There’s been a huge buzz about Siri. Television ads have been rampant with commercials showing everyone from businessmen to students and how much easier their lives are made with the aide of genie-like Siri.

Apple’s sell point with Siri includes the ability to talk to your phone to execute commands, including sending voice messages, scheduling meetings, making calls and getting local info – all with the software that talks back the way a personal assistant would.

Here’s my first encounter with Siri: I asked Siri for a local vendor but was left frustrated when the software couldn’t make heads or tails of basic English – much like how automated answering services completely fumble up your basic request to make a payment or reach a live person. Siri kept offering unrelated results, and after a disgruntled “I hate you” on my part, it responded with an oddly humanist tone, saying “How can you hate me? I don’t even exist.”

I’m not the only one left with serious Siri frustration. Other users also looking for regional data were left more misguided than if they’d used Mapquest; Siri directed them to a shop that had been closed for over 8 years. Outdated data plus misunderstandings make up the bulk of complaints against Siri.

The disappointment is understandable. Siri is still in beta testing and it’s a pretty great software – just not what consumers would expect of Apple. Customers can expect future versions to be amped up, and the smart money would be on waiting till the bugs were worked out and new features were added before investing in Siri. In the meantime, Siri-wooed consumers can get free apps that aggressively compete with Siri but won’t cost you a cent to use.

For the budget-strapped consumer, start with what you already know…Google. Google’s mobile option via the Google Search app lets you conduct the same voice search as Siri. Use it to look for the same type of information Siri users are searching, such as websites, local vendors, restaurants, show times, etc. The app also searches for local spots without you needing to punch in your location. It has a search history, contact search and, of course, links to Google applications including maps, gmail and calendar. You also don’t need an iPhone to use it, though it does work with the iPhone. The app also works with Android, Blackberry and the NokiaS60.

Go beyond voice commands with Vlingo. Aside from using voice commands to get directions, browse the web, send text messages and make calls, the voice app connects with your Facebook and Twitter accounts to let you make voice-activated updates. Siri lets you Tweet, but it involves a slightly more complicated process…and it’s not free, unlike Vlingo.

Dragon Go is another great app that offers a lot of what’s already on the table here. It’s pretty simple to use too. Users hit the clearly marked “record” button and give Dragon Go a command. The interface is also splendidly designed and users have been raving that the app is much better than Siri – even letting you draft an email via voice direction.

So it seems Siri isn’t really that original – it’s just marketed really well. If you’re adamant to have a voice activated service without bugs (and without the cost), then give the free competition a shot while Apple works through its beta testing and is ready to offer something more on par with what we all expect from them.