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Meet Cortana: The ultimate guide to Windows 10's helpful digital assistant

Brad Chacos | July 29, 2015
Windows 10's Cortana digital assistant is pretty darn easy to use, but she becomes even more powerful with some tinkering.

The "at a glance" card interface when you open Cortana is really the digital assistant's bread and butter, beyond search and reminders. That's where the interest options you specified during setup will appear--news, stock info, restaurant reminders, etc.--as well as personal information you need to know, like flight statuses for your travel arrangements and meeting reminders.

One issue: Cortana's card interface can become pretty crowded if you've selected several topics of interest, so you'll need to scroll down quite a bit to see everything. Fortunately, the assistant does a good job of placing more important personal information at the top.

Edge browser integration

Cortana's also baked into Windows 10's new Edge browser. When you visit certain websites or search for certain topics, a small blue Cortana logo in the browser bar will pulsate, letting you know that Cortana has additional details. Select it and the assistant will pop in via a right-side pane, with supplemental information like travel distance to the location you're looking at, Yelp reviews, and photos of the place.

Try it for yourself! Open Edge and browse to the website for Trattoria Cuoco, a Seattle area restaurant, to see an example. Sadly, there's no way to tell when a website will feature additional details from Cortana--visiting the websites for several popular New Hampshire restaurants proved fruitless.

Identify and play music

Cortana does a pretty mean Shazam impersonation. If you want to know the name of the tune that's playing right now, either say "Find song" or ask Cortana "What is this song?" She'll listen for a minute, then spit out the answer.

Alternatively, Cortana can kick off your playlists by using commands like "Play music," "play all artists," "play all albums," et cetera,  though only "play music" seems to work consistently right now. You can also tell Cortana to play the next track or the previous track, to pause or resume the jams, or shuffle the songs you're listening to.

Open things

You can tell Cortana to "Open <program name>" and she will. "Show me the weather" will cause the weather forecast to appear in Cortana's interface. 

Fun stuff

Cortana will also goof around with you if you're feeling playful.

You can still coax Cortana into answering a wide range of fun prompts. PCWorld's " Ask Cortana anything" feature details a whopping 59 of them--and that's just the tip of the iceberg. Try these ones to start. Be sure to select the "Lets chat" rather than the "Search the web" option in the results to see her answers, and most of these have more than one answer if you ask repeatedly.

  • Tell me a joke
  • Surprise me
  • Sing me a song
  • What does Cortana mean?
  • Who is your creator?
  • What do you think of Siri?
  • Who is your daddy?
  • Do you know Clippy?

 

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