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Cortana vs Google Now vs Siri: Which is best?

Andrew Williams by

Digital Assistants
Digital Assistants

Which is the Best Virtual Assistant?

Digital assistants have been around for decades. Remember Clippy, the irritating Microsoft Word assistant, used as far back as the 1997?

However, it is just now that we are starting to see them try to push their way into our day-to-day lives. The iPhone’s Siri, Android’s Google Now and Windows Phone 8.1’s Cortana are all highly advanced assistants, complete with artificial intelligence and remarkably accurate voice recognition. As long as you don’t have a thick accent, that is.

But which is the best of the lot? We’ve had a closer look at these three main systems to find out.

VIDEO: Cortana vs Siri vs Google Now: Which digital assistant is best for cheating in a pub quiz?

MORE: Windows Phone 8.1 review


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Which phones use it? iPhones

How do you use it? You just press down on the main select button and wait for Siri to pop up. You just talk to Siri, rather than typing into a box. She’s a good listener. You can choose her/his gender too.

SiriWhat can it do?

• Search the web

• Send SMS texts

• Make calls

• Open apps

• Make FaceTime Calls

• Sent tweets

• Update Facbook statuses

• Setup/alter calendar events

• Look up calendar details

• Set alarms

• Change some phone settings

• Look up movie details

• Look up directions in Apple Maps

• Locate nearby attractions/restaurants and so on

• Play music

• Read out text messages

What can it not do?

• Read things out other than unread text messages

• Send Facebook messages

• Interact with most third-party apps

• Pre-empt what you want

Is Siri any Good?

Siri is powered by some very interesting technology, which tries not just to understand your words but your sentences. Understanding meaning is a lot trickier than just identifying words.

However, we don’t know many people who regularly use Siri. It feels like quite a separate module within iOS, and one that exists in part because it’s cool, rather than an essential part of the everyday use of the phone.

Google Now

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Which phones use it? Android phones with version 4.1 or higher

How do you use it? It varies depending on the phone, but the consistent way to get Google Now up is to hold your finger down on the Home button until the Google button pops up. You don’t have to talk to Google Now – it’s not a primarily voice-driven assistant. Instead, it relays its information through info cards it gives you automatically.

You don’t ask for these cards directly. Instead, Google Now pre-empts the sort of information you’ll need. Staples include the weather, the public transport route back home and new content on sites you’ve visited recently.

It’ll gather this information ‘organically’ as you use the phone, but you can tell Google Now about your preferences directly. You can let Now know about your favourite sports teams, the stocks you follow and where you work and live.

If you want to talk to Google Now, you can do. Up at the top of the screen is a Google search bar, to the right of which is a little microphone to enable the voice feature.

Google NowWhat can it do?

• Tell you the weather

• Tell you how to get home by car

• Tell you how get home on foot

• How to get home by bus/train

• Remind you about calendar events

• Give you updates on your sports team

• Give you stock updates

• Offer info based on your web searches

• Lets you search the web with your voice/typing

What can it not do?

• Let you search for anything within the Now interface

Is Google Now any good?

Google Now seems to have been built with the knowledge that not a great amount of people are that keen on using a voice assistant. Google has its own voice recognition and voice synthesis software that could have easily been made the front end of Google Now, but instead the voice feature is relegated. You can use it (there’s a mic icon at the top of the New screen), but it’s not really what Google Now is about.

The way it works can initially seem underwhelming, and we imagine that many Android owners don’t use it at all – even if they are signed up to use it. However, its laidback style is rather less irritating and gimmicky than a voice assistant.

Google Now will really come into its own as part of Google’s smartwatches. It seems to be at the heart of Android Wear, which is the smartwatch side of Android – revealed in March 2014. Google Now’s simple card system will make a lot more sense on the small screen of a watch.


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Which phones use it? Windows Phone 8.1 mobiles

How do you use it? Cortana is taking over as the Search part of Windows Phone 8.1. It’s not just a speech assistant, but rather both a Siri-like voice assistant and an intelligent text analyser – so you can type, not just talk, to Cortana. You long-press the search button to make Cortana start listening, or a quick tap to type.

Cortana feels a bit like an amalgamation of the ideas behind Siri and Google Now. For example, you can tool Cortana up with information about your interests and life – such as your interests, hours when you don’t want to be disturbed and so on. It also learns more about you based on your Bing search history. Or you can talk to it – your choice.

CortanaWhat can it do?

• Make calls

• Send text messages

• Search the web (using Bing)

• Add/change calendar events

• Make notes

• Offer weather reports

• Tell you how long it’ll take to get to home/work

• Offer travel advice

• … and more (we’re yet to fully examine Cortana for ourselves)

Is Cortana any good?

It’s a little early to tell exactly how good Cortana will be. The first phones to use it haven’t arrived yet, and we’ve only had a brief play to date. However, it has bags of promise.

It feels less gimmicky than Siri and takes a similar data-harvest approach to Google Now. Cortana could offer the best of both – a bit of flashiness to show off with, plus enough substance to make it a good day-to-day function. We’ll be back with more impressions once we’ve had more chance to evaluate the system.

So which is the best?

Cortana and Google Now are more clever and dynamic in their approach than Siri, which feels more like the 'movie version' of a virtual assistant than one people are actually likely to use. As yet it's a bit early to tell whether Cortana will be better than Google Now, but the pre-emptive approach these systems take is more progressive, and an important part of making both phones and future smartwatches easier to use.

Next, check out our round-up of the best mobile phones in the world

Go to comments


April 10, 2014, 11:33 am

Google Now can do more than the listed - it can control your music if using google music amongst other things but lots of the features are not well documented or known


April 10, 2014, 12:16 pm

Google for "Google Now Easter eggs"

Charles - The Great and Powerf

April 10, 2014, 5:54 pm

Google is trash. Gangsters of the tech industry. Bury all of them. Cortana will rock! It learns! Google hardly does what TellMe did in 2010.

Manzoor E Elahi

April 10, 2014, 6:38 pm

As suspected, and conformed after reading, this article should have been written after the weekend. WP8.1 preview reportedly drops on 14th.


April 11, 2014, 12:07 am

Whoever wrote this article I guess has never used Google Now as you can talk to it to perform tasks as set reminders, get directions, & more

Edin Orozco

April 11, 2014, 7:04 am

That's what I think... In Google Nexus 5 you can even activate the Google Now by voice even if the cellphone is in standby and if you are using another cellphone with Android 4.1.x and up with Google Now Launcher you can activate Google Now by voice in the desktop just by saying OK Google... This article is very flat of information I use Google Now a lot in my days and I can say is better than Siri...

Chris Bell

April 11, 2014, 7:34 am

Way off the mark with Google Now features. As mentioned by Darkedge there's many more voice control features than you're giving it credit for. Any phone running the Google Experience Launcher can instigate voice commands by saying "ok google" and has a dedicated Google Now home screen as the left most one. For those not using the experience launcher holding home will not work on Samsung phones or many other devices. If your phone has a touch home key swiping up from home to the Google circle which appears will get you there, as will use of the Google search or Google Now widgets which are universal.

One of the most powerful features is the integration of Google Now voice commands and Google Keep reminders which you don't mention at all. Simply saying "Ok google, remind me to buy apples at Morrisons supermarket" will set a location aware reminder to do just that.


April 12, 2014, 1:17 am

Also looks like the author never used Siri either with the statement that Siri cannot "Read things out other than unread text messages"....Really? How about one of the great unique features Siri – the ability to read all or selected email out loud, or search through and read my reminders, and the same with notes! I use Siri quite a bit, especially when I'm driving so I can keep my eyes on the road. This was obviously a very superficial article and more like link bait. If your going to write comparison articles at least do your homework.....


July 29, 2014, 4:07 pm

I had Siri. Never used it. Same with google now, was ok but not great. Cortana on the other hand just works, understands my accent (cockney) even when using the USA version (as UK version not out for a week or so. "wake me at 8 in the morning", and it does.

Barrett Boucher

July 31, 2014, 6:57 am

I just updated my Nokia 1320 with Windows Phone 8.1 and have used Cortana for two days. The voice recognition is excellent, the best I have experienced. However, it is painfully obvious that this is not an AI personal assistant. It can do basic things that were possible 20 years ago but I hoped that today we would have more "intelligence" built into these types of PA's. The hundred or so canned responses are extremely limited and it does not seem to have the capability to learn anything, you cannot follow up a voice query with another related query. It can send messages (SMS) very well but it cannot send email (ask for recipient, topic and message). It is fair at searching but no better than any other voice searching apps. It is good for very basic commands, for example, wake me up at 7 o'clock, no problem. The problem I see is that Microsoft, Google and Apple make billions and this is the best they can come up with in 2014, I am starting to wonder if I will live long enough to see a truly useful digital PA. I have a feeling, once I tire of the beautiful voice, I will just perform these tasks with the keyboard, there does not appear to be the depth that I believe can be achieved at this point in time. I should be able to carry on a conversation, however rudimentary, if only to filter searches. None of this is present, I can do better with the keyboard searches which should be obsolete by now on modern phones.

At first Cortana seems clever but once you actually use it, it is the same as all the others, throw in some shiny trinket (canned responses) as a marketing ploy but never actually make the PA break through, AI in infancy (this is not AI). Aside from the excellent Voice recognition, I think someone could actually do much better, especially with a few billion dollars.

Neill Buchanan

September 30, 2014, 7:52 am

I've not had an iPhone for over a year so maybe it has advanced by now but having owned Android and Windows phones too, the clear winner is Google. It's strongest showing as been on the Motorola Moto X, that can respond to voice whilst the device is sleeping. All devices with Google Now, for over a year now, however have contextual conversations, something @Barrett Boucher complained was lacking in these PAs... The common example of this working is asking about a landmark like Eiffel Tower, then asking to show me pictures, then how do I get there, call (to book tickets) etc... Google knows we are all taking about Eiffel Tower and that is a great intelligent PA tool. Aside from the showing pictures part of that example, this means it has given the ability to ask about an event or landmark and book tickets and get directions, so that you can do all that whilst driving home to pickup your wife (or other half, date, etc) to then carry on to your reservation.

When I used it, Siri and Cortana couldn't do more than one step at a time as a completely new command, some they couldn't do at all without further physical intervention by me such as tapping on the number the search brings up.

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