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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.