One of Microsoft Garage’s many efforts to cross-pollinate with other mobile platforms is Bing Torque, a program originally created for Android Wear watches that attempts to replace the “OK Google” search command with a simple flick of the wrist. It comes complete with voice recognition and the capacity to launch any number of actions, and, naturally, replaces Google with Bing in the process. With today’s smartwatch market still finding its footing, though, the Garage team has now updated the Torque app and made it available to Android smartphone owners.
Like its predecessor, the newly improved Torque: Bing Search Assistant — which officially released in December but recently underwent significant improvements — requires you to have a Microsoft account in order to use it. If you don’t already have an account, signing up for one is free and easy.
Once you’ve keyed in your credentials, you’re taken to a setup screen where you can choose from a number of settings. This includes the “shake anytime” option which, as you might guess, launches Torque on your Android whenever you shake your smartphone. The name is a bit misleading, however, since “shake anytime” only works if the phone is unlocked.
But once you’ve accessed Torque, it works well – launching a small widget roughly a quarter the size of your screen that listens to voice commands and is capable of performing a surprising number of tasks. The most basic function is Bing search, which brings the widget up over any app or browser activity you’re currently embroiled in. This makes it possible to seek additional information without having to back out of an app.
From within the Torque search results box, you can tap search results for more information, swipe up and down for more results, or press the “b” button within the widget to speak additional search parameters. Exiting the widget is accomplished by tapping anywhere outside the window.
Search isn’t all Torque is capable of, though — it can also launch any number of applications you have installed on your device. In testing, we were able to successfully access apps through voice commands — i.e., “launch Gasbuddy app,” or “launch camera” – with consistency.
The app can also place calls or send text messages to people on your contacts list. Unfortunately, the functionality isn’t always reciprocal. For example, attempts to speak the command, “Read message from Uncle Bob” were wholly unsuccessful, leading to the conclusion that we may have to wait awhile longer before a truly hands-free application is upon us. Most of Torque’s other functions are what you’d expect, using Bing to provide things like note and email dictation (in Outlook and OneNote), info on nearby businesses, and current sports scores.
Although well equipped for speech to text functionality, the app still encounters a few hiccups if it misunderstands what you’ve spoken. Of course, this is something that even the likes of Siri still struggle with. It’s an imperfect science, to be sure, but one that holds a good deal of promise as the technology continues to come of age and more nuanced speech patterns and accents become recognized.
Settings are limited, but include a few useful tools. Aside from enabling shake functionality, you also get options like enabling voice output, which occasionally (but not always) reads found data back to you. You can also click “use bigger window” to expand the aforementioned smartwatch-sized window to a size slightly smaller than half your screen. Language settings are limited to English and simplified Chinese. You can also toggle search results to read back using the metric system, if you prefer Celsius to Fahrenheit or kilometers to miles.
Torque probably isn’t going to replace standard Google Now for Android users anytime soon, and there still aren’t many compelling reasons to use Bing over Google. But it’s functional enough, and flicking your wrist feels much less awkward than addressing your smartphone as if it was another person. The app is currently available as a free download from Google Play, and requires Android 4.0 and up.