The Wall Street Journal posted a story today called “A Safer Way to Text on the Road“. The reporter , Courtney Banks, reviews Vlingo. Check out the video too!

We all know that text messaging while driving is dangerous, but I’ve had enough crosswalk fumbles and parking meter collisions to realize that even texting while walking can be risky business.

An obvious solution is to talk instead of type, but this no longer means foregoing the convenience of text messaging in favor of an old-fashioned phone call. I tested a program called Vlingo, a “voice user interface” that allows you to operate many functions on your phone simply by speaking.

Worth It: Vlingo Turns Speech Into Text

Vlingo promises to make texting while in motion safer. For $19.99, you can speak and have your words turned into text without you ever touching the keys. WSJ reporter Courtney Banks finds it still won’t totally replace typing.

Vlingo first came out in June 2008, and recently launched its newest version, Vlingo 4.0, which costs $19.99 and works on most BlackBerries. (There’s also a free, more limited version of the software, which supports a few other smartphones including the iPhone.)

Vlingo essentially allows you to speak anywhere that you can type on your BlackBerry. Once installed, you operate the program by pressing and holding the convenience button on the side of the BlackBerry. This launches the recorder, and you can speak commands or series of commands to open applications, dictate messages, make notes, create calendar entries, update your Facebook status, and any other number of functions. Once you release the button, Vlingo will do whatever you’ve told it to do.

Vlingo was largely flawless when obeying commands such as opening programs or executing simple web searches. This was especially useful when I wanted to place a call without taking my gloves off, or quickly Google an address while rushing to my destination.

But it struggled a bit with messages and e-mails. For example, “Email mom subject flight schedule message hi mom my flight lands at five forty tomorrow evening” opened an e-mail message to my mother, and filled in the subject line and message box accordingly. Vlingo then read its transcription back to me, I said “Send,” and off it went.

Or, at least, in theory. In practice, even when speaking slowly and deliberately, Vlingo flubbed a fair share of my utterances. The above-mentioned dictation yielded a rather ominous message to my mother:

To: Mom

Subject: Fight

Message: Might be coming by around 540 tomorrow evening

Mistakes ranged from the innocuous and understandable to the downright unprintable –which were all the more shocking when recited back to me by Vlingo’s lady-robot voice. Suffice it to say, I was happy that I could preview and edit my text messages before sending them. Based on its own testing, the company reports an average 12% error rate, which it says is on par with the number of manual typos typically made on a mobile device.

When the cursor hovers over the transcription, Vlingo offers a list of alternate suggestions for each word, which makes corrections easier. But having to manually edit Vlingo’s mistakes meant that my eyes, hands, and attention were repeatedly diverted to my phone.

Still, it’s worth remembering that automated voice-to-text technology is difficult, and Vlingo does outperform Google Voice, whose voicemail transcriptions tend to be more funny than functional. When I tested Google Voice last spring, the transcriptions made only a modicum of sense, rendering the automated service one of the least useful features of the expansive communications platform.

Vlingo actually increases its intelligence quotient over time. The more you speak, the better Vlingo recognizes your voice patterns and common utterances, and it notes your manual corrections to increase future accuracy. The more I chatted, the better Vlingo performed. It usually only mistook a contact name once, getting it right thereafter, and handled numbers flawlessly. Its accuracy transcribing longer messages slowly but surely inched upward the more I utilized it.

Some amount of voice-to-text accuracy depends on the program’s ability to tune out distraction. Vlingo features some built-in noise reduction (the phone or Bluetooth headset you use also plays a big role), and it picked up my voice well in relatively noisy environments–out on the street, or inside with the vacuum cleaner running. Vlingo struggled more when others were talking nearby. Typically, I was able to hold the phone about eighteen inches away from my face and speak at a conversational volume; using Vlingo with a Bluetooth worked even better.

Is Vlingo worth it? Nineteen states have outright bans against texting behind the wheel (three times the number that ban cellphones), so clearly there is a need for universal voice-to-text options for phones. Though it’s far from perfect, Vlingo does go a long way toward offering a safe solution for smartphone use while in motion. At less than twenty dollars, it’s a relatively inexpensive way to add a new degree of functionality to your phone — and to avoid meeting your maker mid-text message.

Erin Keleher, Senior Marketing Communications Manager, Vlingo