Cortana vs Siri vs Google Now; the personal digital assistant shootout

Cortana, Siri and Google are the three players in the personal digital assistant space. While Siri and Google Now have been out for some time, Cortana is launching in beta and we have our hands on all three platforms.

The phones that we used to test the services on are a Droid Ultra, Nokia Lumia Icon, and an iPhone 5; all phones were updated to the latest available software and are the Verizon models. 

We have created a video that tests all three platforms side-by-side to see how each performs with a few basic tests. While none of the three platforms passed all of our tests, you can see a difference in each service depending on the scenario that was presented to the digital assistant.

All three services will continue to grow and mature with each new iteration so while the services may be on similar levels at this point, we will be curious to see how each platform works to differentiate itself from the others.

Curious about what else is new in Windows Phone 8.1? Check out our review here

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As cool as the three seem to be, I honestly find myself using Google Now (since I have Android, no Windows Phone or iPhone) mainly for the weather, sports scores, commute reminders, and contextual based information. Honestly as nice as being able to talk to your device is, I find it to be a gimmick at best. I tried voice recognition on Windows 7 and until Goo2Ubuntu came out on Linux, I always thought of how neat it would be to have voice recognition or a personal assistant. More of a gimmick if your memory is sharp enough. Also, don't know about the others, but I noticed that Android with Google services has multiple ways to set reminders. I know redundancy in the UI can be good, but isn't it inconsistent to have reminders in Keep and Google Now (and possibly another area?) Why not just make a dedicated alarm app that also does reminders, and allow it to communicate with the others?

On another note, I hope we get a surprise update for 8.1 (with the spring update) that eventually brings Cortana at least in beta form to Windows tablets and traditional PCs (desktops, laptops, etc.). EDIT: Reading the comments below, Xbox One sounds like a great idea. I know the 360 isn't too popular, but possibly adding Voice Search to Bing would be cool. Don't want to add too much to that aged hardware, I believe bringing the whole thing over wouldn't be worth it as the hardware might not be able to handle it. And think about how it could be used with Kinect on the Xbox One. Now there's an idea!

The only time I want to talk to my phone is when I am on a Bluetooth device (hands free).

ONLY time.

But cool, I guess.

BigBoy said,
The only time I want to talk to my phone is when I am on a Bluetooth device (hands free).

ONLY time.

But cool, I guess.


And then the voice assistants get it wrong and you cant do anything because you are driving. Has happened to me many times :p

So finally I stopped using these gimmicks.

sanke1 said,

And then the voice assistants get it wrong and you cant do anything because you are driving. Has happened to me many times :p

So finally I stopped using these gimmicks.

Actually - I dunno about you, but I have had great luck with Cortana in my car so far.

BigBoy said,
The only time I want to talk to my phone is when I am on a Bluetooth device (hands free).

ONLY time.

But cool, I guess.

Good thing you don't have to talk to her, you can just type....

I'm looking forward to getting this on my phone, I used to use voice search often on android but the WP equivalent wasn't as good (and ran slow as hell).

For those complaining that the correct terminology wasn't used for specific commands, this is the point of natural language query

You did both updates right? There are two you have to do. Then go to Apps and select Cortana to start the setup process (U.S. only for now). After that, it should work as your search. I have done the update for 3 phones so far with no problems with Cortana or any other part of the update.

pjosephson said,
You did both updates right? There are two you have to do. Then go to Apps and select Cortana to start the setup process (U.S. only for now). After that, it should work as your search. I have done the update for 3 phones so far with no problems with Cortana or any other part of the update.

Yes I did; Cortana is listed under apps but the option to turn it on is greyed out unless I turn on "Location, also if I turn Cortana on and then turn off Location Cortana is automatically turned off and the On switch is grayed out so yes, in order to use it Location must be on which does not make sense IMO....

Cosmocronos said,
...., in order to use it Location must be on which does not make sense IMO....

Perfect sense when you could ask for something that would be best served with geocoded answer data.

deadonthefloor said,

Perfect sense when you could ask for something that would be best served with geocoded answer data.

Indeed but.... GPS drain the battery very fast and usually I keep it off. It would be much better if I could use Cortana to open my Calendar without the need to have the GPS on.

It is funny... this guy didn't use any natural language.... How say Open Twitter?
Try to say twitt "Hello World".
If he use natural language all those questions could be answered.

That Windows Phone vs. the Moto X, is nice....but you still gotta press a button to activate Cortana. That's not necessary nor are the functions as innovative as Moto X's Google Now. With the Moto X, the phone could be across the room and by simply saying "OK Google Now,....what is the weather like outside", you'll get the info you need.

As of now I prefer Google Now to Siri, it tends to be faster and a little more thorough although I would say Siri is a little more elegant in implementation. I don't know anyone with a Windows phone so won't be able to check out Cortana.

derekaw said,
That was uninspiring, I was expecting better from Cortana.

Cortana is built upon TellMe / Bing with a new natural language API.
You think it's going to be that great overnight?

You can expect leaps and bounds improvement between Dev Preview and the first carrier launch with all the usage data MS are grabbing today.

Plus, Apps get to interact in a richer way with Cortana than on other platforms, so we'll see an evolution on that front as well.

derekaw said,
I was expecting better out of the gate.

That demo doesn't even come close to showing off the improvement of the NLQ in Cortana. Most of this is still basic commanding.

I've tried lots of things like, "I need to wake up earlier tomorrow."

Plus, Cortana will be able to understand apps that have been updated to provide grammars to Cortana.
I'm taken back by what I've tried thus far. This basic commanding is just the same as the TellME platform was in windows phone 7.8. They sure didn't say much that a commanding system couldn't have done in the past.

Watch Joe Belfiore's Day1 keynote where they show off cortana to see how they wrote grammars for facebook, so Cortana can deep link to app content as well as pre-existing phone functions.

And for a laugh, I asked where Master Chief was and got an amusing response.

I'll preface this with, I am an Apple fan. I have owned every iPhone but one and several iPads, MacBook Pro, a Mac mini and an iMac. But I hate Siri. I find it utterly useless and incapable of doing the majority of what I ask for. Yet, Google Now works just fine for me and clearly understands me every time (using both Now in the Chrome iOS browser and on a Nexus 5).

With all that said, I think Cortana is going to be absolutely brilliant. In demos and reviews I've seen, I find it to be quite responsive and understanding of everything. I think Microsoft has a real winner here (and I hate Metro, so don't take this as me being a MS fanboy, trust me, I'm not).

For non English speaker, Google is the best. It can understand my Thai-English accent.... And with the new version, it also can understand Thai language... Siri and Cortana have years behind Google to make it understand Thai language.

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