Google, Samsung and LG have followed in Apple’s footsteps by launching voice-enabled personal assistants. We spent time with each personal assistant to identify which company has developed the strongest offering so far.
We relied on them for our answers, for our day-to-day communications, and for some banter during quiet times. Furthermore, each assistant was asked 30 questions in an effort to highlight its strengths and weaknesses.
Voice Search by Google
Wake up command: Ok Google
Google made headway fast by launching Voice Search not long after Apple showcased Siri. Voice Search wasn’t some quick-fix solution though; several reviews at the time recognised Voice Search as the better alternative to Apple’s Siri, because it better recognised the Australian accent and delivered accurate information quicker.
Voice Search still has an ear for the Aussie tongue, but our testing reveals it does suffer from a few problems. Using the Nexus 5, we found Google’s Voice search focussed too heavily on searching for things on Google, as opposed to focussing on using the Nexus 5 to do things.
A shining example of this occurred when we asked Voice Search repeatedly to play Dirty Paws by Of Monsters and Men. Instead of finding the track on the smartphone’s local storage and playing it in the music player, it continually suggested we purchase it again from the Google Play store. Voice Search was the only assistant which shamelessly spruiked itself when asked to play music.
Another example took place when we asked Voice Search to update our Facebook status. Instead of opening the application like the other assistants, it decided to perform a Google search for “update my Facebook status”.
...it has no tolerance for humour
Voice Search does sound significantly more natural than LG and Samsung’s offerings, but it has no tolerance for humour. Any time you appeal to its sense of personality, say by asking it to tell you a joke or if it loves you, it simply deflects by searching for the terms on Google.
However, if you are looking for an assistant that will schedule your errands and find you answers, Voice Search won’t disappoint. Other areas it far surpassed its rivals include when we asked it to convert currency or to translate something from one language into another. Not only did it quickly retrieve the translation in text, but it also recited the translation fluently.
Voice Search also benefits from Google’s knowledge graph. This means that you can ask Voice Search a series of qualifying questions in succession and it will accurately deliver an answer. Here’s an example of how it works:
“Who was Nelson Mandela?”
“How old was he?”
“Was he married?”
This level of understanding is unique to Voice Search and it’s better for it. The only drawback takes place when one of the follow-up questions isn’t accurately understood.
Siri by Apple
Wake up command: None
Apple’s Siri has made headlines previously for its witty repartee, and it appears over time the personal assistant has grown in confidence and capabilities. We tested Siri on an iPhone 5S and an iPad Air, and found it generally outperformed most of its rivals. It delivered some of the most detailed information when it came to stock prices, biographies, and the locations of nearby restaurants and shops. It also excelled at drafting text messages, emails, reminders and setting alarms.
Siri made headlines a few years ago for generating web results that suggested Samsung made the best smartphone in the world. When we asked Siri who makes the best smartphone, the personal assistant hit back with a sarcastic ‘seriously’, as though any iPhone owner would be well aware of the answer.
Siri personalised the experience by relying on the functions the iPhone can perform — such as launching applications — rather than scouring the Web at every opportunity. To top it off, all of this was performed by an animated assistant. If any of the assistants have a face, it would be Siri.
There are a few areas in which Siri can be improved. When we asked Siri “who won the Oscar for Best Picture”, it didn’t retrieve news of 12 Years a Slave getting the gong. Instead it populated a list of previous best winners from Rotten Tomatoes' inventory. Over the years, Apple has decreased Siri’s reliance on Google when it needs to generate answers. We feel this is one instance where Apple’s pride comes at the user’s expense.
Siri struggled with movies in general. When we asked the personal assistant what the session times for American Hustle and 12 years a slave were, it wouldn’t search for cinemas beyond our suburb of North Sydney. Frankly, these are minor gripes that were quickly mended by asking Siri to launch the IMDb app.
Voice Mate by LG
Wake up command: LG Mobile
Testing Voice Mate on the LG G Flex revealed LG’s personal assistant isn’t as mature as its rivals. Think of Voice Mate as an interning university student rather than an executive assistant.
Whereas the other PAs are ready at the drop of a hat, Voice Mate suffers from some notable lag. It also struggles to compose emails and draft reminders.
There are times it is clumsy and limited, but overall this personal assistant has enough cheer and enthusiasm to overcome its shortcomings. Voice Mate doesn’t retreat to the background once you use it for a search; instead a transparent widget remains present in case you’d like to use it again. This is a great innovation.
The personal assistants of Samsung, Apple and Google can all generate a Web page with restaurant listings, but LG’s assistant is the only one that will go one further by taking you right to Google’s Maps application.
And it has the same kind of fun personality you would find from an interning university student. When we asked Voice Mate the existential question “what is the meaning of life?”, it quickly responded “I’m hoping dessert is involved”.
Voice Mate isn’t perfect, but we’re confident LG is making strides with its personal assistant.
S Voice by Samsung
Wake up command Hi Galaxy
S-Voice has come a long way since its original launch on the Galaxy S3 a couple of years ago, but the personal assistant still has some way to go. When we tested S-Voice on a Galaxy NotePro (12.2) and a Galaxy S4, we found it struggled with some of the fundamental basics.
“S-Voice does not currently support this feature” is the reply we received when we asked it to draft an email. S-Voice also struggled when we asked it to retrieve information on stock prices, identify the closest Dick Smith retail store and translate prompts from one language to another.
There are other drawbacks, too. S-Voice is one of the slower personal assistants as it often repeats your instructions in its robotic voice. Compared to Google’s Voice Search, which just serves up a response quickly, S-Voice lags behind.
On the plus side, S-Voice does score some points for its personality. You can ask it to tell you jokes and it will recite the kind of cringing quip your father might make at a Christmas dinner. Nor does it play coy; it believes Samsung makes the best smartphone in the world.
Apple's and Google’s personal assistants were head-to-head as they returned 80 per cent of queries correctly. Samsung's and LG’s personal assistants followed closely with 76 and 73 per cent respectively. The numbers reveal the competition was tight; however, we found one clear winner.
Apple’s Siri proved to be the stand-out personal assistant. It consistently delivers accurate information, presents the findings in easy-to-digest language and tables, and, unlike Google’s Voice Search, it taps into the functionality of your smartphone — and not that of a search engine. The other personal assistants excel in a few areas, but Apple’s Siri performs well across the board.