Perplexity: We tried the new AI search engine designed to trump Google - how it works and verdict

  • Perplexity is an AI-powered search engine alternative to Google.
  • It has a free version as well as a premium version.
  • Perplexity provides concise, bullet-point based responses to queries.

Artificial intelligence has come a long way since the days of being an ominous sounding threat in science fiction/disaster movies.

Tech giants like Microsoft, Nvidia, Google and Apple have fully embraced the AI-revolution in 2024. 

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It can feel hard to keep your head above water as you are bombarded from all sides with so many headlines and announcements about AI tools. From ChatGPT, DALL-E and Midjourney, it feels like a new shiny option is shoved in front of you every couple of days. 

The latest company looking to harness the power of artificial intelligence is Perplexity, which is attempting to take on Google at its own game. But can an AI offer a better search engine experience than the default options? 

Let’s find out: 

What is Perplexity? 

The latest attempt at dethroning Google at the top of the search engine perch, Perplexity launched in 2022 and uses artificial intelligence to scour the internet to provide the answers to your queries. The San Francisco based company has set the lofty goal of making “searching for information online feel like you have a knowledgeable assistant guiding you”.

In layman’s terms, it is a bit like a fusion between Google and a chat bot. Ask Perplexity a question and it will come back to you with an answer. 

Perplexity is an AI search engine. Picture: Perplexity AIPerplexity is an AI search engine. Picture: Perplexity AI
Perplexity is an AI search engine. Picture: Perplexity AI | Perplexity AI

How does Perplexity work? 

The app and the web browser will likely look familiar to anyone who has dabbled with ChatGPT in the last year or so. Users are greeted with a text box to enter a question or query - for example: what is the weather like in London today? 

After a few moments, Perplexity AI will give you a concise response, usually in the form of multiple bullet points - featuring links to news articles. You don’t have to scroll between links and decide which might have the right answer, the AI brings the answers to you. If you don’t have a specific question in mind, Perplexity also has a list of trending topics - similar to Google.

On its website, Perplexity explains the process like this: “With the help of our advanced answer engine, it processes your questions and tasks It then uses predictive text capabilities to generate useful responses, choosing the best one from multiple sources, and summarises the results in a concise way.” 

Is it free to use? 

Google and other search engines - like ask and Bing - are free to use, meaning it would be hard to get users to pony up for an alternative sight unseen. Fortunately Perplexity operates a freemium model, meaning that it can be used without paying but some features will require you to upgrade. 

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The paid version of Perplexity gives you access to the Pro Search feature, instead of the more generic Quick Search available for free. The company explains the difference as follows: “While Quick Search gives you fast, basic answers, Pro Search goes even further. It asks for details, considers your preferences, dives deeper, and then delivers pinpoint results. Say goodbye to endless tabs and irrelevant links.” 

Perplexity is available via a web browser and also has an app version which can be downloaded via Apple’s App Store or the Google Play Store. 

Does Perplexity work and do you recommend it? 

We have been dabbling with the free version of Perplexity in recent days and the results have been mixed but promising. The app got a bit confused about the weather in York, where this reporter is based, and offered up conflicted expected temperatures after asking whether I needed a coat when going to the shop. 

However, the clean and concise responses made a compelling case for turning to the app more and more regularly throughout the day. Google has become a bit exhausting to use in recent months, particularly with links from Reddit featuring so highly, making it feel like you are walking upstream when you type in a query. 

I tried using Perplexity to find a film to watch on Netflix - using the prompt best horror films on Netflix UK - and it pulled together an easily digestible list from across the internet, avoiding having to trawl through website after website to find ideas. And one of the recommendations - The Ruins - turned out to be a bit of a hidden gem! 

It is missing many features regular Google users are familiar with - for example it won’t show you a route if you just search for a pub or landmark. I asked how to get to York city centre from my street but the result was underwhelming and went along the lines of ‘you can take a bus, walk or drive’ it does not have a map feature - at least in the free version. 

So as Perplexity is now in June 2024, it probably won’t be killing Google any time soon, but it does offer a useful alternative if you are sick of the bloat of the internet’s main search engine. If we try the pro version, we will update our findings.

Have you tried out Perplexity or other AI-tools like ChatGPT? If you have played around with the search engine, you might want to try listening to Perplexity’s AI-generated podcast - Discover Daily - which brings you the biggest headlines from finance, technology and regulation. It can be found on Spotify and episodes are released Monday to Friday.

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