Cortana vs Google Now: Battle of the virtual assistants [VIDEO]

google cortana

There is a new kid on the block, and her name is Cortana. Earlier this morning Microsoft released Windows Phone 8.1 for developers around the world. Included in that update is their new virtual assistant that they hope will compete with the likes of Google Now and Siri. Google has a huge head start when it comes to providing information to users, but Microsoft is not a company to take lightly. How does Cortana stack up against the mighty Google Now? Let’s take a look.

Pre-Search Information

google cortana ui

The main feature that makes Google Now so great is all the information it can give you before you ask for it. Cortana also has this feature, which puts it in direct competition with Google. Cortana can give you information about news you’re interested in, sports scores, local weather, traffic, nearby events, and more. Google Now can do all of these things as well. They both have useful information at the ready, but it’s displayed in very different ways.

Google Now displays things in cards. If you want to adjust how an item is displayed you tap the three dots icon in the top right. If you want to remove a card from your list you just swipe it away. Cortana separates things into categories with separation between them. You can tap a button to “see more” or “hide” the information. Whether or not you like the design of one more than the other will depend on your personal taste. If you like Android’s design you will definitely be favoring Google Now.

Voice Search

The biggest consumer-facing feature of these two services is the voice search. This is the one thing that people just love to play around with. Siri is playful and funny, but she doesn’t provide much useful information. Google Now and Cortana can do a lot more for you. They help you get things done quickly and easily by just talking. In order to test the voice search for these two services I created a list of 14 common questions you might ask.

  1. What is the forecast for this weekend in Boston?
  2. Set a reminder to feed the dog at 5pm
  3. set an alarm for 8:30 am
  4. Play Daft Punk
  5. where is the nearest McDonald’s
  6. find me coffee nearby
  7. Open Twitter
  8. how far is it to cheddar’s?
  9. when is my next appointment
  10. show me nearby events
  11. show me photos of bunnies
  12. Did the tigers win yesterday?
  13. when do the red wings play?
  14. How old is Barack Obama?

As you will see in the video posted above, the results to these questions were fairly similar. In some cases Google Now was faster, in other cases Cortana was faster. The information given was also a bit different since they are using different search engines. One thing Cortana was better at was helping you take action after the initial query. For example, you can just say “yes” to setting a reminder instead of tapping an extra button. At the end of the day I was able to get the answer I needed 9/10 from both services. You should have no trouble with either one.

Surprisingly, Microsoft has done an excellent job with Cortana in this initial beta release. They have already been able to do almost everything that Google has done. The battle for virtual assistants just got very interesting. Microsoft will continue to improve Cortana as time goes on, as will Google with search. There is one thing that we can know for sure from this comparisons: Siri is in trouble.

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  • Fodografes

    Curious… What does Siri do better than Google Now?

    Edit: Serious question.

    • Defenestratus

      Respond to inquires with needlessly snarky answers.

      • http://about.me/overlordror Ashley King

        Cortana can be pretty snarky too. Just ask her if she’s better than Siri. :)

      • http://youtu.be/GvPlAyTG4ik?hd=1 1PhoneDoesnt.com

        yep, google now has the big win with less is more… going back and forth with siri or cortana is beyond slow and unnecessary for the majority IMO They are not A.I. they are preprogrammed, now EDI is a different story all together :)

    • Dan

      being a french Canadian, Siri seems to understand me better (dictation). I admit that Google Now has more relevant information though.

  • http://about.me/overlordror Ashley King

    Cortana seems like a nice first effort from Microsoft. Looking forward to seeing what else they do, but it’s clear Google Now returned some of those results much quicker.

  • scoter man1

    Red wings and Tigers! Yeaaa!

  • http://www.phandroid.com Quentyn Kennemer

    Cortana did pretty good. Amazing considering it’s in beta stages. Hopefully this keeps Google on their toes!

    • Marsg

      Lol that’s because they basically copied Google now, inverted the colors and changed the voice.

      • Mark Washington

        There you go!

      • Sean Royce

        Basically copied Google now? Couldn’t the same thing be said about them to Siri?

    • Roaduardo

      What I think is rediculous is Joe Belfiore’s transformation into a pathetic man-boy in a DESPERATE attempt to lure in the younger tech crowd. It’s tragic how Microsoft thinks if they try and make their clearly middle-aged execs look younger that will help their image. You’re 43 Joe, not 23. Let nature take its course you sad man. One reason among several why I can’t take Microsoft’s mobile business seriously any longer. Others in silicon valley are doing the same sad makeovers but his is the most cringe-worthy.

      • Sean Royce

        So what, he is trying to appeal to the younger market by growing his hair? Nice logic.

        • Roaduardo

          It’s not just the hair, it’s the measures these silicon valley execs are taking to look younger. Rather than rely on the merits of their products they’re desperate enough to think if they appear younger it’ll help their company but also help compete against the truly younger tech wizards rising up through the ranks.

          • Sean Royce

            You’re completely wrong. People change. He is just human.

          • Roaduardo

            Oh, ok. :)

          • Sean Royce

            You gave up too easily. You honestly need to learn people do change.

          • Roaduardo

            I wouldn’t say that, I just don’t have anything further to put forward to support my opinion. Which is just that, an opinion. Ageism is real but it’s still sad seeing these execs changing their appearance in such a way just to stay in competition.

          • Sean Royce

            Rightio mate.

  • Chucho Valladares

    Cortana’s voice is more natural, Google Now voice is somehow robotic. Also, with Google Now you can further deepen your initial search, don’t know if Cortana can keep up with that…

    • http://www.vgchartz.com SuperChunk

      I thought the exact opposite.

  • TheScientists

    Location based results were way off via Cortana on some of those results. Until that’s fixed Google gets the blue ribbon.

    I do like that Cortana uses more voice-based confirmations. Wish Google’s voice search did more of that, so that touching or even looking at the phone wasn’t necessary.

    • grumpyfuzz

      Google is starting to do that, at least in one that I know of. If you say Call “Name” and they have multiple numbers, it will ask for example, work or mobile, and you just say either one.

  • Robert Daniels

    I would like to see some comparison’s based on your contacts relationships and how each service handles things differently. Call my wife. Remind me to ask about the cookout when I talk to my brother.

    Would be good to see how each handles location based reminders. Remind me to get milk next time I’m at Publix.

  • DavidVarghese

    Man… if they used the voice actor for Cortana in Halo, I would totally go to XDA to see if anyone made a port to Android.

    • Paul_Werner

      They did

      • DavidVarghese

        Really? It sure doesn’t sound like it

        • Paul_Werner

          It may be due to how low the phone’s volume was in that video. At least they are saying it was her on The Verge:

          http://www.theverge.com/2014/4/2/5570866/cortana-windows-phone-8-1-digital-assistant

          • DavidVarghese

            Hmm you’re right… They should have made her (the voice actor) say whole phrases to make a more natural sounding voice. That would have set them over the top in terms of bad-assery. Right now, it sounds like a robot.

  • Crimsonshadow774

    They’ve been able to do most everything Google Now does because they’ve sat on the sidelines copying ideas like M$ always does. When is the last time they were actually first at anything? Especially in the mobile world. (Anything important, that is.)

    • Gideon Waxfarb

      ‘When is the last time they were actually first at anything?’

      Who knows? Who cares? Only fanboys, that’s who.

  • Jay

    Both are at least better than Siri

  • Nathan Bryant

    Windows has had plenty of time to sit back and see what they need in their assistant to compete with Google Now and or Siri. But if they were lacking then they needed it so hey. I’ll just say it is good. They both do some of the same things just a little different in some areas that may cause it to be a tad bit faster or just simply displaying the information differently. I think they did a pretty good job. If you’re gonna do it right, it’s better to be late vs not at all. I prefer Google Now though. Not a Windows Phone user. Also, I read Cortana is a little bit more integrated with it’s phone commands than Google Now. Not to many of those types of questions or commands were given though to see.

  • BronzeLincolns

    pretty good

  • Gideon Waxfarb

    One area where Siri actually smokes Google Now is being able to control functions on the phone. Pretty handy when your eyes are busy doing other things, like driving. For example, you can’t toggle most functions on and off using Google Now, not even on the Moto X. I wonder how Cortana does in this regard?

    • Mark Washington

      Good point ! I guess the real question about that Is who would do it? I tend to keep everything on at all times … Battery life is solid for a day anyways with my phone.

      • Gideon Waxfarb

        For Android users, noone does it. Because they can’t :)

        • Patrick Smithopolis

          Turning things on or off is usually a matter of just going to the notification shade on most Android phones.

          Siri and Cortana were meant to be personal assistants while Google Now was originally intended to be Google search with voice with proactive capabilities mixed in. I think Google is slowly turning Now into a personal assistant.

    • DavidB23

      Turning functions on and off on the iphone is more important because the iPhone battery is not so good. The high end android phones have pretty much conquered the battery issues, with the exception of the nexus 5. Smartphone isnt so smart if you have to turn half the features off so the battery will last.

      • Riley Biers

        this is the lamest excuse I’ve heard wow

      • lolwut

        That’s the most asinine thing I’ve read literally all day.

        And I’ve been on the Internet for like… 12 hours. So that’s a TON of stupid stuff and yours is, and I mean this, far and away, the stupidest of the day. Good work!

    • Crickerman

      I may be wrong but I think that Google hasn’t been able to do this due to a universal search patent that lead to an injunction on the galaxy nexus, I remember them having to patch the device to dumb down the search capability in order to lift the injunction:

      http://www.theverge.com/2012/7/3/3136102/google-samsung-software-update-galaxy-nexus-infringement

      http://www.fosspatents.com/2013/05/apple-identifies-certain-patents.html

    • Pitchy

      I’ve been using Robin for Android and ‘she’ is able to do some cool functions like this. For instance I can turn on/off the flashlight, wifi, bluetooth and functions like that. It seems to do more than Google Now does in aspects of controlling your device.

  • http://www.unshelled.me/ Bryan S Arnold

    I’m impressed that Cortana stay toe-to-toe with Google Now…! That was clear.

  • jfelts

  • jfelts

    Something I wish you could do on Google Now which you CAN do on Cortana is something like, “Remind me to discuss the birthday party the next time I talk to my brother”.

  • master94

    Both are really good, unlike Siri.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/pratikthakkar Pratik Thakkar

    I am pleasantly surprised. For once a Microsoft Beta product works well and is competitive. Competition is always good.

  • http://geeznblogged.wordpress.com sud007

    both are good but Cortana feels more personal

  • Crickerman

    I used to be a big windows ce and Windows mobile user, never really tried using Windows phone since android covers all of my uses. Being able to access the file directory system (I don’t think you can in Windows phone) is a must for me. That, and sideloading applications which I heard that you can do by getting a developer unlock. Also, it has to be able to use an Elm 327 OBD2 bluetooth adapter because I love being able to get diagnostics readings from my car.

    I’m liking the direction Microsoft is going so far with Nadella. I hope they continue improving Windows Phone

  • cooldoods

    Unless you’re a Windows Phone user, I don’t see the point of comparing Cortana with Google Now. Cortana is only available on Windows Phone and not on iOS or Android. Google Now is available on your Chrome browser, Chrome OS, and Android and iOS devices. Cortana is irrelevant to non-Windows Phone users.

    • Psykhe

      It is relevant to non-Windows Phone users precisely because they do not have access to it.

      If it would be significantly better (or worse) than Google Now it would be an incentive to (or not to) switch, just like the larger screen size of Android Phones can be an incentive to switch for an iOS user. Therefore a comparison is interesting to non-Windows Phone users because it answers the questions “Does this other ecosystem have (or miss) something I would like to have and cannot (or can) get with my current phone?”.

  • Steve

    I met the guy who owns a windows phone. He had red hair and was pretty cool. Didn’t really like his phone though.

  • ludist210

    It looks veeeeeeeeeery similar to the Active Display Google Now on my Moto X…(different color scheme of course)

  • Sean Royce

    Why must there always be jealous haters? They did a good job making a voice search assistant. Who cares.

  • Pitchy

    It seems that Cortona was faster on some things. I like her voice a lot better, but results wise, Google Now looks infinitely better the way information is displayed. I was rather impressed with Cortona. It’s not enough to make me switch from Android to Windows Phone, but I do like what Microsoft is doing and where they are going.

    Both seem to work a whole lot better than Siri.

  • Seth Forbus

    I think they were pretty much equal if I’m honest. I prefer Google now simply because it links in with my ecosystem of choice.

  • Corey0928

    From Detroit?

  • tekfr33kn

    I wonder how accurate Cortana really is with its searches. Consider that Microsoft has been caught scraping Google search data for years to make Bing appear useful. Is Cortana also using Google search data? Just a thought.

  • http://blog.sawilson.org/ Scott Wilson

    Chance to compete with Siri? That was worded awkwardly. Siri is garbage.

  • Jeffrey Heesch

    Looks kind of ugly to me.