How to Use Cortana | Digital Trends


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


Cortana has a few basic functions you can use without being signed in, but you can get the most functionality out of it 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) and then, within Cortana’s menu window, select the House icon on the left side. Then, hit the button that says, “Cortana can do much more.” When prompted, click the Sign In button and follow the on-screen instructions.

Set up Cortana

cortana settings screenshot

Click on the Cortana Icon on the Taskbar. Then, click the Settings gear icon within the Cortana menu window that appears.  The Cortana section of the Windows 10 settings menu has a variety of options here, but the first one controls the search function’s voice activation phrase, “Hey Cortana.” You don’t really need that whole “hey” business, though.

Alternately, you can turn off this detection by switching the Hey Cortana switch to Off. This is useful if you want to save battery life on a laptop or if you’re using a desktop with no microphone. You can manually activate a voice search by tapping on the Cortana Icon in the Taskbar or by pressing the Windows + C keys at the same time. This keyboard shortcut only works when it’s enabled. Enable it by going to SettingsTalk to Cortana > Let Cortana Listen for My Commands When I Press the Windows Logo Key + C.

The Talk to Cortana tab also features settings for Cortana’s use within the Windows 10 lock screen and for setting your preferred language.

The Permissions tab is also important to familiarize yourself with. Cortana can access a lot of information about you and your device, so deciding what you’re comfortable sharing with Cortana — and by extension, Microsoft — is worthwhile.

If you want more information on how Cortana works or you want to manage your Windows 10 privacy options, click on the More Details tab to view those options.

Show or hide the Cortana icon

cortana icon taskbar 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 check mark next to it. Removing the check mark hides the Cortana icon. If you want the icon to reappear, simply select the Show Cortana Button option again to add a check mark next to it.

Cortana home

cortana home menu screen screenshot

When you click on the Cortana Icon on the Taskbar, you’ll be greeted with Cortana’s main menu of options and Cortana herself, waiting to hear you speak your commands. There are three main sections of this menu to know: Home, Notebook, and Devices. The home section (the house-shaped icon on the left side of the menu) is where Cortana lives and waits to hear your instructions.

The Notebook section is where you can manage things like your reminders, to-do lists, and skills that Cortana can use to help you manage your life and work.

Note: A number of the skills that currently come pre-loaded with Cortana have been discontinued, such as sports and commute and traffic. There are still some useful skills that are still active, such as weather, music, and restaurant reservations.

The Devices section is where you manage and add Cortana devices or other connected devices, such as an Amazon Alexa device or your Surface headphones.

Cortana Notebook

cortana notebook screenshot

This is your way to access Cortana’s learned information about you as a user and to customize the skills and tasks it can help you manage. In the menus for the different skills and tasks, you can add or use a wide variety of tools to help manage your hobbies or daily tasks.

You’ll quickly notice that your Notebook is organized into two categories: Organizer and Manage Skills. The first, Organizer, manages your to-do lists, reminders, and important tasks. Manage Skills is for keeping track of things like the weather or settling smaller tasks, like making restaurant reservations. Cortana is able to tackle this using preset skills. You can also use Cortana’s skills to stream music, check out social media, or reply to emails. Each skill option has an adjustable menu that you can customize.

Manage accounts

cortana manage accounts screenshot

You can link up third-party services or Microsoft through Cortana’s Manage Accounts feature. It’s compatible with popular services like Outlook, Office 365, Gmail, Spotify, and social accounts, like LinkedIn.

You can link these services to Cortana’s Manage Accounts skill by going to Taskbar > Cortana > Notebook > Manage Skills > Manage Accounts. Click the Link button that corresponds to the third-party feature you like.


cortana reminders screenshot

Instead of writing down a to-do list, use Cortana to set your reminders. It’s a straightforward process, similar to competitors: select Notebook > Reminders. From there, you’ll see a menu where you can add, manage, or delete different reminders. You can remove a reminder in just two clicks: click the entry and then select Delete. To set a new reminder, click the Plus symbol in the bottom right corner.

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