Cortana has been on Windows Phones for a while now, but the personal digital assistant is in Windows 10. Here’s how to set up Cortana and get stuff done quicker.
Cortana, meet Alexa
Soon - probably by the end of 2017 - Cortana, will be able to communicate with Alexa, the voice-activated assistant built into Amazon Echo devices.
Amazon and Microsoft are working together so that you'll be able to use the capabilities of both assistants regardless of whether you're using a Windows or Amazon device. For example, you'll be able to access Cortana to check and schedule meetings through an Amazon Echo, or turn on your smart lights when sitting at a Windows 10 PC, via Alexa.
How to enable Cortana in Windows 10
Click the search box next to the Start button (the Windows symbol) and a window similar to the Start menu will appear. Cortana should offer up her services: just tap or click ‘I’m in’ to start the setup process.
If you agree with the terms and conditions, click I agree. If not, you can’t use Cortana. There are privacy settings you can adjust – we’ll get to those later.
Finally, decide if you want to be able to say “Hey Cortana” to invoke the assistant without having to click in the search box.
Next type in your name or a nickname and click ‘Use that’. You’ll then see Cortana’s default view, which displays the top news stories to begin with.
You can then type or tap the microphone icon to enter a question or command. For example, we typed “What’s the weather going to be like this weekend?” and Cortana displayed the forecast for Saturday and Sunday.
For Cortana to be truly useful – and personal - she needs to know more about you. Click the hamburger (the three horizontal lines) at the top-left corner of the Cortana window to show the menu. In fact, the menu is always on display; clicking the hamburger merely shows you what each icon does. You can see the menu descriptions in the left-most image below.
To tell Cortana about your interests, click the Notebook section. Each item in here is customisable, and you can include more categories by clicking the + button at the bottom. When you do, you’ll see a list of categories. We clicked ‘food’ and got the two options shown on the far right above. You can add as many of these as you like.
Click Sport in the category menu and you can add your favourite team to get notifications. However, this is still (as it is in Windows 8) very limited in the UK. You’ll find football teams but not much more.
To fine-tune Cortana and choose privacy settings, click the cog icon in the left-hand menu. You can change your name, choose how Cortana pronounces it and more. Under the tracking section, you can set whether or not your emails, text messages and calendars are mined for information. If you allow it, Cortana can tell you when to leave for a meeting or about traffic delays that might make you miss a flight, for example.
You can use Cortana to make quick notes (a feature not working in this build – see the middle screenshot above), and to set reminders by place, time or person.
If you want to know what music is playing, tap the musical notes icon and Cortana will listen and identify the track. Previous searches are shown in a list, too (below, right).
As on Windows Phones, you can have a bit of fun with Cortana as well. You can ask her to tell you a joke, or even ask about her. Oddly, her answer was different from that on a Windows Phone when asked what Cortana means.
You can also get Cortana to set alarms, which will sync with your Windows Phone (as long as it too has Cortana), ask for directions to places and search the web.