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Android virtual assistant showdown: Google Now vs. Cortana vs. Hound

Derek Walter | Oct. 2, 2015
We asked the top three digital helpers 100 questions to gauge how useful they are with everyday tasks and more complicated search queries.

While you can always chalk up the missteps to the beta tag, these problems demonstrate some clear areas where Hound will need to improve. The other hurdle is that web searches are conducted through Bing. It does the job, but Bing has that kind of aura of Internet Explorer. Results don’t feel as relevant, especially given how well Google can tie your results to your personal data. 

But Hound was the contender that showed the most promise and original features. I plan on keeping it around to see how it grows and develops, as it definitely does some functions better than Google.

Cortana shows promise, but has a lot of performance issues

Cortana’s best advantage is that the app plays well with some of the features of Android, like opening your calendar or using data from your Microsoft account to better tailor your searches. 

It also goes for the personalized approach by learning your name and responding better to some casual questions like, “What’s going on today?”

When I tried that, Cortana served up some calendar appointments, while Google Now just did a basic web search. It was also good at finding relevant news, even recognizing that I might be interested in Android Wear (probably because the app was running on an Android device).

cortana android
Cortana brings some personality and ties into Microsoft’s ecosystem. Click on image to enlarge.

Cortana also passed the taco test, finding several nearby restaurants and and telling me how to get there and their hours. Of course, it taps into Bing services with a few drops of Yelp, so depending on your preferences that may or may not appeal to you. The interface is also very much in line with Microsoft’s other products, which have made a major push on Android recently. 

My biggest issue with Cortana was its tendency to often not hear me or misunderstand the question. It also crashed a few times. While it’s expected for a Beta product to have some issues, Cortana has some ways to go before it could be a reliable daily assistant. 

As it stands, the most compelling reason to use Cortana is if you’re a Windows and/or heavy Office user. I see Cortana tying deeper into these products, so you could over time have a more fluid experience with all these connected services on Android.

Voice input is the future

The heavy interest in voice assistants by these three companies tells you something: much of the future of search is about voice commands, queries, and contextual information. Services like Google Now also illustrate how search is not always just about a pulling up answers to a question anymore. Good search results take context and multiple data factors to deliver good results. 

 

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