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Siri vs. Google Voice Search: may the best robot helper win

Google released an update to its free search app that includes much better voice searching. It offers a challenge to Siri in terms of speed and search capability, although there are points of comparison and there are differences as well.

First, I have to say, Google Voice Search is fast. Very fast. You see your query in real time as your are speaking it. Conversely, Apple's Siri often takes several seconds to reply to a query and, in my experience, often misses what I've said. Google Voice Search never did this in my testing.

Here's an example. I asked Siri for the latest news on Hurricane Sandy. It replied by offering to search the web for news about Hurricane SANDE.

Siri then completed a Google Search for "Hurricane Sandy," and proceeded to display a list of information. It likely saw Steve Sande in my contacts and made a best guess, but that seems a pretty big miss. Google did it right, and delivered a lot of useful data.

Google doesn't do as well as Siri on finding nearby points of interest. In my tests, asking Google Voice Search for the nearest BBQ restaurants, it quickly provided a response, but the closest listed was 17 miles away, while the nearest restaurant is actually two miles away. The list from Google was not ordered by distance, so it consulted my location using GPS, but didn't bother to put them in a useful order. Siri has a nice graphical display with restaurants listed by distance, Google just provides its standard web page.

As a contrast, editor Victor Agreda, Jr. tried to find middle schools in his area using Siri and it found none. Google found all of them. The results still suffered from ordering issues, but all versus none highlights the work Apple has yet to do when conducting searches.

I asked both apps about the latest presidential polls. Siri asked if I wanted to search the web, and delivered an identical list to Google's (as its web search uses Google anyway). Google Voice Search conducted a web search without confirming if that's what I wanted, which is by design.

Editor Megan Lavey-Heaton reports that Google Voice Search on the iPhone is a bit faster than the native app on her husband's Galaxy Nexus running Android. Also, she notes that app launching via Google on the Nexus is not as fast as with Siri on the iPhone. Siri launches apps almost immediately, she said, while the Galaxy Nexus took about five to 10 seconds to launch an app.

It's easy to look at Siri and Google Voice Search the way we look at Google versus Apple Maps. Apple Maps is pretty as are Siri's graphical repsonses, but Apple Maps can't touch Google Maps for depth of information. That's where Google Voice is. It produces more relevant information.

Of course you can't launch apps with Google on the iPhone, or add events to your calendar, or dictate an email or a text message. Siri is deeply wired into iOS, where Google Voice Search gets no special privileges.

Both Siri and Google have a few "Easter egg" responses. Try telling the Google app "I'm bored," for example. And if you ask "what's the best smartphone?" it will tell you "No one smartphone is right for everyone" and show you the relevant Google search results for "best smartphones." Siri typically suggests the iPhone is the best. A joke, perhaps, but also perhaps not funny to someone who genuinely wanted to know where to go for reviews.

I like Siri, but it's often slow and occasionally unresponsive. Google Voice Search is amazingly quick and relevant, and has more depth. I also think the the Google app has a better voice. I'm using both, and have moved Google Voice Search to my home screen. If you have some thoughts, please share them with us.