What is the best voice-controlled AI assistant on mobile devices, smart speakers and cars right now? We compare Alexa, Bixby, Cortana, Siri and Google Assistant to see how they stack up for smarts, device support, learning and ease of use.
Speaking to machines is at long last a perfectly normal thing to do. Thanks to the infiltration of Amazon’s Alexa into our homes via the retail giant’s own Trojan horse, also known as the Echo speaker, we can all enjoy hands-free smart home control. Now everyone from Google and Apple to Harman Kardon is making smart speakers, housing their own voice activated AI assistants.
The likes of the Apple HomePod and Google Home would just be typical home speakers without the artificial intelligence that makes them ‘smart’. Which means that loads of tech firms are now racing to have their own perfect AI helper, to rival Alexa. Apple and Google have expanded Siri and the Google Assistant respectively to work with home devices, while newcomers such as Samsung’s Bixby offer strong rivalry despite their youth. And while Bixby is currently only available on Sammy’s smartphones, we'd be shocked not to see it crammed into smart home gadgetry in 2018.
So which smart assistant is best right now? Well, not necessarily the one which understands your commands more often than not, but that which is able to work with your other gadgets, meaning you can control your whole smart home with a quick command. Context is key also: you want to get results with as little hassle and backtracking as possible.
A strong breadth of features is a must and as this is AI we're talking about, your assistant should get to know you over time and adapt to provide a streamlined, personalised experience.
So who is winning the race right now? Google Assistant, Apple Siri, Microsoft Cortana, Amazon Alexa and Samsung Bixby are all big players in the world of voice control and this comparison shows how these AI helpers stack up.
Amazon Alexa is well adapted already
The main artificial intelligence in the world of smart home voice assistants has been Alexa for quite some time. By placing that AI in the Echo speaker, Amazon has sparked a revolution. Suddenly people with this speaker housed in their kitchen realised how voice controls are so much easier than mucky-handed gadget ruining. And not as embarrassing to talk to as a phone in public. Plus, beyond simple music playing, we're now able to control our lights and heating, find out commute times and have recipes read out as we cooked.
Check out our Alexa tips and tricks guide to see all she's capable of.
As such, Amazon has been around for awhile now and so has joined up with lots of tech partners; meaning Alexa can control plenty of other smart tech around your house. Chances are if you have a Wi-Fi connected smart gadget, Alexa will be able to talk to it in some way. This is thanks to Alexa Skills, of which more are added all of the time by third-parties that want to make their gadget Alexa friendly.
Then there is the Echo Dot hardware that lets you turn your old speakers into smart devices, thanks to its microphones which listen for your commands and internet connection.
Read next: How to get Amazon Alexa on any phone
Google Assistant is learning fast
Once Google decided to join the AI race it was always only going to be a matter of time before it grew at a ridiculous rate. With all of the smart learning tech at Google’s disposal, the Assistant has fast improved. Google has the world using its AI on phones, tablets, watches, in cars and on Chromebooks constantly. Since it’s an AI it can learn from its own mistakes as more people use it. The result is an assistant that is improving faster and faster everyday.
Google Assistant can control plenty of smart home gadgets, works on our Android phones for the likes of navigation while driving and even appears on wearables. Right now Amazon has a more limited reach and even Apple doesn't have the computing clout behind it that Google boasts.
Microsoft’s Cortana could be in with a shot, although without Microsoft phones and watches on the market, Google still has an advantage. Samsung Bixby is another matter, of course, appearing on Samsung’s flagship mobile devices. When Bixby spreads its roots, this AI assistant could become a true contender.
Samsung Bixby is packed with potential
Samsung actually bought an already established company to develop its own smart AI. This was Viv Labs, birthed by an ex-Apple employee who helped to create Siri and wasn’t happy with the final results.
The product of this partnership is Bixby, an AI that’s able to learn contextually, meaning in the long run you’ll be able to have a more natural back and forth conversation with it. Also Samsung’s assistant will be able to ask you what you mean rather than simply saying it didn’t understand. A bit like if you were talking to a person and they asked for more info to clarify what you need them to do.
Of course, Bixby is still in its early stages, so only time will tell if it can surpass the likes of Alexa.
Google Assistant is smartest for knowledge
When it comes to asking your gadget a question, you’re likely going to find the best results from Google Assistant because it uses the company’s own engine to search. Since that’s what made the company as big as it is, you can of course expect quite reliable results.
When you use others like Cortana, Siri, Alexa or Bixby you might not be getting the full Google experience. Microsoft pays for Bing to be the default search engine on Siri, while its own Cortana assistant also uses Bing. Amazon’s Alexa is the same and even Bixby won’t use Google unless you specifically ask it to, as a handy work around.
Although personal preference obviously plays some small part, our own experience is that Google is better than Bing, having used both an awful lot over the years. You generally get the results you require first time, although even the mighty Google is occasionally fallible.
Apple’s Siri is multi-platform
Siri works on Apple’s iPhone, iPad, Mac and even the Apple Watch. Plus Siri is already one of the most famous assistants around, popping up on our mobile devices before most other AIs even existed. However, that could actually be part of the problem. After all, a lot of people used Siri back in the day, when she was rather useless and couldn’t even understand many users. The result is that people have been put off for good, which means slower growth for Apple as Siri learns less quickly.
Hopefully Apple Watch and the new HomePod smart speaker, plus rumoured Apple TV support, will change all that.
Google, Apple and Microsoft are in cars
One place that hands-free conversational controls work best is in the car while driving. It’s safer, it’s easier and it’s way cooler. Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and now Microsoft Cortana are all found in various car brands.
Teaming up with manufacturers has helped get voice controls on the roads. A lot of cars now offer both Apple and Google assistant options, although there’s still a lot of growth to happen in this area.
Bixby is great at tasks but pricey for smart homes
Bixby is tip top at specific tasks, as it can screen tap what you see, effectively. It’s almost like having a person tapping the icons while you sit back and read out what you want done. The weakness lies in wider controls.
Right now Bixby can control smart home gadgets and other third-party smart kit, like Alexa. The problem is you need to shell out fifty odd quid for a Samsung Smart Hub if you want to access those things. Also, Bixby can only be found in a handful of Samsung devices right now, so its smart learning will be limited. Here’s hoping the assistant rolls out to other mobile and smart home gadgetry and plays nicer with third-party apps soon.