The three big mobile operating systems each have their own personal voice assistant: Apple’s iOS 9 uses Siri, Android Lollipop/Marshmallow has Google Play and Microsoft’s Windows 10 uses Cortana. Question is, which is best for everyday use? We put Siri, Cortana and Google Now to the test with some basic challenges.
Challenge One: Information gathering
This test is designed to test each voice assistant’s ability to search for information based on the user’s location. So, can Siri, Cortana and Google Now all find the best biryani in the neighbourhood?
Query: “What is the best Indian restaurant near my location?”
The best performer in this test was Siri, who returned a list of curry houses within a mile of Recombu HQ, ranked by their rating on TripAdvisor (a reliable source of public feedback). You can see how many people rated each restaurant, how expensive it is and how far you’ll have to walk for your bit of bhaji action – and whether it’s currently open or closed. Simply tap a result and you’ll see the address and phone number, plus its location on a map.
Cortana returned a list of Indian restaurants near my location with ‘good reviews’, from a mixture of sources – Yelp and TripAdvisor. You can once again see how expensive they are and whether they’re open or not, but there’s no indication of how far away they are and they’re not ranked by rating.
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Meanwhile, Google Now performed a simple Google search for curry parlours in the local area, again with no kind of order. This time the reviews were from Google users, so you get far fewer ratings compared with the likes of TripAdvisor (dozens rather than hundreds or thousands), but an exact distance is given as well as the actual time of opening.
Challenge Two: Find a photo in my camera album
If you take a lot of photos, it can be annoying and rather time consuming to search through your album for a specific shot. So, can the voice assistants help to pull up the photo you need, based on the date it was taken?
Query: “Show me photos I took on (random day) 2015.”
Siri and Google Now both performed perfectly in this test, pulling up my shots from the exact day asked for in just a couple of seconds. However, Cortana simply refused to play ball, displaying a ‘something went wrong’ message every time I attempted this test.
Winner: A draw between Siri and Google Now
Challenge Three: Add a meeting to my calendar
If you’re trying to add a meeting to your calendar when you’re on the move, you might want to do it using your voice assistant.
Query: “Add a meeting with Dave to my calendar at 2pm next Tuesday.”
All three voice assistants correctly produced a calendar entry with the required information, for the date and time requested. All three also give you the chance to check over and approve or cancel the scheduled entry.
Cortana goes one step further by allowing you to quickly and easily correct the name or time of the event, while Siri actually connects the meeting to one of your contacts – which is great as long as you have the relevant person in your contacts library. If you don’t, then Siri simply refuses to move on.
Winner: We’re calling this a tie between Siri and Cortana, which both go one step beyond Google Now
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Challenge Four: Find an app on the online store
Want to download an app but can’t be bothered to type its name into the relevant app store with your pinkies? Just ask your voice assistant to find it instead.
Query: “Download the BBC News app.”
Another Siri victory, as Apple’s voice assistant is the only one to actually open up the online store to directly download the BBC News app. Cortana simply returned a Bing search, with the top hits being Google Play and Apple’s App Store – whoops – while Google Now performed a Google search, which admittedly included relevant links to Android’s app store near the very top.
Challenge Five: Cats, cats, wonderful cats
Having a crappy day? No fear, just ask Siri, Google Now or Cortana to find you lots of super-cute photos of fluffy kitties online.
Query: “Search for pictures of cats”
Siri is the only voice assistant who actually brought up a specific image search, with a decent selection of cute kitties to fawn over. Google Now and Cortana both performed a basic web search, returning a list of links. In Cortana’s results, you can tap ‘images’ to actually see some photos. However, at least with Google Now the top results were actually photos.
Winner: Draw between Siri and Google Now
Challenge Six: Location-based reminders
Time-based reminders are all well and good, but sometimes you need a reminder to flash up on your phone when you reach a specific location, such as home or the office.
Query: “Remind me when I get to the office to wash my socks”
All three voice assistants performed admirably here, correctly setting the reminder to show up when we hit the office. Cortana is finally a solo winner, however, as she allows us to set a specific time as well as a location, and change any incorrect details rather than simply cancelling.
Cortana vs Siri vs Google Now Results
At the end of this gruelling vs comparison, Siri is the clear winner with a frankly stunning five victories. Cortana managed to come top twice (once as a clear round winner), while Google Now managed just two ties overall.