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Using Cortana: Your Personal Digital Assistant

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Windows 10 Cortana now does a whole lot more than it used to. You can simply talk to it and use voice comments to ask questions, help you schedule appointments, figure out a song you heard on the radio, decide whether to wear a coat today, and much more. Find out how to get the most out of this personal digital assistant.

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Windows 10 Fall Creators Update has given Cortana a big boost. Although it first appeared as a functional assistant on Windows Phone, Cortana’s early skills have been greatly expanded so that now it can help you find information, make connections, and save the things that interest you, no matter what app you are using or what kind of information you seek.

Cortana now does a whole lot more than it used to. You can simply talk to it and use voice comments to ask questions, such as, “Is the movie Marshall good?” Cortana will respond with the average rating for the movie (out of 10 stars) and give you links to more information, including directions to the nearest theater where the movie is playing.

Cortana also helps you schedule appointments, figure out a song you heard on the radio, decide whether to wear a coat today, and much more.

Cortana reduces the need to do a lot of typing as you look for information. You can simply say, “Hey Cortana!” and then ask the question or give the command you want Cortana to help you with. If that sounds too good to be true, try it a few times. Here are some of the tasks Cortana can do for you:

  • Open an app you want to use

  • Give you the current weather

  • Tell you the latest sports scores

  • Read the headlines

  • Find (and tell you about) top recipes

  • Put your computer to sleep

  • Locate the nearest Thai restaurant (and provide the directions to get you there)

  • Tell you a joke

  • Set an alarm so you can have a quick nap

  • Remind you of an upcoming event

  • Increase or decrease the volume of your PC or device

  • Keep track of your Microsoft account and your profile information

  • Store information about your favorite places (stores, restaurants, and more)

  • Play a game with you (try saying, “Play movie game”)

  • Tell you some trivia you can use to impress friends at a party

  • Help you find the name of the song you like (just give it a few of the lyrics)

  • Do quick number conversions

  • Play a song in your Groove Music app

  • Track packages that are being shipped to you

Getting Started with Cortana

For the most part, Cortana works right off the bat without a whole lot of intervention from you. Your computer does need to have a microphone if you plan to use voice commands, of course, and if you want to wake Cortana up by calling its name, you need to change a setting so that can happen.

Leaving a Wake-up Call

Turn on the “Hey Cortana” feature so that Cortana hears you talking and activates the Search box to the right of the Windows 10 Start button.

  1. Click or tap in the Search box.

  2. Click or tap Settings. The Talk to Cortana page of the Cortana settings appears.

  3. Set the Hey Cortana setting to the On position.

  4. If you want to be able to keep your computer from sleeping so you can use “Hey Cortana” whenever your computer is plugged in, click this check box.

  5. Choose whether you want Cortana to respond to anyone who says “Hey Cortana” or only to you.

Learning the Cortana Tools

When you click or tap in the Search box to the right of the Windows Start button, the Cortana panel opens. Along the left side of the panel, you see several tools. To learn the name of each of the tools, you can click the Expand tool at the top of the tools row.

  1. Tap Home to see a mix of current information tailored to your local area, including weather conditions, top headlines, nearby restaurants, and more.

  2. Tap Cortana’s Notebook to see an overview of what you have planned for today, as well as favorite places, traffic conditions, restaurants, headlines, and more.

  3. Tap Devices if you have an Invoke speaker designed specifically to work with Cortana. (Think of Amazon’s Alexa speaker.) Cortana leads you through the setup process.

  4. Tap Collections to see favorites you’ve saved in Books, Movies & TV, Recipes, Restaurants, and Shopping.

  5. Tap Settings to see and change Cortana settings as needed.

  6. Tap Feedback to send Microsoft your thoughts and suggestions about Cortana.

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