“Turn on the Lights” – How To Pick A Virtual Assistant For Your Smart Home System
Voice-activated virtual assistants are the hot ticket item of 2018, with Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft all rushing to put together the best possible voice assistant for your home.
While “Alexa, make me a cup of tea ” is sadly still not a recognised voice command, you can ask the voice assistant to boil the kettle using the iKettle, and then you will have to do the rest. Alexa will also play your favourite music, search the internet to find the answer to a question or remind you not to burn your toast.
Don’t know your Alexa from your elbow? This guide will introduce you to the four highest-profile virtual assistants and help you make the right choice.
Option 1: Alexa
Who is Alexa?
Alexa is Amazon’s take on the virtual assistant. You can find her in Amazon’s range of low-priced smart speakers, including the Amazon Echo and the Echo Dot.
Why would you choose Alexa?
Because she was the first smart speaker to really make a splash. Alexa caught the other virtual assistants napping and quickly learned thousands of “skills”. These skills are the commands that Alexa recognises and include useful features such as “Alexa, tell me the football score” and “Alexa, what will the weather be like today?”
Why wouldn’t you choose Alexa?
Technopanic. Some people can’t quite get over the idea that Alexa is “listening” to them at all times, and creepy videos of Alexa laughing without warning have done the rounds online. In reality, Alexa only listens out for her “wake word”, so that she can respond when prompted, and tests confirm that she doesn’t record everything everyone says and send the data back to an evil undersea lair.
Oh, and also because Alexa makes it almost too easy to spend a small fortune on Amazon — especially if your child works out how to order toys…
Option 2: Google Assistant
Who is the Google Assistant?
The Google Assistant comes from… Google, unsurprisingly, and is the only virtual assistant on the list not to have a proper name (awww). Google Assistant originally launched on the Google Home smart speakers and the Pixel phone, but is now available on a wide range of Android devices.
Why would you choose the Google Assistant?
The Google Assistant is supposedly the smartest virtual assistant, and if you’ve already got a lot of Google or Android devices in your home, it (she?) is probably a safe bet. Google Maps, Docs, and Calendar all sync seamlessly with the Google Assistant and, with all that information at her “fingertips”, Google Assistant knows enough about your everyday routine to be genuinely useful.
Why wouldn’t you choose Google Assistant?
Again, some people might find it creepy that the Google Assistant knows where you live and where you go (through Google Maps), who you talk to (through Gmail) and what you’re supposed to be doing at any given point in the day (Google Calendar). Combine this with the fact that Google’s main business model is selling your data to advertisers and it’s easy to see why some people can’t get over the “yuck” factor.
Option 3: Siri
Who is Siri?
Poor Siri. Siri made her grand debut six years ago on the iPhone 4s, making her positively ancient by the standards of virtual assistants. True, she’s been upgraded multiple times and added to a wider range of devices since then, but the consensus seems to be that she’s fallen behind the competition.
Why would you choose Siri?
Because you love to hear her say “I’m not sure I understand?” Just kidding. Kind of. Actually, you might choose Siri if you’re already locked deep into Apple’s “ecosystem”. Do you use an iPhone, a Mac, and still use iTunes? Siri might be the virtual assistant for you. It’s also widely believed that Apple secures your data better than Google because it makes its money through charging high hardware prices, rather than through advertising.
The HomePod is also arguably the best smart speaker around in terms of sound quality.
Why wouldn’t you choose Siri?
Unfortunately, despite being the most expensive option, she’s probably the least able to actually understand what you’re saying.
Option 4: Cortana
Who is Cortana?
Cortana is the little blue hologram lady from Microsoft’s wildly popular Halo games. No, seriously, Microsoft used the same name, and even got the same actress (Jen Taylor) to provide the voice for their voice assistant.
Why would you pick Cortana?
Again, it all comes down to which “ecosystem” you use the most. Cortana can be found in all Windows 10 PCs, in Windows 8.1 phones and the Xbox One. If you’re looking for a smart speaker, she can be found in the Invoke. Cortana isn’t a popular choice by any stretch of the imagination, but she works better than most people realise. She also works really well with Skype.
Why wouldn’t you pick Cortana?
As it stands, the Invoke smart speaker is currently only available in the US. Even so, if you don’t already use a lot of Microsoft products then Cortana alone isn’t really worth making the switch for.
So, Which Virtual Assistant Is Best?
It depends! If you just look at each virtual assistant’s raw potential, it’s a very close call between Google Assistant and Alexa, with Google Home being the “better” smart speaker and the Amazon Echo being the better value for money smart speaker.
But ultimately, it depends on what you’re looking for in a smart speaker, how much you want to spend and what devices you currently use.
Plenty of people don’t mind paying that little bit extra for the superior sound quality of the HomePod and they already use enough Apple devices to make integration super easy.
Though don’t let the technical side put you off as many companies supply cutting-edge home automation services, that can do all the hard work for you.
Main Image Source: Method Shop