Two Google Assistant alternatives worth trying on your Android smartphone

Google Assistant is all the rage right now. Sorry if you missed the memo but you can always catch up.

You will be mistaken to think that Google Assistant is the first virtual assistant to arrive on the Android Platform. The truth of the matter is that it is not.

However, since it is backed by Google, just like the platform itself, then that means that it is quite a big deal. Throw in the fact that it was initially limited to that exclusive club of Pixel smartphone owners and you understand why we’re all over Assistant. It’s like that time when a new KFC outlet shows up in your neighbourhood. It’s not necessarily the first fast food joint around but you can’t help itching to have your first order.

Google Assistant is still far from being made available to everyone around the world. In fact, knowing Google, the wait could be anything between a few months to a few years. We still don’t have services like Google Play Music in Kenya and in several other places. But we do have a workaround to get Assistant on our devices anyway even though we are thousands of miles from the United States where it is currently rolling out.

There are two other equally good personal assistants that are meant, at least officially, for audiences other than us (Kenya and other countries): Hound and Cortana.

Hound

Google Assistant can place conversations in their immediate context and respond appropriately. It can follow along a set of related queries instead of having you start from scratch every other damn time. Great! That’s thanks to its Artificial Intelligence (AI) smarts. But guess what? It is Hound, a year ago, that took our breath away with an amazing demo of it following through questions and answering them instantly. Hound prepared us for everything we will be seeing the virtual assistants we expect from the likes of Samsung.

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You seriously need to watch this video:

Launched exactly a year ago, Hound still continues to amaze. Sure, it is not Assistant and it will never be backed by the power and privilege that comes from being associated with the world’s biggest search company and the massive troves of data it gathers but it is backed by a music-centred company, SoundHound Inc, the makers of a popular music recognition software going by a similar name, and it takes full advantage of that.

Need to play the best songs from around the world? Hound is your guy. It even has a built-in video player that will fetch the songs from YouTube and play them. You can resize the video player, drag it around your device’s screen (glorious if you have one of these 6-inchers). You even get lyrics as well. Perfect.

Hound’s biggest undoing is what ails every other personal assistant out there, according to me: you have to reach out for it. You have to fire up the app. It is not front and centre of the device like say Google Assistant now is or Google Now previously used to be with the universal “OK Google” wake command. The “OK Hound” catchphrase only works when you have the app open.

Hound may not be easily accessible through the Play Store but APKMirror always has our back.

Cortana

Microsoft’s personal assistant has been on the Android platform since August 2015. Since then, it has gotten better and better with each update. It may not be able to place conversations with it in context (for instance, while it will correctly tell you who the President of the Republic of Kenya is, it will be lost for words when you follow up its response with another query on when he was elected) but it will mostly get the job done.

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Need an Uber to town? It will get you one (just remember to add it under the Connected Services option in the Cortana Notebook). It will remind you of your calendar appointments with no fuss and it will deliver weather and news. Just like Hound.

That it will resort to sending you to Bing.com instead of directly answering your queries can be quite unnerving but you will get used to it.

Cortana’s maturity is shown in how it provides the user with options to stay front and centre in the wake of restrictions placed to it on the Android platform for being a third-party application. You can add a voice shortcut on the home screen or simply add Cortana to your lock screen!

Like Hound, better luck getting it through the Play Store. As always, APKMirror just works.

Emmanuel Chenze

Let's just say I know my stuff. I have 7 years experience handling, tinkering with and then writing extensively about Android stuff. Sometimes it is exciting, sometimes it is not; things can get stale with nothing new to show but I live for each one of those moments. Have something Android-related that you believe I need to have a look at? Hit me up: echenze@androidkenya.com