Nearly every smartphone and computer on the market today has a smart assistant trapped inside, like a helpful ghost, but how do they stack up against one another? While it may seem like Siri, Cortana, and the nameless Google Now assistant are all just variations of the same thing — and well, they are to some extent — they each have their own quirks, flaws, and strengths. So which one’s best for you? Well, that’s not an easy question to answer, as they’re so similar it’s hard to compare them without digging deep into their capabilities. That said, let’s get started.
On Windows Phone, you can use Cortana to make calls, send messages, set reminders, take notes, recognize music, find great restaurants, check your calendar, and more. The Windows 10 version of Cortana adds a few more features, like the ability to search files by context — i.e., “Hey Cortana, show me presentations I’ve worked on in the past week.” The Windows 10 Creators Update adds even more functionality, including the ability to lock, restart, or shut down your computer. All of this is done using natural language.
While you can store specific bits of information with Cortana, Microsoft’s virtual assistant is constantly analyzing your interactions to learn more about you. This info is stored in something Microsoft calls the “Notebook,” which includes the places you like to go, people you care about, your preferred quiet hours, and things you might be interested in, among other things. You can even edit it if you like.
Cortana can also read your emails, track your location, watch your browsing history, check your contact list, keep an eye on your calendar, and put all this data together to suggest useful info, if you allow it to. Cortana is designed to recognize context, so it should be able to understand follow-up requests, and you can phrase things in different ways and still expect a useful answer. You can also type your questions or requests, if you prefer to not speak out loud.
Cortana is not limited Microsoft’s apps, either, as the it can access third-party content as well. For example, asking how many calories are in a banana would not only return the answer, but the option to add that food to your calorie tracker (if it supports Cortana). The assistant can also add something to your Hulu queue, or check out a friend’s Facebook feed. More and more third-party connectivity is being added all the time, and with the Creators Update, it’s easier than ever for third-party developers to include Cortana functionality. The latter update will open Cortana up to developers in a few important ways by allowing developers to add their own Cortana commands, which are tied directly to their respective applications.