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Cortana is Windows Phone’s new voice controlled personal assistant, but what can it actually do – and how can you say the right thing to get the right response?

Get Started: Summon Cortana

You won’t be able to use Cortana until it is installed and activated. Included as part of the Windows Phone 8.1 update (install the preview version now How To Upgrade To Windows Phone 8.1 Now How To Upgrade To Windows Phone 8.1 Now If you want to speak to Cortana and get access to other cool new features, you will have to wait until June at least. Unless you'd update early. Like now. Read More  to activate Cortana on your phone How To Activate & Use Cortana On Windows Phone 8.1 Developer Preview How To Activate & Use Cortana On Windows Phone 8.1 Developer Preview Are you missing Cortana, the Google Now and Siri speech control rival, on your Windows Phone 8.1? Get it now! Read More ), British users will find that Cortana needs configuring – at least until the final Windows Phone 8.1 update is rolled out later in 2014.

You have a choice of two ways to summon Cortana. The first is to tap the hardware Search button – once Cortana is activated, the old search tool is replaced (although bear in mind that Cortana still relies on Bing for voice recognition and all of the information that you might search for.

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It is also worth adding a Cortana shortcut to the Start screen. This will display any information that you might have requested to be updated about (such as your favourite news topics) – it’s like the Google Now page on Android.

This screen can also be used to speak to Cortana, but unlike the Search button, it doesn’t automatically accept voice input. Instead, you’ll need to tap the microphone button.

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Cortana’s First Launch

On first launch, Cortana will ask you some information that it needs to get started. You’ll have to provide your name, details about your interests or hobbies, and Cortana will use these data plus the online accounts you have set up on your phone to provide reminders and updates based on your calendar and emails.

Information is compiled into the “Notebook”, which can be edited and added to. Accessed via the three lines in the top-right corner, here you can add more interests and set reminders, specify quiet hours and add contacts to an inner circle.

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These tools can be used to determine whether a particular person will be able to contact you during a particular time, or when your calendar is marked as busy. An automatic text message can also be enabled to contact anyone whose call has been ignored.

Finally, you can set favourite places and access Xbox Music via the music search tool. Places you add might be your home, place of work, regularly-visited supermarket, residences of friends and family, etc., and remember to set meaningful nicknames for each – this can prove useful when setting reminders, as they can be activated by location.

Speaking To Cortana

Despite the ability of the previous voice activated tools for Windows Phone Windows Phone 8 Voice Recognition Tips and Tricks Windows Phone 8 Voice Recognition Tips and Tricks Why would you pick up your phone if you could just tell it what to do? Windows Phone 8 has several very good speech recognition options. Give laziness and productivity a boost with our tips... Read More , they were never really able to compete with Siri and Google Now. Clearly Cortana is an attempt to deal with this disparity, and it works well, even at this pre-release stage.

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Phrases you can use with Cortana include:

“remind me when I get home to cook dinner for my wife.”

“How is the traffic to [PLACE]?”

“Take a note…” (this will be saved to OneNote)

“Call [CONTACT] on speakerphone”

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“Find nearby bars”

“What do I have this afternoon?” (in reference to your calendar)

“What is the address of…?” (when the directions are displayed, you can ask Cortana to “Navigate there” to launch your satnav app)

“Text [CONTACT]” (you can then dictate the message)

“Show me emails from [CONTACT]”

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Cortana seems to be able to handle requests with multiple instructions, which is encouraging, especially for an app in the pre-release stage, so feel free to mix and match phrases!

Cortana and Multimedia

Cortana can also help you to listen to music on your phone. Say “Play…” followed by the song, album or artist you want to listen to, for example – you can pause and resume playing tracks by uttering “pause” and “resume”, or “skip track” to move on through your library of MP3s.

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Integration with apps depends in part on the app in question, but you can use Cortana to launch TV and movie streaming apps at this stage – Cortana integration will no doubt be widely available by the time Windows Phone 8.1 is officially available.

Have Some Fun With Cortana!

It isn’t just the dry, work-related stuff that Cortana can help with – she also has a sense of humour.

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Try the following questions and commands:

  • Tell me a joke?
  • Do you have a sister?
  • Are you pretty?

As you may know, Cortana is named after the AI system in the Halo series of videogames. This prompted Microsoft to have a bit of fun with the responses that are given to some of the following questions:

  • Tell me about Halo 5?
  • Are you really Cortana?
  • Why are you blue in color?

Meanwhile, be aware that Cortana is not able to be used by minors. Anyone under 13 who attempts to instruct the digital assistant will be informed: “I’m sorry, you’ll need to be bit older before I can help you.”

Cortana Can Take Windows Phone To The Next Level

The ease with which this new feature can revolutionise the way you use your Windows Phone is considerable, and Cortana is as pleasant to use as iOS’s Siri.

With the full rollout of Windows Phone 8.1 later in 2014, if you haven’t already downloaded this developer preview (which is basically open to everyone) now is a good time to enjoy Cortana and see how Microsoft is doing with voice search.

Let us know what you think of Cortana.

  1. lafaye58
    April 3, 2016 at 3:43 am

    the Microsoft Lumia does have a defect I went through the same problem with my Lumia 640 paid full price then after the first one overheated and was burning me I called for a replacement as per my warranty but even the new one they sent me was also defective so I told them I wanted a refund. I got 1/2 of the full price i paid..this wear I stopped getting the Lumia phones and went with BLU windows 8.1 phone dual sim slots with a micro SD slot. quad core. 1 gb ram. 8 gb rom. up to 64 gb micro SD capacity. Sorry I cant help you with your Cortona autodial setup..but you might want to seek the app store for a voice dialer app ...with all the apps that have been coming out I would not be surprised if there isn't one of those..

  2. Daitchie Angela Ponthieux
    November 13, 2015 at 7:03 am

    Cortana is stupid she is nothing you people say she is...hands free update did not come with the upgrade to windows ten...she is boring...she does not react when I'm sad...i tell her I'm sad, she just says she is sorry...someone tell me the damn truth about Cortana...she is the only reason I have a windows phone...my computer upgraded to windows 10...i don't have a hands free setting there either....i hate having to take my eyes off the road to tell Cortana to call my mother...what's the use of having cortana if I have to press a button...this is shitty way to lie to your customers...i see I'm not the only one that thinks I was ****ed into buying this shitty ass piece of shit phone. Lumia 640. It shuts down all th time because it gets too hot...i have a warranty on this phone. The company said no...this is chicken shit

  3. vikram
    June 5, 2014 at 3:29 am

    I am having problem with Cortana ,it's showing" I sorry you will need to be bit older because I can help you. Please assist

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