“Google's new 411 service is free, fast and easy to use.” That's what it says on the home page for GOOG-411, a Google-powered business directory designed to look up phone numbers using speach recognition.

Paul Boutin doesn't seem to think it's so fast or easy, though. He spent half an hour speed dialing GOOG-411 and trying various searches.

The verdict: Fail. At least until I can interrupt the redundant intro blurbs by immediately speaking a city and business name. Those seconds count, especially while driving.

I decided to give it a try for myself. After all, it's free, right?

The prerecorded voice didn't bother me the first time. In fact it all seemed rather efficient. But the strange thing is that when I called back a second time, the voice irritated me. I find myself agreeing with Boutin's assessment.

A simple interface — the very brand of Google — is what their 411 service seems to be missing. Sure, the underlying technology is great. But perfection of design is found not when there's nothing left to add, but when there's nothing left to take away.

As a side note, on one of my calls to GOOG-411, I tried asking for Spanish language support. The speech recognition didn't understand my first two attempts, and on the third try it wanted to connect me to El Paso, TX. I'm going to assume that Google isn't supporting other languages at this time.
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