Microsoft announced last month that its Cortana voice assistant would be coming to Android in beta at some point in July, but it looks like the APK has managed to leak out a bit early. We grabbed it as soon as we could, and decided to give it a look. And our first impression, frankly, is that there’s not really anything special about Cortana — especially when Android has Google Now, Hound, and other competitors to pick from.
When you launch the app, it asks you to provide the name you would like Cortana to call you. After this, the app makes you sign into your Microsoft account — credentials that, for many of us, haven’t needed be typed for quite some time. Somehow I managed to get my password right on my first try and the app brought me to the main screen, called “Home” in the app.
On the “Home” screen, you’ll find what are very similar to the Google Now cards that users of the Google Now Launcher look at every single day. Sadly, these don’t have intelligent free-reign on your Google data, so they can’t really offer you nearly as much useful information. I have a flight coming up that’s showing up as a Google Now card, but that information is of course nowhere to be found in Cortana. On first launch, the app gave me recommended articles (none of which I wanted to read), trending stories, headlines, weather, and some movie and restaurant suggestions.
At the bottom of the Home screen you can tap on the “Ask me anything” box to type your query, or you can tap on the microphone to the right to use your voice. Giving it some pretty common queries like “show me movies nearby” and “tell me about nearby burger places” gave some decent results, but other extremely basic questions like “what time is it?” oddly just took me to a Google search page and offered no real answers.
Opening up the menu gives you quick shortcuts to the “Notebook” and “Reminders”. The latter, of course, is a list of reminders that you’ve configured through Cortana. The former lets you manage your settings, your profile information, and which cards you would and wouldn’t want to appear on the Home screen.
I found that using Cortana felt a little slower than Hound (of course) and Google Now (be sure to check out our comparison video, by the way), and Microsoft’s voice and word recognition is clearly just not as advanced as Google’s offerings. Add that to the fact that Cortana isn’t a baked-in solution like Google Now, and you have an app taking a spot in your app drawer that doesn’t offer much that your phone can’t already do just by saying “OK Google.” I’m going to keep playing around, but for now, even considering the app is a beta, I can’t see any reason to use this.
You can find a gallery of screenshots below, and the leaked APK can be found on APKMirror and elsewhere. The actual beta is sure to be made available via official channels in no time if you’d like to wait a bit.
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