Samsung Plans To Give Galaxy S8 An AI Digital Assistant
Head-to-head: which comes out on top, Home or Alexa?
Both Amazon and Google are rushing to add new features to their respective home voice-assistants. But do these new features mean they can answer more complex questions?
I put 45 reasonably difficult questions to Home and Alexa, below is how they fared. If you missed the first round of head-to-head questions, check them out here.
- What’s the UK US exchange rate?
An easy one that both got right.
- What is the current bitcoin exchange rate?
Home answered comfortably. I had to enable a bitcoin skill on Alexa to get the right exchange rate, and I had to ask in the way the skills recommends you ask. It got there, but with a fair bit of effort that largely defeats the point.
- Flip a coin.
Home doesn’t know how to flip a coin, Alexa does.
- What’s on at my local cinema?
Home couldn’t answer, Alexa gave me listings for “films on near London” which is equally as useless.
- What are the ‘best’ films of 2016?
Home named Arrival, Deadpool and Star Wars. Alexa didn’t “know that one”, whatever that means.
- What is the most recent season of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia?
Home listed out some episode names by random, Alexa couldn’t answer.
- Order an Uber.
Alexa has a string of Uber options, unfortunately it doesn’t recognise my home address - and has steadfastly refused to since I bought it months ago - so this is useless. Home has no Uber functionality.
- Tune an instrument.
Home delivered a helpful b-flat. Alexa just played tracks from Spotify.
- Book a table at a local restaurant.
So Home can’t reserve tables at restaurants, despite that functionality being available with Assistant on your phone. Alexa can’t do it either.
- What films came out recently?
Home gave me: Showtimes for Baahubali 2: The Conclusion, Legend of the Sword and Alien: Covenant. A strange mix that omits blockbusters like The Fate of the Furious and Guardians of the Galaxy 2. Alexa gave me…...tumbleweeds.
- Home/Alexa: change your voice.
Neither can change their voice. Or, in other words, Arnie won’t be taking my commands any time soon.
- Detail each step of first aid.
Neither device could answer.
- Book a flight somewhere.
Google Home took me through some options for flights to popular destinations, asked when I wanted to go and gave me prices. It then tracked prices and sent me updates via email. But there was no option to actually book the flight.
With the Sky Scanner skill enabled, I asked for the same flight options that I queried Home about (a return trip to New York in two weeks). It takes a lot longer to go through the questions and after answering every question, Alexa went looking for flights for about 60 seconds and returned with an error message.
- Translate ‘the weather is nice today’ to Mandarin, Chinese.
Home did this on first go, as did Alexa after I enabled a translation skill.
- Read a kindle book.
A nice concept from Amazon that, in practice, doesn’t work very well. Firstly, not many books are supported. And every time I tried a different book, Alexa said “sorry, The Girl on the Train isn’t available for reading”, despite me never asking for The Girl on the Train. When I settled on Cloud Atlas, it quickly became clear Alexa’s voice isn’t suited for reading books. The pacing and intonation are off, as are pronunciations.
Home has no similar functionality.
- Find a good pizza restaurant nearby
Home listed options of places that aren’t nearby, but still in London. And they weren’t even good places. After I input a different address, Alexa found some pizza restaurants. But I don’t know if they’re local or not because Alexa just read out names of chain restaurants with no details on location.
- Spell onomatopoeia
Both got it right.
- Play some Kendrick Lamar on Spotify.
Both handled this easily enough, as you’d expect.
- Add this track to a playlist.
Home recognised the follow up question and added it to ‘my playlist’. Alexa said it can’t edit playlists.
- How much does an iPhone 7 cost.
I got a detailed breakdown of different prices for different size options, plus a little tid-bit about how much it costs Apple to make an iPhone 7 - all taken from a top Google search result. Alexa couldn’t answer.
- How much did an iPhone 6 cost at launch.
Neither could answer.
- Where can I buy an iPhone 7 nearby?
Neither could answer.
- What are the top deals on Ebay today?
Alexa replied with ‘would you like to shop?’, which I assumed meant shop on Ebay. But actually meant shop on Amazon (of course) - sneaky. Home had nothing.
- What are the top deals on Amazon/Google Play today?
Incredibly, neither had an answer for this.
- How much does a Google Pixel XL cost?
Home, hilariously, didn’t know the answer to this. Yet it had a bucket load of pricing options for Apple’s iPhone 7. Alexa had nothing.
- How much does Amazon Fire TV cost.
Home read out from a search result. Alexa had nothing.
- Where can I buy it?
Home doesn’t know where to buy Amazon Fire TV.
- Cook a recipe.
Google recently added a feature for Home to take you through a recipe step by step, but it doesn’t seem to be available yet. That or it isn’t working for me.
Alexa has lots of cooking related skills on the store. I tried out Jamie Oliver’s and it just sends a recipe to you in email form, which defeats the purpose. I also tried the AllRecipes skill that’s advertised, but it’s not available in the UK.
- Is Waitrose still open?
I had to ask this question a couple of times to get the right response from Google, at which point it said “here are the business hours for your local Waitrose” and then did nothing.
Alexa answered correctly with the original question.
- Send a message.
Neither has the ability to do this, another massive own goal.
- Which parties are participating in the UK general election this year?
Home gave me three parties and then suddenly rounded off with “and more”. Alexa couldn’t answer.
- How are Labour doing in the polls?
Neither could answer.
- What were last week’s lottery numbers?
Home gave me the numbers, how much is in the jackpot and how many raffle winners there were. Alexa had nothing.
- What’s the status of the Jubilee line?
After finding out what the correct command is by dipping into my enabled skills, Tube Status told me there’s a good service on the Jubilee line. Home had nothing.
- What’s the best route between Liverpool Street and Kentish Town?
Home gave me directions from Moorgate, which is a five minute walk from Liverpool street, so…. kind of correct. Alexa’s Tube Planner skill also gave me the correct answer.
- What events are on in London this weekend?
Alexa gave me a list of films on this weekend, Home gave me nothing.
- What local bars are showing the Anthony Joshua Vs. Wladimir Klitschko fight?
Both struggled with this one. Alexa started reading out films on in London - again - and Home thought I was trying to cast something to my TV.
- How likely is Arsenal to win the Premier League this season?
A probability test that didn’t end well as neither understood the questions. The answers is: 0.
- What’s an alternative to bleach?
Home gave me a list of possible alternatives in lemon juice and baking soda. Alexa couldn’t answer.
- What does ‘aperture’ mean?
Both answered, but Alexa’s answer was more detailed and came with examples.
- Where’s the nearest classical guitar shop to me?
Both answered this easily, but Alexa also gave me business hours.
- How do I test my smoke alarm?
Home gave an answer from a search result, Alexa had nothing.
- Set a reminder.
Alexa has had this functionality since day one. Home, however, still can’t set reminders.
- Why have my peas turned yellow?
A long and detailed answer from Home that any gardening enthusiast would be satisfied with, Alexa didn’t know.
- What is my internet speed?
This would be genuinely information useful if either device could provide it.
- What is the local news?
Both devices can handle the big headlines but local news is totally ignored.
Results on the next page...
Continued from page 1
Inside The Issue: The Fintech 50
So, the final scores
Alexa correctly answered a fairly poor 13.5 questions out of 45.
But, with a slightly less poor 18.5 correct answers out of 45, Home comfortably takes home the gold.
Location-based, probability and shopping related questions tripped both devices up. Google edges out Alexa because of its search abilities and it’s lack of need to enable skills.
Amazon needs to figure how to better integrate skills into Alexa, because at present, you have to remember how to ask a question - as well as including the name of the skill - to get the answer you want. Given how many skills are available, this is a lot to commit to memory.
Home, on the other hand, tries to bend to your requests rather than the other way around. But with such low scores - in this test and the last - neither device has much to brag about here.
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Jay McGregor is the editor-in-chief of the YouTube channel, Point. He also reports for The Guardian, TechRadar, BBC Radio and others. Follow on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/PointReport