Cortana is Windows 10’s virtual assistant. Thanks to this technology you can use your voice to open programs, perform searches, compose emails, and more. In this series of lessons, we’ll learn how to master this handy tool.

If you’re already familiar with Cortana from a previous version of Windows 10, there’s been some big changes. Cortana used to be tied up with search but not the two functions have been separated.

Since Cortana is voice-activated, you’ll need to have a microphone. Tablets and many laptops come with built-in microphones while most desktops do not. If your device doesn’t have a built-in microphone, you’ll need to purchase one. It does not have to be an expensive device. I’ve used Cortana successfully with the built-in microphone on a pair of inexpensive earbuds. If you have a desktop computer, a mic that sits on the desk is a nice accessory, but it’s certainly not necessary. Plug your mic either into the audio jack or a USB port (depending on the model) and we’re ready to start.

To open Cortana click the little circle icon to the right of the Search Box.

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Cortana will open and make a little chirping sound. Listen for the chirping sound, that lets you know that she’s ready to listen.

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Look for “listening” at the bottom. Now, ask a simple question like “What’s the temperature?” or “What time is it?” and see if she can hear you.

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If you get an answer, she can hear you.  If not, you should get a response like, “Sorry, I didn’t understand what you said.”  If she doesn’t hear you, don’t worry, we can fix that while we check out Cortana’s Settings.

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On the left side, you’ll see some icons. To get a better look at what they do, click the three line-menu icon at the top.

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Start by clicking on Settings.

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If Cortana isn’t able to hear you, click on Check the microphone.

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The speech troubleshooter will run.

It should be able to help you figure out what the issue is. Your next choice is to enable Hey Cortana.  With “Hey Cortana” turned on, all you need to do to activate Cortana is to say, “Hey, Cortana.”

You have to say “Hey, Cortana.”  If you just say “Cortana,” she won’t respond.

If that’s not turned on, you’ll have to click on the Cortana icon to use the feature.   If you turn, Hey Cortana on, there’s also an option to keep your device from going to sleep so you can always use Cortana. That will use more battery power.  There’s also the option of using a keyboard shortcut of Windows key + C.

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You can also choose to have Cortana active when your computer is locked and if you want her to be able to access the calendar, email, and other information when the lock screen is on.

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Your final option is to adjust Cortana to listen to your accent.

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For English speakers. you can choose between UK, US, Canada, Australia, or India.

Tomorrow, I’ll look at how to set up permissions for Cortana.