How to Use Cortana's New Features in the Windows 10 Anniversary Update

Cortana is now more proactive and accessible from the lock screen

Cortana Icon

It's Cortana time again. Do I talk about Microsoft's personal digital assistant too much? Probably, but that's only because I find it helpful in my own daily adventures and feel it's a worthwhile tool for PC users--especially if you also use Cortana on your Android or Windows 10 smartphone (it's on iOS too).

Cortana on Windows 10 is even better in the Windows 10 Anniversary Update. We've briefly talked about some of these features before, but now we're going to cover them in greater detail.

We'll also talk about Cortana's basic interface.

The new Cortana panel

As before you can activate Cortana by clicking on the text entry panel in the taskbar. If you feel like Cortana is taking up too much space on your desktop, right-click the taskbar, and select Cortana from the context menu.

Next, select Show Cortana icon and the digital assistant's size shrinks from a giant search box to a more manageable Cortana icon next to the Start button.

Once you click on the Cortana panel, you may notice that things have changed a bit in regards to interface with the Anniversary Update. If you ask me it's for the better. First off, getting to Cortana's settings is much easier than before since it's available in the lower left corner of the Cortana panel.

Click on it, however, and you're in for a surprise. There's no way to turn off Cortana in the Anniversary Update and just use a plain vanilla Windows search feature.

If you really want to stop using Cortana you'll have to remove it from the taskbar by right-clicking on the taskbar and selecting Cortana > Hidden. After that you should also disable Cortana via the registry, which you can read about in more detail in this Cortana tutorial.

If you are using Cortana there are a few settings I would draw your attention to under Settings.

You'll see a check box that says "Let Cortana access my calendar, email, messages, and Power BI data when my device is locked." This allows Cortana to, well, access your calendar, email, and messages (forget about Power BI unless you use it at work).

Cortana is designed to be more proactive and suggest things for you. Having access to calendar and email helps with that.

The next setting you should authorize is accessing Cortana from the lock screen. There's a slider under the heading "Lock screen" that says "Use Cortana even when my device is locked." That way you'll always have access. Of course, you'll also need to active the "Hey Cortana" voice command a little further up in settings as well.

Once that's done you can use Cortana for all kinds of things while on the lock screen. It can set a reminder or appointment for you, do a quick calculation, give you a basic fact, or send an SMS. The key point to remember here is that Cortana can do anything for you on the lock screen that doesn't require the personal digital assistant to open another program like, say, Microsoft Edge or Twitter.

Once it needs to do that, Cortana needs you to unlock your PC. A notable exception to that rule is Groove Music.

If you say something like "Hey Cortana, play music by Radiohead" Cortana can start up Groove in the background while your PC is locked. This new feature is yet another reason it pays to use Groove and stash your music collection in OneDrive if you have the space.

Proactive Cortana

Similar to Google Now, Cortana can analyze your email and other information to take action. If you receive email confirmation of a flight, for example, Cortana can add it to your calendar.

If you said in an email you'd send someone a note by the afternoon Cortana can remind you. If you try to add an appointment that conflicts with another one Cortana can identify that and notify you.

Cortana's even getting interested in lunch and can help you make a reservation or order food if you have compatible apps on your device.

Detailed Cortana

Cortana has always been able to do things like show your pictures or a document from last week. Now it can get even more specific. You can say things like, "Hey Cortana email Robert the spreadsheet I worked on yesterday" or "what's the name of the sporting goods store I visited last time I was in New York?" In my experience Cortana isn't quite as accurate as it should be with these kinds of queries, but it will probably improve over time.

Cortana on Android and Windows 10 Mobile

One my favorite parts of Microsoft's Cortana improvements has to be the new integration between your phone (Android and Windows 10 Mobile only) and your PC. The new integration requires the Anniversary Update on your PC and your Windows 10 Mobile phone--Android users just need the latest version of Cortana from Google Play.

Once you've got the right software on your devices, open Cortana's settings again on your PC. Then active the on/off slider under the sub-heading "Send notifications between devices."

Do the same on your mobile device and you'll be able to receive all kinds of alerts from your phone on your PC. That's a great feature if you leave your phone charging on the other side of the house or your phone is stuffed in a bag at work.

Phone alerts that show up on your PC include text messages and missed calls, which Cortana did prior to the Anniversary Update, as well as notifications from apps on your phone.

This can include everything from messaging apps like Telegram and WhatsApp, to alerts from your favorite news apps and Facebook. System notifications such as low battery alerts can also appear on your PC.

All notifications from your phone show up in the Action Center under a special heading to make clear which alerts are coming from your phone. The best part is you can select which apps should be able to send notifications to your PC. That way you don't get overwhelmed with a stream of notifications you don't need.

Those are the highlights for Cortana in the Windows 10 Anniversary Update. It's a solid update to a highly useful part of Windows 10 for those who don't mind talking to their PC.

Updated by Ian Paul.