Smart assistants might be the tip of the iceberg in taking away our jobs in the future, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make use of them in the meantime. Virtual assistants like Cortana, Siri, Google Assistant, and many others, are now a major feature of smartphones and tablets, so knowing which one is best could have a major impact on what your next hardware purchase might be.
To see how these different smart assistants measure up, we pitted Cortana vs. Siri vs. Google Assistant in a virtual assistant head to head.
Voice accuracy and speed
A digital assistant is primarily controlled by a user’s voice, and so its ability to know when it’s being spoken to, and to understand what’s being said, is important. Each one has a wake word or phrase that it listens for, such as “Hey Cortana,” “Ok, Google,” and “Alexa,” which tells the digital assistant to listen and respond to what’s said next — but if you have a niche accent or don’t like to shout, are some assistants better at understanding you than others?
While each of the major voice assistants offers good voice recognition, Google Assistant and Siri are better at picking up what you say, especially when there is environmental noise, or the assistant itself is relaying some information to the user. Microsoft claims Cortana has a good understanding of context, but it struggles much more than the other two in actually hearing what you’re saying. Silent environments are best when using it, as background noise can really interfere with it picking up what you’re asking of it.
In terms of response time to queries, Google Assistant comes out on top again, consistently providing fast replies to requests. Cortana and Siri were both hot on its heels, however. When the request is picked up clearly by the alternative digital assistants, Cortana can often edge out Siri, but it very much depends on the requests you make of them.
Features and capabilities
Whichever virtual assistant you use, they all support the same basic functions such as the ability to set calendar events, set alarms, make calls, send emails and messages for you, and play music. But each also has their quirks and special features which make them unique in their own ways.
For searches and responding to queries for information, Cortana uses Microsoft’s own Bing search engine, while both Siri and Google Assistant use Google. Although the latter two might use the same search platform when you ask for information on restaurants, Siri will prompt you to call or make a reservation. If you know where you want to eat already, all three can make a reservation or order food for you.
Google Assistant has another advantage for those who regularly use the Google search engine: it already knows a lot about you. While that does raise some concerns over privacy, it also means that it’s arguably the most personalized of services — at least when you first get started using it. Its Google Duplex natural voice system holds great promise for more natural communication with Google Assistant too, whether that’s between it and the owner, or with others.
Some of the features offered by the assistants perform differently depending on which platform you’re using them on. Google Assistant reads the news to you on a Home speaker, while Cortana will do that on a smartphone. Siri only likes playing music through Apple music, while Cortana and Google Assistant work just fine with Spotify and music stored on your device.
Arguably the starkest difference between the main virtual assistants is what hardware and platforms they can integrate with. Siri might work well with Homepod speakers, Airpod headphones, and on devices like the iPhone and iPad, but you can’t pull it up on your Android device or Windows PC. In comparison, Google Assistant is available on Android and iOS platforms, and with a few tweaks, you can even get it running on Windows or Linux. It also has compatible hardware options like the Google Home smart speaker and Chromecast, and is gradually being integrated with Chrome OS devices like the Google Pixelbook.
Cortana is much the same, with a wide range of hardware and software platform support. It’s integrated into Windows 10 devices of all kinds, including all Windows 10 PCs, the now-defunct Windows 10 Mobile, and the Xbox One console. Cortana also lives in a couple of smart devices, including the Harmon Kardon Invoke speaker, and there are increasingly powerful and important Cortana apps for iOS and Android.
Google Assistant wins out for now
Cortana, Siri, and Google Assistant are all fantastically capable virtual assistants and they have come on leaps and bounds in the past few years. We’re seeing them expand their software capabilities and platform support, but Google Assistant seems to be evolving the fastest and most effectively. It’s better at picking up what you’re saying and responding to your queries quickly. Better yet, its ecosystem support is broad and deep, letting you make use of it on the move whatever your smartphone of choice is.
Each of the digital assistants is at their best when using companion services from their developer. Siri works best with all of Apple’s services and hardware, while Cortana works great on Windows. Google Assistant though, is pretty flawless on most platforms and though it certainly benefits from integrating with some of Google’s other services, it’s versatile on a variety of platforms which gives it the edge.