Alexa vs. Siri vs. Google Assistant: Which Smart Assistant Wins?

As if managing our interpersonal relationships weren't already challenging enough in this digital day and age, now we have to worry about talking to artificial people as well. The rise of virtual assistants has been surprisingly swift, and the market hasn't slowed down yet. But with so many choices for intelligent agents, the question is, Where do you put your trust?

So here's a rundown of the current state of the art in the top three virtual assistants: Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant. We tested them on an Amazon Echo, iPhone 7 and Google Home, respectively, using a battery of questions to determine each of their skill levels.

While they offer many of the same features, each assistant has its own advantages and disadvantages — and, of course, the assistants' software-based nature means that they're all evolving at a rapid clip. But, as it stands today, this is how they fared.

General Knowledge

Back in the "old days," when I had a question, my parents would tell me to look it up. (Disclaimer: My parents were both librarians, so this wasn't unexpected.) These days, you can just ask a computer. So, we asked each of the digital assistants to answer a battery of 20 questions of general knowledge.

Our overall winner in the category was, perhaps unsurprisingly, Google Assistant. It answered more questions correctly than either Siri or Alexa, as well as generally giving context and often citing a source website for the information. Given that it's backed by Google's powerful search technology, that's to be expected. It fell down only on a couple of questions: It couldn't tell me when the next episode of Arrow aired (though it could interpret that as a TV listing); it gave me departure time for an upcoming flight even though I asked for the arrival time; and in a question about the American League Championship Series, it gave me recent scores, but not the overall standing of the series. However, it was the only one that could tell me how long chicken stays good in the fridge; gave me detailed information about the distance to Jupiter; and correctly identified what most scholars believe to be Shakespeare's first play.

Google AssistantGoogle AssistantSiri fared the worst in this department, though Apple employees have previously defended their assistant as not having been designed to answer trivia questions. In one-quarter of the questions I asked, Siri only said that it found something on the web and displayed search results on-screen; in another three, it similarly displayed info from Wolfram Alpha. It also required the most repeated queries, and I had to type in a corrected query when it misheard the word "lintel" and gave me the definition of "lentil." However, it did provide the best info on the ALCS standings and was the only one that asked me to clarify which movie I meant when I asked how long The Avengers was. (The 2012 superhero film, naturally.)

Siri on an iPhone and Alexa on an Amazon Echo.Siri on an iPhone and Alexa on an Amazon Echo.Alexa did a fair-to-middling job, generally giving solid, fast answers with context, though it sometimes gave slightly inaccurate answers on Chris Hemsworth's height and the distance to Jupiter, and it rounded up on how many meters are in 5 miles.

General Knowledge standings: 1. Google Assistant; 2. Alexa; 3. Siri

Music & Podcasts

Music should be a strong suit for any smart assistant. Each of the three obviously integrates with its own music services, and in some cases ties in with third-party offerings as well. A request to play The Rolling Stones' "Paint It, Black" was handled adroitly by Alexa (because I subscribe to Amazon's Music Unlimited streaming service) and Siri (where the song is in my library). The Google Assistant gave me an internet radio station based on my request, but I also don't subscribe to Google Play Music, the company's paying music service.

Both Google Assistant and Alexa responded to my request to play upbeat '80s music by playing a station that matched that description. Siri gave me a cryptic response and didn't play anything, though that’s because I don't have a $9.99-a-month Apple Music subscription.

SiriSiriPlaying podcasts was more of a hit-or-miss affair. While all three assistants easily played the most recent episode of Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! they struggled a bit with a more obscure podcast. When I requested the most recent episode of the Dragon Friends podcast, Alexa couldn't understand the question; Siri resumed the most recently downloaded episode on my phone, but then couldn't find any newer episodes; and only Google Home came through with flying colors. All three, however, did pretty well in playing the most recent episode of The Incomparable podcast.

Google Play Mini and Google AssistantGoogle Play Mini and Google AssistantBoth Google Home and Amazon Echo offer multiroom audio functionality, including creating groups of speakers via your smartphone. Alexa also supports audio playback from some music services to Sonos speakers, while Google Home can communicate with any Chromecast-connected speaker. Apple promises that Siri can control AirPlay 2 speakers, but that feature was unavailable for me to test.

Music & Podcasts standings: 1. Alexa (by a nose); 2. Google Assistant; 3. Siri

Entertainment

Integration with home entertainment equipment is one of the coolest parts of virtual assistants. Alexa now lets you control your Amazon Fire TV, Fire TV Stick or Fire TV Edition, including opening apps, jumping around in time, playing and pausing, and more. Google can likewise control playback on a Chromecast-connected device, including TVs with Chromecast built in, though it offers only a few services, and you have to link some of the apps via your smartphone first. Additionally, Alexa and Google Assistant can control devices using a third-party intermediary like Logitech's Harmony Hub.

Amazon Fire TV and AlexaAmazon Fire TV and AlexaSiri is in a peculiar position here. Though you can't use Siri on your iPhone to control playback on an Apple TV, the current line of Apple TVs does have Siri built in via the remote. And that version of Siri is very capable, letting you skip around, turn on captions and open apps. But it's less convenient if you need to find the remote, and Apple TV-based Siri offers no third-party integrations.

Apple TV 4K and Siri RemoteApple TV 4K and Siri RemoteAs long as we were on the entertainment track, I tried to use the assistants to order me movie tickets for Blade Runner 2049, which ended up being kind of a disaster on all three platforms. Alexa relies on a Fandango skill, which is slow, incredibly literal and can't book reserved tickets. Siri just plain couldn't understand me, thinking I was asking about a movie coming out in 2049. Google seemed to fare the best in giving me showtimes for my nearby theaters; however, it can't buy tickets yet.

Entertainment standings: 1. Alexa/Google Assistant (tie); 3. Siri (but it’s close)

Ordering Food, Making Reservations and Getting Recipes

Food's an important part of any equation, so I tried a handful of queries related to ordering food, making reservations and getting recipes. All three assistants offered me recommendations for a good Indian restaurant, but only Siri offered to take action on it by letting me call for reservations or getting me directions. Google's recommendations, on the other hand, weren't very close to my house.

Google AssistantGoogle AssistantNone of the assistants could order me Chinese food — Alexa tried to order me packages of food from Amazon — but again, at least Siri could offer to call a place. Making reservations at an Italian restaurant worked best through Google Assistant, which used OpenTable to walk me through the process, though it required multiple queries. Siri should have been able to do the same, but I ran into multiple issues, and had to make sure I phrased things precisely. But that is a step up on Alexa, which couldn't handle reservations at all.

In the "chocolate chip cookie recipe" test, Google passed with flying colors, even walking me through the recipe step by step. Alexa came in second, offering to send the recipe to the Alexa app, but it also offered multiple recipes. Siri just kicked me to a web search.

Ordering Food standings: 1. Google Assistant/Siri (tie); 3. Alexa

Online Shopping

Buying things via your voice seems like it should be a good idea, but in practice, it still feels cumbersome. Alexa should and does have the advantage here, thanks to its tight integration with Amazon's shopping catalog. It adroitly handled "order some more paper towels," though it balked a bit when I requested a copy of Destiny 2.

Google AssistantGoogle AssistantGoogle was a close second, though I had to first accept new terms and conditions for its shopping service; it then offered to order me paper towels from Target, but it told me up front that it couldn't help me find a copy of Destiny 2. Siri came in dead last, not even acknowledging it understood the Destiny 2 request, and kicking me to a search of nearby Bed Bath & Beyond for my paper towels.

Online Shopping standings: 1. Alexa; 2. Google Assistant; 3. Siri

Communications

Sometimes you're tired of talking to a robot and want to talk to a real person. Fortunately, all three virtual assistants now include features that put you in touch with your contacts.

Alexa lets you call and send voice or text messages to any other Alexa user in your contacts (including those who only have the smartphone app); you can also call any phone number or any contact whose phone number you have. Once you've set it up, the call will even appear to come from your home phone number. If you have an Echo Show, you can also make video calls to other owners of Echo Shows or those using the smartphone app.

Google Home likewise lets you make calls to people in your contacts via the phone, though you have to configure it so it appears to come from your Google Voice number, another number or an unlisted number. However, Google Home doesn't let you send text messages without a workaround using IFTTT.

SiriSiriSiri, though, wins the day here, by virtue of living on a phone. You can make calls to contacts, compose and send text messages to any contact, and have text messages read back to you. Unlike Google and Alexa, Siri can also make international calls outside of North America and call emergency services. You can also compose and send an email message, which neither of the others can handle, and it offers third-party calling and messaging for some apps like Viber and WhatsApp.

Communications standings: 1. Siri; 2. Alexa; 3. Google

Directions

When you're ready to leave the house, you may be tempted to turn to a virtual assistant to find your best route. But this is one area where their capabilities vary widely.

Siri is at the top of the pack on this one. Not only can it give you a sense of how long it takes you to get someplace, Siri can also offer you directions and automatically start GPS navigation. While it can also get transit directions, it does a mediocre job of answering questions about traffic, since it just kicks you to its Maps app.

SiriSiriGoogle Home comes in second, giving solid time estimates, but it had some confusion when I asked it about directions to the airport. Its public-transit suggestions were OK, but it did better in giving me an overview of traffic information. The biggest downside is that it can't easily send any of those directions to Google Maps on my phone, so I ended up having to look them up again anyway.

That's still better than Alexa. When I asked it how far away Boston Common was, it gave me the answer as the crow flies, and then told me it couldn't estimate time because it didn't know my speed. Alexa’s directions to the airport were nonsensical, and it can't handle public transit. It did OK when I asked it about traffic, but it didn't do as well as Google Home.

All three, however, totally whiffed my request about when my next bus left.

Directions standings: 1. Siri; 2. Google Assistant; 3. Alexa

Smart Home

Smart home devices have become one of the major pieces of integration with virtual assistants; all three platforms have focused some time and attention on this. All three work with a huge breadth of connected products, and many third-party products work with at least two, if not all three, platforms.

Google AssistantGoogle AssistantOf the most common smart home products, the biggest exceptions might be Nest's smart thermostat, which is not currently compatible with Apple's HomeKit; Netgear's Arlo cameras, which are only natively supported by Alexa (though they can offer some support for Google Assistant via IFTTT); the Ecobee thermostat, which doesn’t work with Google Home; and the Harmony Hub, which doesn't work with HomeKit, either.

Siri, however, does have support for multistep automations with a single command (like "good night" or "good morning") — a feature that is coming at some point for Alexa, but that Google Assistant lacks.

MORE: Our Favorite Smart Home Gadgets and Systems

It can seem close to a wash: In most cases, you can find a competing product that does work with the platform in question. In each case, it's wise to check Apple's, Amazon's and Google's full list of supported devices to see if the device works with the platform in question. At the moment, though, Alexa still manages to edge out the competition, thanks to its huge breadth of partners.

Smart Home standings: 1. Alexa; 2. Google Assistant; 3. Siri

Availability

A voice assistant isn't worth much if it doesn't work where you want it. In addition to its broad offerings from the Dot to the Echo Show, Amazon also has the most third-party partners for Alexa, since you can buy a cheaper speaker from the likes of Anker. Or, if you need better sound quality, you can purchase the Sonos One, which has Alexa built in. Even phones such as the HTC U11 and the Moto X4 have Alexa (the X4 has Google Assistant, too).

Sonos One with AlexaSonos One with AlexaGoogle is also releasing smaller versions of the Home, including a cheaper unit (the Mini) and one with better sound quality (the Max). Google will also be working with third parties, and Google Home software will be broadly available on smartphone platforms, including Android and iOS, though features are somewhat limited on the latter.

Apple, however, has widely distributed its virtual assistant to all of its devices, including the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Apple TV and Mac. The one thing Apple lacks at present is a smart speaker, though its HomePod is expected to fill that niche before the end of the year.

Apple HomePod with SiriApple HomePod with SiriHowever, the one place that Siri does rule is in terms of availability by country. Apple's voice assistant is available in more than 30 countries and 20 languages — and, in some cases, several different dialects. (It's worth noting that not all of its features are available in every region, though.) Google Home, by comparison, is available in only seven countries and can only speak English, German, French and Japanese, though it does support multiple versions of some of those languages. Alexa can only manage English (U.S. and U.K.) and German.

Availability standings: 1. Siri; 2. Google Assistant; 3. Alexa

Voice Recognition

Reliability is important for any sort of assistant, virtual or not, and in my totally scientific testing (ahem!), I kept track of how often I needed to repeat myself or rephrase a question for an assistant to get it. In my experience, Google Assistant eked out a narrow lead, rarely if ever requiring me to say something different. Alexa came in at a close second, requiring me to repeat a question only once or twice; and Siri trailed at third, frequently requiring me to restate or repeat myself. On many occasions, it did not even register my first attempt.

Of course, it can be quite confusing if you have multiple people and multiple assistants in a household, so each tries to tackle this problem in its own way. Both Google Home and Amazon Echo now offer multiple voice profiles, where you can train the device to recognize your specific voice and provide some degree of personalized response based on this. Google's Voice Match is the most sophisticated, offering personalized calendars, flights, payments, photos and more; you can even set your own default media services. Alexa only offers personalized shopping and calling options at present.

Since Siri is mainly used on devices associated with a person at present, Apple has taken a slightly different approach: Before you activate the ability to use the "Hey Siri" wake phrase, you must train Siri to recognize only your own voice. That prevents Siri from giving your personal information to someone else as well as avoiding multiple devices being triggered by one phrase.

Voice Recognition standings: 1. Google Assistant/Siri (tie); 3. Alexa

Extendability

Built-in features are all well and good, but sometimes there's a feature you really want to add that just isn't part of the package. In that case, you may need to turn to a third party, and that's one place where these platforms differ significantly.

Alexa has more than 15,000 third-party skills — more than the other two platforms combined. Not all of these skills are great, but chances are you can probably find something to meet your needs. And, if you can't, you can always create some basic integrations using the IFTTT web service.

Google has a smaller suite of third-party apps, but that’s expanding. It also offers the best integration with IFTTT, letting you create custom skills without any real knowledge of programming that are more powerful than what Alexa offers.

MORE: The Best IFTTT Applets for Amazon Alexa

Siri, in typical Apple fashion, only works with a small handful of third-party apps that Apple has approved. At present, this involves only a few features, including calling and messaging, ride hailing, sending money and creating to-do lists. There's also no real support for IFTTT, so if Siri doesn't do what you want, you're kind of stuck.

Extendability standings: 1. Alexa; 2. Google Assistant; 3. Siri

Final tallies

In our final tally, Alexa and Siri tied for the number of first-place finishes. but Google Assistant brought home the most total points.

Each assistant received three points for first place in a category, two points for second, and one point for third place.


Alexa

Google Assistant

Siri

General Knowledge

2nd (2 pts)

1st (3 pts)

3rd (1 pt)

Music

1st (3 pts)

2nd (2 pts)

3rd (1 pt)

Entertainment

1st (3 pts)

1st (3 pts)

2nd (2 pts)

Ordering Food

2nd (2 pts)

1st (3 pts)

1st (3 pts)

Online Shopping

1st (3 pts)

2nd (2 pts)

3rd (1 pt)

Communications

2nd (2 pts)

3rd (1 pt)

1st (3 pts)

Directions

3rd (1 pt)

2nd (2 pts)

1st (3 pts)

Smart Home

1st (3 pts)

2nd (2 pts)

2nd (2 pts)

Availability

3rd (1 pt)

2nd (2 pts)

1st (3 pts)

Voice Recognition

3rd (1 pt)

1st (3 pts)

1st (3 pts)

Extendability

1st (3 pts)

2nd (2 pts)

3rd (1 pt)

# of First Place Wins

5

4

5

Total Points

24

25

23

The wide distribution shows that there is no one-size-fits-all winner when it comes to voice assistants. Your best pick is the one that succeeds at the categories most important to you, working with the devices you want in the ecosystem that you use. And with the rapid pace of innovation in all of these technologies, it's hard to go wrong by spending time with any of these voice assistants. Even if none of them know when exactly my bus will get here.

Credit: Tom's Guide/Google/Amazon/Apple/Sonos

Create a new thread in the Android Smartphones forum about this subject
11 comments
Comment from the forums
    Your comment
  • c.gruen
    "Voice Recognition standings: 1. Google Assistant/Siri (tie); 3. Alexa"

    this does not reflect your findings as stated in the paragraph about voice recognition. Is Alexa trailing or Siri?
    0
  • d.alex.connect
    There are FOUR major players in this field, you missed Cortana. If you really want to consider only the top three, then you have replace Siri with Cortana.
    0
  • ysthvf
    For your convenience you used Siri on your iphone and for Google Assistant you used Google Home. Google Home is just a variant to use the Assistant and to get a complete experience you use all the devices on which Assistant is configured for a wholesome experience. Assistant is also available on Pixel and it's other Android brethren!! But nowhere I saw being mentioned about using Assistant on phone to search for maps or songs which might have also given better results for directions say.
    1
  • kgkmkdam
    I enjoyed the article. It was in-depth and very knowledgeable.

    My one issue is similar to what someone else mentioned: some of the limitations you mention with Google Assistant are really only limitations with Google Home. For instance Google Home cannot send a text message but Google Assistant, on my Pixel, can. The same goes for navigating to just about anywhere you'd like to drive. Assistant does that easily on a phone via Google Maps.
    1
  • leobeale
    This whole investigation misses the point of the Google Assistant. By using only the Google Home, and not considering its capabilities on Android phones, you said it can't do things that it can. You said, for instance, that Google can't send a text. That's true on Google Home, but on a phone, where most people use it, Google most certainly can send texts. I do it all the time. It can also send WhatsApp messages, open directions in Google Maps (or even other services if you so choose), or play songs from Spotify or Google Play Music if you just bothered to literally press a button in the assistant settings menu. Doing a comparison of virtual assistants is a great idea, but it makes no sense to compare Siri's capabilities on a phone to Google's and Alexa's on their speakers, especially if you specifically knock them for not being able to do phone-related tasks. They can do them, you just ignored that. Not to mention that your mention of availability for Google Assistant is laughable: you didn't even mention Android Wear, Android TV, Android Auto, or the suprisingly large number of speakers recently released from third parties with the Assistant built in (though you did mention that Alexa was on Sonos). This is just unacceptably lazy testing to submit to the public with such confidence as to call it the state of the three services at this time: it's not even close to representative of most users' experience.
    1
  • craigcsi
    Wow.

    I understand that in the age of blogging product reviews are usually more opinion than scientific - but trying to pass off this random faceoff by a single person with a very limited view of reality as a rundown of the capabilities of all of the top AI platforms and their current state is more than a stretch - it's hysterical.

    As far as I can tell, you appear to rank Alexa higher than Google Assistant for what I can only imagine is the fact that you subscribe to Amazon Music Unlimited but not Google Play Music, so Alexa was able to play Paint it Black. I know that can't be the reason, and yet it is literally the only thing you listed as a feature that Alexa had over Google Assistant. They appear to match everywhere else except for the fact that Google was better at playing podcasts. So... yeah.

    But my absolute favorite part of this review is the how Siri was able to win both the Communications AND the Directions category because of this incredible bit of brilliance.

    "Siri, though, wins the day here, by virtue of living on a phone"

    Yes, technically the device you chose to test Siri on happened to be a phone. An iPhone more specifically since it doesn't work on all phones, like, you know - the other guys do.

    Technically, they cannot do all of the things that Siri can do on an iPhone - but they also live on Android phones - and Fire devices where they can do many of those things as well. And despite the fact that you do mention it in other sections - you seem to have forgotten that Siri on other devices like the Apple TV, iPad and Apple watch CANNOT do all of those things.

    So it would seem that Siri wins two categories simply because you decided that for those particular categories the only determining factor is that you happen to own an iPhone, and that Siri does a lot more stuff on an iPhone than the other assistants can do... on an iPhone.

    Now that's what I call solid testing skills.

    Congrats!
    2
  • aseycay
    This article is low-effort and low-quality and I couldn't put the reasons any more clearly than craigcsi did, so I won't.
    0
  • philworthington
    I have to agree with all the comments on how poor this article is. You really did so little research that you couldn't even be bothered to pick up an Android phone? I hope you don't get paid to write this rubbish?!
    0
  • alexander.reiden
    I also have to warn readers not to trust this review. This is poorly researched and written at best, and amateur journalism at worst. To echo what the above posters wrote, you must always test software on comparable devices and invest in equally proprietary services for each to remain objective and be taken seriously.

    I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume this was quick and dirty test without the benefit of proper peer review. Here's some advice for next time (and other reviews in general):

    1) You cannot call yourself a serious tech reviewer without subscribing to all the brand services and testing integration with compatible products. That means you MUST subscribe to APM, GPM, and Apple Music to be objective, and perhaps the most popular service in this category BY FAR, Spotify. Also, test Google and Alexa by syncing them with android devices, not an iPhone. Actually that doesn't even matter if you do your research, since both the Google Home and Alexda apps can be used to setup their assistant with whatever music app you want.

    2) You cannot cannot cannot compare apples (home devives) to oranges (iPhones) and come up with anything but useless, biased results. Of course Siri is going to work better for making calls and texts on a phone compared to anything on a smart speaker. Why not use Google and Alexa on a phone for this test instead? They are both available on any android phone with Marshmallow or higher. Even better, dock Siri serious points for not being able to do anything without a phone while the others can do all of that on a phone, plus some of it on home devices. This will of course change when HomePod arrives.

    Also, Google Home can absolutely send driving directions to any device using Google Maps with a Google account.

    3) The top 3 assistants are not Siri, Alexa, and Google, at least not definitively. Cortana?
    0
  • whiteangelcl
    Don't forget Cortana on Windows.
    0
  • jacksmith21006
    Use Alexa, Siri and the Google Assistant almost daily and can say this is probably the worst review I have seen of the three. I do a lot of surfing and reading online and hate being jerky online but this comparison is just really, really bad.

    Google Assistant is well ahead of the other two. Alexa is better at voice recognition than Siri but requires you to memorize and use commands. Siri is much smarter than Alexa in not requiring the commands but it is not as good as recognizing your voice.

    There is so much wrong with the comparison it is hard to know where to start. But the biggest is asking for specific music to play is far easier with the Google Assistant. You can use very little info and get a song to play.
    0