Skip to main content

Digital Trends may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site. Why trust us?

How to use Cortana

You might know Cortana as the digital voice assistant on the now-defunct Windows Phone mobile platform. Starting with Windows 10, though, Cortana graduated to the desktop.

Named after the AI character in Microsoft’s Halo game series, Cortana is a virtual assistant that offers many customizable and personal functions. Here’s how to set up and use Cortana in Windows 10.

Sign in to get started

Sign in screen for Cortana screenshot
screenshot

You can get the most functionality out of Cortana if you’re signed in to your Microsoft account. To do so, select the Cortana icon on the taskbar (located to the right of the search bar). Then click the Sign In button that appears and follow the on-screen instructions.

Set up Cortana

Cortana set-up settings screenshot
screenshot

To access Cortana’s settings so that you can better customize it to your preferences, start by selecting the Cortana icon on the Taskbar. Then select the More icon (which looks like a set of three horizontally-oriented dots and is located in the top left corner). Choose Settings from the drop-down menu that appears.

There are three categories of settings you can configure in Cortana’s settings menu: This Device, Account, and Hardware.

Within the This Device section, you can choose how you interact with Cortana (typing to her or voice activation) and you can enable the permissions needed for each kind of interaction to occur. Under Keyboard Shortcut, you can do things like enable or disable the Windows Key + C shortcut which is used to activate Cortana and or choose what happens when you press that shortcut (be given the ability to type and speak to Cortana or only the ability to type to Cortana). The Microphone and Voice Activation subsections of the This Device section will allow you to enable the permissions necessary to use voice activation with Cortana. Once these permissions are enabled, you should be able to activate Cortana by simply saying “Cortana.”

Under the Account section of Cortana’s settings, (under the Privacy subsection) you can do things like revoke permissions you’ve granted to Cortana to access things like your calendar and contacts. You can also sign out of Cortana here. Additionally, since your queries to Cortana are logged and displayed as a chat history between you and her, you can use this section to clear that chat history as well as view and clear the data that Microsoft backs up to the cloud.

Lastly, the Hardware section allows you to manage and add any devices to Cortana such as Surface headphones or an Amazon Alexa device. For Surface headphones, click on Manage My Surface Headphones. For Amazon Alexa devices, click on Amazon Alexa Devices.

Show or hide the Cortana icon

cortana icon taskbar screenshot
screenshot

If you’d rather not see the Cortana icon in your Taskbar, you can hide it. Right-click on the Taskbar. From the menu that appears, select Show Cortana Button, which will remove the checkmark next to it. Removing the checkmark hides the Cortana icon. If you want the icon to reappear, simply select the Show Cortana Button option again to add a checkmark next to it.

Cortana’s main screen

Cortana main screen screenshot
screenshot

When you click on the Cortana icon on the Taskbar, you’ll be greeted with a very streamlined interface that resembles a simple chat history screen. Except this time, you’re chatting with Cortana herself. On this screen, you can either type your question or command in the Ask Cortana text box at the bottom of the screen or you can use your voice to activate Cortana and ask her your question that way. Just be sure to use her wake word, which is, you guessed it: “Cortana.” (If you forget the wake word, you can also just click on the microphone icon located in the bottom right corner of Cortana’s main screen.

The things you can do with Cortana are a bit limited but they do include: opening desktop apps for you, asking about current weather conditions, setting reminders for yourself, asking it trivia questions, asking it how to say words in other languages, and asking it if you have anything scheduled for a certain date or time.

You can track all of your past queries and Cortana’s responses to them on that chat screen. It also suggests other questions you can ask Cortana. These suggestions will display as little buttons that appear just above the Ask Cortana text box. You can click on them to ask Cortana those questions.

Reminders

Cortana set reminder screenshot
screenshot

Much like Siri and Amazon Echo, Cortana has a reminder feature. But while Cortana can set these reminders, you have to manage them using another Microsoft app called Microsoft To Do. So you’ll need to download and install this app before you can take full advantage of Cortana’s reminder function.

Setting a reminder using Cortana is easy. Just say “remind me to …[name of activity here] at [date and/or time]” and Cortana will automatically create a reminder for you within the Microsoft To Do app. She’ll also display the reminder she created in the chat history portion of the Cortana main screen. To make changes to a reminder that you asked Cortana to set, you can just navigate to the reminder in your chat history and click on Edit in To Do. That will take you to the To Do app, where you can edit or delete the reminder as needed.

Editors' Recommendations

Jon Martindale
Jon Martindale is the Evergreen Coordinator for Computing, overseeing a team of writers addressing all the latest how to…
The most common Windows 11 problems and how to fix them
Person using Windows 11 laptop on their lap by the window.

With Windows 10 officially losing support next year, Windows 11 is poised to take over as the dominant operating system. Many users have already switched over to the latest Microsoft OS – and while it's not perfect, most are finding it to be a nice step forward from Windows 10. Of course, there are a few quirks people will have to get used to, but most of the bugs and technical issues have already been ironed out.

That's not to say Windows 11 is perfect. In fact, there are still a handful of common Windows 11 problems that people are encountering, including ones that cause no sound to play, network connections to be laggy, and games to run at less-than-optimal speeds. Thankfully, many of these issues are easy to resolve without extensive troubleshooting or the need to contact customer support.

Read more
The most common Microsoft Teams problems and how to fix them
A close-up of someone using Microsoft Teams on a laptop for a videoconference.

Microsoft Teams was introduced in 2017 as a unified communication and collaboration platform aimed at helping businesses and organizations get things done. Microsoft leveraged the company's existing Office software experience and created a unified experience between Teams, Office 365, and Skype for Business. However, as with all software, things don't always go according to plan. Sometimes you can run into Teams problems.

We're big Teams users here at Digital Trends -- it's our go-to communication and meeting tool -- and we've come across a few issues ourselves over the years. In the event you're having Microsoft Teams issues, here's how to fix some of the most common problems.

Read more
Windows 11 tips and tricks: 8 hidden settings you need to try
Windows 11 on a tablet.

Windows 11 has been around for quite a while now. The operating system isn't as new as when it first came out in 2021, but many people are still updating it for the first time from Windows 10. Yet whether you're new to Windows 11 or have been using it since launch, there are a few things that you still might want to tweak to get a better experience. Microsoft doesn't have all these settings upfront, but we're here to surface them for you.
Move the Taskbar and Start Menu to the left

One of the biggest differences between Windows 10 and Windows 11 is the location of the Taskbar and Start Menu. On Windows 10, the Taskbar and Start Menu are positioned to the left of the screen. Windows 11, though, changes that by moving both to the center. If this annoys you, then you can easily change it back.

Read more