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10 tips and tricks to make you a Cortana pro on Windows 10

Putting aside all the great features included in Windows 10, Cortana is one of the best reasons to upgrade to the new operating system. Microsoft's digital assistant, which was originally introduced on mobile devices, now has its own space in the taskbar, and it can help you with a lot of everyday tasks to make you more productive.

Cortana is always at your fingertips ready to help you find anything on your PC, track your packages automatically, give you accurate weather information, and make sure you don't miss any important appointments. However, there are other things you can do with the assistant to make you even more productive, and in this guide, we'll list ten tips and tricks you may not know for your Windows 10 PC.

Cortana tips and tricks

1. Perform specific search queries

Yes, of course, you can type anything on the taskbar search box, and Cortana will bring the most relevant search results. However, it'll return relevant results for different categories, including from Bing, folders, files, apps, and settings -- everything in a small canvas -- when you probably already know that you're looking for a particular file type or setting.

If you want to narrow down your results and search for something specific, you can try to do a search specifying the type of search you'd like to do using different filters, similar to the ones you would use on a search engine.

In the search box you can type queries like the examples below:

  • Apps: Edge
  • Settings: Display
  • Documents: Windows 10
  • Folders: Work
  • Photos: Cat
  • Videos: Vacation
  • Music: Rolling Stones
  • Web: Windows 10 new features

As you can see in the examples above, you first specify the kind of search category, followed by a colon and the term you want to prevent Cortana from delivering irrelevant results.

In recent updates, you can also notice that as you start typing a query, a number of options appear at the top of the results on Cortana letting you refine your search, but for those who type faster than they can move the mouse will appreciate filtering results manually.

Alternatively, as you do a search, you can also click the title of the group results to get a more specific search.

2. Track packages manually

Another interesting and well-known feature in Cortana is the ability to scan your emails from accounts configured in the Mail app to detect shipping information, which the assistant can automatically add to its Notebook and to notify you about its current status and estimated arrival.

However, if you're expecting a package that someone else bought for you or if you made a purchase using an email account that isn't configured in your Mail app, Cortana won't be able to track the package automatically. Fortunately, you can add a tracking ID manually to enable Cortana to keep an eye on your package from supported carriers, including UPS, FedEx, and DHL, and from supported retailers, such as Amazon.com, Microsoft Store, eBay, Target, Apple, and Walmart.

Here's how you can quickly start tracking a package:

  1. Use the Windows key + S to open Cortana.
  2. Type the tracking ID of the package.
  3. Once Cortana validates the information, click Track your package.

Alternatively, a more accurate way to track a package is using the following steps:

  1. Use the Windows key + S to open Cortana.
  2. Click the Notebook button in the navigation pane.
  3. Scroll down and click Packages.

  1. Make sure Package tracking cards option is turned on.
  2. Click Add a package.

  1. Enter the tracking information and click the result to add the ID properly.

  1. Click Save to complete.

Once the information is in the Notebook, every time you open Cortana, you will see a card with the latest status of the package.

3. Turn off card notifications you don't need

Microsoft has added and continues to include different ways to make Cortana more useful, but that density can quickly get overwhelming. For example, you could probably be a big sports fan, but you may no care very much about finance.

By default, Cortana surfaces all types of topics, including sports, trending news, movies and TV, academic, and other items. If you want to make your Cortana experience more personalized, you can easily turn off cards that you don't want to see.

  1. Use the Windows key + S to open Cortana.
  2. Click the Notebook icon from the navigation pane.
  3. Open the category you're not interested in (e.g. Finance).
  4. In the settings page, simply toggle the option to turn off the card.

  1. Repeat the steps for each topic you don't want Cortana to track.

It's worth to point out that most cards can also be customized. For example, you can open the News card, and only turn off the topics you don't want to see, and you can also add new items to track.

Another example: On Eat & Drink, you can customize the frequency the assistant provides food and drink related recommendations, and customize ambiance, cuisine preference, pricing, distance, and more.

4. Create location-based reminders

Cortana is all about tracking and reminding you of important events, and because the assistant works across devices, you can set it to remind you to do something at specific locations on your PC and get reminded on your phone. For example, you can say Hey Cortana: Next time I'm at the mall, remind me to buy a new sweater.

Then the next time, when you're at that particular location, Cortana will pop in your phone the reminder to get a new sweater, even though you have created the reminder on your PC.

5. Create person-based reminders

In the same way, you can create location-based reminders. You can also set Cortana to remind you of anything when you're about to talk with a particular person in your contact list. For example, you can say Hey Cortana: Next time I talk to John, remind me to ask him to buy the drinks for the party.

Then next time you are about to call that particular person or when you receive a call from them, even when sending a text message, Cortana will pop the reminder.

Keep in mind that while Cortana works across platforms, person-based reminders currently works with Windows devices.

6. Use Cortana for technical support

For newbies, Cortana can also offer entry-level technical support, just ask questions like the examples you see below:

  • How do I install a printer?
  • How do I project my screen?
  • How do I change my background?
  • How do I update Windows?
  • How do I make a backup?
  • How do I change default apps?

While you can ask Cortana virtually anything, many answers will simply be converted into Bing search queries or they will direct you to a Microsoft support page. However, asking specific questions as you see above, you may also see the instructions right in the Cortana app.

7. Use Cortana as your personal translator

You don't have to open your web browser and use an online translator. Cortana can easily translate a wide variety of languages right from the search box -- where available, you also get a play button to read the translation at loud.

To use the translation feature, open Cortana, type "translate" followed by the word or phrase and the name of the language you want the content translated, and hit Enter. For example, Translate Hello to Spanish. Or you can also say Hey Cortana: How do I say Hello in French.

Cortana can currently translate in the following languages: Bosnian, Bulgarian, Catalan, Chinese (Simplified), Chinese (Traditional), Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Haitian Creole, Hebrew, Hindi, Hmong Daw, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Kiswahili, Klingon, Klingon (plqaD), Korean, Latvian, Lithuanian, Malay, Maltese, Norwegian, Persian, Polish, Portuguese,​ Querétaro Otomi, Romanian, Russian, Serbian (Cyrillic), Serbian (Latin), Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish, Swedish, Thai, Turkish, Ukrainian, Urdu, Vietnamese, and Welsh.

8. Cortana keyboard shortcuts

Like pretty much with every feature in Windows, Microsoft is also including a few keyboard shortcuts to interact with Cortana, including:

  • Windows key + C keyboard shortcut to open Cortana in listening mode.
  • Windows key + S keyboard shortcut to open Cortana home screen directly into typing search mode. Alternatively, you can also use the * *Windows key + Q** keyboard shortcut.

9. Send an SMS text message from your PC using Cortana

Are you really busy and away from your phone when you need to send an important text message? No problem, Cortana can send the message for you.

  1. Use the Windows key + S to open Cortana.
  2. Type Send text to followed by the name of the person in your contact list and press Enter.
  3. Type your text message in the provided box and click Send.

Alternatively, you can simply say: Hey Cortana: Send text and follow the on-screen instructions.

Cortana's ability to send an SMS depends on the information in your contact list. If the phone number for the person you want to send the message isn't in the contact information, you'll need to open the People app and update their phone number information before you can send a message.

Once you hit the Send button, Cortana will sync the text to your phone, and it will send the SMS through your phone to the recipient.

10. Improve Cortana voice recognition

Sometimes, if you're not a native speaker of the language setup on Windows 10, Cortana may have a hard time trying to understand you. At times, the assistant may not even respond to "Hey Cortana" voice command.

To improve Cortana voice recognition there are two things you can do:

The first thing you can do is to adjust Windows 10 speech settings to help Cortana recognize non-native accents.

  1. Use the Windows key + I to open the Settings app.
  2. Click Time & language.
  3. Click Speech.
  4. Check the Recognize non-native accents for this language option.

The second thing you can do is to change the settings to let the assistant only answer to you and letting learn your voice.

  1. Use the Windows key + S to open Cortana.
  2. Click the Notebook button from the left pane.
  3. Click Settings.
  4. Scroll and on Hey Cortana settings, under "Respond best", enable the To me option by clicking the Learn my voice button.

  1. Click Start to begin the training.

After changing these settings, Cortana will be able to answer more accurately to your voice commands and better understand your accent if you're not a native speaker of the language.

Wrapping things up

While in this guide, we go over a number of tips and tricks you can use with your personal assistant, remember that you can always ask Cortana "help" or click the question mark (?) button in the left pane of the app to access a list of things you can do.

If you want to learn a few extra tricks. You should also check our previous guides detailing the steps to get Cortana to shutdown or restart your Windows 10 PC using voice commands. And how to get Cortana to use Google instead of Bing to deliver search results.

Note: Cortana is officially available in select countries, including United States, United Kingdom, Spain, Japan, Italy, India, Germany, France, China, Canada, and Australia. However, Microsoft continues its work to expand the assistant to other parts of the world. For example, through the Windows Insider Program users can already use Cortana in Mexico, Brazil, and in French (Canada).

Do you have a different and interesting trick using Cortana? Tell us about it the comments below.

More on Windows 10

For more help articles, coverage, and answers on Windows 10, you can visit the following resources:

Mauro Huculak is technical writer for WindowsCentral.com. His primary focus is to write comprehensive how-tos to help users get the most out of Windows 10 and its many related technologies. He has an IT background with professional certifications from Microsoft, Cisco, and CompTIA, and he's a recognized member of the Microsoft MVP community.

27 Comments
  • I didn't know it could translate
  • Wish Cortana would work on my phone. Since the update she is missing.
  • I wish Cortana would work, period. I just moved to a Lumia 950 and cortana crashes 100 times a day so she is totaly unusable. Cortana what is the primary way I control the my 8.1 device so this is irritating me to no end. I am not even on the insider preview program. Production only. ******* me off.
  • Pretty much figured all of that out on my own, except the technical questions - Sent From Mars
  • Did Daniel ever pay back the loan? :)
  • Lol
  • Ah good to know, but you forgot that Cortana and Location are the best at draining your battery until nothing is left.
  • I can't turn it off though
  • When in Finland?
  • Never in Finnish.
    Finland is the country for the Microsoft Mobile oy & Windows 10 Mobile development, but does the CEO care?
    Nope!
    It's "Azure first, Mobile last"
    and "USA+India first, Finland last"
    You know, after the Akkadian language...
  • MM is just a skeleton nowadays. Headquarters mostly empty. Heard MS shut down even the hoodie shop. MM is as dead as Windows 10 Mobile. Dead.
  • Some great hints here. I never noticed the categories at the top when doing a search. I do with I could send a text message to a phone number instead of only to people in my contact list.    
  • She was better in the past than now.
  • Cortana doesn't search the sd card in my surface which is rather annoying.
  • Is the sd card the default save location?
  • No, but why would that matter? I'm searching, not saving.
  • Cortana still annoying me to login :( I thought I could use her without logging in?
  • No. It uses your Microsoft account.
  • And Cortana still can't set a timer... Seriously its annoying. And don't start with the stupid workarounds, I don't want to use the alarm feature, which is only accurate to the minute anyway. A year ago I convinced my wife to switch from iPhone to windows. An awesome cook, what's the first thing she tried to do? Yup.... Fail. Apple even made the timer a feature in a recent commercial featuring Cookie Monster setting a timer using Siri to bake cookies. Seriously Microsoft.... Some of these basic things that are overlooked... it makes a difference.
  • She should be able to set a timer, that would be a great feature.  However, in the Alarm app, at least on my phone, there is a timer option that will allow you to set a timer in hours, minutes and seconds.  This is not a work arround as it is an actual timer and not an alarm.  There is also a world clock and a stop watch.  I also sent feedback to Microsoft to add the ability to Cortana to set a timer.  Maybe one day she will have that ability.  Time will tell.     
  • Yes there are a number timer "apps" that can be used - I currently use my Band for setting timers.  But... there is no substitute for a hands free Cortana based option, which Siri has had since the beginning.  I am having to resort to work arounds.
  • Track packages card not available on my machine, not sure why.
  • I wanted to save this article, but w10 win.central does not have "save article",....?
  • So if Cortana is so smart why doesn't she know when I'm in a meeting and switch my phone to silent? If she was employed by me I'd fire her! Useless.
     
  • I'd like a way to set my ringtone to silent each night and back to a certain level in the morning. This is something I do manually every day and is begging to be automated. Seems like Quiet Hours would be a good place to add this. I'm a dev so I would make an app to do it, but Microsoft does not provide an API for it.
  • I love Quiet Hours, but frankly have found QH to be very unreliable on W10M. It worked perfectly on my WP8.1 phone, but so far it is NOT trustworthy on my 950. I have found that for QH to work reliably, I need to reboot the phone every night. If I don' reboot the phone every night, it is a crap-shoot as to whether or not QH will function on schedule. I have mentioned this problem to Microsoft countless times via Windows Feedback, starting back in December (2015), but so far they have not fixed this problem. QH is a great function, but it is worse than useless for me, bcause it is not reliable. I am astonished that MS has not fixed QH...I would think that fixing a schedule-based function such as QH would be a simple thing to do, and it SHOULD be very high on the priority list.
  • For me, by far the handiest feature of Cortana on WP8.1 and W10M is the integration with Bluetooth headset and wired earbuds. In particular, these three things:  ​1) With BT headset paired to phone, Cortana reads incoming texts to me over the earpiece, and allows me to reply via voice command, totally hands-free. That is a MAJOR plus while driving, but I also wear the BT headset while cooking, doing yardwork, etc.so I can keep working with my hands and never have to touch or even look at the phone. Same thing when I'm wearing earbuds and listening to a podcast or whatever. Note that this has nothing to do with "drive mode", it is strictly Cortana's dee, built-in p integration with BT headsets and wired earbuds. Very handy, makes driving FAR safer, more convenient and more productive. I can even initiate an email via voice command, if recipient's email is in my contacts list.  2) Navigation instructions come through the BT earpiece, which (a) guarantees that I can hear them no matter what else is going on in the vehicle, (b) it doesn't interrupt other conversation in the veicle (as does blaring out the turn-by-turn audio instructions over speakerphone), and (c) to a certain extent I can carry on a conversation in the vehicle while still listening to the nav instructions, by selectively tuning out the non-critical nav instructions in my ear, or tuning out the ambient conversation while I concentrate on the nav instructions, whichever is most important at the time.  3) While driving, I can say "Open webpage Sigert.com Los Angeles", and Cortana opens the webpage so I can immediately & quickly glance down and get the info I need, don't have to type anything, don't even have to tap on a link, the webpage is fully open and displayed. Note that in California, texting or calling by touching the handset is definitely illegal, but recently a court ruled that it is acceptable to look at the phone while driving only  for navigation & traffic information.  4) In short, anything I can do with Cortana on the desktop or phone,  just press the button on the side of the BT headset to activate Cortana, and follow the audio prompts.No setup was required, all happened automatically for me, just by pairing to BT headset...in fact, "drive mode" is not even enabled on my phone. Cortana's automatic, built-in integration with BT hedset and wired earbuds has been huge advantage for me, an "easter egg" of sorts compared to my old Android phone. Does anyone know for certain if either the latest versions of Siri or Google Now have this same capability built-in and if so does it come up automatically when one pairs a BT headset? To the bst of my knowledge, only Cortana has it this well integrated so far, but I do find it difficult to believe that neither Android or iOS doesn't already do the same.