Cortana vs Siri vs Google Now vs Amazon Echo – Digital Assistant Face-Off
The AI Dream, Mostly Realised
Sci-fi stories and movies have been promising it to us for a long time (e.g. the Hollywood movie “Her”, where I took this post’s feature image, go see it, it’s a great movie!), and we’re finally at the point where we can talk to our machines.
Sure, they’re not the robot companions that we imagined we’d have, and they don’t cook our meals or clean our homes, but then again, we don’t have jetpacks or wardrobes of shiny silver jumpsuits, either. In 2015, we talk mostly to our phones, though some of us do have conversations with our computers.
The most mainstream AI options are currently in the form of digital assistants. They do things like keep our calendars, perform web queries, and provide strange entertainment for those of us with nerdy tendencies. And of course, the fact that there are multiple options for digital assistants begs the question: which one is the best? Let’s have a look.
Meet the Contenders: Google Now, Alexa, Siri and Cortana
There are four big names in our digital assistant face off. You probably know the first one: Siri is the friendly voice on all iOS products (or all iOS products released in the past few years). Then, there’s Google Now, the response to any OK Google query in both the Chrome browser and in the Google Search app.
There are also two new virtual kids on the block. Cortana is the Windows 10 digital assistant — you knew Microsoft was going to get in on the AI game sooner or later. And finally, there’s Alexa, the voice inside the upstart new Amazon Echo. Four corners, four contenders. It’s like a virtual cage match.
Initial Pros and Cons
Let’s start with the names. Either Google is wrong for not giving its digital presence a more welcoming name, or Google is right for not succumbing to gender stereotypes and not giving its AI a female name — it all depends on your perspective.
Mostly, though, which assistant you’ll use depends largely on which assistant you can use. Siri is available only on iOS devices. Google Now works on any computer running a recent version of Chrome and on both iOS and Android phones, but not on Windows phones.
Alexa works strictly with Echo.
Cortana is currently Windows 10 computers and smartphones only, but will soon be available on both Android and iOS. If you want to sync your digital assistant across multiple devices Cortana has a definite edge here.
Essential Reading: What Is Cortana and What Can “She” Do?
Handling Basic Queries
Ask Siri, Google Now, Cortana, and Alexa for information, and you shall receive. However, you might not always love what you receive. Siri can provide you with the results of a simple web search on Google, but it’s often up to you to make sense of it all. Google Now does the same, but you can also get help with things like pronunciation.
Cortana relies heavily on Bing (no surprise, since they’re both Microsoft products). And while Alexa is great at telling you things like the current weather and traffic reports, it’s less helpful when it comes to basic queries, occasionally giving you a few Bing results but often not giving you an answer at all.
What can Google Now, Cortana and Siri actually do for you?
Each of these digital assistants has its strong points and its weak points too. Siri, for example, might be easiest to chat with. She’s most likely to understand what you want, even if you don’t phrase it in the most eloquent way. Google Now is really good at remembering (or storing and applying, more accurately) details about you and your life; it’s the most predictive of these four digital assistants.
Cortana is truly excellent at managing your calendar, especially when it comes to incorporating location-based and person-specific reminders. Like, you could ask her to remind you to buy milk next time you’re at the grocery store. Finally, Alexa is great at functioning like another person in your home. She’s always ready and waiting, and she can hear you calling her from across the room.
Human-ish Interaction: Cortana vs Siri vs Google Now
If you just want a friend to chat with and your human friends aren’t around, you can try to replicate the same type of convivial interaction with one of these digital assistants. Siri, Cortana, and Alexa will all tell you jokes if you ask them to, though be warned — they’re corny. You can also ask these three virtual ladies more philosophical questions (the answers are borderline amusing), and they will also sing for you.
The big thing about interacting with digital assistants, though, is making sure the one you’re using can understand your accent. (We know — you don’t have an accent. Everyone else does.) Siri will understand many accents as long as you change her settings, while Cortana and Google Now tend to understand more accents automatically. Alexa has trouble with some but not all accents. And they all struggle with Glaswegian, though really, the same could be said for a lot of people.
Digital Assistant Personality
We have to hand it to Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Amazon: they genuinely tried to instill a personality into their respective digital assistants. However, we can definitely rank their success rate. For example, while Google Now may be good with reminders and with learning about you, it’s more or less all business. That’s maybe to expected, though, as it’s the only one without an actual name.
Alexa is polite, and she certainly lives (or “lives”) to please. However, she’s not as snarky as Siri, who has a dry sense of humour behind the prim exterior. And if we’re talking about sassy, Cortana wins easily. She’s funny, she’s clever, and she gives you the right mix of confidence, accuracy, and humour in all of her replies.
Alexa is polite, but not as snarky as Siri or as sassy as Cortana.
Compatibility Issues: Siri for Android? Nope
The best AI digital assistant for you depends a lot on your device (or devices) of choice. Siri is the original digital assistant, and while she’s highly regarded by both reviewers and users alike, she works only on iOS devices. So, if you use Android or Windows, Siri just isn’t even an option.
And of course, Alexa is only on the Amazon Echo, a device that’s great for your home but isn’t portable at all. Unless you’re willing to plunk down the roughly £120 to own an Echo, you won’t get a chance to chat with Alexa. Buy the device, however, and you guys will probably become BFFs.
As for digital assistants on other smartphones, your choice comes down to Google Now and Cortana. Google’s assistant can be used on any smartphone right now, while Cortana will be available soon for both Android and iOS.
if you use Android or Windows, Siri just isn’t even an option
Cortana vs Siri vs Google Now vs Amazon Echo – Which is Best?
While all four of these AI digital assistants are good, we have to give the edge to Cortana right now. She’s smart, she’s sassy, and she provides an incredibly natural and personality-rich user experience. She can dig up information for you, keep your calendar like a champ, and even entertain you a bit. The other assistants can all do some of these things, but they can’t do all of them, especially with Cortana’s panache.
Siri remains a popular and totally solid choice among Apple fans kids, and Alexa’s capabilities and reach will probably expand greatly over the next few years. And we should never put it past Google to beef up Google Now’s capabilities to the point where it’s the one to beat. Google rarely gives up on a promising project (no need to remind us of Orkut), and Google Now has the potential to be a serious competitor.
And who knows? There may be some new digital assistants on the market soon enough, as AI becomes more mainstream and people get used to the fact that they’re, you know, having a conversation with a programmed voice.
Ultimately, the answer to this question is a definitive, “To be continued!”