The complete guide to configuring Cortana in Windows 10

Cortana, the personal virtual assistant, is one of the best features offered by Microsoft in Windows 10. In order to use her, you need to go through a first-time setup process, and learn how to interact with her. Cortana can help you in numerous ways, so that you are more productive and keep in touch with what interests you. She can also entertain you, when you are bored and want to have a laugh. If you want to use Cortana, in Windows 10, here is how to configure her:

IMPORTANT: This guide was created using Windows 10 Spring Creators Update, available for free, as of April 2018. If things look different on your device, you may be using an older version of Windows 10.

Cortana keeps track of most of the things she knows about you, inside her Notebook. However, some of its settings are also configured in the Settings app. To be able to configure her in detail and get to all of the available settings, you have to go to both places: the Notebook and the Settings.

1. Access Cortana's Notebook

Let's start by checking the Notebook first. Launch Cortana with a click or a tap on her search box on the taskbar, and click or tap the Notebook button on the top-left.

Then press the Personalize button.

The Notebook is the place where Cortana keeps many of her settings and the place where you customize what you want her to know about you.

The first thing you notice is that the Notebook is split into a header and two major tabs:

  1. The header is where your name is displayed and where you can customize the essential details about yourself.
  2. The first tab is called Organizer, and it is the place where you can create and manage Lists and Reminders.
  3. The second tab is called Manage Skills, and it is all about the skills Cortana has, based on what you allow and configure her to do.

2. Edit your address information and favorite places

The header part of Cortana's Notebook handles your private information: name, email, home address and favorite places. The Notebook shows just your name and email address and, if you want to see the rest of the information, you have to click or tap on the Edit button on the right. It looks like a small pencil.

Then, Cortana shows you your home address and favorite places, if you have already set them. If you did not, or if you want to add some more places, you can click or tap on the "+ Add a place" button.

Then, enter the address of the place you want to add. Cortana searches for it automatically and displays the results under the text field. Check the results and click or tap on the one that matches your query.

Now choose a Nickname for that place, so that you can easily identify it among the others. Home, Work, Girlfriend or Boyfriend, are all good choices. Note that this is an optional detail and you can skip it if you want. Then, select what type of place that is: Home, Work or Favorite. If you add more places, you are likely to set them as your Favorites, as you can have only one Home. :) When you are done, press Save to let Cortana memorize your favorite place.

Cortana now brings you back to the list of your favorite places, where you can now also see the new one.

Notice that every favorite place you have also has a small menu button represented by three suspension dots, on its right side. If you click or tap on it, Cortana gives you a few options for that place:

  • You can Edit it, but that just means changing its Nickname;
  • You can "Show in Maps," which means that the Maps app opens and takes you to the address of that favorite place;
  • You can Remove the favorite place in question.

That is everything that you can do in your personal information section from Cortana's Notebook.

NOTE: The first tab from Cortana's Notebook lets you create and edit Lists and Reminders. These are useful things to do and can definitely help you become more productive in the long term. However, they are not related to the configuration of Cortana, which is the focus of this article.

3. Configure Cortana's connections and access to personal information (Manage Skills)

One of the best features of any personal assistant, virtual or not, is how many useful skills she has. It is true that Cortana does not have as many skills as she could or should have. However, she does have a series of useful skills. All of them can be viewed and configured in the Manage Skills tab from her Notebook.

Cortana groups her skills depending on their purpose. The default skills you get on probably any Windows 10 device are:

  • Connections: Music, Connected Home, Connected services
  • Productivity: Calendar & reminders, Commute & traffic, Pick up where you left off, Suggested tasks
  • Stay up to date: Finance, Flights, News, Packages, Sports, Weather
  • Lifestyle: Eat & drink, Shopping, Special days
  • Help: Cortana tips

Each of these skills sets contain one or more skills that allow Cortana to interact with your favorite apps and services. With their help, she can do things like play radio stations in TuneIn, check your Calendar, notify you about the packages that you are tracking, find places to eat based on the food you like, or even turn up the heat in your home.

Cortana has over 230 skills in total, so it would be impossible to cover them all in our tutorials.

We would like to point out though, that you should definitely tinker with her skills and configure as many as you can so that Cortana can do her best work in helping you.

4. Access Cortana's settings

The next Cortana configurations that we are going to talk about are available in the Settings app. There are two ways to get there:

  • You can either open the Settings app and then click or tap on the Cortana button
  • Or you can launch Cortana and click or tap on her Settings button.

Either way, you should get to Cortana's settings, which look like this:

5. Make sure that Cortana can hear you

The Settings app should now display the settings section called "Talk to Cortana." If it is not, click or tap on "Talk to Cortana" on the left side of the window. Then, on the right, click or tap on the link that says "Check the microphone."

This action should launch the Speech troubleshooting wizard. Follow its steps and make sure that Cortana can hear you.

6. Make Cortana listen to your voice and answer when you say "Hey Cortana"

The next section is called "Hey Cortana," and it is the place where you can decide whether you want her to listen to your voice permanently, and answer when you say "Hey Cortana." If you do want that, enable the switch that says so, but keep in mind that Cortana uses more battery when this feature is on.

If you choose to enable "Hey Cortana," you get access to a few additional settings:

  • You can choose to "keep [your] device from sleeping when it's plugged in so [you] can always say 'Hey Cortana' (unless [you] turn it off [yourself])"
  • You can make her "Respond when anyone says 'Hey Cortana'" or "Try to respond only to [you]."

If you want to configure Cortana to respond only to you, first you must help her learn your voice. For that, you must click or tap on the link that says "Learn how I say 'Hey Cortana'."

Then go through the wizard and repeat the six phrases that Cortana asks you to read. Then, she should be able to answer to only you.

7. Make Cortana listen to your commands when you press Windows + C

Once you are done with that, go back to the Settings window, and choose whether you want Cortana to listen to your commands when you press the Windows + C keys simultaneously.

8. Configure Cortana to answer to you even when your device is locked

Cortana can work for you even while your Windows 10 PC or device is locked. That means that you no longer have to unlock your PC or device to be able to talk to her. The next few settings from the "Talk to Cortana" section in the Settings app are about configuring her to do that. We described this configuration task, in a separate tutorial: How to enable and use Cortana straight from the Windows 10 lock screen.

9. Manage what you let Cortana do and see

The "Permissions & History" section of the Cortana settings, lets you check and adjust everything related to what Cortana knows about you and the information she can access on you.

The Permissions area has links that take you to online and offline places, where you can:

  • "Change what Cortana knows about [you] in the cloud"
  • "Manage the information Cortana can access from this device"
  • "Manage the information Cortana can access from other services"

Click or tap on each of the links and select what information you want to share with Cortana and what not.

10. Choose how to filter adult content in the search results shown by Cortana

The SafeSearch section allows you to configure how adult content is filtered out in the search results you get from Cortana. She can be configured to filter the adult content like this:

  • Strict - "Filter out adult text, images, and videos from [your] web results"
  • Moderate - "Filter adult images and videos but not text from [your] web results"
  • Off - "Don't filter adult content from [your] web results."

The options are clear, so choose what you prefer.

11. Select whether Cortana can use your cloud content in Windows Search

By default, if you have content saved in the cloud (a.k.a in OneDrive), Cortana can search it too when you are looking for stuff using her search box on the taskbar. If you want to disable this feature, turn off the switch called "Windows Cloud Search" from Cortana's "Permissions & History."

12. Manage your history and let Cortana use it (or not)

Cortana can also view your activity history on your devices and improve searches using it. If you want her to be able to use your past, this feature is on by default, so you do not have to do anything. However, if you do not want to let Cortana do so, you can disable the "View activity history" and "My device history" switches. Also, if you want to erase your past activity logs, you should also click or tap on the "Clear my device history" button.

13. Configure Cortana's integrations with other devices

If you have an Android or Windows 10 Mobile smartphone, and you have installed the Cortana app on it, then you can get notifications from it, directly on your Windows 10 PC. This feature is turned on or off by the switch called "Get phone notifications on this PC" and must also be enabled in the Cortana app on the smartphone to work.

Moreover, if you want to continue some of the activities you started on your other devices, Cortana can help you out. To enable this feature though, you must enable the switch that says "Help me pick up where I left off on other devices" on all the devices that you use.

14. Let Cortana give you list suggestions

The final configuration available in Cortana's settings is a feature called "Get list suggestions." If you are using the Lists feature to organize your life, Cortana can participate even more and "help you make lists and give you relevant updates and suggestions." If you want her to do that, you have to agree to receive suggestions by turning on the switch called "Get list suggestions."

However, you have to know that Cortana needs access to your browsing history, to collect and use it if you want to receive list suggestions from her.

And… that was pretty much everything that you can configure the way Cortana works in Windows 10 Spring Creators Update.

Conclusion

Cortana can do lots of things, and to be able to do that, she must be complicated. The direct result is that she has lots of configuration options which you can fiddle with to make her work just the way you like it. However, once you have taken the time to do all that, interacting with Cortana will be a personal experience, for both you and her. :)