By now, you've likely heard of the big three smart assistants. Siri, Google Assistant and Alexa always seem to be making headlines. The Big Three are getting smarter all the time and they've punctuated popular culture, too. But what about Cortana?
That's right, Microsoft's smart assistant has been around for a couple of years now ‚Äď it's a large part of Windows 10 and devices that run it. Microsoft's Halo-inspired digital assistant may lack the fanfare of an Alexa or Google Assistant, or the infamy of Siri, but it's a pretty useful tool.
How can you make the most of Cortana? We've got you covered.
Talking or texting
Microsoft understands that not all PCs have the same features, so it's built some versatility into how you interact with Cortana. You can, of course, just blurt out "Hey Cortana" to get your queries answered, but you'll have to enable it.
To turn it on, just do the following.
1. Click Type Here to Search > Settings
2. Toggle "Hey Cortana" on
You can also just type out your queries. All Windows 10 PCs will actually let you type things to Cortana, while you will need a mic to use "Hey Cortana".
You might think it'd get a little annoying to have to type out complete sentences to Cortana, but you actually don't. Cortana is pretty good at figuring out what you mean, so don't feel like you need to craft an immaculate sentence to make Cortana understand.
Go ahead and click on the Windows 10 search box, right down next to the Start button. This is how you'll activate Cortana on the regular. When the box opens up, you'll notice a number of icons on the left side.
Up at the top, we have a Home button and a Notebook button. Below those two you'll see your smart devices once you set them up. Down at the bottom, you'll see a Settings cog. Here's how you get started on customising Cortana:
1. Open Notebook
2. Click Manage Skills
Once you're here, you'll see a number of options that'll let you customize Cortana to your liking. "Connections" will let you add services and smart home products to Cortana so that you can control them. "Productivity" will tap into your Microsoft Office apps, like Outlook and Calendar. We'll get to both of those later. For now, you'll want to head to the bottom.
Down here, you'll see "Stay up to date". This area will let you customise the information Cortana lists out for you in its Home area. It's broken up into a couple of categories: Finance (stocks), Flights, News, Packages, Sports and Weather.
You can manually add in all the information you need here, and it's worth diving in for a couple minutes to make sure the things you definitely need are ready and waiting. That's because Cortana uses Google Now-style cards to present information to you.
So when you're in Cortana's Home menu, you'll be presented with your must-know stock prices, the weather for the day and even your commute, news and sports scores.
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Add some skills
Customising Cortana also means adding some Alexa-like skills. That's right, Microsoft also went ahead and created a development kit that allows for third parties to plug right into Cortana.
To get started, you'll just have to head to Microsoft's site for Cortana skills. Once you do that, and you find a skill you'd like, all you have to do is click "try now." Cortana will spring to life and ask for permissions and you're good to go. Do note that for some skills, like Fitbit or Domino's, you'll need to link your accounts to Cortana.
Cortana's Notebook, in addition to being a place where you can manage its skills, is also where it'll remember things for you. This is a part of the "Organizer" section of the Notebook.
Whenever you ask Cortana to remind you of something or to create a new list of some sort, they'll come and live in this area. Think of the Notebook as Cortana's personal diary. It's noting down things about you so that it remembers how you like things done.
The only difference, of course, is that you have full access to its diary and can edit it at your will to make it better suited to you.
Connecting your smart home
Cortana isn't just around to remember things and present you with information about the world, it's also there to let you control your smart home. You can set this up pretty easily:
1. Open Cortana
2. Select Notebook
3. Click Connected Home
4. Toggle Enable Connected Home
5. Sign in with your Microsoft account
6. Add your services
Once you've done that, you'll be able to ask Cortana to control your home. You can say things like "Turn on all the lights" or "Set the temperature to 72 degrees". Here's a quick tip: If you want to control a group of lights, name them similar things, like "Living room light 1" and "Living room light 2".
What can Cortana do?
Now that you know how to fully set up Cortana and all its intricacies, what can it actually do for you? What commands can you say (or type) to get the information or control you need as soon as possible? Here's a rundown.
Cortana smart home commands
"Make it warmer."
"Turn on the lights."
"Make it brighter in the living room."
"Turn my thermostat up."
Cortana organisation commands
"What new emails do I have?"
"Where's my phone?"
"Search my documents."
"Where's my package?"
"Is my flight on time?"
"What time is my first meeting?"
"Pull up the HoloLens presentation."
Cortana reminder commands
"Remind me to get bread when I'm at Trader Joe's."
"Remind me to get this for Teddy." [Attach a photo manually when asked to confirm.]"
"What are my suggested reminders?"
"Remind me to go to the gym every night at 9."
"Create a shopping list."
Cortana quick answer commands
"What's $25 in South African Rand?"
"What's the definition of 'calibrate'?"
"What's the capital of Liechtenstein?"
"How do you say thank you in Mandarin?"
"What can you do?"
"What's the weather?"
"Tell me something weird."
Cortana on your lock screen
We're all human. Sometimes we get lazy, and if you don't want to unlock your PC to access Microsoft's personal assistant then you don't have to. You can access Cortana right from your lock screen.
1. Open Cortana
2. Scroll down to Lock screen.
3. Turn on Use Cortana when my device is locked.
4. Select the check box next to Let Cortana access my calendar, email, messages, and other content data when my device is locked.