Back to school: the best smart voice assistant for studying

Get the most out of the voice assistants in your life

Back to school 2019 best smart voice assistant for studying
(Image credit: Google)

So, you've read our guide on the best smart home tech for university students and now you want to know which smart assistant is the best for students in 2019. Well, you're in the right place, as T3's resident experts have tested them all to find out which smart assistant is best for studying and, naturally, partying, too.

In the olden days – well, maybe not to old – all of the assistants, from Siri to Cortana to Alexa, were locked to their own operating systems. Now, however, there are apps aplenty, available to all, and that means that many are widely available across a range of hardware and products.

Smart assistants in 2019 are now eerily clever, too, performing tasks that even a few years ago wouldn't have seemed possible. Google's Assistant, for example, is working up to being able to book restaurants and haircuts, while Siri can now organise basically your whole phone, suggesting apps that might be useful to you when you need them.

We've tried and tested five smart assistants: Amazon's Alexa, Google's Assistant, Samsung's Bixby, Apple's Siri, and Microsoft's Cortana. Of the five, the three that stand out are Alexa, Assistant, and Siri, both in terms of the hardware they come on and their functionality. That isn't to say Bixby and Cortana are bad, they just have different upsides.

So, without further ado, read on to find out which smart voice assistants are good for students in 2019.

Back to school 2019 best smart voice assistant for studying

Amazon's Alexa assistant comes pre-installed on the Echo and other devices. 

(Image credit: Amazon)

1. Amazon Alexa

Pre-installed on the Echo and other Amazon tech, Alexa is hard to beat.

Released: 2014
Compatibility: Amazon devices, iOS, and Android
Apps available: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Works alongside some great smart devices+Apps available for iOS and Android

If you're in the market for smart tech, you'll almost certainly have come across Amazon's now-huge range of products. From the Echo to the Echo Dot and Echo Show to the Echo Spot, there's something for everyone here – and they're all high quality and priced reasonably. The thing that links all of these disparate devices together is Alexa, the powerful smart assistant that comes bundled on each and is available as an app for iOS and Android.

The silky tones of Alexa, summoned by asking "Alexa, [insert phase]," are by now well known, although the ever-expanding range of things she can do likely are not. As of the last count, Alexa has over 80,000 "skills," the little apps that developers can build that expand her functionality. These range from reading sports scores to ordering food to booking flights to checking your calendar or mail. The sky really is the limit. 

The app-based versions of Alexa are helpful, too, although not being built into either iOS (where Siri rules) or Android (where Assistant rules) is a weak spot. The most useful case we've found for using Alexa apps it to control Amazon-made devices using the assistant, which works seamlessly.

Alexa, then, is a powerful smart assistant that comes with a lot of top-drawn Amazon devices and can be a very useful companion for controlling various aspects of your life, such as organising your busy social... we mean academic... calendar.

Back to school 2019 best smart voice assistant for studying

Using Google's huge brain, Assistant is hard to beat.

(Image credit: Google)

2. Google Assistant

The power of the gigantic search engine right in your pocket.

Released: 2016
Compatibility: Android and iOS
Apps available: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Really, really smart+iOS and Android apps

Strangely enough, Google was somewhat late to the smart assistant game, waiting until 2016 to launch Assistant as a replacement to Google Now, a somewhat limited one-way assistant. Right off the bat, things looked incredibly promising, however, both in terms of the software and hardware (it launched alongside original Pixel and Google Home).

As you might expect being based on Google's enormous brain, Assistant is incredibly handy. It's baked deep into every Android phone now and can handle a range of tasks from the simple (sending texts, calendar stuff, calling people) to the more complex (identifying objects, booking restaurants, and so on). It really is hard to beat Assistant on a functionality-basis.

Just like Alexa, Google has also been working on adding a huge number of apps (called "actions") to its service meaning Assistant is handy for almost anything you want: radio through TuneIn, opening Netflix, Spotify, and so on. There are even a few purely for productivity, a useful addition to the student toolkit. 

The iOS app for Assistant is pretty handy, too, letting users chat away until their hearts content – or whatever task they wanted doing has been done. While it's not as seamless as Siri, it's very close.

Back to school 2019 best smart voice assistant for studying

The oldest, and maybe the wisest, voice assistant going.

(Image credit: Apple)

3. Siri

If you're an Apple person, it's hard to do better than this.

Released: 2011
Compatibility: iOS
Apps available: No
Reasons to buy
+Seamless integration with iOS+Wide range of functionality
Reasons to avoid
-No Android compatibility

The oldest smart assistant on the list also has the most interesting history. Introduced in 2011 alongside the iPhone 4S (now that's a throwback...), the functionality was initially very limited: calls, texts, and not a lot else. Over time, Apple has worked hard to introduce a whole range of new features, including many that are in response to the stellar work performed by Amazon and Google. 

The most recent updates to Siri, which came alongside iOS 12, have moved things to a new level. The assistant is now deeply integrated into the operating system, even going as far as suggesting potential apps to users and people to message based on past usage patterns. As with all things Apple, Siri is also baked deep into the Apple Watch and HomePod, offering different ways to control Apple's smart devices.

There are some downsides to Siri, however, especially if you're an Android. In fact, if you're in Android user, forget it; Siri is not going to do anything for you. Apple's steadfast rejection of porting its assistant onto the competing operating system is somewhat understandable, but does limit its usefulness somewhat. Luckily, as we've seen, Android users are more than sorted.

HomePod, too, is an area when Siri is noticeably deficient compared to Amazon's Alexa range or Google Home. As we found in our review, there are some things that Siri simply cannot do and this is quite a big deal when the predominant way of interacting with the device is through the smart assistant.

But overall, it's hard to beat Apple's own assistant on Apple's own devices, especially as the company invests heavily in beefing up what it can with each subsequent iOS release.

Back to school 2019 best smart voice assistant for studying

In its Bixby 2.0 form, this is a powerful AI for Samsung users.

(Image credit: Samsung)

4. Samsung Bixby

The baby of the bunch has its charms.

Released: 2017
Compatibility: Android and Tizen
Apps available: Yes
Reasons to buy
+A decent assistant for Samsung users

Having spent years looking at the smartphone landscape and thinking, "We could make a smart assistant for our phones," Samsung entered the fray in 2017 with Bixby, a major reboot of S Voice, the lacklustre assistant that was packaged as part of Samsung's Android skin. 

The new assistant was aimed at being a Siri-like service available exclusively to Samsung users, something to reward the loyalty of its vast customer base. The range of features, too, was similar to earlier versions of Siri, offering voice and text options and other basic actions.

Bixby comes in several parts: Voice, or hailing the assistant with your voice of the button on Galaxy devices; Vision, an AR camera feature that can identify objects in real-time; Routines, for setting up recurring actions; and Home, a scrolling list of the tasks Bixby can perform.

After receiving some criticism for the lack of functionality available for Bixby, Samsung went away and had a re-think, coming back with Bixby 2.0, a major reworking of the assistant that was now compatible with a range of smart devices, like TVs and refrigerators. In the future, Bixby will support Samsung's Galaxy Home smart speaker.

Back to school 2019 best smart voice assistant for studying

Understated but surprisingly powerful.

(Image credit: Microsoft)

5. Microsoft Cortana

Named after the character in Halo, there's a lot to like here

Released: 2014
Compatibility: Windows, iOS, Android, and Xbox
Apps available: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Works on almost all devices+Broad skillset, especially for productivity

Last but definitely not least is Microsoft's Cortana assistant, which might actually be the most helpful from a purely productivity standpoint. Introduced alongside Windows 10, Cortana is primarily about helping you get work done in a smart fashion. The Office 365 suite, for example, has Cortana built in to help with different tasks.

The core features found in Cortana are similar to the others: searching the internet for things, setting reminders, and answering questions using Bing. Like Alexa, Cortana also has various third-party "skills" that let it do extra things based on different apps, like ecobee. 

Microsoft also announced in 2017 that Cortana would become cross-compatible with Alexa devices, and vice versa, meaning Windows 10 devices can easily open Alexa up and so on. 

Recently, Microsoft has been shifting the focus of Cortana to workplace interactions, due to a lack of widespread usage among consumers. So, really, in terms of pure productivity, Cortana is the winner from this list, although as a student, the others are likely more useful on a day-to-day basis.