Apple Siri versus Google Jelly Bean: Voice search showdown

Which one listens to you and delivers information better: Google's Jelly Bean on the Galaxy Nexus or Apple's iOS Siri voice search?

One of the big enhancements in the Android 4.0 (Jelly Bean) operating system update that Google announced on June 27 is improved voice recognition in search. You can now ask your Android phone questions in a natural way--meaning you no longer have to sound like a robot to get answers.

We wondered which service is better at answering questions: Android's Voice Search or Apple's much-touted Siri. To test the services, we assembled a list of 17 questions or commands, and asked them of a Galaxy Nexus running Jelly Bean and an iPhone 4S running iOS 5.

A quick disclaimer: Apple has greatly improved Siri in iOS 6, but we weren't able to get our hands on the beta to test it. And the version of Jelly Bean we received from the Google I/O developer conference was not the final version, which will come to phones in mid-July.

Our results? Siri and the new voice recognition software in Jelly Bean each have their fair share of pros and cons. In the end, Android came out ahead on 8 of the 17 questions and commands we posed.

Here's a breakdown of how well each phone handled each question or task.

Question 1: "Where Is the Empire State Building?"

Siri seemed to have trouble understanding this question, while Jelly Bean produced a map that gave us the address of the Empire State Building in New York. For now, Android has the upper hand when it comes to locating famous buildings.

Winner: Android Jelly Bean

Question 2: "Will I Need an Umbrella on Sunday?"

The first few times we asked this question, Siri gave us directions to the nearest department stores. We believe that it may have been trying to point us to places that sold umbrellas, rather than answering our weather question.

When Siri finally realized that we were asking about the weather, it informed us that it could not predict what the weather would be on Sunday, and showed us a graphic displaying the local weather forecast for the next five days. Android told us that we wouldn't need an umbrella on Sunday, and also produced a five-day forecast.

Winner: Android Jelly Bean

Question 3: "Show Me Pictures of Mount Rushmore"

Android automatically brought up a small grid of images, while Siri asked if we wanted to perform a Web search. Siri finally showed us what we had asked for, but it required an extra step.

Winner: Android Jelly Bean

Question 4: "Where Can I Get a Taco Around Here?"

Siri, which pulls its results from Yelp, brought up 20 restaurants in the area that had tacos on the menu. Android presented a map of places that served tacos, but only one establishment was nearby; the rest were spread throughout the city. We have to hand it to Siri on this one, due to the number of results and owing to how close they were to our approximate location.

Winner: Apple Siri

Question 5: "What's the Capital of Canada?"

Both phones came up with an answer, but Android was faster at fetching a result.

Winner: Android Jelly Bean

Question 6: "Get Me Directions to the California Academy of Sciences"

As with the Empire State Building question, Android immediately brought up a map with the location of the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, and started opening Google Maps to give us directions.

Siri found two entries for the California Academy of Sciences, and required us to select the correct entry before proceeding to give us directions.

Winner: Android Jelly Bean

Question 7: "How Old Is Stan Lee?"

Both Siri and Android gave us an answer, but Google showed us a picture of Marvel's Stan Lee and read the answer to us.

Winner: Android Jelly Bean

Question 8: "Who Was the Number One Pick in the NBA Draft Last Year?"

Neither Siri nor Android had an answer to this question, and both defaulted to performing a Google search instead.

Winner: Tie

Next Page: Math, Horoscopes, and Kayne West

Question 9: "When Was Apple Founded?"

Siri gave us an answer from Wolfram Alpha, but Android read us our answer.

Winner: Android Jelly Bean

Question 10: "Set a Timer for 5 Minutes"

Siri actually set a timer and had a nice graphic to go with it.

On Android, Jelly Bean set an alarm for 5 minutes into the future. Both approaches work, though we preferred the way Siri handled this task.

Winner: Apple Siri

Question 11: "What's 56 Divided by 7?"

Android was the first one back with the answer to our math problem, while Siri took time to contact Wolfram Alpha for help.

Winner: Android Jelly Bean

Question 12: "What's $100 in Euros?"

Much as with our math problem, Android was the first one back with an answer.

Siri took longer, but it went above and beyond the call of duty by also bringing us currency rates for assorted countries, plus a graph showing past conversion rates for the euro.

Winner: Apple Siri

Question 13: "What's My Horoscope for Today?"

Both Android and Siri failed to answer this question, and defaulted to performing an online search.

Winner: Tie

Question 14: "Tell Me a Story"

Siri went on to tell us a rather lengthy tale, while Android just did another Google search.

Winner: Apple Siri

Question 15: "Sing Me a Song"

Siri sang us a song, whereas Android performed a Google search for the phrase "sing me a song."

Winner: Apple Siri

Question 16: "Play Some Kanye West"

Siri started playing a Kayne West song from the iTunes library, while Android tried to conduct a search for "Conyay West."

Strangely enough, we were able to get Android to recognize other artists such as Michael Jackson and The Killers, but for some reason it refused to recognize the correct spelling of Kanye West's name.

Winner: Apple Siri

Question 17: "What's the Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything?"

Siri gave us a semiserious answer, while Google brought up a Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy reference.

Winner: Tie

Android seems to do better on questions relating to navigation and maps, but Siri is superior at finding places to eat and playing music.

It will be interesting to see what other improvements Apple will make to Siri when iOS 6 launches in the fall, and whether Google can iron out the quirks in Android Jelly Bean before it releases in mid-July.

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