Friday, 6 May 2016

Top 10 Tips For Cortana

Top 10 Tips For Cortana

Cortana is one of the biggest new features in Windows 10. Roland Waddilove shows how to make the most of this personal assistant

1 Hey Cortana!

Cortana has some useful settings that can improve the way it works and the results it produces. Click Cortana on the Start menu or click in the search box on the taskbar. Click the Notebook icon just below the home button on the left, and a long list of topics, plus Settings, are displayed. Click each one and enable all the options.

In Settings, turn on Hey Cortana, and Cortana listens all the time. When you want information or to perform an action, just say “Hey, Cortana!”, followed by whatever you want. You can choose to have Cortana respond to anyone or just you. If you select the ‘To me’ option, Cortana asks you to speak several sentences so it (she?) can learn to recognise your voice and distinguish it from other people’s.

2 What’s That Track?

If you listen to music while using your computer and want to know what track is currently playing, just ask Cortana. Click the Cortana app or the search box in the taskbar and click the music icon in the top-right corner. Cortana listens, and after a few seconds it displays the track title, artist and artwork.

3 Play Music

If you store music in the Music folder in the OneDrive folder, you can play any track simply by telling Cortana. Let’s say you have an Ed Sheeran folder in the OneDrive Music folder, and in that subfolder is an MP3 of ‘Thinking Out Loud’. You could say “Hey, Cortana! Play Thinking Out Loud.” Cortana would start the Groove Music app, find the track and begin to play it.

4 Get Maps

When you need to look at a map, you could open the Maps app or simply say to your computer, “Hey Cortana! Show me a map of London.” The maps are quite small because they’re in the narrow Cortana pop-up, but you can then click a map to open it in the Maps app.

5 Get Travel Directions

If you’re going on a trip, whether by public transport, car or on foot, ask Cortana for directions. Say something like “Show me directions to...” Sometimes this opens a web browser to show the directions via Bing, but other times it opens the Maps app to show the directions.

A variation on this is to ask what the traffic is like. Press Windows+C to wake up Cortana and say, “Show me the traffic to...” A route map is displayed in the Cortana window, along with a comment saying whether there’s heavy or light traffic and how long the journey is expected to take.

6 Set Alarms

Cortana can ensure that you never miss another appointment, event or Game of Thrones episode because you were too engrossed in whatever you’re doing on your computer. You can set alarms, then Cortana reminds you when they’re due.

Press Windows+C to wake up Cortana, and say “Set an alarm for...” It recognises different ways of saying the time, so you can say things like 2pm, 7.30 or quarter past four. You can also set an alarm as a countdown timer. For example, say “Set alarm for 40 minutes,” and the alarm will go off 40 minutes from now.

If you want to know what alarms are active, just say “Show alarms,” and if you want to cancel an alarm, just say “Cancel alarm at...” followed by the time. It’s all very natural, and you just say what you want like you were speaking to a real person.

7 Reminders and appointments

There is no need to open the Calendar app when you want to make an appointment. Cortana can do that for you. Wake her up with “Hey, Cortana!” or press Windows+C and say “Create an appointment for 3.30pm tomorrow.” An appointment has more than a time, it has a name, so Cortana asks you to say the title. It could be “Dentist” or “Lunch with Bob” and so on. Just say what it is.

Cortana is quite intelligent, and you can say things like “Create an all-day event on Friday, going to the seaside.” Cortana will schedule the all-day trip to the beach as requested. The event is always displayed in the Cortana panel, so you can see it’s correct, then you just confirm that it’s to be set.

If there’s insufficient information, Cortana asks you for each piece of information. For example, you can say “Create an appointment,” and Cortana asks When? You reply with the date and time, then Cortana asks for the name of the appointment and so on.

Reminders are very similar to appointments and are made in almost exactly the same way. You can say “Remind me on Wednesday to...” Just say what you want to be reminded about. Cortana will ask for the time you want to be reminded. This information can be included right from the start, so you can say “Remind me at nine o’clock tomorrow to pick up Sue on the way to work.”

The most obvious problem with reminders and appointments is that you might not be sitting at your computer at the time, so you won’t see the notice. Just install Cortana on your phone (Windows, Android and iOS). It syncs with your PC, and when you’re out you’ll see the notification on your mobile.

8 Store Notes

When you’re working on your computer and need to remember something, just ask Cortana to save it as a note. Say “Take a note” and follow it up by speaking whatever it is you want to save. Cortana stores notes in OneNote, so if you want to read your notes, open the app and select the ‘Quick notes’ tab. The first few words are stored as the note title and the rest is stored as an audio file embedded within the note. Think about those first half dozen words and make them describe the content of the audio note. Double-click the audio file, and Groove Music opens and plays it.

9 Calculator And Units

Cortana can perform mathematical calculations and convert units from one type to another, including currencies. For example, you can say “What is £50 in US dollars?” Cortana replies using the current exchange rate. Ask Cortana “What is 100 miles in km?” Quick as a flash, you’ll hear the answer.

Cortana can also perform calculations involving addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Just say what you want to know, such as “27.5 x 34.3” Not only does Cortana speak the answer, a calculator appears in the Cortana box so you can perform other calculations. You can ask more complicated questions like “What is 7.5% of 350?”

10 Get The Weather Forecast

You can ask a variety of questions about the weather and Cortana will supply the answers, saving you the bother of opening the Weather app. You can ask obvious questions like “What is the weather forecast for tomorrow,” or any day of the week. You can even ask for the weather forecast for next week. Cortana speaks the weather and also displays a mini forecast with symbols indicating cloud or sun, maximum and minimum temperatures and so on.

Cortana also understands questions like “Will I need an umbrella tomorrow?” You sometimes get a definite yes or no, but Cortana is occasionally a bit more chatty and says things like “It is hard to know for sure; here is the forecast.”

If you’re planning a trip tomorrow or later in the week, just ask Cortana what the weather will be like in the place you’re visiting. Say, “What is the weather forecast for Paris on Friday?” Just think how much work would be involved using the weather app or a website. Asking Cortana is so much easier.