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

Report a problem with article
Previous Story

Windows Phone 8.1 Review - Cortana has arrived

Next Story

Here is how to get Cortana if you live outside the US

49 Comments

Commenting is disabled on this article.

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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....

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!

That Video could have been 1 hour long and I would have watched the entire thing :D, Oddly it was very entertaining.

Edited by warwagon, Apr 14 2014, 6:47pm :

I am amazed to see that Microsoft, considering their mostly infinite resources, is not able to release Cortana on Windows 8.1 and the XBOX One at the same time.

I understand their are links to the operating system and applications to have it work properly but still, this is puzzling. This project was not started 6 months ago.

Another Microsoft mystery...

TheCyberKnight said,
....

If you understand the software development process it's not that difficult to figure out.

One word to ease your worry:

Threshold.

Jen Taylor is still in process of recording, and will be for a few months. You'll hear more and more of her voice as they get her sessions done, but for now she's only in a small portion of the replies.

dtboos said,
Jen Taylor is still in process of recording, and will be for a few months. You'll hear more and more of her voice as they get her sessions done, but for now she's only in a small portion of the replies.

yep, I figured, its beta right now, they are catching up though, at least (even now) Cortana is better than google now in most cases.

francescob said,
What about the Turing test? Which voice assistant will go rampant first and delete all your phone messages?

That's only if you try to use her beyond her supported lifespan -- like a certain OS we've been reading about. ;)

You should have retried the sports question without saying search. Also, Windows Phone's Messaging app isn't just for SMS texting. If you had asked Cortana to Open Messaging it would have worked. Also, saying "Remind me to" is more natural, and also would have worked.

I agree that not all natural language forms are currently working. And if Cortana wants to work for former Siri and Google Now customers she'll probably have to understand their commands. But a real user of any of these services knows that there are certain ways to ask certain things.

What is the messaging app for than? It was suppsed to unify messaging across all services and the only thing it did so far was removing the only addition (Facebook) which was integrated like a peace of sheit

-adrian- said,
What is the messaging app for than? It was suppsed to unify messaging across all services and the only thing it did so far was removing the only addition (Facebook) which was integrated like a peace of sheit

What it's for isn't at issue. On Windows Phone the "Open" command is a special command for opening apps. Until there are app nicknames you are expected the call the app by it's name -- not what you want to call it.

Forjo said,
Windows Phone's Messaging app isn't just for SMS texting..

I hate to disappoint you.
In WP8.1 it IS just for SMS.
I :'( too once I discovered you couldn't context switch to a different mechanism.

deadonthefloor said,

I hate to disappoint you.
In WP8.1 it IS just for SMS.
I :'( too once I discovered you couldn't context switch to a different mechanism.

They are just removing the baked services and letting apps float up to the notification service and then use the app's own messaging feature. however it is odd skype doesn't remain baked in since basically it is their own platform.

the API solution seems to be best but these IM services are too protective and wan to keep people in the app making the best efforts to unify messaging under the OS difficult. In fact even if you could design an API that allows apps to hook into the native message client, chances are companies will just opt out of it in favor of their own experiences. sad.

With Skype I guess they want to reduce a future conflict with the law. they want to show that all messengers have equal options to exist in a system. they maybe learned from IE and the EU :) Guess we will have to wait a few weeks in order to see how this "API using" turns out

deadonthefloor said,

I hate to disappoint you.
In WP8.1 it IS just for SMS.
I :'( too once I discovered you couldn't context switch to a different mechanism.

I use the built in messenger app because Skype is too much of a resource hog and having to reload the app each time I switch app or turn off and on the screen is really annoying. Their attempts to make it faster hasn't been enough. I want it to be instant.
I don't want to wait for Skype to load each time. Skype uses around 40% more battery than the built in messenger.

neonspark said,
... it is odd skype doesn't remain baked in since basically it is their own platform.

Skype was never baked in, that was all retired Messenger code.
Since Skype is one of those Microsoft business units that operates independently I do not find it odd at all.

"Open Hangouts" works for Google Now. I guess you need to know the exact application name instead of just saying text message or messages...

I haven't used Cortana yet, but have spent quite a bit of time with Google Now and Siri. Personally for me, Siri is the best, but I do find it very hit and miss with data roaming via my provider. Not sure if siri is 100% cloud based, whilst Google Now has a few commands locally?

Not sure about Google Now, but I thought it was also processing voice recognition off the device.

Rumors have been pointing to Siri having more voice recognition stuff done on the phone hardware as oppose to offloaded to some server with future version.

Siri, for me, has been rather frustrating thing to use when I need to use it the most (the car). First of all, when I ask Siri to search for something on the web I get Bing results which wouldn't be so bad except for the occasional "Do you want to set Bing as the default search engine?" pop-up message in Safari. That is really an annoying message prompt with no option to say "Go away, and don't ever ask me this again."

Siri also defaults to my car bluetooth dongle (that I use for music) in the car. The bluetooth dongle has a microphone so if I try and use Siri it defaults to that microphone which simple does not work properly for that. Its made for phone calls, and it works ok for that purpose. I can click on a few things and change it for my one car ride but I'm in my car, probably driving, and I don't want to mess with that on my phone because it is unsafe for me to do so. Very frustrated that there are no options about not using a particular bluetooth device for Siri.

glen8 said,
I haven't used Cortana yet, but have spent quite a bit of time with Google Now and Siri. Personally for me, Siri is the best, but I do find it very hit and miss with data roaming via my provider. Not sure if siri is 100% cloud based, whilst Google Now has a few commands locally?
Android does have offline speech recognition but Google Now still need Internet to "understand" your search/request I think.

I personally hated Siri, so I never used it. Could never voice to text correctly for me. Google on the other hand, I can say what I want, without any corrections and also say "question mark" and it'll add it. Not sure if Siri does that, I'm assuming it does.