Voice control showdown: Siri vs Google Now, S Voice, BlackBerry and Windows Phone 8

Voice control showdown: Siri vs Google Now, S Voice, BlackBerry and Windows Phone 8

Summary: Smartphone makers are looking to voice control and personal assistants to make their hardware stand-out. But are all voice control systems created equally?


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  • Everyone has heard of Siri, the personal digital assistant hidden away inside your iPhone but there's more than just Siri on the market. With hardware features of smartphones matching each other step-for-step, manufacturers are increasingly looking towards bespoke services and features, such as voice control, as key differentiators.

    While third-party developers were already working on voice control apps for handsets it was only since the introduction of Siri (itself a third-party app available on the App Store until Apple bought the company in 2010) that rivals really started to put more emphasis on their own equivalents.

    However, voice control is no mean feat, so how does the competition measure up to Siri, the current queen of the crop?

    In order to put each system through its basic paces, I tested out an iPad 3, Samsung Galaxy Note II, Nokia Lumia 920 and a Sony Xperia T running Android Jelly Bean.

    All voice recognition tests were done indoors in a mostly quiet environment, which makes a difference. Try replicating these on the streets and you'll likely get a worse word recognition rate, and more erroneous actions performed on your behalf. You might also look a bit strange walking down the street shouting at your phone telling it to take you to the nearest Nandos.

  • Siri, like it or not, popularised voice control and is seen by many as the leading system on smartphones today.

    What Siri excels at, particularly in comparison to some of the other systems in this test, is understanding natural language. 

    For example, Say "I want to take a picture" and Siri will open the camera app or you can just say "open camera". 

    It's also really good at recognising what you're saying and giving you pointers along the way if you're new to the phone. For example, you can send email using Siri but if you haven't set up your account first it will tell you to do that, rather than just return an error. 

    The range of functionality with Siri is quite broad but dependent upon the key partnerships Apple has put in place, so can vary depending on what you are trying to do. It's tied into most of the core apps in iOS so making or changing a calendar entry, sending a text, or getting information about a particular event is a breeze.  

    However, at points the information is very superficial, for example, asking when the next Formula One race would take place returned the correct answer immediately but when I asked where it was, Siri just repeated the date. Similarly, when I asked when the last race of 2013 would be, Siri said it could not get information about Formula One and offered to search the internet instead. 

    One of the strengths of Siri is the tie-in with Wolfram Alpha giving great results for computational answers. Ask Siri a maths question and the answer will pop straight up but ask it to switch on Bluetooth and it can't help you out. 

    When I asked Siri to "take me to London Bridge" it replied by popping up information about London Bridge, as well as saying how far away it was. 

    Siri's biggest weakness (in the UK at least) for me is the local information.  Ask where the nearest Nandos is and it says "I don't know what that is" and offers to search the web.   

    You can also use Siri for things like taking notes, playing music or videos, checking the weather or listening to notifications. 

  • While Android has included voice commands for some time, the most recent version – Jelly Bean – also has Google Now, which isn't quite the same thing as Siri or S-Voice as it's based around Search and other Google services. Nor is it the same as the other stock Android Voice commands system that focuses more on hardware control. That's not to say Now can't be used for handset control functions too, although it is a little more limited in this department than some of its competitors.

    For example, while you can say "where is the nearest Nandos?" (it gave the best answer of the bunch, pictured above) or "navigate to nearest petrol station" and it will do what you ask, you can't carry out system functions such as turning Wi-Fi on or off. I could only seem able to open certain Google-made apps through Now. Given the integration with things like Google Maps, telling it to take me to London Bridge automatically popped open Google Navigation with a route all loaded.

    The level of voice recognition and understanding of Google Now was very impressive, with it easily understanding individual words (particularly ones that are easy to misinterpret) or slightly vague questions, such as will I need a coat tomorrow, which it answered with ease. Google Now's voice recognition was easily the best overall at understanding what is being said.

    Google Now, is in some ways limited by its lack of ability to perform some system functions, but it can do things like open third-party apps that you've installed on the phone.

    Open Now and ask it to send an email, call or text one of your contacts and it will have no problem understanding the words, but bizarrely – in my testing at least – word recognition when asking it to add one number to another was atrocious; it simply couldn't understand the word 'add' or 'sum'.

    If I told it divide, multiply or work out the square root it got there first time, though. 

    Strangely, while newer Android phones have Now and the older Voice Control both apps are accessed separately. 

Topics: Smartphones, Mobile OS, Mobility

Ben Woods

About Ben Woods

With several years' experience covering everything in the world of telecoms and mobility, Ben's your man if it involves a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or any other piece of tech small enough to carry around with you.

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  • Assumptions...

    "Everyone has heard of Siri, the personal digital assistant hidden away inside your iPhone". I ain't got an iPhone. I never will have an iPhone. Please don't make that assumption again. Thank you.
    • Fine

      That's fine but you've never heard of Siri or seen an ad for it?
      • You mean those adds that make

        Siri look better, faster, and easier than it really is . . .
        • Siri and iPhone/iPad are just toys for ....

          Until an iPhone can actually deliver true multitasking, offer swype type functionality, integrate Google services properly, finally give me freedom to publish and use my phone as I wish, not keeping my hands tied to their wall garden, I'll consider an iPhone as a paper weight.

          If an iPhone can simultaneously control 32 different external devices running each a different application with 1 ms precision, and still allow me to use the device as a smartphone, then we are cool. Android can't do that off the shelf, but I have modified it to so for my personal use. Can't do that with an iPhone.

          Until I will only consider it as a toy for shallow people that don't know any better.
      • I've heard of it because of ZDnet!

        But here in Australia they don't advertise Siri. So unless your right in to fiddling with your phone, lots wouldn't have heard of it. I tend to agree with nuttyp on this one, to many poster and bloggers assume to much.
      • Seen or heard of it - nope.

        Nope .
      • Your or An

        Obviously I've heard of Siri however my comment was that the assumption was made that everyone has an iPhone. If Ben "the crAppler" Woods had said "Everyone has heard of Siri, the personal digital assistant hidden away inside an iPhone" then I would have been much happier.
    • I have an iphone 4

      It had an app called Siri by a company called Siri.

      Then apple bought the company called Siri and suddenly the app was gone.

      Then apple needed a bullet point feature spec list sheet item to sell the 4s because it wasn't actually better than the iphone 4 in any way.

      So siri came back as an iphone 4s exclusive because apple told me that the iphone 4 wasn't powerful enough to run siri. Refer to the first sentence in my post to see apple's lie.
      • Apple Lie

        Perhaps the original 'app' Siri did not require as many system resources as the iOS embedded Siri, hence the difference. Maybe it's not a lie after all...
        • then why did they pull it? (nt)

        • Worked better

          The original,Siri was better than the version Apple launched. Apple redirected and us "original" owners no longer had a server connection. Wasn't a resource issue as you were ale to jb your idevice and get it to work on the 4 and iPad2.
    • correctly put.

      That assumption is quite obvious in the comparison write up too... Especially when I read author's thoughts about Google Now.... I was like, was he sleeping all these times the GN is out...." It appeared to me that the GN is very new to him and the article does not do an authentic job of comparison.... I lost my interest so much so that I could not complete it... my apologies... then I concluded (may be my bias) .... that may be he has never looked out of Siri..., which... in my opinion.. taking all halla hoo and marketing gimmick around it into account... turned out to be joke....

      I think such comparisons shall bring in pertinent points like what all categories an app is capable to attend of... like... due to ongoing dispute with the level of integration of voice assistants, some functionality differences are inherent among apps... that should be highlighted first... before comparison... In fact, compare them on differences, then come about what similar they can do.... and who well in compared to each other...

      I may appear a little vague over here.... but a person with deep understanding about the task at hand ... will understand ... so is the work and duty of a blogger/reporter... to present it in an objective way so that it generates genuine interest rather than getting a feeling that we wasted time to listen to a fan boy...
      • What... are you... talking... about...

        Seriously, please read up on the correct usage of ellipses.
        • He's.... using....

          William Shatner... speak.
          Hallowed are the Ori
  • Windows Phone

    You are not using the Windows Phone one properly... It has key words that you say prior to do specific things, it has far better ambient recognition and excellent dictation features which Android/BB completely lack...
    • You should post your test

    • Here is what I like, and don't like, about WP8 voice

      What I like: The only time I ever use voice is while I'm driving which means features like being able to add, turn on WiFi, or find out when Formula One is are useless features. Features that are useless aren't features at all.

      With WP8, when a text comes in, my phone asks me if I want it read to me. I don't have to press anything, never have to take my eyes off the road or my hands off the wheel. After the text has been read, WP8 asks me if I want to respond. Again, no button pressing. If I answer yes, I can dictate a message and send it. The entire conversation is very natural and at no point do I look at the screen or press a button or tap a screen of any kind.

      If the other platforms do that as well, kudos. My iphone 4 certainly could not do that.

      What I don't like: dictation is lacking some much needed control. While it handles English extremely well, there is no way of correcting a single word or spelling out a proper noun. So everything up to and after dictation is fantastic on WP8. Dictation can be extremely frustrating if any mistakes are made. Your only 2 choices are to try again or just hope that the person on the other end can sound it out and figure it out.
      • Agree with Toddbottom3

        "With WP8, when a text comes in, my phone asks me if I want it read to me. I don't have to press anything, never have to take my eyes off the road or my hands off the wheel. After the text has been read, WP8 asks me if I want to respond. Again, no button pressing. If I answer yes, I can dictate a message and send it. The entire conversation is very natural and at no point do I look at the screen or press a button or tap a screen of any kind."

        I totally agree! This has to be one of my favorite features of windows phone 8. It works flawlessly.
        Howard Shure
    • Also, failed to play to its strengths

      Which is third party app integration. For instance, I can say, "Audible, resume current audiobook" and it will. "Dictionary.com define a word" and then the app will launch and ask me "what word would you like to define?" (It'd be better still if I could say, "...define ____.")

      I don't believe any of the other OSes can do those things.

      So, WP is (as usual) unique in it's approach. In some ways, much much better, and in other ways severely lacking...like the OS itself.

      And I cannot compare to Android, but I will contest that WP's voice recognition is much more accurate than Siri. I would bet Android's is better still, since Google have been doing this stuff for a long time.
      x I'm tc
      • Yes, this could be a strong feature

        Again, my usage is primarily in the car since I find that when I'm not in the car, voice control takes far longer than using the industry leading WP GUI. Metro for the win.

        So I've played around with it to control music but not often. What would be great is if I could use voice to control a navigation app without once having to look at or tap the screen. I haven't found a fully voice controlled navigation app though. Do you know of one?