AI assistants have become a large part of the smartphone and PC experience over the last couple of years, and the ever increasing competition in this space has led to a lot of improvements across the board as well. In this showdown, we pit five of the most popular AI assistants – Google Assistant, Siri, Bixby, Amazon Alexa, and Cortana – against each other to find out which one is the best!
Things to know
All five of these assistants have a lot in common to start with and feature a lot of the some functionality and capabilities. You can usually access them with a press of a button, most of them are built into their various operating systems, they can all perform and access web searches, and they all have base apps or dedicated home screen pages to show additional information like the weather, news, reminders, and more. The basic experience is undoubtedly very similar when comparing the five assistants.
Choosing an AI assistant generally means that you are also picking the apps and device it supports, and vice versa.
That said, there are a few things that are worth mentioning. Unsurprisingly, each assistant works best within their own ecosystem. Google Assistant works best with Google apps, Chromecast, Google Home, and other Google devices, Alexa gives its best performance with Amazon Fire tablets, Fire Sticks, and the Echo devices, and that’s how it goes for Siri, Bixby, and Cortana as well. Choosing an AI assistant generally means that you are also picking the apps and device it supports, and vice versa.
And that can be a huge time saver for you even before you dive into any comparison of capabilities. If you are firmly ensconced in a particular ecosystem, your best bet, generally speaking, is to just stick to the AI Assistant that works best with that ecosystem. Siri doesn’t work well with Gmail, Cortana doesn’t play well with Youtube, and while Google Assistant does function across third-party apps, you get the best results with Google-built apps like Google Play Music and Google Keep.
In our test, if an assistant opens a web search or simply doesn't complete the task, it has failed that particular test.
Moving on to the tests, we asked all the assistants a variety of questions with varying degrees of difficulties to see how they perform, and if at any point the assistant opens a web search or simply doesn’t complete the task, it has failed that particular test. We also tested all of these on their home turf, which is why you will see Cortana running on a Windows 10 PC. You should definitely check out the video above for the in-depth details, but below is a quick summary of the various tests and results.
Test #1 – Answering basic questions
We first start with basic, easy questions that no AI assistant should have any difficulty with. Tasks involved questions about the weather, when the next solar eclipse is, sports scores, telling a joke, and movie show times.
As expected, all five assistants performed very well, and we almost always found what we were looking for, but Bixby appeared to struggle with direct commands until provided the proper context. However, if something doesn’t work with Bixby, you can always ask it to perform a Google Search with the same question and piggyback off of Google’s excellent responses, which is definitely an odd workaround, but functional nonetheless.
As far as the two different answers in the video for the solar eclipse question are concerned, neither is actually wrong. The next eclipse in the US is in 2024, while the next one somewhere else in the world will be in 2018. Some may appreciate the first answer since that took into account my current location when answering it, while the second answer is the one that is factually correct. To get the most accurate answer, you can make the question more specific as well.
Test #2 – Performing simple tasks
In the next test, we ask the assistants to perform simple tasks that they shouldn’t have any trouble completing. These are native commands for the most part that either require no third-party apps or very obvious ones to complete a task. Tasks involved setting a reminder, playing a song/video on YouTube, opening the web browser, checking my calendar, and finding directions.
Once again, none of the assistants had any issues and performed admirably. One takeaway here is that YouTube support is surprisingly not as good as expected. While Bixby and Google Assistant had no troubles, the other three did, and the lack of support is odd when considering that YouTube is the most popular video streaming service in the world. That said, Alexa does come with YouTube support with other Amazon devices like the Echo.
Bixby, Google Assistant, and Siri also get bonus points for being able to perform multiple, chained tasks together, like launching a web browser and opening a specific web page. Worth noting is that the only assistant that didn’t struggle in any category to even some extent here is the Google Assistant.
Test #3 – Navigating complex tasks
The final set of questions represent “Hard mode.” These are complex tasks that will certainly require third-party app integration of some type. This is the bleeding edge of what these assistants can accomplish, and even if things don’t work as well as expected now, this is the functionality that will be expanded the most over the next couple of years. Tasks involved turning on the (Philips Hue) lights, fitness tracking, booking an Uber, ordering food, and downloading an app.
It has to be mentioned that Bixby does work with Philips Hue lights, but that requires a $50 Samsung Smart Hub in order to do so. This is definitely not a worthwhile investment if you only have a few smart home devices, especially so when other free assistants can work perfectly fine with Hue lights. Additionally, Cortana does not have native support for Philips Hue either, requiring a third-party app to be downloaded called Huetro, which worked on both Windows 10 and the Xbox One.
Other than that, it is difficult to arrive at a definite answer for which one is the best because a lot of these tasks require complicated setups or have other limitations. For example, Siri can order pizza for you but it is location dependent, and Google Assistant can hail an Uber and order food, but only when using Google Home.
Overall, functionality is generally unstable or incomplete, but things do look promising with all five assistants to some extent. Siri and Google Assistant could have done better if the feature rollout was more consistent across devices or regions, and while Cortana managed to perform a lot of the tasks, multiple attempts were required. Alexa ended up being the best in this category after failing to answer just one question and despite being used on a cheap, under-powered tablet.
Final thoughts – Which is the best?
The Google Assistant is exceptional at context, which is one of the drawbacks of most other personal assistant apps. With other assistants, you have to get the command just right in order to get the task completed, but the Google Assistant is very good at figuring out what you need even if you ask it to do the same thing in entirely different ways.
However, it is incredibly disappointing to see that all the fun features are exclusively saved for Google Home, like hailing an Uber, casting video, ordering a pizza, and more. While these features will no doubt come to phones eventually, for now Home is where it’s at. The Google Assistant is definitely the best all-around pick, though, even if we have to wait for the extra features to make their way to other Google devices.
Amazon Alexa is probably the most customizable assistant of the lot. It is quite basic out of the box, but you can install additional “skills” that dramatically increase its functionality. I had to install numerous skills over the course of making the video, and most of them work really well. It’s up to you how much skills-adding you want to do to get the assistant you want.
Additionally, Alexa excels at gathering information over conversation in order to complete a task, as you saw while I was ordering a pizza. As far as pure functionality is concerned, Alexa can do more than all of the other AI Assistants, and Alexa-enabled devices work incredibly well with one another. The only disappointment here is that there aren’t a lot of devices out there that run Alexa.
Siri also performed surprisingly well during every round of this text. Apple has been doing a great job of keeping Siri competitive with everybody else, and Siri definitely feels like a solid option. Of course, Siri is the natural choice for anyone in Apple’s ecosystem, and few folks would switch from Android simply for Siri. The most impressive part however is its backwards compatibility.
As long as your device can run one of the newer versions of iOS that feature Siri support, you are good to go. This test was performed on a first gen. iPad Air, and I know that the experience was no different than it would have been on the latest iPhone. Apple deserves a lot of credit for providing a consistent feel and feature set across both older and newer devices. Siri may not be the best choice, but it is a safe choice, especially if you are stuck on an older Apple device that can still receive OS updates.
Cortana’s biggest strength lies in the fact that it is available everywhere, including iOS, Android, Windows 10, and even the Xbox One. It is available on more devices than every other personal assistant and it’s not even a close competition in this regard. However, it is quickly falling behind when it comes to third-party integration and more advanced tasks. Cortana is definitely not lacking in potential, but Microsoft really needs to step up their game a lot in order to be a driving force in this space.
Finally, we have the wild card that is Bixby. Bixby did a surprisingly good job during some of our testing, and where it excels the most is in feeling like an actual personal assistant. When it does something, Bixby has the ability to emulate screen taps like an actual person, allowing it to interact with on-screen elements better than any other assistant.
Bixby is unrivaled when it comes to boring, mundane tasks like rotating images in your gallery, downloading apps, erasing your browser history, and a lot more. It’s really too bad that Bixby will be available with only a handful of devices and that its home automation features are stuck behind a $50 Samsung hub. It still needs a lot of work though, especially with its tertiary features like Bixby Vision. Overall, it is definitely better than Cortana, and at least as good as Siri.
So there you have it for this comparison of the five most popular AI Assistants out there! Which one do you consider the best? Do share your thoughts in the comments section below!