while you’re en route.
Robin can also provide traffic information, much like Waze, along with local weather and what the temps are like at your destination.
In a further nod to Siri, you can ask Robin to make reminders (although they’re not location-based), and read your Twitter feed aloud – something that’s coming to Siri in iOS 6.
We spent the better part of an afternoon putting Robin through its (her?) paces, and like other voice-activate apps, the results were mixed.
Simple queries, like “Navigate to 520 Third Street, San Francisco” or “Where’s the nearest movie theater” were met with almost instantaneous results, while other more complex questions brought up the voice dialog multiple times in a frustrating attempt to parse through our question. And like other apps that utilize off-board voice processing, depending on your connection, the accuracy and speed of the answer can range from immediate to tens of seconds.
But by far, our favorite feature – beyond the natural language voice input – is the ability to locate parking close to our destination.
Finding the nearest coffee shop is easy, but securing a place to park is always an issue when navigating a large city. Yet in San Francisco, we were provided with both expensive ($15+ an hour) and economical ($5) parking options within a few blocks of our favorite caffeine outlet.
Magnifis, the developers behind Robin, make it a point to say that the app is still very much in beta, as evidenced by a few errant searches and the occasional missed swipe over our Android device. But as more users come on board and more information is inputted into their database, accuracy, speed and service listings will grow. And for the bargain price of $0.00, Robin is an elegant addition to other Android-based navigation and POI apps.