The two premium set-top boxes: Amazon FireTV and Apple TV 4, side by side. You can look elsewhere for detailed breakdowns of the difference in hardware and software. For this "voice-off" we are looking at one thing and one thing only: how well each set top box responds to voice commands and questions. We pit Siri against Alexa.
These devices are for entertainment, we will focus our voice commands on that functionality. There is no need to use a wakeword for either set top box, as they do not offer hands-free mode. Instead, you'll find a button and microphone on the remote control. Press the button, speak your command, release button.
Siri result is shown first, followed by Alexa result. The heading is the voice command used to elicit the response.
Show me Movies with Tom Cruise!
We'll start with some easy options. A couple of well known actors, both platforms should be able to help us.
Show me Movies with Angelina Jolie!
Show me Movies with Jack White!
This is to see how good each assistant is at finding movies for someone who is primarily a musician, although has done some acting. Alexa also gives us the option to see videos that he performs in.
Show me Movies with Liam Neeson!
What is a Good Romance Movie?
What is a Good Action Flick?
Mostly to see if they can pick up on the phrase "Action Flick".
What is a Good Comedy?
Play Some Music!
Although set top boxes are primarily about video, they are also about entertainment, so they should be able to play music. On the Apple TV, we are limited to using Apple's music services. Even if you have lots of music on your desktop and have enabled Home Sharing, Siri will not pick it up. Too bad.
Alexa was able to play some music, and since I did not say what music I wanted, took a guess as to what I might like. For me, this was a good guess.
Play Some Music on Pandora!
Integration with other music services. As predicted, Siri was blocked. Alexa was able to play me one of my favorite musicians.
Another one of how well the system integrates with third party Apps. They both were able to start YouTube!
Tell me a Dirty Joke!
I have not found a voice assistant that does not insist on corny jokes.
Who is Donald Trump?
Sorry Mr. soon-to-be POTUSA, Siri doesn't know much about you. Even though Donald Trump has spent his life in business, he was also the star of a long running reality TV show. Not to mention the recent political events. I would have expected some knowledge. Notice that Alexa gave us an information page (pulled from Wikipedia) rather than one showing the show he is in, or maybe even guest appearances he has made.
Who is Arnold Schwarzenegger?
A slightly different question, and Siri gives us the regular page showing the movies Arnold has been in. She didn't really answer Who he is. Alexa, on the other did answer the question, and did not try to up-sell us on movies.
It is fascinating to see the results of voice commands on a set top box. Some of the results are up to personal opinion. Some users may prefer the extra information that Alexa is able to show, when she takes over the entire screen to show her results. Siri, on the other hand, mostly just uses the bottom third of the screen to show her results.
Generally speaking, Alexa is open to music in a way Siri will never be. Siri will only play music if you have bought it from the Apple Store, or you are using Apple Music. On the other hand, Alexa had no problem using Pandora as well as it's own Prime music. But, Alexa can also play from Spotify, iHeartRadio, and others.
I found Alexa results to be mostly the same as on an Echo or other device. I was surprised that features of Siri that are available on iPhone were not available on the Apple TV (she won't do math here!).
Of course, this is just an example of the responses we got at this point in time. These voice assistants are always being improved 'on-the-fly', as all of their processing is done in the cloud. This means they are always getting better. It will be interesting to see how each changes over time.
I hope you found this comparison interesting. It gives us more insight into voice design and how that is used in different contexts.