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BlackBerry's voice control system on the BlackBerry 10 OS is the new kid on this block.
Like Siri it can be used for things like sending text messages, placing calls or scheduling a meeting or reminder. It can also be used to take notes or to dictate other text.
Word recognition on the BlackBerry system is actually pretty accurate — most of the time it seems to understand what is being said if you speak clearly — but it can't understand natural language in quite the same way as Siri and Now. For example, if you say 'take a picture', the handset responds with 'do you want to search the internet for take a picture?' However, say 'open camera' and it can do that.
Like Siri, the BlackBerry system asks for confirmation of commands. I asked it to send an email to Ben Woods and it responded by asking which Ben Woods email address in the address book I would like to send it to, all achievable through voice commands.
It also has quite a granular level of control of the information being entered or edited, for example, when scheduling an appointment or writing an email it will allow you to select and edit each part of the message (time, title – for an appointment, or things like subject line, body, recipients for an email) without needing to touch the handset.
It did occasionally find it difficult to recognise confusable commands. Such as, instructing it to set a reminder that it was Ben Woods' birthday tomorrow ended up in a calendar entry saying 'Ben would birthday'. It's only a minor point, but worth keeping an eye on if you're sending messages to people that have similar sounding names.
Asking the BlackBerry Z10 where the nearest Nandos is resulted in the phone offering to search the web for the closest branch.
Where the BlackBerry falls hardest is the lack of a partnership with a service like Wolfram Alpha, as offered by Siri. Asking it any kind of mathematical addition or division simply resulted in it offering to search the web, despite understanding every word, rather than displaying the result.
However, the voice commands are pretty powerful overall. You can open any app on the phone or search for any phrase, contact, word or anything else all via search and it will understand what you are saying quite a lot of the time. And if social networking is your thing, you can update your status on Facebook or post a Tweet without using your hands.
Windows Phone, like all the others, offers a voice control system but without some of the finesse or detailed features of other systems.
For example, asking it to text a contact in the contacts list returned the correct result without a problem, even prompting for the dictation of the rest of the message and confirmation of whether I wanted to send it. Google Now, by contrast, simply pops up the composition window. However, actually trying to use the system to dictate a message was incredibly frustrating.
Overall, the Windows Phone voice control feels a little less 'intelligent' than some of the others – asking it questions that you might ask any of the other systems usually results in a web search. For example, ask it to turn the Wi-Fi on or off and it can't help you, but it's bizarrely accurate if you use it to open apps on the device.
Think of the Windows Phone voice control system as less of a virtual assistant and more of a voice search tool – nearly everything you do will result in a Bing search, anyway.
Update: Some comments below pointed out the power of Windows Phone's app control system, so I went back for another look. Sure enough, while Windows Phone 8 did pose some frustrating problems in areas where others excelled it does offer features that the others do not.
For example, saying "open BBC News most read" resulted in the BBC News app opening and then the handset read aloud the headlines of each of the ten most read articles. Other apps also support this kind of action, with Audible allowing you to go directly to your library or specific audiobook by saying "open my Audible library", for example.
However, this functionality seems to be app specific and similar tests on apps such as Epicurious and Amazon could do no more than simply open the app.
Voice control has been around for a good while now, so it's frustrating that it still isn't perfect as that's what it really needs to be if it wants to be a viable way to interact with your phone in a dependable way. You wouldn't be very happy if half the time you pressed a button it did what you wanted and the other half it did nothing, or worse, something you actually didn't want — and sadly that's a big part of the experience with voice control.
Using the software indoors (where these were tested) improves the chances of it doing what you want, and out of the bunch Google Now was the most useful and best at recognising what was being said, that's not to say that Siri has nothing to offer — clearly its partnership with Wolfram Alpha is one of its strongest points, and a factor that other systems would do well to provide in some way.
As for Windows Phone's voice control in my experience it's just not good enough to be useful or reliable — although it is a handy way to quickly open apps.
BlackBerry's system sits somewhere in the middle of the pack, it has hardware functionality like being able to switch Bluetooth on or off, but its actual recognition is a little hit-and-miss at times: still, it fared better than Windows Phone 8.
The question isn't really which voice control system is better, right now it's more about which has the biggest limitations.