Amazon Alexa simply can’t beat Google Assistant or Siri on your phone
There’s no shortage of voice assistants for your phone: Siri, Cortana, Google Assistant, Bixby, the list goes on and on.
As someone who invested in an Amazon Echo and its artificial intelligence Alexa from the start, I’m pretty disappointed with Amazon’s digital assistant on the HTC U11. It’s just a little too basic.
The phone is fine it has everything you’d want from a 2017 flagship phone (except maybe an edge-to-edge display), but installing the new HTC Alexa app just reminds you how unready for the phone the digital assistant is.
It’s also probably worth mentioning that Alexa doesn’t replace the Google Assistant, either. You can technically use both, and get the best of both Google and Amazon’s voice assistants.
But unlike Alexa’s first appearance on mobile in the Huawei Mate 9, the HTC Alexa app can be activated with its wake word this time around, which means it works hands-free just like with Siri and the Assistant.
You can also map Alexa to the U11’s “Edge Sense” frame, which will launch it when the phone is squeezed. It’s a little gimmicky to squeeze the phone to launch an app, but it’s nowhere near as pointless as some other gimmicks on other phones.
If you’ve used Alexa on an Echo device before, you know exactly what to expect from the assistant’s capabilities. Simple commands like “Alexa, what’s the weather?” and “Alexa, play music” work just fine, like they do on an Echo. In fact, almost everything that you can do with Alexa on an Echo, you can do on U11.
So why wasn’t I satisfied with the experience? Easy: Alexa’s not connected enough to the apps or features on the phone.
For example, Google Assistant can display directions from Google Maps, but Alexa isn’t able to. Here’s what I got when I asked the Assistant for directions to the Empire State Building from Mashable’s office:
Can you guess what Alexa responded with when asked for the same directions? First, it responded with, “Sorry, I’m not sure about that,” and then when I asked again, it said, “The fastest route to Empire State Building at 350 Fifth Avenue takes about 13 minutes via Sixth Avenue and Madison Avenue.”
Not only is Alexa unable to provide useful navigation, but my location was completely wrong (that’s not our office address), Sixth Avenue and Madison Avenue are several avenues apart, and I have no idea if the estimated time is for walking, driving, or another mode of transportation. Huge fail, Alexa!
Navigation is a no-brainer for a digital assistant on a phone, and Alexa simply can’t do it.
Navigation is a no-brainer for a digital assistant on a phone and Alexa can’t do it.
On the U11, Alexa doesn’t support setting alarms or reminders, and its knowledge database is just more limited than the Assistant or Siri’s. It also can’t make Alexa voice calls or send messages even though I gave it access to my contacts.
To make it all worse, Alexa is slow. Sometimes it takes two seconds for its microphone card to show up. I also noticed it’s not as good at listening compared to the Echo, which obviously has the advantage of far-field microphones to pick up your voice from across the room.
I love Alexa in home on my Echo and even think it’s excellent on the Alexa-supported Element and Westinghouse 4K TVs I checked out a few months ago but its implementation on the HTC U11 gets a D-grade from me. It doesn’t do even half of the things Siri or the Assistant does, and it’s slow as hell.
Amazon has the resources to make its assistant better on phones, and I believe it can and will. But right now, Alexa sucks on phones.