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Tried out Siri, Google Now, and Cortana only to find yourself disappointed? Here are a few alternatives to check out, brought to you by Cool Apps and Websites.
But a lot of great alternatives to these apps have popped up since we wrote about any of that, and we wanted to round up a few. Let’s dive right in, shall we?
Hound (Android, iOS): Fast Responses to a Bunch of Questions
Siri, Google Now, and Cortana all have one downside that’s rarely talked about: they’re mind-numbingly slow. Hound is a third-party alternative to those tools that gives you answers quickly. Information about local businesses is particularly impressive, thanks to tight integration with Yelp. You can ask things like “what’s the best Asian restaurant nearby that doesn’t serve sushi” and get a result. It’s kind of amazing.
You can even follow up with a question you asked, and Hound can figure out what you mean. For example: if you ask for the weather in Des Moines, and then ask for great Chinese places there, Hound will figure out you meant Chinese Restaurants in Des Moines.
The app integrates with your phone and text messaging app, letting you do things like send a text. And while they can’t offer the system-wide integration of default offerings, it’s impressive how much you can do. You’ll be talking to your phone like a crazy person in no time.
It’s not perfect, but no such assistant is yet. But if you’re usually disappointed with virtual assistants, Hound is worth trying out. It’s useful in ways others aren’t.
Sirius: The Open Source Siri Alternative
Like the idea of voice commands, but aren’t so sure you want someone else’s server processing your every request? The truly obsessive can set up Sirius, an open source alternative to Siri that you can install on your own server. This is not for beginners: you’re going to need to compile some source code and set up a Linux server to get it to work. But if you’ve got some serious (pun intended) experience, go ahead and give it a spin.
Setting this all up is a little beyond the scope of this column, but I couldn’t round up alternative virtual assistants without mentioning this open source option.
Evi (Android, iOS): Quick Answers to Questions
If the main thing you like from virtual assistants is asking for bits of trivia, Evi could work very well for you quickly. It doesn’t offer the integration features of most assistants, and can’t play music for you, but it’s fast for what it works for.
Again, it’s not perfect, but if you’re looking for an alternative that’s not tied to Apple, Microsoft, or Google’s ecosystem and just answers your questions, it’s worth checking out. Plus, it comes with a matronly British voice, which you might like. I don’t know what you’re into.
Cloe: Text Messaging Concierge
When you’re looking for a place to eat, sometimes you just want a recommendation: not a list of search results. Cloe is an SMS-based assistant designed to do just that, and even reserve you a seat if necessary.
There’s a waiting list for the service, and unlike others I’ve highlighted here it does not respond to your voice. But there’s a certain simplicity to it that makes it worth checking out.
Google Voice Search (Chrome): Search Using Your Voice Anywhere
It almost seems like cheating to include this, but we’ve somehow not really mentioned it before. If you’re using Google Chrome on the desktop, you can use voice search right now and get a voice response back, just like on your phone. Just head to the Google home page, then click the colorful microphone.
So far as I can tell, the results are exactly the same as what you can get from Google Now on Android.
There’s a good chance you already knew about this, but if not enjoy!
What Other Virtual Assistants Do You Know About?
We could go on, of course. There’s Amazon’s excellent Echo, which works well but requires you buy a specific piece of hardware. And there are so many Google Now tips we could go over, like using it to automate your house, or control third party apps like Wunderlist
But we want to learn from you. What little-known virtual assistant apps, or tips, do you want to share? Let’s chat in the comments below.