Pros: Great driving aid; Found parking garages and gas station prices; Waving activates app
Cons: Does not look up flights or bus routes; Had trouble with some contextual searches; Didn't show sports scores; Android only
Verdict: The Robin personal assistant app is great for in-car use, but is less effective elsewhere.
Magnifis makes a pretty bold statement, calling its personal-assistant app "Robin, the Siri challenger." This Android app is designed primarily as an in-car assistant, and can show helpful info nearby and along your driving route. Robin also has a number of quirky features that may make it worth the download, even if you don't have a car.
Robin has a rounded, old-school look that reminded us of a car's dashboard. (The designers probably weren't aware of the recent trend away from skeuomorphism--making things look like real-world objects.) Three buttons -- a large R, a location-centering button and Help -- sit on top of a faux-leather background.
To activate the assistant, you click a large R button or waving your hand in front of your phone twice. By default, Robin has a female voice, but you can switch to a male voice.
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Robin has a fairly broad range of personal-assistant features. It can tell you the weather, news, and set reminders and alarms. Additionally, the app can update your Facebook and Twitter feeds, read email, open apps, take a picture and play songs. Robin can also perform equations and answer questions, such as "who is the president of France?"
Robin has a number of quirky attributes, such as the ability to tell jokes and read you your horoscope. Ironically for an app that bills itself as a "Siri challenger," the app can also quote Steve Jobs.
Finally, you can teach Robin things, such as your name and address, which will give you a more personalized experience.
In the car, we asked for gas station prices and Robin immediately showed the closest stations and read the price aloud. You can also search for parking garages, which helps in tense situations in busy traffic. When we searched for directions to the library, the app promptly showed the destination and distance.
You can also have Robin look for points of interest, read the news and tell jokes ("Can you do something other people can't? Sure, I can read my handwriting"). There were a few hits and misses, though -- some of our contextual searches didn't work.
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A request for Chinese food brought up a Google Map showing all the local Chinese eateries near us. That's just as good as Sherpa.
As Robin is primarily intended for use in the car, it falters a bit when used for day-to-day assistance. For example, the app had trouble looking up flights and stock quotes. When asked about bus routes, Robin told us to buy a car instead. That's a bit snarky, especially if you are in the middle of a hectic trip and just need to find public transportation. Likewise, telling Robin "I have a headache" returned an amusing, but unhelpful response.
Robin provided local weather info, as well as follow-up questions about the conditions tomorrow and in Chicago. However, "What's the Yankees score?" merely brought up ESPN's home page.
Robin did not understand a query to find information about the company named Path. Like Google Now, it interpreted "bio" as biology, not biography.
The app will let you post to Facebook and read updates and Twitter feeds, but you have to use somewhat precise language. If you simply say "Facebook," the app will just read status updates.
Robin is only available for Android devices (there isn't a version designed specifically for tablets) and only comes in English.
In-car navigation apps have come a long way, and Robin is proof of that. This app's almost-hands-free interface -- which begins with a wave -- was helpful in finding directions, cheap gas and parking, and has a playful attitude. While Sherpa is a better all-around assistant, offering more features and better accuracy, Robin is a useful co-pilot for in-car use.