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December 1, 2015

How to use Cortana on your Surface

Learn how to work with Cortana on your Surface to get stuff done.

Your personal digital assistant can track packages and flights, give you show times, remind you to pick up groceries, schedule meetings, and even send email messages for you.


Cortana is your virtual assistant on your Surface device (as well as Lumia smartphone, tablet or PC) powered with Windows 10 and it’s always at the ready to assist you.

If you’re new to Cortana–look for the glowing orb on the left side of your task bar—here’s how to set it up and how it can make your life easier.


Set up Cortana

If you’ve signed into your Microsoft account, Cortana will recognize you and address you by first name. However, if you want to change what Cortana calls you (to “Boss” for example), that’s easy to do.

Tap Cortana (or if you have the new Surface Pen, just click and hold the eraser button), then Notebook and About Me. Press Change My Name and type your preferred name. Then hit the Play key to hear how Cortana pronounces it. Sound OK? Tap the Sounds Good bar. If pronunciation isn’t exactly right, tap That’s Wrong and try again.

You can also add favorite places such as your home, office, or favorite restaurant so Cortana can assess traffic conditions and tell you what time you should leave to arrive on time.

“Hey Cortana”

You can summon Cortana just by saying “Hey Cortana” out loud—but first, you need to activate that feature. Tap Cortana, then Notebook and Settings. Scroll down and tap the On button for Hey Cortana.


While you’re there, you can set up Cortana to better respond to your voice. Tap Relearn My Voice and the assistant will ask you to say aloud six brief phrases to better recognize your speech cadence and tone.

What can Cortana do?

The virtual assistant’s search bar features the phrase, “Ask me anything” and it means it. Maybe the better question is: What can’t Cortana do?

Here’s a sampling of the tasks Cortana can perform:

Search: Ask Cortana to find everything from photos on your Surface to the best barbeque restaurants in North Carolina.


Alarm: Set an alarm (“Wake me up at 6 a.m.”).
Calendar: Add, edit or review. (“Create a 4 p.m. meeting with John.”)
Dictionary: Definitions and translations. (“What does chiaroscuro mean?”)
Directions: Get directions
Email: Send a short email. (“Send an email to Eric about Thanksgiving.”)
Math: Calculations and conversions (“What is 3,200 times 456?”)

Cortana helps you do math

Music: Play music (“Play my dinner mix playlist”)
Read your handwritten notes: Need to jot down a phone number, email address or other important info? Use your Surface Pen to quickly scribble notes in Cortana’s Notebook, and Cortana will recognize and read your handwriting and even help you set reminders.

You can handwrite notes that Cortana will read.
Reminders: Speaking of reminders, set them based on time (“Remind me to call Sarah at 1 p.m”), place (“Remind me to return books when I’m near the library”) or people. For example, “Say congrats to Mike” and when you send or receive an email from that person, Cortana will remind you.


Show times: Movies and concerts (“Where is ‘The Martian’ movie playing?”)
Tracking: Flights and packages. Go to Notebook, then Settings, and make sure that the button is on for Find Flights and More. Then, whenever you get an email with tracking information—such as for a flight or package–Cortana will track it.