Still skeptical about Cortana? These 10 features might change your mind

cortana in windows 10 will support six new countries including japan australia and canada v2
Microsoft’s voice assistant Cortana was already a lot of fun, from her integration with Microsoft services to her hand-me-down personality from the Halo character she digitally embodies. But with Windows 10 hitting the shelves, Cortana is growing even more awesome, and – sorry Siri – we’re falling for her. Let us count the ways; 10 ways, to be precise.

Windows 10 with Cortana
Windows 10 with Cortana okubax/Flickr

Full Windows 10 Desktop and Laptop Compatibility

When Microsoft first released the voice assistant Cortana, it was an app designed for the Windows Phone 7, and has stayed a mobile app ever since…until now. With Windows 10, Cortana is making a huge leap over desktop computers, laptops, tablets, and everything else that runs Windows 10.

It’s a big move, because so far voice assistants have been largely trapped on mobile devices. As Cortana stretches her newfound digital wings, she’ll be able to pop up on your Windows home screen next to the start button and provide a variety of updates, all while listening patiently for new commands.

Browser Compatibility

Cortana Guide mem 3Appearing on desktop computers isn’t Cortana’s only new Windows 10 trick – far from it. You may have heard that Microsoft is at last dropping Internet Explorer for a new browser called Edge. Cortana and Edge are designed to work together like peanut butter and jelly. The voice assistant pops up in the address bar and waits for you to ask about something.

For example, highlight a particular word or phrase and right-click it – then Cortana will summon a sidebar with a definition and related links to help you dive deeper. This is useful if there’s a word you don’t understand, a subject you want to learn more about, or a question about related terms.

Taking a Look at OneDrive and Local Files

The Cortana voice assistant now has a farther-reaching purview, which includes both OneDrive and local files on your desktop. This means you can ask Cortana for some help locating a particular document, and she can search across all available data, both on your hard drive and in the cloud.

This is particularly useful for professionals or students who may keep a large amount of documents and collaborative projects on OneDrive or in other places, and need a little help finding particular files. Presumably it can also search across files that others have created if they are part of the OneDrive cloud system.

Cortana Laptop Button

Because Cortana now comes with an extra helping of desktop goodness, companies are already starting to take advantage of that when developing their latest Windows 10 devices. Toshiba is a great example: The company is creating a line of Windows 10 laptops that will include a dedicated Cortana key. Press the button, and Cortana’s window will instantly pop up. This is probably faster than voice activating Cortana, and saves you some mouse clicks too. Nifty!

Cross-Platform Availability

For the past few years voice assistants have been all about brand propagation. Siri is Apple’s, and synonymous with Apple products. Google Now has “Google” in the name for a reason. It’s all about furthering the brand name. However, with the new versions of Cortana Microsoft is eschewing this brand-bound perspective by offering versions of the app across major platforms, including iOS and Android.

Yup, you’ll be able to bring up the voice assistant Cortana on iPhones and Android phones alike – it’s the first voice assistant to jump the divide. Of course, Cortana will have the most functionality on a Windows devices — compatibility with the Edge browser will only be available on Microsoft devices, and Cortana won’t be able to launch apps or change innate settings when not on a Windows phone. However, it’s still very cool that she is spreading to other platforms.

Cortana via smartphone
Cortana via smartphone Bhupinder Nayyar/Flickr

Personal Recognition

There’s nothing more annoying than a voice assistant that other people can mess with by shouting out random commands (looking at Xbox One, you traitor). Microsoft seems to have learned the lesson here, because when setting up Cortana there is a recognition feature that allows Cortana to learn your own vocal range. This helps the assistant to respond more readily to your own commands and more frequently ignore other people, which is both cute and handy.

Biting Humor Included

What’s a digital voice assistant without some witty banter? While Siri had to fashion herself a sort-of personality through trial and error, Cortana already had a built-in attitude thanks to her long history via video games. When translated over to the computer, the results are pretty fun. She can sing a quick song, make a joke, make fun of Siri, and even deride past Microsoft fumbles like Clippy. You can also ask her for opinions about previous Microsoft leaders. This has led to a lot of experimentation, often with surprising results. It makes her feel real, and makes us feel like Joaquin Phoenix.

Cortana with location commands
Cortana with location commands Young-Chung Hsue/Flickr

Location-Based Voice Commands

When using Cortana on one of the latest Windows phones, you can label specific locations like “home” “grocery store” and “work,” geotagging them so Cortana can tell the difference. This allows for some very cool natural language commands, like “Remind me to pick up milk at the grocery store,” the next time you are pulling into the store parking lot, Cortana will chirp up with the reminder. This allows for a lot of innovation if you want her to remind you about various events or activities at a moment’s notice, rather than taking a physical note. However, keep in mind this will also require a bit of setup and the use of location-based services.

Coming to Xbox One and Kinect

Yes, the rumors you may have heard are real. Cortana will be coming to Xbox One as part of Microsoft’s overall Windows 10 plan. This means you can access the voice assistant via the Kinect and have her perform all sorts of tasks across the many apps and services available on ye olde Xbox. For those with newer, Kinect-less Xbox Ones…will this convince you to dump some money on a Kinect? Keep in mind that the Kinect is $150 if bought separately, a price which makes this new trick seem like something special for those who bought the original Xbox One with Kinect included.

Remembering Master Chief


Here’s one for the Halo fans. Ask Cortana about the Master Chief and she’ll give real replies about her experiences in the Halo games, including self-conscious refusals to explain about her own complicated feelings for everyone’s favorite space marine. It says a lot about Microsoft’s investment in the Cortana mythos that they would take this extra step for the app that will go unnoticed by many users. That, plus the authentic Jen Taylor voicing, will certainly make some Xbox veterans misty in the eyes.

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