Need A Personal Assistant? Use This Free App

If you've ever felt frustrated when trying to get Siri to understand what you're saying, Hound is the app for you.

We're not kidding when we say that the free personal assistant, which launched yesterday in the App Store and Google Play, knows almost everything. Whether you're looking for a hotel in San Francisco that costs less than $500 this weekend or want to book an Uber, Hound can help.

Just as you do when you set up Siri, you activate Hound by asking a few preset questions to help the app recognize your voice. Then, you're taken to a colorful and well-organized main screen that lists the various topics you can ask questions about. To start a query, simply tap the microphone icon at the bottom of the screen. To revisit questions you've already asked, there's no need to talk into the app again — just touch the magnifying glass in the upper left-hand corner to see a record of your questions, which you can tap to automatically ask again.

Right off the bat, it's clear that Hound is smarter than Siri. You can ask the app complicated, compound questions ("What's the nearest coffee shop that's open after 7 a.m. on Sundays and has free Wi-Fi?") and get answers that are speedy, precise, and surprisingly detailed. Plus, you can ask follow-up questions for even more information ("What about after 8 a.m.?").

When I tried asking Siri to give me good shopping options nearby, she gave one answer that seemed accurate, but also listed locations that are clearly not shopping-related. When I asked Hound the same question, the app came back with a list of several (correct) shopping options with more than three stars, sorted by rating. I didn't even ask for a minimum of three stars, but it was a welcome addition.

While the app didn't misunderstand any of my questions, it has a few areas where improvements could certainly be made. When I tried asking Hound to list movies that are in theaters and look good, I was told: "I could not find any movies that are in theaters and are popular." Balderdash: As any Ryan Reynolds fan knows, Deadpool is absolutely killing it at the box office right now.

That mistake aside, Hound is a major step forward for voice-controlled phone assistants. The breadth of information available in-app and the fact that you can talk to it like you might a friend rather than a robot, sets it apart from the competition.

Now if only Hound could actually bring me some coffee.

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