Cortana for Android review

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Digital assistants are popping up all over the place, whether it be Google Now, Apple’s Siri, Hound by SoundHound, and now Microsoft’s Cortana. Google even recently made their own digital assistant even better with Android 6.0 Marshmallow. The search giant introduced Google Now On Tap, which makes the search giant’s digital assistant much more contextual and powerful. While this update might make Google Now stand out from the crowd, it’s much too dependent on what version of Android you’re on and what smartphone you have.

Google Now is a victim of Android’s own fragmentation problem, making more independent options like Hound much more useful. Microsoft recently launched Cortana for Android, Redmond’s very own digital assistant, and the company believes that it might just have what it takes to compete with Google Now and make a name for itself in a not-so-useful market of digital assistants.

How does Cortana stack up against the rest? Find out below.

Cortana is what a digital assistant should be

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Just like Hound–SoundHound’s digital assistant–Cortana is what a digital assistant should look like. It has much more usefulness and contextual ability than Siri, and unlike Google Now, it’s features aren’t dependent on what version of Android you have on your smartphone or tablet. That puts Microsoft’s digital assistant in a very good spot to be competitive and show device owners that these digital assistants can be good.

Cortana for Android let’s you access information quickly and easily, especially if you can’t have your hands on your device (e.g. when you’re driving). Cortana, with access to your personal data, is able to assist with calendar appointments, outgoing and incoming calls, text messages, and much more. Most digital assistants are able to do this, though Cortana makes it feel buttery smooth and very fleshed out. However, it’s biggest problem lies in trying to invade Google’s turf.

Unlike Google Now, Cortana doesn’t integrate very well into Android, and that’s just because Microsoft and many other developers, don’t have access to the deep inner-workings of Android or Google. This is much of the reason as to why the “Hey Cortana” feature never worked well on Android, and has yet to be seen on iOS.

The fight for your smartphone

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Microsoft has made Cortana for Android a very good digital assistant, but it can’t properly compete on Android smartphones because Google Now can bring you relevant information based on all of the personal data it’s collected. Since Cortana for Android isn’t embedded in the system, it just can’t do that.

With access to all of that personal data, Google Now has grown up into a Jarvis-like digital assistant, predicting information that you might want to know, such as traffic updates for the commute to work and so on. Cortana for Android is a flawless digital assistant, and it can do all of the basic digital assistant tasks perfectly, but it’s still lacking because it doesn’t have access to this data.

Over on Windows Phone and Windows 10, Cortana is flawless, but there are a few caveats (more on that later). As far as voice recognition goes, Cortana for Android does great in both quiet and noisy rooms, just like Google Now. It’s slick and fast, just like Google Now. It’s just missing that access to personal data that makes it relevant.

You have to choose the light side or the dark side

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Excuse the Star Wars reference, but it’s true, and this is where those “caveats” come in. Cortana and Google Now boil down to one thing: you have to choose between the two. There is no double dipping with either service. You have to choose whether your personal data will go to Google or Microsoft. Will you use Microsoft’s services or Google’s services? Once you decide, you have to stick with it for either digital assistant to learn your personal habits.

I’ve used Google Now and Cortana much more than I would have otherwise on a normal daily basis to truly put them to the test. They both offer the same thing, they’re both buttery smooth, and they just work. But they’re even better when you’re using Microsoft services for Cortana or Google services for Google Now. This allows them to give you access to contextual information that you want to hear about.

You truly have to choose whose services you’re going to be using for a digital assistant to be good, and that same rule applies to Cortana.

Are digital assistants even useful?

So yes, while Cortana for Android is a good digital assistant, we must ask the question, are these digital assistant even useful? Well, the answer, for right now, is no. There’s a small crowd that regularly uses digital assistants, and then there’s the large majority that gets their information in traditional ways. And right now, that latter crowd is the dominant market.

There’s a market for digital assistants, but it’s slowly growing. Contextual information is the future, and that future isn’t here yet. But when it is, Cortana, Google Now, Siri, and all the rest will be there, ready to give you that information.

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I’d highly recommend giving Cortana for Android a try. It’s a smooth and fluid digital assistant, and it’s obvious a lot of work has gone into it. You might just find out that you like it better, especially if you take advantage of Microsoft’s services.


About the Author: Brad Ward

Brad is a tech enthusiast, writing and tinkering with all things technology since 2011. He currently bounces between the LG G3 and his beloved Moto X! His interests include reading, entrepreneurship, the gym, and of course, queso.