Stellar voice search

Use your voice to search the Web and maps, call, text, or e-mail a contact, and update your social networks.

Of the handful of voice-transcription iPhone apps to search the Web or place a call, Vlingo's is the best. Thanks to a redesign, it's also attractive and easy to use. Speaking into the phone searches the Web using Google, Yahoo, or Bing, dials contacts, maps a location, and updates your status on Twitter and Facebook. You only need to touch the keypad to edit, which sometimes happens in noisy areas, when you mumble, and when you speak too quickly for Vlingo's rather sensitive electronic ears.

Team Vlingo has added an in-app browser that previous builds lacked, and tops it off by keeping the voice recorder just a finger-tap away for triggering subsequent searches. Vlingo lacks the terrific, but iPhone SDK-violating, feature to raise the handset to your head to begin a search, but makes up for it by creating a voice recognition profile for your phone book.

As with Vlingo on other mobile platforms, you can upgrade to the premium version to launch e-mails and prep text messages with the power of your voice. E-mailing address book contacts is the better feature, since it will send your e-mail right after you preview it. The SMS feature makes you take additional steps to paste the transcribed message into the text field before it can send. We can't commend a feature that charges for the privilege of memorizing additional steps. The e-mail and SMS feature cost $6.99 singly, or $9.99 for the bundle.

Even sticking to the free version, Vlingo's voice app gives a big productivity boost, especially during moments when typing is inconvenient, impractical, or slow. The app could still use more voice-powered features, like the ability to approve a message for sending or posting vocally, not just by tapping the screen. And though fans of the additional e-mail feature, the SMS tool is a work in progress attached to an inflated price tag.

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