Android Personal Assistant Showdown

Monday Jun 29th 2015 by Matt Hartley
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Which of the various Android personal assistants is your best choice for ease of use and helpfulness?

All too often, we hear someone boasting about the fun functionality behind the Siri personal assistant for the Apple iPhone. For Android users, this is annoying.

And this isn't just because we have Google Now. It's frustrating because unlike those iPhone users, we actually have a lot of choice when it comes to which personal assistant apps we use. In this article, I'll explore the default Google option, along with some of the best rated personal assistant apps from the Google Play Store.

To make this as fair as possible, I've assigned key tasks to each service. These tasks are: 1) send a text, 2) give me directions and 3) set appointments. I chose these tasks as they're the most common.

Google NowGoogle Now is the default assistant for Android devices. It's fairly easy to use, even for the novice. With Google Now enabled, I then asked the following questions.

  • Get directions to (insert business here.) The results were accurate and the time it takes to arrive was provided with directions via Google.
  • Send a text message to (insert person here.) Google asked me to clarify which of the people from my address book I wanted to send the text to that had a similar name. I clarified and Google then asked what my message should be. From there, the message was sent successfully.
  • Make a reminder for a set day and time. This is an area where Google was a little odd. First it asked me to name the appointment, and only after that could I assign a date/time. I also wasn't able to set a reminder for the appointment. I was hoping to make sure it beeped at me 2 hours from the schedule time. If I was using Google calendar instead, I would have this feature.

SkyviSkyvi tries pretty hard to feel natural to use. And it certainly differs in terms of interface from Google Now. With Skyvi installed and enabled, I then asked the following questions.

  • Get directions to (insert business here.) Instead of a list of businesses, I ended up with an alert that Skyvi wasn't able to get my location. Yes, location services was on. I even tried a third and fourth time...from outside. All I ended up with was a pop-up ad. I then tried the same command on my other phone. This time it worked. I was presented with a list of businesses matching my query. I was then instructed to say call, navigate or next. I chose next, then navigate. Navigation successfully loaded Google Maps for proper navigation.
  • Send a text message to (insert person here.) The app successfully duplicated the same results as Google Now did. And from there, successfully sent off my message.
  • Make a reminder for a set day and time. When I asked the app to make a reminder, it asked me what were the ingredients. I then clarified further by re-stating my query, this time with a date and time. The "ingredients" response was all I got back.

The biggest issue with the free version of Skyvi was the banner popping up asking me if I wanted to remove the ads. Additionally, Skyvi is able to read your text messages aloud, which is neat. However after the first few times I found this distracting.

Robin – When I installed Robin, I instantly felt like this app was better maintained than Skyvi. With this positive outlook in mind, I began asking my key questions for the app to respond to.

  • Get directions to (insert business here.) Unfortunately, this was worse than Skyvi. When I asked my direction query, I was told "anytime, 360." I tried being more specific, even with a town...I even asked with the entire address. The response was always the same – "anytime, 360."
  • Send a text message to (insert person here.) Again, the experience was horrid. After successfully bringing up a list of people matching my description...it then forces to me read off the entry verbatim. No options for skipping to the next entry were provided. Either say it exactly right or you're out of luck. Needless to say I stopped trying at this point.
  • Make a reminder for a set day and time. Surprisingly, the app did exactly what I had hoped for! It allowed me to setup a calendar reminder without any issues.

No only did this app fail to deliver, it also shot me off to a Google Play page and plugged another related app. Since Robin clearly isn't up to the job, maybe my phone was trying to rescue me? Still, if you only want to use this to make calendar reminders, then perhaps this is the app for you.

Indigo Virtual Assistant – As I installed Indigo for the first time, it immediately asked me which speech engine I wanted to use. This appealed to me, as the other apps didn't ask me this. Unfortunately this is where the happiness ended. After making my selection, I was then asked to register for an account. The registration page then goes on to ask me for the usual pertinent information, including my date of birth. That last one rubbed me the wrong way. It's none of their business and so obviously, I lied during registration. After I finished my registration, I was pleasantly surprised when the app told me aloud when my next appointment was. Now it's time to ask my usual queries and see if it can stand up to Google Now.

  • Get directions to (insert business here.) Now we're cooking! When I asked for directions to my usual business of choice, it gave me the option of using Google Maps or Waze! I love Waze, and obviously chose it. It them provided me with a list of options (correct one at the top) inside of Waze.
  • Send a text message to (insert person here.) Again, success was found here. It was provided with a list of potential matches. This time however, I was asked to click on the correct choice. Even though this might be doable with the other apps, Indigo got it right by forcing my hand for the sake of accuracy.
  • Make a reminder for a set day and time. Perfection was had yet again. Like Robin, my Calendar was used, which is my preference. But even better was that it allowed me to explain my appointment any way I wished. Place, date, and time was doable. Mentioning the same in reverse was also successful. The app didn't provide me with any way of setting up an alarm for a set time before the reminder was due, but worked well otherwise.

Thus far this is on par with Google Now with one notable exception – I can use Waze as my navigation option. I suspect Google allows me to do the same within the settings somewhere, but being prompted was a breath of fresh air.

And the best Android personal assistant is?

Determining the best application in this Android Personal Assistant showdown wasn't as difficult as I thought it'd be. Once I setup my basic expectations for each application, the rest fell right into place. Obviously Google Now is the primary winner. Often it's already installed and it can do just about anything you can imagine. My second choice has to be the Indigo Virtual Assistant. Tightly integrated with Google Now, it felt good and I really was happy to see that Waze was supported.

So which virtual assistant app do you prefer? If you're an iPhone user who has used Android assistants recently, I'd love to hear your perspective. I also hope to hear from existing Android users as to which virtual assistants they prefer. And if you don't like using them at all, feel free to share your reasons why.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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