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Microsoft Cortana on the PC: She's not fully alert in Build 9926 of Windows 10

Mark Hachman | Jan. 27, 2015
We go hands on with Cortana in Build 9926 of Windows 10, and find the digital assistant is disappointing compared to what's installed in Windows Phone.

I had better luck tapping the microphone icon. When I did, I could begin asking Cortana to help me out. Even then, a lengthy query, such as "Who will win, the New England Patriots or the Seattle Seahawks?" (a query that works fine on Windows Phone) failed to work. Cortana just gave up after about six words or so. Oddly, sometimes you'll see your query appear as words in the text box, as you speak them. Other times, Cortana will quietly chew over your request without indicating that she's processed it.

One other note: To launch another Cortana query, you have to shift focus away from Cortana by tapping another area of the screen or doing something else.

Cortana really likes Bing

On Windows Phone, you can order Cortana to do a number of things:

  • Call or text a contact
  • Check your calendar or create a calendar entry
  • Set a time, place, or person-based reminder
  • Take a note
  • Set an alarm
  • Navigate to a place, or search an area for specific locations or places
  • Ask about the weather
  • Solve a math problem
  • Ask who win an NFL football game
  • Ask about the stock markets
  • Ask a general fact-based query, such as "What is the tallest building in the world?"

But on Windows 10, only a subset of these are enabled. Asking general fact-based queries worked fine: Cortana reported her answer in the Cortana box if she "knew" the answer, such as a query about the tallest building in the world. PC Cortana can also set reminders as well as she can on Windows Phone; report the current stock market conditions; and tell you the weather, both at your current location and elsewhere around the world. (Reminders appear as popups in your Action Center notifications.)

However, for all of the other Cortana staples--note-taking, setting a calendar appointment, navigating to a location, and the rest--I got a pop-up error message stating, "I"m sorry, I can't do this for you right now. Check back again after future updates."

Cortana will also take requests and plug them in as Bing search queries. With math problems, that works just fine. But for navigation questions, you'll be forced to manually bring up the new Maps application and perform the search yourself.

Note that Cortana also governs local search, but she can't yet search for documents or files.

Windows Phone's Cortana doesn't talk to Windows 10's Cortana
Unfortunately, like squabbling sisters, Windows 10 Cortana doesn't talk to her counterpart on Windows Phone, even though I was signed in to the same Microsoft account. I tried setting reminders on a Lumia Icon with the latest Windows Phone 8.1 Update, and they wouldn't pop up on my Windows 10 machine, and vice versa. Microsoft really needs one Cortana to talk to the other if it's to knit its Windows ecosystems more closely together.

 

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