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Thursday, January 24, 2019

I Used a Cortana Smart Speaker All Weekend. Here’s Why It Failed

I spent days using Cortana instead of Alexa or Google Assistant and the experience left me feeling as rough around the edges as Cortana does. Unfortunately, Microsoft has fallen so far behind that the only reasonable solution is to give up.

Satya says Goodbye to Cortana Speakers

Recently, Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, has said he no longer sees Cortana as a competitor to Alexa or Google Assistant. According to MSPoweruser, he stated:

“You should be able to use it on Google Assistant, you should be able to use it on Alexa, just like how you use our apps on Android and iOS so that’s at least how we want to think about where it’ll go.”

But, is Cortana so far behind? Is it time to head in a new direction and give up on Cortana being your dedicated digital household assistant? I spent a few days trying to determine just that, and what I found is: Yes, this is the right decision to make.

Set Up Was Complicated

When I started with this experiment, I immediately ran into an issue. I have Alexa devices and Google devices scattered through my home. But I don’t have Cortana devices so conveniently placed. I own a Surface Pro 3, a Windows 10 PC, and I put Cortana on my phone. But my PC doesn’t have a microphone, my Surface spends much of its time turned off these days, and my phone doesn’t have a decent enough microphone for quick voice commands.

So I acquired a Harmon Kardon Invoke for my office (where I spend a lot of my time) and used my phone in other locations in the house. It’s not a perfect one-to-one scenario, but good enough. Unfortunately, there is no Google Home Mini or Echo dot equivalent, just the Invoke. So cheaply placing Cortana speakers around the house is out of the question. The price of the Invoke has dropped to $50, which is very low for a such a great sounding speaker, but you can get Echo Dots and Google Minis for less. If you keep an eye out, it’s not uncommon to see them for as little as $30.

Cortana Does Half the Basics Well Enough

My primary use for my Google and Alexa devices are smart home controls, music, timers, and routines that automate things. When it came to Smart Home integration, I thought I was doing well at first. Cortana has Wink, Smartthings, and Philips Hue integration. I’m currently using a Wink hub for many of my smart home devices and Philips light bulbs, and controlling those devices worked without issue. The experience with most of my smart home devices was on par with Alexa or Google Assistant.

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