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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  • 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.

  • Conclusion

    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.

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?