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Xbox One's Cortana smart speaker voice commands got a boost today

While Amazon Echo (opens in new tab) and Harman/Kardon Invoke (opens in new tab) Cortana speaker integration has been a welcome boost for post-Kinect Xbox users, the commands have typically been a little slower, and a little clunkier to use.

For example, with Kinect, you could simply say "Xbox on," and the console would boot up, as well as turn on your TV and sound system if they were connected and set up to do so. Nowadays, we're saying "Hey Cortana, tell Xbox to turn on." And hey, it works, but it's nowhere near as intuitive. However, proceedings get a little easier today.

An update to the Xbox voice command service means that you can now use more natural, shorter commands to control your console via Cortana speakers.

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Not only do Cortana voice commands Seem Faster™ today, but the language governing their use is less restrictive. For example, you no longer need to say "Tell Xbox to..." to prefix every command. Instead, Cortana will set up your Xbox as the default device for commands that are obviously relevant to your Xbox.

Update: In our testing, we found that these new "preferred device" commands only work with the Cortana Harman/Kardon Invoke at this time. We'll let you know if the same features come to Amazon Echo devices in the future.

For example, you can simply say "Cortana, launch Netflix" or "Cortana, launch Halo 5," and she'll boot up your Xbox from an off-state, and launch the apps and games you asked for.

As of writing, there doesn't seem to be any way to configure which device is set to "default" however, at least not with Cortana. The interface notes that Cortana is setting up your Xbox as the "preferred" device, but there are no settings that I could find which allow you to tailor your default console. Additionally, these new commands seem to only work with the physical speaker, namely the Harman/Kardon Invoke. Using Cortana via her mobile or PC app for these commands doesn't seem to work, but that could change with future updates.

It's awesome to see Microsoft is continuing to improve the situation for Xbox as a connected home device, and hopefully this isn't the last we've seen of future improvements.

How to use Amazon Alexa or Cortana on Xbox One

Jez Corden is a Senior Editor for Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

  • I have multiple xboxes. I wonder which will be my default since I can't set... Wait for it... My default
  • Yeah, that is a bit of a problem... I'll see what I can come up with on my end. Do your Xbox consoles have "names"?
  • Yea, they do. I can try what Idlemind has commented below
  • Hey, maybe that's why it is an alpha update. And not finished.
  • Yeah i just got a second Xbox and was wondering how to differentiate. Named the second xboxtwo, I'll test it out
  • Cortana seems to only control one Xbox. If you say "Cortana pair my Xbox" it will ask you to power off the one you don't want to use, meaning no chance at distinguishing the two
  • I guess these commands can't come to phone or pc cause if you say "cortana, launch Netflix" for example it will do it on that device and not on the Xbox
  • Any news on when we can use Google Assistant with Xbox? I miss my Kinect commands... 😢
  • Yeah, I'd love to see support for Google Assistant too, but don't count on it happening. Why would Microsoft work with Google after what Google did with Windows Phone, plus the whole Scroogled campaign, etc.
  • Seems to be better with Cortana than Echo. Tried to launch my games and apps on our Fire TV, something that Cortana doesn't have to think about.
  • Jez, you grossly misuse the word 'but'.
  • But I think it's ok.
  • It's better than saying 'that being said' all the time.
  • I say "Hey Cortana, Xbox ON" and it works every time on my kinect, what's all this tell Xbox nonsense?
  • Because you used to be able to just say "Xbox on" with Kinect without mentioning Cortana. Actually took me awhile to get used to saying Cortana after I got my Invoke. Now I'll have to get used to not saying it again, but I'm okay with that.
  • RTFA. This is about using smart speakers, not Kinect.
  • We use the Kinect.
  • Okay, so do I. What does that have to do with my comment?
  • Hey Cortana, can I get this without moving to the US?
  • The command that I'm waiting for is "Hey, Cortana, grind for 15 hours on my latest triple A game so that I can level up without having to pay all of those microtransactions.
  • If you have multiple xbox wouldn't the one set as the home xbox be the one to turn on? Or if they are on separate networks, wouldn't it just turn on the one that's on the same network? :-/
  • This actually has me motivated to go buy the speaker for $50. I am getting tired of the Kinect 2 through the adapter on my XBox One X.
  • Both colors are back in stock.
  • I noticed a couple weeks ago my echo told me I could start using more natural commands so idk if I got it early as an insider thing or it rolled out for Alexa first but it's made a huge difference. The only thing that it's really still lacking compared to using Kinect is the "see it, say it" function where you can navigate through indiviual screens. The closest it has now is basically a voice based D-pad which is super clunky.
  • Then you're doing it wrong. I just say, "Hey, Cortana, turn on the Xbox". That's about as intuitive as it gets. Particularly since, in OUR household, we use Cortana for everything.
  • If you're using Kinect, then you're the one doing it wrong.
  • Happy to see the Invoke is still getting love. I was worried that everyone had washed their hands of it already.
  • It's down to $50. It was $199 when it was released! I bought one and returned it the same week. No Pandora support, too tall and didn't sound very good.
  • Too tall? Interesting criteria...
  • Mine was defective out of the box. I returned it to a local MS Store and the manager (who has three and has managed two MS stores) said mine was the first defective one he's ever seen 😒. Now I have to wait at least two three weeks to try it.
  • I will consider myself lucky that both of my Invokes functioned perfectly. Now I need to get my new Xbox set up so that I can go try it.
  • This is great for those of us that have an Xbox One with Kinect and an Invoke in the same room. I had to set my Xbox One to use the old Xbox commands, which are really limited, and then use the Invoke for Cortana commands. I would prefer to just have the Xbox One with Kinect answering for Cortana commands, but I don't necessarily want to have the Xbox One in full-power mode and TV on to just run simple commands, like turning on lights and answering questions. Letting the Xbox One with Kinect listen and respond to Cortana commands in low-power mode would be awesome. It could say, I can't do that in low-power mode, if it needs the Xbox One to be in full-power mode.
  • I am getting frustrated because of my impatience. I have the speaker setup and updated. I have my Xbox One X all ready to go. I can reboot, power on and power off the Xbox but that is all. It says it cannot open any app. Also, how can I increase or decrease the volume on my TV using Cortana like the Kinect did? Any help is appreciated.
  • Cortana, tell xbox to turn up/down the volume
  • Thanks but, when I tell Cortana to open Netflix, it will not. I have to tell it to open Netflix on Xbox, which the update supposedly fixed. What is this, a super secret update that only a select few get to use?
  • I'll have a try at it. I don't know of i have the new update, but i need to change my Cortana connection to another Xbox. I didn't have issues before other than it being slower than just using a Kinect.
  • Thanks. It appears that the update is only for those on the insider Xbox builds. Personally, I decided to give up after a few hours. I came home after Bible Study, told Cortana Xbox On and she could not do it. I tried 3 times in a row without success. Now this could be because I have a gaming router and gaming managed switch on my network. However, I am not going to test that theory, just no interested. I tried it because I wanted a better Kinect experience than with Kinect. I technically could still try it again since it was only $50 but, I am not sure. I turned Cortana off on my One X because she just made way to many mistakes.
  • I turned off Cortana on my XB1 for the same reason, plus it was just slower to respond than native Kinect voice commands.
  • *too many mistakes
  • This looks like a nice update. My H/K Invoke has been sitting idle in my bedroom since I got an Echo Spot. Guess I can move it to the living room now.
  • Been a long time since I've last read the Seems Faster™, made me smile as a long time fan of this site 😄