Virtual personal assistant shootout: Talk the talk

GSMArena team, 12 February 2013.

Google Now test

Moving on to Google Now and its performance in our test..

What time is it?

A simple question, which Google Now answered without hesitation. As an added bonus, it showed us the current location of the device below the clock.

What should I get done today? (What are my appointments for today? What is my calendar for today?)

One of the main tasks of every personal assistant is to report the upcoming agenda of its employer. Unfortunately, Google Now failed to oblige here, as for now it's calendar-managing abilities end up with creating new appointments.

Read me the news / Tell me something interesting

Alas, Google Now couldn't update us on the latest news. It couldn't think of anything interesting to share with us while we were having breakfast, either. Not quite the sociable type, this Now guy.

How's the traffic to work?

Interestingly, Google failed to give us information on that, too. To be perfectly honest, we didn't have our work address set up in the first place, but even so, Google Now could have been kind enough to ask us to enter it and then give us the relevant information.

By the way, the service didn't give us any traffic information with a work address already entered. It seems the only way to know that is by looking at the notifications it automatically creates for you.

Do I need to take an umbrella today?

It turns out that Google Now could be a bit more flexible and managed to answer this simple question for us.

Recommend me a movie / Show me reviews of The Dark Knight Rises / Who is the director of The Dark Knight Rises?

This is where the power of Google's Knowledge Graph kicked in and fed Now with an answer to our question. Ideally, we would have liked a more detailed answer to our question, but regardless, it got the job done.

Who is Batman?

In spite of fetching and displaying the right answer, the assistant didn't read it aloud. It's not a bad result, but it wouldn't have cost anything to be read to us.

Play Dream Theater

Here Google Now gives you to option to choose the source for playing the music. In our case, that was either YouTube or Play Music. We chose the latter. The good thing is that Now didn't waste any time asking us which song to play and just picked one at random. Some could find it irritating, but we liked the immediate action.

It should be noted that we also asked Now to also skip a track and create a playlist of Dream Theater songs, but it failed to fulfill both of these requests.

Who is Dream Theater?

Just like before, Now found the relevant information and displayed it to us.

After catching a movie and listening to some music, it's time to focus our attention on sports. Could Google be of any help here?

When is the next Barcelona football game?

Since Barcelona is our favorite football team, we asked when they are going to play next. Again, thanks to some Knowledge Graph magic, Google was able to give us the full schedule of the team's upcoming matches and past results.

How many championships has Barcelona won?

A trick question, which Now couldn't answer. Instead, it placed a Google search for us.

Where's a fun karaoke bar? / Call a karaoke bar.

Google searched for Karaoke bars, but didn't point out to any specific one. On our second request to place a call, it picked one at random and suggested we should call it. We aren't sure the reason for picking that bar - positive user reviews, competitive prices or whether it was closest to our location - but whatever it is, at least Google Now tried.

Find me a Starbucks coffee shop nearby.

When explicitly asked for a coffee shop nearby, Google successfully tried to navigate us to one.

Take me to the White House on foot.

Despite being a pretty long walk, Google got us directions to the White House without any trouble.

How is Google doing on the stock market today? / Show me Apple stock. / Should I invest in Apple stock? / Show me Google stock.

While Google Now didn't provide an answer how it's doing on the stock market, it showed us relevant results for its stock pricing. It even showed Apple's stock pricing, too.

What is the status of Lufthansa flight 130? / Did flight US Airlines 700 arrive on time?

Impressively, the service for tracking flight statuses works like a charm and Google Now handled those questions with ease.

Call Batman / Call Dexter / Send Batman a text message "I am going to be late, meet me at the bat cave."

Google Now has been taught the basic personal assistant tasks and it was able to call a contact from the contacts book and also compose a text message.

Tweet "I am so excited" / Post to Facebook "I'm so excited" / Update Google+ "It's worth it".

Understandably, Google isn't very fond of neither Twitter nor Facebook, since the search giant sports its own social network dubbed Google+. As you would imagine, it had no problems updating our status on that one.

You make me smile, thank you.

We are sure that complimenting Google Now made it blush, but it didn't return us any assistant-like response. Instead, it placed a search.

Tell me a joke.

It's all business and no play for Google Now and it's cold assistant heart left us searching for a joke on our own.

What is 18.3% of 192?

Math is one of Google's strong sides, so it didn't experience any issues giving an answer to our question.

Define "synopsis"

The definition was read out loud, again thanks to Google's Knowledge Graph.

I am meeting John in two days. / Set an appointment in two days to meet John.

Google Now is capable of creating appointments for us, but didn't quite understand what we meant when saying "in two days".

What's the cost of fuel these days? / What is the price of gas

Google has a lot of information on its servers, but it looks like that prices of gas isn't there just yet.

Wrap up

Google Now didn't have a particularly high percentage of right answers and chose to resort to googling stuff for us more than the other two contestants. It's not that those Google searches aren't helpful - more often than not what we were looking for was in the first result, but that's not what a proper virtual assistant should do.

Instead, Google Now feels more like a voice-powered extension to the company's search engine (which it actually is) that can occasionally read you some of the results. This might not be too bad though, particularly when you consider that it was also the fastest of the three. Besides, the cards it automatically generates are surprisingly useful, so very often you don't even need to launch the actual application to get the needed information.

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