Smart phones and tablets have the capacity to understand a wide range of voice commands. Kirstin Mills reports.

Voice assistants on mobile devices have been around a while now, but do you ever actually use yours?

If you have an Apple phone you can use Apple’s Siri or download Google Assistant. The latter also works on an Android device and if you have a Samsung device, you can use Bixby.

There are several smart speakers (Amazon Echo, Google Home, Apple HomePod) that work with voice assistants to provide information and let you control your smart home, but I am writing here about voice assistants only for use on your smart phone or tablet. If you get used to using the assistant on your mobile device, you may find it easier to transition to smart speakers in future.

Why use a voice assistant at all? Well, when you get used to them, they do save time and make simple tasks easier. Here are some examples of uses (my examples are from Siri because that is what I use, but they will largely be similar for other voice assistants).


I timed myself sending a text message manually and it took me 38 seconds to open my Messages app, select my number, compose the message and send. It took Siri 19 seconds to do the same thing. It’s not just about saving time – it’s easier to do (particularly when you are prone to regular typos or autocorrect errors like I am).

You can also ask Siri to read out your texts. When it reads out a message it asks if you would like to reply.

Ask Siri to find an email from someone – this can be handy when you have a full inbox.

Tell Siri to call someone.


Ask the time in another time zone. Siri found out the time in London in half the time it took me to search that information manually.

Check on the weather forecast.

Ask “where can I use Apple Pay” (this has been handy for me when I’ve been out with my phone but accidentally left my wallet at home).


Ask Siri how long it will take to get somewhere – it’s faster than working it out on Google Maps.

Ask “where is the nearest …” This is useful for finding things like petrol stations and public toilets.

Convert currency.

Translate a phrase into another language (handy for travelling since Siri reads out the answer).


Work out mathematical equations – I often use it for working out percentages or dividing up restaurant bills.

Convert imperial measurements to metric.


Play a specific music playlist or just start playing from your library.

Name a song – if you’ve ever used Shazam or SoundHound to identify a song that is playing you’ll appreciate Siri’s ability (using Shazam) to quickly answer “what’s this song?”.


Timers – if you are cooking and want to know when a certain time is up, ask for a reminder.

Set up an appointment in your calendar quickly and easily.

Set an alarm.

You can also ask Siri to make a note for you.


Ask Siri to increase or decrease the brightness on your phone or turn Wifi or Bluetooth on or off.

Playing a game but have no dice? Ask Siri to roll a die or roll two dice.

Ask questions for interesting/funny answers:

Are you a robot?

Do you have any pets?

How old are you?

What are you wearing?

Beatbox for me?

What is the answer to life, the universe and everything?

What is zero divided by zero?

Tell me a bedtime story?