ThatSoftware<Dude>

Musings of a .NET Developer, CTO, Tech Enthusiast

Microsoft just released their "OK Google" competitor for Android Wear, Bing Torque. Torque is a Bing powered voice search application for Android Wear devices. It works similar to "OK Google" but with it's own layout and Bing search algorithms. And with Microsoft not having too much experience with current gen wearables, until the just announced Microsoft Band that is, or even Android really, I was expecting sort of a flop. However, I was very pleasantly surprised by it. It looks great for one, and it ended up solving a big issue that I had with my smartwatch, and that is the task of talking to it in order for it to do something. Even just tapping a smartwatch screen sometimes in order to start a search can be annoying, as it might be interpreted as a swype. Torque falls short in some aspects, but it's still very new and I'm sure as more and more features roll out it will begin to take more of the market for Android Wear.

bing torque
ok google logo

Smartwatches are still sort of an awkward technology to use in public. They're large and bright and light up randomly throughout the day depending on what's going on in your phone. And the main way to use it is to talk to it. Any way to help in that regard is always welcomed. I currently use the LG G Watch as my day to day watch, and it's pretty good for the most part. It's one of the more basic Smartwatches out on the market today but it looks nice and saves me time daily since I don't have to needlessly look at my phone every 10 minutes for no reason. If I hear my phone beep, I look at my wrist and then convince myself that whatever is there isn't important. This is particularly important when at work, and it's awkward getting seen on your phone every ten minutes.


Speech Recognition


After spending a few hours with Torque, it came out on top for me in speech recognition mainly because of how fast it is. It feels like what you see in the commercials and ads for Android Wear, with almost instant results. While "Ok Google" has been accurate for me so far, there is a noticeable 2-3 second wait time before it recognizes what you're saying to it and then another few seconds to grab the data, and thus makes it kind of a hassle to use sometimes. Torque transcribes what it can as you speak, so by the time you're done with your sentence about half of your words are already on the screen. It's this responsiveness that makes the watch feel like it could be more of a daily tool and not just a fashionable tech statement.

The only downside with Torque is that it recognizes many less phrases than OK Google. With the stock Google search I can kind of just guess a phrase and most times surprisingly get exactly what I wanted. I could say for example "I'm hungry", and would shortly after be presented with the nearest locations to grab a bite. Torque is not that. At least not yet. For now it's great for keyword searches or weather/stock/sport updates.


Design


Phone App


lg g watch app
LG G Watch
bing torque app
Bing Torque

Both apps on your phone are very similar as they both allow you to set some very basic settings for your watch. Both aren't really too overly useful, but it's sometimes easier to use the app than to dive into Android Wear's kind of hidden start menu. It would of been if the Torque app also listed a set of voice commands that it can recognize. For now it just lets you enable/disable the feature on your watch and to set the time format.

Search Result Cards

I have to give it to Microsoft on this one. The Torque card layouts are colorful and stand out way more than the gray and white Google cards. The wavelength search screen also is a very nice touch making the watch feel more hi-tech, not that it isn't. Google normally keeps it clean and simple when it comes to their layouts, which has worked for them forever now, while Microsoft takes exactly the opposite approach with more images and more color.

The weather cards are a good example:

bing torque weather
Bing Torque
ok google weather
"OK Google"

Here is the stock card both on Goog:

bing torque stock
ok google stock

Torque just adds a much needed splash of color to your smartwatch. Both are displaying the same data, but one just looks more inviting.


Usability


bing torque

A flick of your wrist and you ask your question. It really is just that easy. At most you wait 1 second to see the Torque screen telling you that it's listening to your commands. I've had problems with my LG G Watch listening to my "OK Google" command, or I should say ignoring. Also many times, since I have my phone with me at almost all times, my phone will pick up my "OK" command and not my watch. The less I have to touch the screen the better I think, unless I'm scrolling through an answer. Until someone creates "Tilt Scroll" for Android Wear that is.

Google is still on top as far as usability goes however. "OK Google" can understand way more common day phrases than Torque could and has pretty much full control of a plethora of apps on your phone. Want instant navigation without taking your phone out? Done. Want to know how many US Dollars 2000 Yen is? Done. Your hungry? Not a problem.



For example, asking both engines a quick "100 Yen to US Dollar" yielded the following results. Google went to it and gave me the response, where as Bing told me what a 100$ bill was. There are way more examples of these scenarios, in which Google just gives me the answer while Bing gives me search results pertaining to the keywords.


Bing Torque Commands


Here are a few of the commands that I've tried so far that gave me the results that I expected.

  • "Weather"
  • "Company name" stock
  • "Find me food"
  • "How far is target"
  • "How's traffic"
  • "How tall was Abe Lincoln"

Overall


I'm going to give it to Microsoft on this one. Before the "OK Google" screen was kind of a nuisance whenever I saw it. Usually it was brought up accidentally whenever I tried to scroll through cards as the LG G Watch responsiveness has become more questionable to me. I've only called the Bing Torque screen once by accident so far, whereas the Google input screen appears to me several times per day and I use it 0 times on average. It feels like a feature that will come up if and when I need it, and not just a gimmick which it kind of is.

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About Walter G.

Walter G. is a software engineer with over 10 years of professional experiecne. When he isn't blogging or being a CTO he enjoys coding randomly complex things that he hopes many people will get a chance to use one day.

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