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Siri versus Evi: Which smart-phone voice assistant is smarter?

Consumer Reports News: March 07, 2012 11:38 AM

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It's the battle of the voice-activated smart-phone assistants whose names end in "i." On the heels of Siri, the impressive voice system built into the iPhone 4S, there's now Evi, a free download for Android and 99 cents in the Apple App Store [corrected]. How do the two compare in performance?

The question is begged partly by chatter that Evi resembles Siri so much that Apple is readying to oust the newcomer from its App Store, because it violates the site's rule 8.3, which states, "Apps which appear confusingly similar to an existing Apple product or advertising theme will be rejected." Since some bloggers were prompted to speculate that Apple was seeking to crush an embarrassingly good free competitor, we decided to pit Siri and Evi against one another in a voice-activation "talk-off."

Our admittedly informal evaluation involved pitting Siri on the iPhone 4S against Evi on the Android-based Motorola Droid Razr, one of the fastest, highest-scoring Verizon phones in our smart-phone Ratings (available to subscribers). Both were given identical questions and commands designed to turn up how well they could ascertain what they were asked, search both within the phone and on the Web for accurate (or at least relevant) answers or results, and then deliver those in a timely way, both using a synthetic female voice.

As revealed in our video, which features colleagues playing the part of Apple/Siri and Android/Evi, the two apps performed with comparable accuracy at some tasks, showing results both on the screen and via speaking them. For example, both delivered accurate weather forecasts for Cincinnati. Off camera, they were both able to find local Chinese and Mexican restaurants and tell us how many ounces there are in 30 pounds.

But Evi had some drawbacks compared with her "sister." She was often noticeably slower in delivering results—sometimes taking more than 10 seconds, compared with less than a few seconds for Siri. And Evi has access to fewer resources than Siri. For now, at least, Evi can't send texts or e-mails and isn't able to set up appointments in your calendar. When you ask Evi to perform such tasks, she'll instead apologize for not being able to do what you ask or suggest a search on Yelp. And while she can find businesses and show you their addresses and phone numbers on a map, she can't direct you to your destination, as Siri does.

Frankly, using the Voice Actions feature already built into late-model Android phones or the Voice Control feature on the non-Siri-equipped iPhone 4 and 3GS is more efficient than most add-on voice-activated services. While these built-in apps don't talk back to you like Evi, they do have access to more core phone features so you can dictate messages and Web searches, or ask for directions with impressive accuracy.

Bottom line: If voice-activation is a paramount consideration for your next smart-phone purchase, you’ll likely want to buy an iPhone 4S, since our informal tests suggests its Siri app is peerless in its capabilities. And I encourage Android and non-Siri iPhone owners to have a little fun with Evi, though I'm betting they'll accomplish more using the voice-activated features already built-in to their phones.

Siri rival Evi looks set to be pulled from App Store [Yahoo News]

Mike Gikas

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