Hound is the hot new personal assistant, here's how it compares to Siri and Google Now

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Do we really need another personal assistant for our phones? Siri and Google Now are already baked into Apple and Android phones respectively, but Hound thinks it can do better.

Hound is SoundHound's digital assistant app, first released as a beta in 2015. Now, the app is ready for everyone to enjoy and it comes with a few tricks that one-up both Google Now and Siri. It's available for free starting today in the App Store and Google Play.

Specifically, Hound is built for handling multiple demands at once, so you can ask it a complicated question, like "What day of the week will June 14th be in 2030?" and it will understand all of the pieces of the question to give you a correct answer. SoundHound's CEO Keyvan Mohajer says that Hound uses "speech to recognition" technology, as opposed to "speech to text" and then "text to recognition" that its competitors use. All that means for you is faster search results and better answers for lengthy questions.

What can Hound do that others can't?

  • It's currently the only personal assistant currently that can summon an Uber ride and tell you the cost, distance and time of the trip.
  • If you're scheduling a conference call or appointment in another part of the world, Hound can tell you the time in your current location and the other time zone.
  • Hound can exclude certain results from a restaurant search. For instance, you can ask for Asian restaurants nearby that aren't Thai or Japanese all in one sentence. You can refine your results further by asking to show only restaurants that are open now, have parking and are inexpensive.
  • With hotels, you can rattle off a list of needs "A hotel in San Francisco from May 25 to May 31 that's pet-friendly and under $500 per night" and Hound pieces together all those attributes into your search. Check out the example below, with Hound on the far left, Siri in the middle and Google Now on the right.
houndhotels.jpg
Screenshot by Sarah Mitroff/CNET

After playing around with the beta over the last year, and testing the final version for a few days, I was impressed by how quickly it found what I asked for. But is it really the personal assistant to rival all others? Not exactly. I put Hound, Google Now and Siri to the test in variety of categories to see which ones fared best. Here's how they did. Again, Hound is on the left, Siri in the middle and Google Now on the right. For simplicity sake, I didn't test Cortana.

Sports

Screenshot by Sarah Mitroff/CNET


For recent sports scores, all three got it right, but the difference comes down to presentation. Hound gives multiple scores while Siri gave more details (by quarter) of the score.

Directions and transportation

Screenshot by Sarah Mitroff/CNET

All pretty much the same, though Siri redirects to the default Apple Maps app, while Google and Hound show you some information before you navigate. Unfortunately, Hound couldn't give me public transit directions when I asked, but Google Now and Siri can.

General knowledge

Screenshot by Sarah Mitroff/CNET


Hound didn't fair well here, only offering search results for nearly every question I asked. Hound does have a tie-in with Wikipedia, but you have to use the right search terms -- such as "Tell me about Piggy banks" or "Wikipedia Mount Everest" -- to get those results. Siri usually just gives me a paragraph from Wikipedia that I have to read myself, while Google Now actually speaks the answer.

Looking up celebrities

Screenshot by Sarah Mitroff/CNET


All three did fine when searching for celebrities both widely known and not, as well as historical figures, athletes and fictional characters. Siri and Google Now give the most detail, though Google wins for finding a photo (seriously Siri, get it together).

Movies and TV

Screenshot by Sarah Mitroff/CNET

When looking up actors in TV shows and movies Hound failed, showing results for the 1961 Avengers TV show, instead of the recent movie. I was able to get the right answer if I asked about Avengers: Age of Ultron, but the app didn't recognize the original 2012 film. And yes, I also asked "who plays Natasha Romanoff in The Avengers?" to no avail.

Weather

houndweather.jpg
Screenshot by Sarah Mitroff/CNET

All three performed well, telling me the conditions and high temperatures. Though only Hound and Google Now actually highlight the correct day of the week, Siri and Hound get points for personality.

Personality

Screenshot by Sarah Mitroff/CNET

Speaking of personality, Hound's Mohajer told me that Hound wasn't made to be witty or funny, instead just functional. That said, Hound and Siri have more personality than Google, which wasn't into answering questions about Siri or at willing to tell me a joke.

Who's the best listener?

In my testing, Hound and Google Now are the best at understanding the words I say without misinterpreting me. Siri often gets it wrong, though it will let you edit what it thought you said.

All three give you just a few seconds to finish your request before it starts searching. If you pause for too long, it will search based on whatever it heard your say first.

Who's the best overall?

No one app is the end-all, be-all personal assistant. Google Now is fantastic at pulling up facts and searching the web; Siri is great for setting reminders, calling friends and controlling your phone; and Hound is best for handling complicated requests, like finding a hotel. They are all great for different purposes, but we haven't yet found an app that combines all of its strengths. Even Cortana, which is fairly well rounded, can't understand longer requests.

And for stuff dependent on your operating system, you're probably stuck with one choice -- only Siri can access apps on your iPhone and only Google Now on your Android. But for everything else, we're entering the realm of mixing and matching digital assistants depending on who's up to the which task.

That's exactly where Hound is already more useful than I expected: I'm going to be using it to find a place to eat and for my next hotel hunt -- even if Siri will remain my go-to for morning weather reports and Google Now is still my mainstay for pulling up facts. There's not "one digital assistant to rule them all." But since this team of three assistants are working for free, I can't complain too much.

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