Cortana arrives in the UK – how does she stack up?

November 11, 2014 : TECHFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditlinkedinmail

Cortana arrives in the UK how does she stack up

This week, Microsoft's Cortana virtual assistant finally arrives in the UK, after the firm confirmed its Lumia 735 will be the first phone available in the country with the virtual assistant installed.

It's been a long wait for British consumers, as the software has been available to users in the US since the spring. But this may not be a bad thing, as it should have given Microsoft time to iron out many of the inevitable quirks that crop up with the introduction of voice-recognition technology. It's still officially in beta, but don't let that put you off, as these days, this type of software is constantly evolving and being updated.

What it also means is all three major mobile operating systems will have their own voice-activated personal assistant to help out UK consumers, with Cortana joining Apple's well-established Siri and Android's Google Now to try and make using a smartphone a simpler, more natural experience.

So how do the three offerings stack up against one another, and which is the best if this is going to factor into your next phone-buying decision? We've rounded up a few of their key capabilities and quirks to help you make a the right choice.


As the first of the big three phone makers to launch their virtual assistant, you'd expect Apple to have a headstart on its rivals, and certainly, the iOS feature set the template for what many people expect their voice-activated commands to do. Activated by long-pressing the Home button, you can make web searches, dictate text messages, make phone calls and set alarms.

Its natural language capabilities were pretty impressive when it was launched, meaning you could ask it questions as if you were talking to another human being – but Siri has struggled to understand certain phrasings, and woe betide you if you've got a pronounced regional accent.

Users might also find some of its features are a bit more limited than the alternatives. You can't set interests in order to get updates on your favourite sports teams, for example, while it can't provide predictive notifications about things like traffic. As a result, Siri has come to be regarded as more of a gimmick than an essential feature.

Google Now

Google's offering, found on Android smartphones and tablets running version 4.1 or later of the operating system, does offer a wider range of features and integrations with other apps, however. It can hook up with Google Maps to tell you how to get home by car, foot or public transport, offer a daily update on your pre-selected interests and provide information based on your web searches and emails.

Google Now can also integrate with the Android Wear system, which is being used in an increasing number of smartwatches. If you don't want to fumble around in your bag or pocket for a phone in order to get directions or send a text, this could prove to be an invaluable capability.

One area where it does fall short though, is a sense of fun. The bland Google Now moniker doesn't hint at much of a personality, and this shows in the app, which is functional at best. While Siri can show off by cracking jokes and Cortana will even sing to you (briefly), Google Now is content to be the po-faced, humourless professional.


This lack of style isn't a problem with Cortana, as you might expect from a program named after a character from the hugely popular Halo video game series. And the UK version brings with it a local accent and some British idioms – though this might disappoint Halo fans hoping to hear original voice actor Jen Taylor's familiar tones.

Once you get started with Cortana, you'll find it eager to learn more about you to provide a personalised experience, with the app asking a range of questions to get to know you. So far, some reviewers have noted the personalisation that results from this can be a bit hit and miss, though it's likely to improve as the artificial intelligence technology behind the app evolves.

What's more, Cortana also has context-aware reminders that both Siri and Google Now lack, so when a contact calls you, it will show notifications related to that person. This could be hugely useful if you're always forgetting someone's birthday, for instance, as it allows you to answer the phone with a cheery 'happy birthday' greeting rather than an awkward hello.

The verdict

At present, Google Now is the most developed of the options. It gives the fastest results and is usually the best at interpreting natural voice commands, but it can feel a little soulless, which is where Siri has the edge. As for Cortana, it clearly has a lot of potential and some smart ideas the others lack, but you have to remember it's still at a much earlier stage than its rivals.

This entry was posted in TECH and tagged on by sarahstooks
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