“Hey Cortana. When is my next dentist’s appointment? Next Thursday? Okay. What is the weather going to be this coming Friday? Cloudy? Oh, well. Oh, and I have to send an e-mail to mom. Open Mail. Thanks.”
Yes, Cortana in Windows 10 can do all those things and more. It answers questions, provides information, follows your commands, launches apps, and performs other functions, all in response to the sound of your voice. Those of you running Windows 10 have probably seen the Cortana search box in the lower left corner of the taskbar, to the right of the Start button. Triggering Cortana is as simple as clicking on the “start listening” microphone icon to the right of the phrase “Ask me anything” and, well, asking anything.
Cortana made its debut in Windows Phone 8.1 in 2014, so it was first available for smartphones running Microsoft’s mobile operating system and is still a key part of today’s Windows Phone devices. But the digital assistant expanded its horizons in 2015 as a key feature of Windows 10, which officially launched in July of last year. Microsoft beefed up Cortana’s skills and abilities with the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, which rolled out this past August 2. For example, with the update installed, you can access and chat with Cortana from the Lock screen without having to log in.
For the purposes of this article, we’ll assume you’ve already installed the Windows 10 Anniversary Update so you can take advantage of Cortana’s latest features and settings.
Cortana: A Bit of Background
As a voice assistant, Cortana plays rival to Apple’s Siri and Google Now, also known as Google Assistant. All three serve the same role—to try to ease your life by performing tasks and serving up information in response to your questions and commands. A Cortana mobile app is also available for Apple’s iOS platform and Google’s Android environment, though the app lacks several of the features available in the Windows 10 edition, such as the ability to trigger it by voice.
Cortana can do much more than just respond to your commands. It can keep track of the news, weather, and other highlights of the day. It can alert you to appointments, display deliveries, and share other details helpful to you. And it can provide tips and tricks on how to use it. Even further, Cortana can conjure up driving directions and traffic updates, keep track of your air flights, and suggest Web sites that may be of value.
You can access all of the commands and settings in Cortana by first clicking or tapping on the “Ask me anything” field. From there, Cortana’s Home screen appears, with news, weather, appointments, and other information to kick off your day. You can always return to the Home screen by clicking or tapping on the Home icon, which looks like a little house.
All of your settings are accessible by clicking on the Settings icon, which looks like a small gear. From here, you can tweak Cortana to trigger it by voice, access it from the Lock screen, and coax it to display various tidbits of interest. Next, you can fiddle with certain options by clicking on the Notebook icon, the one just below the Home icon. Here you can tell Cortana to keep track of and alert you to certain items and events, such as sports scores, stock prices, traffic suggestions, and reservations.
Cortana can be a handy and effective assistant, especially when tailored with the right settings and options to assist you on a daily basis. Let’s look at 10 tips for using and tweaking Cortana so she…er, we mean it…is most helpful.
1) How to Train Cortana to Understand Your Voice
Voice assistants are far from perfect and sometimes have trouble figuring out just what you’re saying. So the first thing you should do is teach Cortana to understand you. To do this from the Cortana menu, click on the Settings icon. At the top of the Settings pane you’ll see a category for Microphone that says “Make sure Cortana can hear me.” Click on the “Get started” link underneath.
Windows brings up a Speech feature that enables you to set up your microphone. Click on the link to “Set up the mic.” Follow the next several windows to utter a short phrase so your microphone is set up and Cortana can understand you.
Assuming Windows picks up your voice, you’ll receive a message that your microphone is now set up. If not, then you may need to utter the phrase again, this time talking louder or moving closer to your PC’s microphone.
2) How to Open Cortana by Voice
You can always launch Cortana by clicking on the “Start Listening” icon to the right of the phrase “Ask me anything” and then posing your question. But there’s an easier, hands-free way of tapping on Cortana’s shoulder by using your voice. Click on the Settings icon. Toward the top of the Settings pane is an option to “Let Cortana respond to ‘Hey Cortana.'” Flip the switch to turn it on.
You can also make sure “Hey Cortana” is always available by preventing your Windows device from falling into sleep mode. To do this, click on the checkbox that says “Keep my device from sleeping when it’s plugged in.” You may want to use this option sparingly, though, since the system will thus be consuming more power by staying on Cortana alert all the time. For something like a powerful desktop, this cost could add up over time.
Finally, let’s say more than one person uses your Windows 10 device. In the same category, you may want to make sure that the option for “Respond when anyone says ‘Hey Cortana'” Is enabled. Otherwise, if you’re the sole user of the device, then click on the “Learn how I say ‘Hey Cortana'” link. Windows takes you through half a dozen screens with phrases you must repeat so the assistant can learn the sound of your voice.
After you complete that task, the option “Try to respond only to me” should be enabled.
You can now trigger Cortana directly by saying “Hey Cortana” and issuing your question or command. As you speak, your input appears word by word in the “Ask me anything” field so you can tell if Cortana is understanding you correctly.
3) How to Use Cortana on the Lock Screen
With the launch of the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, you can now chat with Cortana on the Windows 10 Lock screen. So when the Lock screen first pops up, or your device automatically goes into Lock mode, you can still call on Cortana for help.
To enable this, click on the Cortana Settings icon. On the Settings pane, beneath the words “Lock screen,” is an option to “Use Cortana even when my device is locked.” Just turn that on if it’s not already active.
You can also control what information appears on the Lock screen via Cortana. The next option says: “Let Cortana access my calendar, email, messages, and Power BI data when my device is locked.” (The Power BI data supercharges Excel with dashboards, reports, and other data typically used in large organizations.) The downside of allowing Cortana to retrieve this information at the Lock screen is that anyone can see it, so there may be privacy issues. Otherwise, you can enable this option to see this data at the Lock screen.
Now you can trigger Cortana at the Lock screen to ask any question. If the question requires you to launch Windows, then you’ll be prompted to log in.
4) How to Teach Cortana Your Name
The first time you set up Cortana, it asks you for your name. Yes, that means you’re probably already on a first-name basis with the voice assistant. But you’re not stuck using the name you gave Cortana initially. You can always modify it if your own name changes or you simply want to use a less formal nickname. You can also teach Cortana how to pronounce your name if the assistant can’t quite get it right. Here’s how this works.
Click on the Notebook icon from the Cortana pane. From the Notebook pane, click on the “About Me” setting at the top. At the top of the About pane, click on the button to “Change my name.” Type the name you wish Cortana to call you and then click Enter.
To make sure your name is pronounced correctly, click on the link to “Hear how I’ll say it.” If Cortana pronounces it properly, click on the button for “Sounds good.” If not, click on “That’s wrong,” tap the microphone icon, and speak your name again. Once Cortana’s pronunciation is on the mark, you can finish this task, and the program from now on will refer to you with the right name.
5) How to Set a Reminder Through Cortana
You can do more than just throw questions and commands at Cortana. You can also use Microsoft’s digital assistant to remind you of various tasks and events, either by typing a reminder or issuing it by voice.
To get started, click in the “Ask me anything” field, click on the Notebook icon, and then click on the Reminders command. Click on the plus sign at the bottom of the pane and type the different attributes of your reminder in the various fields. For example, you can type something like “Conference call with John at noon tomorrow.” Or you can dictate the reminder by saying,”Remind me to attend the meeting with Miss Summers this Thursday at 4:30 p.m.”
When the assigned day and time arrives, a notification window pops up on your Windows 10 screen complete with an alarm bell if you’re not paying attention. You can then snooze the event for a certain amount of time or mark it as complete.
6) How to Send Notifications From Your Windows 10 PC to Your Phone
As we explained earlier, a mobile version of Cortana is available for the iPhone, Android phones, and Windows Phone handsets. By installing Cortana on your phone, you can share reminders and other notifications between your phone and your Windows 10 device. Here’s how.
First, install the Cortana app for your iPhone or Android phone. Then on your phone, turn on Notifications for Cortana.
Next, on your Windows 10 device, click on the Settings icon on the Cortana pane. Scroll down the pane until you see the section called “Send notifications between devices.” Make sure that setting is turned on. Click on the button that says “Edit sync settings.” Make sure the options to “Get notifications from this PC on my phone” and “Upload notifications from this PC to the cloud” are turned on.
Type or speak your reminder to Cortana on your Windows 10 device, as shown in Tip 5. When your notification comes due, you should see and hear it on your mobile phone as well as your Windows 10 device.
7) How to Set Your Favorite Locations
Do you use use your Windows 10 device to get directions to specific places? If so, you can name those places as favorite locations so you don’t have to type the full address each time. To do this, click on the Notebook icon on the Cortana pane. From the Notebook pane, click on the “About Me” setting, then on the button to “Edit favorites.” Click on the plus sign at the bottom of the Places pane. Now start typing the address for your home, your workplace, or another frequently visited locale.
As you start typing the address, Cortana should at some point pick up the full address on its own and offer you a list of suggestions. Click on the correct address. At the next screen, you can set the address as home or work and/or type a nickname for it so it’s easily accessible. Click on the Save icon (a floppy disk—Cortana loves the ’80s) at the bottom.
The next time you need to travel to one of your favorite locations, simply tell Cortana to take you there based on its nickname or its status as home or work. For example, let’s say you created a favorite for your cousin Jill’s place. Just say, “Hey Cortana. Show me directions to Cousin Jill’s home.” In response, Cortana displays both a map and turn-by-turn directions to your cousin’s residence.
8) How to Tweak Your Cortana Home Screen
Your Cortana Home screen can display news, weather, sports scores, appointments, deliveries, stock prices, traffic updates, and lots more. And it can all be tailored to your specific needs and interests. Let’s look at just two of the Home screen categories you can customize.
Click on the Notebook icon from the Cortana pane. Click on the Finance category. Here you can add stocks that you wish to track. Click on the link to “Add a stock.”
Type the name or ticker symbol of a stock, and Cortana displays the probable symbols. Click on the symbol that corresponds to your stock. (You may need to search online if you don’t know the right symbol offhand.) Click on the Add button at the bottom at the screen for the stock, and its symbol should appear amongst any other stocks you’ve added. You’ll then see that stock symbol and others you’ve added to the Cortana Home screen.
Here’s another one. From the Notebook pane, click on the “Eat & drink” category. Make sure the various options are turned on, including “Eat & drink cards,” “Top recommendations from Foursquare,” and “Restaurant recommendations.” Scroll down, and you can tweak your restaurant recommendations based on price range, ambience, cuisine, and distance. Recommended restaurants will now show up on the Cortana home screen.
You can play around with the other categories offered by Cortana to get personalized information, such as Events, Shopping, Movies & TV, Sports, and Travel.
9) How to Manage Cortana’s Permissions
Cortana can provide information by tapping into your personal history. But as always, there’s a choice you need to make between privacy and permissions. For example, you can allow Cortana to collect data on your location and the places you visit, follow your packages and flights, and keep track of your Web browsing history. Convenient, yes. But you may not want Microsoft to stick its nose into your personal activities, so you can disable these options.
Click on the Notebook icon in the Cortana pane and then click on the Permissions header near the top of the Notebook pane. Cortana displays three sections where you can allow or disallow the tracking and gathering of certain information, specifically your location; contacts, email, calendar, and communications history; and browsing history.
Read each section carefully and decide which ones you want to enable or disable. You should also click on the two links at the bottom of the pane—”Speech, inking, & typing privacy settings” and “Privacy statement”—to learn more about what Microsoft does with your personal data.
10) How to Alter Cortana’s Taskbar Appearance
By default, Cortana appears on the Windows 10 taskbar in the shape of a long search box. That allows you to see the field in which you can type your question or command. But if you’d rather devote taskbar space to other apps and items, you can turn off the search box and just display a search icon. Further, if you consistently say “Hey Cortana” to activate the assistant, you can turn off both the search bar and icon so Cortana vanishes from the taskbar completely.
To play with these options, right-click on the taskbar and hover to the Cortana command from the popup menu. You’ll see three choices: “Hidden,” “Show Cortana icon,” and “Show search box.” The last displays the full “Ask me anything” search field. “Show Cortana icon” shrinks the assistant down to a circular icon. And “Hidden” makes Cortana go poof from the taskbar.