[Android] Open Mic+ offers seamless access to Google Now from anywhere in your phone or tablet

Open Mic UIGoogle Now is fantastic, and in many cases I would say it’s so much better than Siri (sorry iPhone brethren). It’s a lot more accurate when performing a voice search, and you always have the power of Google behind you. Who cares about a pretentious, English sounding assistant, right? There’s just one issue with Google Now, which is that it’s not accessible from just anywhere on the phone. You need to open the Google Now app to actually use it. Of course, there’s voice dictation support for the keyboard, and voice search support for other apps, but they’re not the same. Open Mic+ for Google Now is an Android application that expands the scope of the Google Now app, and allows you to use it from anywhere with simple voice commands.

What is it and what does it do

Main Functionality

Open Mic hand wave offOpen Mic+ for Google Now takes the Now platform and makes it much more accessible. Instead of just being confined to the Google Now app, you can call upon the service using simple voice commands. You can either say “Okay Google” to activate the service, or you can wave your hand in front of the screen. The latter option is only available on select devices, however. Supposedly, it uses offline voice recognition to preserve battery and lessen data consumption. To put the functionality into perspective, the new Moto X from Google and Motorola is said to use Open Mic features for seamless access to voice search and dictation.

Pros

  • Seamless access to Google Now from anywhere within the phone and OS
  • You can call upon the service by saying “Okay Google,” or waving your hand in front of the screen (on select devices)
  • It uses relatively few system resources at about 12MB of RAM usage

Cons

  • If you’ve ever used Google Now before, that beep that plays when you tap the mic to start or stop voice dictation will continuously play when the service is running
  • There’s a low, yet audible clicking noise coming from the device speakers when the service is active
  • Requires Android 4.1 and up

Discussion

Open Mic ActivatedTo start this off, I’m going to mention that this app is in its infancy. That means over time updates and future versions will include more features and better support. There are some quirks and issues with the app which I will cover in the review below, however it works as it’s supposed to. Just bear in mind that while I’m being honest and truthful about the current version, future iterations could be better or worse depending on what the developers decide to do.

You have to launch the app at least once to get the service going. It runs continuously in the background, and there are settings to ensure it starts when the phone boots. Ultimately, you can leave it running for a seamless experience. I did notice that task-killers and task managers can interfere with the app as expected. Most of them allow you to add various apps to a whitelist, which is a good idea if you’re going to use Open Mic+ regularly.

Open Mic settingsOn at least one of my devices, the hand wave support was not offered. Even so, the voice recognition support should be available on all devices, so that’s not exactly an issue. You can also enable a setting that allows Open Mic+ to call upon Google Now even when the screen is off. This is an experimental feature, however and does appear to have some issues. For example, when using it on my device the screen remained off even though I could hear the Google Now prompts and tones.

Another issue I noticed is that once you activate the voice monitoring, the device continues to beep as if you were starting up or closing down Google Now. This can get quite annoying and aggravating, especially in situations where you need your device to remain quiet. I also noticed a faint clicking noise which appeared to be coming from the device speakers. This only happens when the Open Mic+ monitoring service is active, so I can only assume it has something to do with use of the mic. I encountered such issues on both of my devices, which included a tablet and a smartphone.

Open Mic notification iconIt works like this, you start the monitoring service by pressing “start” within the Open Mic+ app UI. The service will run in the background, and an icon will appear in the Android notification tray. Through the icon, you can stop or pause the monitoring service at any time. There’s a particular hotword or phrase which calls upon Google Now, and by default it is “Okay Google.” You can customize this phrase through the Open Mic+ settings if you want something different.

No matter where you are on the device, you can say “Okay Google” and it will launch the Google Now app, even if you are within an app or fullscreen game. Through the app settings you can either enable or disable the hotword, or hand wave activation feature depending on which you want to use.

You can also hide the notification icon through the app settings, if that kind of thing doesn’t float your boat.

For reference, Open Mic+ is relatively light on system resources since it uses about 13MB of RAM while running.

Conclusion and download link

Open Mic for Google NowAt this point in time, I wouldn’t recommend using Open Mic+ on a regular basis. You can check out the app yourself and see if you encounter the same issues as I did, such as a constant beeping tone when the voice monitoring is active and a slight clicking noise in the device speakers — I can only tell you what I have experienced. In addition, it seems to mess with the Google Now app itself. When Open Mic+ is active, and I perform a search it works fine initially, but if I need to do another search without closing the app it will no longer work. This results in a requirement to close Google Now and open it back up every time you want to perform a new search, at least while Open Mic+ is running anyway. It does use relatively few system resources, and it also incorporates a pretty neat feature which allows you to wave your hand in front of the screen to call upon Google Now. The latter option is only accessible on select devices, however. Generally, speaking though, it works as advertised and would offer a pretty excellent seamless experience if the quirks were not evident. Perhaps, a future update or two will address these issues. Keep an eye on this one.

Price: Free

Version reviewed: 1.3

Requires: Android 4.1 and up

Download size: 296KB

Open Mic+ for Google Now on Play Store

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