One of the most touted features of Windows 10 is the integration of Cortana.
Cortana is a digital personal assistant that takes over the search functionality from earlier versions of Windows and “she” can do so much more than just search!
In this post I will cover the following Cortana topics:
- Hey Cortana Setup
- Cortana Q & A
- Cortana Basic Commands
- Funny Questions
Cortana On Surface Tablets: Setup “Hey Cortana”
The basic Cortana setup is pretty straight forward; so, you shouldn’t need any help getting it done. The first time you click on search, the setup will be initiated. However, the “Hey Cortana” feature (which allows you to activate Cortana by voice command) is not turned on by default. This is a shame since, without this capability, she’s basically just a search field you have to type questions into.
Fortunately, it’s easy to set her up to respond to voice commands, just follow these steps:
- Select the search box on the taskbar to open Cortana home.
- Then select Notebook.
- Next, choose Settings and turn on Let Cortana respond when you say “Hey Cortana.”
- After you do that, the Microphone setup window will appear. Tap Next.
- You’ll be asked to say a phrase like the one below. This allows your Surface to calibrate the microphone for voice commands.
At this point, Cortana will respond when someone says “Hey, Cortana” followed by a question or command. Now, we’re going to go a step further. We’re going to have her learn your voice, so that she will (usually) only respond to you. While this is an optional procedure, I highly recommend it:
- Go back into Cortana’s settings and find the Learn My Voice button. Select it.
- You’ll get this message, select Start. You’ll be given a series of 6 phrases to say. In a normal voice, say each one as clearly as you can.
After you finish the 6 phrases, Cortana will be optimized to your voice. In case you’re wondering, optimizing Cortana up to respond to only your voice has a couple of advantages:
- If you have her learn your voice, she’ll do a better job of being able to understand you.
- This prevents random people from yelling “Hey Cortana” from across the room and interrupting what you’re doing or setting up bogus meetings, scheduling fake appointments, etc. (because we all have that one friend or kid…)
Cortana On Surface Tablets: FAQ
Now that Cortana has her voice activation feature configured and optimized, let’s cover a few questions you may have about how she works. Here’s a short list of frequently asked questions about Cortana on Surface tablets with Windows 10.
- Can she send a text (similar to my Windows phone)? No. If you try you’ll be told she can only do that from a phone. No, it doesn’t matter that you have the LTE version of the Surface 3.
- Can I use Cortana without a Microsoft account? No. Cortana requires you to have a Microsoft account.
- Can I use Cortana offline? No, since Cortana uses Bing for her information. If you try to activate her when you don’t have a network connection, you’ll get an error (sometimes a funny error).
- What can Cortana do? She’s very flexible and can recognize voice commands. So, she’s capable of managing your schedule, assisting you with e-mail, and answering search queries. See the section titled “Commands” (below) for some more information and examples.
- Why is she called Cortana? The character Cortana originated from the video game series Halo. In Halo, Cortana was an advanced Artificial Intelligence that helped the protagonist (the player) advance through the game. Microsoft owns the rights to the Halo franchise, so, when they needed a name for their digital assistant it seemed like a natural fit.
- Do I need an external microphone? No, your Surface has a built in microphone that can be used to interact with Cortana. That said, you may still want a high-quality external microphone as the built-in hardware is omni-directional and background noise can keep Cortana from hearing you clearly.
Cortana On Surface Tablets: Commands
Cortana has the ability to understand multiple ways of making a command or asking a question. For example, you can create a meeting with “Fred” tomorrow at 4:00 PM by saying “create a meeting with Fred at 4pm tomorrow” OR “Create a budget review meeting tomorrow at 4pm and invite Fred“. See the difference?
This flexibility is pretty awesome since most people don’t ask for something the exact same way every time but it does make it a little harder to know what commands she’ll respond to.
To get started, here’s a list of “starter” commands you can use with Cortana on your Surface. To make it a little easier, they have been broken into sections. Remember to start with “Hey, Cortana” before saying one of these commands:
Cortana Application Commands
You can have Cortana open applications and access features for you.
- Open Camera
- Open Calendar
- Turn on Airplane Mode
- Open Microsoft Edge
Cortana Weather Commands
She can help keep you up to speed on the weather.
- What’s the weather today?
- What’s the forecast for this weekend?
- What is the weather like in New York right now?
Cortana Maps and Directions Commands
She’s really good for hands free directions when driving.
- How do I get home?
- What’s the traffic like on the way to work?
- Get me directions to the library
- Where am I?
- Show me a map of Washington, DC
- Show me pizza restaurants nearby
- Where’s the nearest gas station
- Find a flower shop near my work
- Is there a Walmart near me?
Cortana Music Library Commands
She can manage your music for you from across the room.
- Play artist (Ellie Goulding)
- Play song <title>
- Play <Name of Album>
- Pause music
- Resume music
- Play next track
- Play previous track
- Shuffle music
Cortana News Reader Commands
She can keep you in the loop for local, national, and international news. Don’t use this feature too often. Through no fault of Cortana’s, listening to too much news coverage can cause sever depression nowadays.
- Show me the top headlines
- Show me the local news
- Show me the international news
Questions for Cortana
She can also direct questions posed in the form of a simple search. Be aware that she will usually just open a Bing search page in Edge in response to a question but, sometimes, she answers you directly (for example, if you ask her a simple math question).
- Who is the President of Russia?
- What is the capital of Spain?
- How old is Bill Murray?
- What is traffic like in New York?
- What song is playing?
- What is 12 times 2?
- What is the Microsoft share price
- How much is Microsoft stock per share?
Overall, the above voice commands work fairly smoothly. However, you can expect to experience a few glitches in the system as Windows 10 has just launched. As you interact with her more (and as Microsoft updates her vocabulary) you’ll probably discover more things you can say to her.
Cortana On Surface Tablets: Funny Questions
In addition to being serious, Cortana can also be quirky and funny. There are several questions you can ask her which will solicit a humorous response. The PC Advisor website has a pretty good list of them. Here’s a few of my favorites:
Why did the chicken cross the road?
Do you Know Clippy? (He was an annoying mascot from older versions of Office)
If you’ve been struggling with Cortana on your Surface tablet, this article should help you out. Also, if you come across any additional useful (or funny) things you can say to Cortana, please share them with all of us in the comments.
Tim Rolston is a professional geek with over 23 years of experience working in Information Technology and dealing with everything from large-scale storage to remote systems management and automation for organizations such as Texas Instruments, Mobil Oil, and the University of Michigan (where he was an Academic IT Director).
He co-founded JTRTech along with Joanna to realize his long-time dream of working for himself.