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5 reasons why I prefer Perplexity over every other AI chatbot

Quality sources are just one feature that puts Perplexity above ChatGPT and Copilot. Here's why I pick it every time.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor
ZDNET's history according to Perplexity
Screenshot by Steven Vaughan-Nichols/ZDNET

I've been playing with artificial intelligence (AI) since Lisp was the state-of-the-art (that is to say, a while). Lately, like everyone else, I've been looking at AI a lot more closely. While it's nifty, I'm not that impressed -- but not because OpenAI ripped off Scarlett Johansson or Google's AI Overviews recommend I use glue to help cheese stick to my pizza. It's that even when I tell the chatbot of the day to summarize an Otter.ai transcription of a meeting, it gets things wrong.

Also: How to avoid AI Overviews in Google Search: Three easy ways

That's why I treat the results of my AI queries very, very cautiously. That said, I've finally found an AI chatbot whose work I can easily double-check to make sure it's in the ballpark of being right: Perplexity.

That may not sound like much, but it's a critical feature. Because AI chatbots are trained on information scraped from the web, they are all capable of hallucinating or spouting errant nonsense. For instance, Google pulled the glue-in-pizza-sauce suggestion from a sarcastic Reddit post.

Perplexity also hallucinates, but it values data from trustworthy sources. Here's what it can do, and why it's become my favorite AI chatbot.

1. Reliable for research

The quality and specifications behind Perplexity make it the first AI chatbot I've seen that I'd use as a true research tool (and I'm very picky about my research programs).

Also: The best AI chatbots: ChatGPT isn't the only one worth trying

For example, chances are you've never heard of him, but I did some doctoral work on Dr. Norman Leys, a 20th-century anti-imperialist. Perplexity gave me a decent summary of his career, and, importantly, pointed me to the academic studies where his life is mainly covered. Other AI chatbots gave me much broader and sometimes inaccurate information and didn't show me their sources. Because I studied his life, I could tell the difference. Most people would never know they'd been led astray. 

Perplexity does this with all the topics it covers. Whether you're doing academic, investment, or sports research, it can handle complex queries and provide accurate, detailed, and context-aware answers. 

2. Source and citation quality

Another element that makes Perplexity great for research is its sources. Most notably, it gathers its data from academic studies and other reliable sources. It doesn't consider Joe Random's comments to be just as valid as Dr. Josephine Expert's refined answer. 

The Focus feature also lets you fine-tune your searches and avoid some sources. When I was looking up Norman Leys, for example, I told Perplexity to use only academic sources, so I could avoid Wikipedia and other less reliable sites. Or, if you need helpful content on how to fix your washing machine, you can set it to focus only on YouTube videos. 

Also: The best AI search engines of 2024

While ChatGPT and Copilot also now offer citations, Perplexity breaks its attributions down even more precisely to tell you where it got its answers. For example, while it might still pull part of an answer from Reddit, it will tell you where to find the specific post it's quoting from. You can then look for yourself to see if you think the information is trustworthy. 

The program will also -- uniquely, in my experience -- tell me when it can't find an answer. The others all too often make up answers from whole cloth. While prone to hallucinations like all the LLMs, Perplexity appears to try to stick to the facts. 

3. Depth and organization

Take, for instance, another subject that's close to my heart, but most people don't know that well: I feel Shoeless Joe Jackson should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Unless you're a hardcore baseball fan, you'll most likely know of him from the movie Field of Dreams. While Perplexity doesn't mention the movie or the book it was based on, W.P. Kinsella's Shoeless Joe, the chatbot did a good job summarizing the arguments, pros and cons, for letting him back into baseball. 

Also: Is Microsoft Recall a 'privacy nightmare'? 7 reasons not to worry

Where Perplexity stands out from the rest is that it also provided additional questions to continue my search, including: What is the history of Shoeless Joe Jackson's ban from baseball? What other players have been banned from baseball? And "What is the Black Sox Scandal?" 

Whatever topic you're interested in, Perplexity will help you dig deeper into the subject. 

As you examine an issue, the Collections feature helps you organize your findings and thoughts in a structured manner. You can keep your research notes to yourself or share them with up to five co-workers or friends. 

Finally, the app, available for Android and iOS, makes accessing Perplexity AI on your smartphone easy. 

4. Integration with multiple LLMs

Unlike other popular AI chatbots, Perplexity AI leverages multiple LLMs, and can pull answers from ClaudeGPT-4o, and Mistral, in addition to its own proprietary models. 

This multimodel approach allows you to choose the best model for your specific needs, enhancing the flexibility and accuracy of the responses. The Pro version lets you toggle between different LLMs, getting users with a tailored search experience or simply giving you the opportunity to see the differences in answers between chatbots without exiting Perplexity.

To switch between models, take the following steps:

  1. Open Perplexity AI on your browser and log into your account.

  2. Click on the gear icon in the interface's bottom-left corner to open the Settings menu.

  3. In the Settings menu, look for the AI Model section under the Perplexity Pro subsection.

  4. Select from the available models, including GPT-4 Turbo, Claude 3, Mistral's Large, and Perplexity's experimental model.

  5. After selecting your preferred model, ensure that you save the changes.

5. Optimized news and search

Perplexity pulls information from the web in real time, a feature that only just came to the free version of ChatGPT. While many chatbots rely on static datasets, Perplexity continuously updates its knowledge base by indexing the web daily, meaning I get relevant information for my questions. 

Perplexity is especially good at pulling relevant information from recent stories. So, while you may not be able to get up-to-the-minute news via the chatbot, you can get up-to-date news. For example, on May 27, I was able to get news about the recent death of basketball star and analyst Bill Walton.

Also: This new Perplexity AI feature can create reports for you from a single prompt

The tool also uses contextual search to bridge the gap between traditional search engines and LLMs. This enables you to make structured searches that can help you find exactly what you're looking for, rather than simply hoping that the right keywords will give you the answer you want on the first page of results. 

I much prefer this user experience over Google's, which I find is full of ads and AI-generated nonsense that may or may not answer my query. I may not be the only one who prefers Perplexity: a recent study from SEO analysis company BrightEdge found that "Referrals from Perplexity to brand sites are growing at nearly 40% month over month since January." In other words, people are using Perplexity for search. 

If you don't need Perplexity to search the web or news, and just need an answer to a programming question, you can click the Focus button and change it to "Writing mode." This will give you results only from Perplexity's LLMs. The results will look more like those that ChatGPT and other AI chatbots give you. 

Overall, Perplexity AI is my pick over other chatbots because it's excellent at detailed research, but it can also translate from one language to another, write document summaries, and answer both simple and complex questions. Plus, you can use it to create poems, code, email messages, and articles.

It doesn't do everything, though. Unlike other chatbots, such as Microsoft Copilot or ChatGPT with DALL-E 3, Perplexity does not include free AI image creation functionality. You can subscribe to Perplexity Pro -- $20 per month or $200 per year -- for basic AI-image creation tools, but they're not equal to the best AI image generators.

That said, if you need reliable, in-depth answers to your queries, it's my top choice. It may not get all the press that Google, Meta, Microsoft, or OpenAI have, but the results speak for themselves.

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