How I Use It
Text Engine allows users to search the web using text (SMS) messages. The company seeks to create smartphones out of "dumb phones" with their service. In other words, this service allows phones that do not have Internet connectivity to tap into the web for information via text, making the phone "smarter". You can search for: Weather, Sports, News, Wikipedia and Web results, Definitions, Flight status, Directions, etc. Text Engine's target audiences are basically anyone with no WiFi or in areas with limited connectivity, those with limited data plans, and educators/students in low income or rural areas.
My students text excessively. I can see them enjoying this option even if they have a smartphone, simply because it puts information into text format. I believe students would be most likely to use the News, Wiki, and Definition functions when it comes to school work. Our district WiFi sometimes is spotty or goes down entirely, so this tool would still enable students to search for information without Internet. While I like the idea of this, and I appreciate the option to have text versions of directions, definitions, etc., the information I received wasn't always helpful. For example, when searching for definitions, the blurb given might not have been the right version of the word or included information that did not pertain to my needs. Since I was limited to a set of basic commands, I couldn't revisit my search or specify better. Students may become discouraged by this or simply accept the given information and end up with less-than-ideal results.
Overall, I can see Text Engine being useful for simple searches on very clear, concise topics. I believe students would enjoy this as a new tool, but when they see the number of texts per query or get misinformation, they will be discouraged from using it often. Since most of my students that have phones already have WiFi connectivity, they will probably prefer regular web searches. However, for students with more simple phones this could be a good way to help them feel connected and make their phones more useful for coursework.
A final big issue might be the amount of texts received with each request. The directions alone were delivered as 10 text messages. Each query returns multiple texts, even for something that seems short (like a definition). Since I did not pay for the ad-less version ($2), every response includes at least 2 texts with ad content. If I had a set number of texts per month, I would not want to use this service very often. Students would be leery, as well. The numerous texts also means more scrolling through them, which can become a drag if you have multiple pieces of information you're trying to use. I am not sure why single text messages aren't used, but perhaps there is a character limit on Text Engine's end that causes this. Either way, it could be a deterrent for students and adults alike.
Overall, though, I like Text Engine's intent and I enjoyed pulling up directions and other facts this way. Not only does it allow me to avoid other apps (and data usage), but I can easily copy and paste the texts to share with others as needed. Perhaps those elements alone are enough to make this worth using in a classroom.