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Kia UVO: Mainstream Infotainment In The 2012 Soul

Hands-On With Microsoft Tellme Speech Recognition

Speech recognition is where Ford’s SYNC and Kia's UVO part ways. While Ford incorporates a popular speech recognition engine from Nuance (also used by Apple for Siri and Dragon Naturally Speaking software) Kia utilizes a complete Microsoft solution, integrating the Tellme speech recognition engine.

Kia brags that UVO's advanced voice recognition gives maximum voice accuracy. To improve upon the system's default capabilities, you're given the option to create voice profiles as a training tool for Microsoft's engine. The profile creation process requires that you read a couple of sentences, allowing the software to detect your speech patterns and voice inflection. We didn't bother generating a profile during our loan period, and didn't run into any accuracy issues.

During testing, I found the Tellme-powered speech recognition to be very accurate with words and names. I called our editor-in-chief Chris Angelini through the system on my first attempt. If you remember back to our look at SYNC with MyFord Touch, Nuance's speech recognition engine refused to get even remotely close to Chris' name. Music playback worked well, also, and I was able to string commands together like “Play USB artist N.E.R.D.,” “Play song Party Rock Anthem,” and a handful of radio-oriented commands. The only time I ran into an issue with Tellme speech recognition was when I attempted to spell out a name, such as L.M.F.A.O. (the file name was Lmfao, with no periods). But this was almost assuredly an issue with our test file's name. Humorously enough, it actually worked when we pronounced “Lmfao” phonetically.  

Overall, Kia's decision to use Microsoft’s Tellme speech recognition engine for UVO appears to be a good one. It doesn’t support the 10 000 commands that Ford claims its Nuance-based SYNC with MyFord Touch recognizes, but Kia also isn’t trying to control everything within the cabin using UVO. The speech recognition works as advertised for voice-directed control over your music and phone. We had better luck using Kia's system to find obscure names (Ed.: Hey, Angelini isn't that strange), and that's what matters most.

Although Kia's UVO speech recognition worked very well, we still prefer using steering wheel-based controls for channel surfing through HD Radio and Sirius presets. That's a personal preference, though. When we had a hankering for music stored on an attached flash drive, voice recognition made it easier to pick an artist or song without distractedly browsing through the folders, particularly given our awful file naming conventions and lack of MP3 tags.