What you need to know

  • The new Cortana beta app has appeared on the Microsoft Store.
  • The move to the Microsoft Store should break Cortana's dependence on new Windows 10 updates, allowing it to update with new features more frequently.
  • The new beta experience was first spotted hidden in a recent 20H1 Insider build.

Microsoft is gearing up to break Cortana's shackles, allowing it to be updated more frequently without relying on new Windows 10 releases. A new Cortana Beta app (via Aggiornamenti Lumia) is now available on the Microsoft Store, and it looks set to deliver the updated experience that was recently discovered hidden in a Windows 10 20H1 Insider build.

The basic features of the app remain the same as we've become familiar with over the course of Cortana's life on Windows 10. From the Microsoft Store's description:

Save time and stay organized—Cortana helps handle day-to-day tasks so you can stay on top of what matters most.

Cortana can support you by giving you reminders, keeping your to-do lists, and helping you set timers and alarms. Cortana can also give you quick answers to the questions you ask.

As an intelligent assistant, Cortana will find all kinds of info, give you weather and traffic updates, and help you search the web. But Cortana will also get to know you better all the time. Cortana will help track and find the things you're passionate about, like your favorite artists or sports teams, to give you better recommendations and updates.

Microsoft has been gradually working on breaking Cortana out from the system for some time. Most recently, we saw the fruits of this effort in the Windows 10 May 2019 Upadte, which split the Cortana interface from the search bar. Going forward, Microsoft is working on doubling down on Cortana's features, starting with a new, more conversational experience. Being able to ship updates via the Microsoft Store, as opposed to waiting to roll out changes with each major Windows 10 update, will allow the team to more quickly iterate with new features.

Right now, opening the app simply greets you with a message that reads, "Hi, thanks for taking an interest!" Presumably, we'll see Microsoft expand on its testing plans for the Cortana Beta before too long, possibly in an upcoming Insider build.

See at Microsoft

Portable (and affordable) power accessories we love

Each and every one of these charging gadgets will keep your favorite gear and gadgets going for longer, and none of them costs more than $30.

VisionTek 8,000 mAh micro-USB power bank ($13 at Dell)

This compact dual-output powerbank can speedily recharge any and all your devices, thanks to a two-amp "fast charge feature," using its micro-USB out port. Its simple design includes an LED indicator, and it costs about as much as a single ticket to the movies.

Panasonic eneloop AA batteries (From $13 at Dell)

Panasonic's rechargeable batteries are among the best available, and just a couple of them will keep your favorite remote, mice or other peripherals powered up when you need them. They're also eco. And the company's affordable charger fits and charges both AA and AAA batteries at the same time.

Belkin Qi Wireless Charging Pad ($30 at Dell)

This unobtrusive Qi wireless charging pad looks good (and kind of like a UFO …) and easily charges all your Qi-compatible device up to 5W. Its LED indicator lights up when you're charging. And it costs just $30.

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