The Best Virtual Assistant for Android
The number of voice activated "virtual assistants" for
Update: Our previous pick for the best
- Can operate in both hands-on and hands-free modes by saying ""Google"" aloud when the Search app is running, or by launching from the home screen.
- Includes dozens of ""cards"" that each provide useful, specific, and relevant data based on your position, your calendar, or your recent Google searches.
- Displays current weather conditions in your current location, and updates your location automatically if it changes. Also displays weather alerts and other public information like flood warnings, fire warnings, earthquake alerts, etc.
- Displays breaking news stories and relevant articles based on your Web search history
- Displays suggested web search and additional research topics based on your Web search history
- Performs web, image, place, and contact searches by voice.
- Can dial, email, or send SMS messages to contacts by voice.
- Can navigate and obtain driving directions, and open other applications on your device just by listening to your voice commands.
- Can display information about live television programs just by listening to the show you're watching.
- Can search for local and nearby businesses by topic, category, name, menu item, or general description, and displays the business' information via Google Local on screen.
- Automatically suggest navigation locations based on your Google searches and based on the time of day (eg, if you were just searching for a specific Italian restaurant, Google Now will offer to navigate there when you get in the car, and if you're in the car at the same time every day at your office, it will automatically give you your ETA to get home through traffic.
- Displays your next appointment, when it's scheduled for, and when you should leave to get there at all times-as long as there's an appointment on your calendar.
- Offers local traffic and transit alerts that are relevant to your daily routine and commute, including alternate routes, train schedules and departures, and more-which Google Now learns after the first few weeks of use.
- Warns you proactively when you should leave your current location in order to make an appointment on your calendar at a different location. Includes traffic and transit conditions in those ETA estimates.
- Functions as a travel assistant, and can display a scannable boarding pass on-screen as soon as you get to the airport, warns you when your flight is scheduled to depart and from which gate/terminal in the airport, offers real-time flight and travel information to and from the airport, as well as directions from an airport to your hotel, meeting, or other eventual destination.
- Includes built-in currency conversion and language translation cards that auto-update based on your location.
- Automatically shows package tracking info for any shipped orders with confirmation emails in your
Gmailaccount, or that you've searched for manually using Google on the web.
- Supports time, location, and event-based reminders so you'll remember to grab milk if you stop at the grocery store, call a friend if it's his or her birthday, or even notify you if there's an event in your vicinity that you previously looked into.
- Keeps you updated on your favorite
sportsteams, local and away games, and final scores.
- Can display movie showtimes for theaters in your area if you search for a movie, and can even help you buy tickets via Fandango. Once you've purchased your tickets, you get a scannable QR code to print them out at the theater, along with a reminder of when you should leave for the theater in order to get to the movie on time.
- Helps you discover new books, albums,
apps, and concerts or live events based around your favorite artists, authors, previously downloaded music, and more.
- Is cross-platform, and also available on
iOSas part of the Google Search app.
Where It Excels
Google Now started off as an interesting experiment in how Google could crunch the wealth of data it has available about you and put it into a useful package. It's since blossomed into a real personal assistant that takes your usage, your search habits, your location, and more, and puts it all into a useful tool that will proactively help you manage your time better, get to where you need to be faster, be on time for your appointments, and find out about businesses and events that you might be interested in. It's tools aren't perfect, and your experience will vary depending on the power and speed of your device, but there really is something incredible about opening the search bar on your phone, putting it down, and saying ""Google, send text message to Dad,"" and have Google Now understand that I want it to do, do it, and even prompt me to edit the message.
Where It Falls Short
Google Now isn't perfect. Like we said, sometimes it displays cards that aren't useful simply because you searched for something or went looking for something specific at some point. Read a restaurant review? Google Now may offer to navigate you there the next time you're in the car, even if you have no intention of trying the place, or the review turned you off. Still, Google Now learns quickly, and if you don't use a card, it goes away in short order.
Speaking of learning quickly, Google Now is so effective because once you turn it on, Google gets a wealth of information about your travel habits, your orders and shipments, your emails and web searches, and more that it can crunch and use to provide you useful information. You need to be utterly aware of that tradeoff when you activate Google Now-if you're a privacy fan, you may not like the idea of letting Google sift through quite so much information about you, not all of which it would normally have access to. If the benefits outweigh the drawbacks though, it can be a great service.
Finally, Google Now is technically only available on Android devices running
Dragon Mobile Assistant
(Free) is the successor to our previous pick,
, which was bought and rolled into Dragon Mobile Assistant by Nuance Communications (makers of Dragon Naturally Speaking). We've
covered it before
(Free) is a personal assistant
that we think gives Google Now a run for its money
(Free) is an up and comer that-while it's not perfect-does
bring some new features to the table
Sherpa (Free) is all about talking to your phone. While some of the other contenders here interact with you from time to time, talk when you want them to, or don't talk at all, Sherpa's claim to fame is that it understands natural language, doesn't force you to memorize commands, and can understand multiple languages and accents. Sherpa isn't as powerful as some of the other assistants in the roundup, but it does fetch a great deal of information for you-basic knowledge questions and trivia are no problem for the app, and it can play music without downloading the songs for you first (it just streams from the web) or requiring you to have the artist in your library. It can read your tweets, update Facebook for you, manage your calendar, get the weather, and more.
(Free) is old, but still a great option. It's one of the more lightweight options in the roundup here, but it also suffers from some stagnation. While it has all of the core features down-web search via Google, Wolfram