Google Voice Search now available as desktop Chrome extension

29 Nov 2013

Google has released a Chrome browser extension that allows users on laptop and desktop computers to make use of voice search functions already available to mobile users. We tested this new function to see if it was as useful as Google claims.

The Google Voice Search Hotword extension is available now on the Chrome Web Store, though this is just the beta release. The instructions tell you to download the extension, agree to let it use your computer’s microphone, then visit Google’s homepage and say the magic words, ‘OK Google’.

The extension is then supposed to stop listening for the command after five minutes have elapsed, in order to save on battery consumption, and an icon in the search bar tells you when the search engine is or isn’t listening.

That’s not really how it works, though, according to our tests. You can say ‘OK Google’ to your computer until you’re blue in the face: nothing will happen. In reality, the feature is only activated by clicking the microphone icon in the search bar.

After first use, this immediately switches off again, so even after activation ‘OK Google’ won’t have an effect. What’s more, if the search engine misunderstands you and needs you to try again, that requires another click of the mouse.

This is far from the hands-free feature advertised. Granted, it’s a beta release and there may be some snags to work out before we get the full functionality promised.


The video promoting the feature will give you high expectations of how it should work, but our initial tests were largely unsuccessful. Though after a few tries and a test replicating the queries from the video above, the extension started to perform quite well. Either the voice recognition technology was learning how to understand my voice the more I used it, or the extension is programmed to perform particularly well when you recreate the questions asked in the demo video.

There are still too many mistakes to look past with this function, though. My request to ‘compare olive oil and butter’ gave me search results for hair oil and, when it comes to Irish-language terms, you can forget about it. ‘Dáil Éireann’ returned all manner of strange results, including ‘darling aaron’ and ‘jar lyrics’.

Even if the voice recognition improves, the fact the microphone needs to be activated each time you search is a turn-off. But the alternative – that Google will be listening at all times to hear you say ‘OK Google’ – is an even greater deterrent.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.