Voice-activated 'Hey Cortana' arrives on Android, with limitation

Microsoft is continuing to expand Cortana their future information hub for all things Microsoft with an update to the beta Android app. Version went live in the last few days and with it comes an interesting feature: Hey Cortana.

For those on certain Lumias and Windows Phone 8.1 or Windows 10 Hey Cortana is old news. The voice-activated system lets users call Cortana when their phones are in standby giving a hands-free search experience. Windows 10 Mobile is getting the feature as well, but as of now it is disabled likely due to some device-specific drivers needed.

On Android, the option for Hey Cortana is found under Settings and is the first option.

Hey Cortana....?

Although this sounds like a big blow for Windows Phone, in reality, we can see that Microsoft is running against some of the same limitations on Android phones. As of now, Hey Cortana only works if the phone's display is on, and the screen is unlocked or you already have the app open. This is much the same situation as "OK Google" hotword activation on most phones, which require the phone's screen to be on, or at least plugged in, for voice activation to be enabled. Very few Android phones offer always-listening modes.

In practice, for the Android version you would have already had to turn on your phone and unlock the display and then say 'Hey Cortana' to enable the personal assistant. This limitation makes it more of novelty, with the ability to match the "OK Google" detection on some phones, but come up short compared to others.

Microsoft opened Cortana for Android to a public beta back at the end of August and anyone in the U.S. can sign up, test and submit feedback. If you are running Windows 10 on a PC, you can have Cortana sync up settings, preferences, and reminders between the two versions.

It is unclear when Microsoft plans to launch Cortana for Android officially.

Thanks, Jon R., for the tip!

Daniel Rubino

Daniel Rubino is the Editor-in-chief of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been here covering Microsoft since 2007 when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and for some reason, watches. Before all this tech stuff, he worked on a Ph.D. in linguistics and ran the projectors at movie theaters, which has done absolutely nothing for his career.

  • Lol.. Before Windows 10 mobile
  • Yeah, but read the article. This is a neutered version, which doesn't work as it does on Windows 10 Mobile. The delay for us is due to drivers needed to get it to work when the device is off/standby. Can't do that on Android, so this is like "meh".
  • Hope it launches on Windows 10 Mobile on supported phones before RTM :)
  • Hey Cortana doesn't work on either of my Lumia 1520s with Windows 10. Wouldn't that be before?
  • I would really appreciate you read the article first, then comment. But to humor you: (1) This is in beta, you need to enroll on Android just like W10Mobile (2) On Android it doesn't work as really Hey Cortana on Windows, you need the device on/unlocked meaning it's not hands-free. It's more like Hey Cortana Lite, not truly functional. To say it has arrived on Android implies full-feature set for Hey Cortana, which is what W10M will have. That is not the case, so no. Additionally, you are talking about two beta-enroll systems, making the point moot.
  • The thing that matters is all android phones can have 'hey Cortana' but all wps can't. IRONY
  • You mean Hey Cortana Lite. That's not irony. And you're kind of wrong too. On Windows Phone press and hold the search button and what happens? Voice-activated Cortana. That does not happen on Android. Quit trolling.
  • Well no offence but there is still scope of improvement of cortana in wp/wm10 and you have to agree to that.
  • I can't keep in search on my 535. Because of sensitivity issues it registers it as me repeatedly pressing the button
  • Pressing and holding the search button isn't "Hey Cortana" though.
  • But faster than unlocking.
  • Mmmm no. Only windows 10 insiders doesn't have this and they only made up 5% of wp users(and i don't think most of them have required hardware for it). If you are using 8.1, you have had this feature for some time now. Only win 10 mobile insiders does not have this, and they will get this before RTM. So, normal wp user already have it.Kinda like "It is inside the OS just not activated".I think the problem is people just don't get the fact that wm10 is not officially launched. 
  • Dude, chill out. It's in beta on both platforms, its already on W10, and Cortana is coming to XB. Naturally there are going to be some development differences, and nobody is going to die because android got a feature before WP. It's a first world problem to the highest degree.
  • People are so frustrated that emotions are flowing.
  • Omg! Shut up and read the article tool.
  • I'm confused! Hey Cortana was only available to some phones due to hardware limitations or firmware issues?
  • Hardware limitations. Older wp phones were unable to keep the microphone listening all the time without draining battery. That's why that only the Lumia 950/xl/930/icon/1520 can do it
  • I understand drivers are needed but werent the drivers arelady present on windows phone 8.1? If they can port other stuff over how hard this driver can be anyway i hope they wont push it for later update or second update...
  • Ok, but, let me ask.
    Can they use the Hey Cortana with screen on and phone unlocked WITHOUT an Snapdragon 800 or superior?
    If yes, why WP8.1 phones (W10M due to drivers needed) CAN'T have this "limitation"???
  • Dude, have you ever press and held the search key on Windows Phone? What do you think that is...
  • So it should be called "Press and Hold Cortana"...
  • Lol. You may as well speak to a drunk Irish man
  • Yeah, exactly what I want to know! But couldn't place my views!
  • on Windows version, there are an alternative: tap Start and hold it until Cortana arrives.
  • I have Lumia 640 and can't activate Cortana with "hey Cortana". This phone is one of Microsoft's latest phones out there and it was out after Cortana was available. So you are telling me Microsoft knows of this requirement for 'hey cortana' to work and never bordered putting it in this phone. I wonder if it'll be available in their coming 950... Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • No, it's a hardware/firmware thing. Your phone can't do it. Most Android phones can't either. We have a topic page that explains this, please read first.
  • We should be able to activate Cortana by saying Hey Cortana atleast when the screen is on as with Google Now. Much more convenient then pressing and holding search button.
  • The Lumia 640 has a Snapdragon 400 processor. Hey Cortana on Windows Phone requires a Snapdragon 800 or higher. Despite the 640 coming out after the 930 &1520, it's not a flagship so don't expect it to have all of the same features. ​
  • My mom's Moto G 2nd gen also has a Snapdragon 400 but it can still do OK google and Hey Cortana when the screen is on. But we can't.
  • So because it's nuetered it's supposed to make us feel better? This is just wasted resources. Does MS really have developers to spare and waste time on a halfl-implementation on other OSes?  
  • Your question clearly says, "I have no idea how businesses work" like gov't, you have money and branches that go towards different things. A biz as big as MS doesn't have all employees that work for them on any one particular thing. I swear, people lack common sense.
  • "This limitation makes it more of a novelty" And I thought Android was the novelty :)
  • So why doesn't it work on surface pro 3, then?
  • Seems faster
  • Waht matters: after Windows Phone 8.1. That's almost 95% of Windows phone share.
  • Not really, there is no official Cortana, and IMO Cortana is a good, strong reason to get Windows device instead of Android. If my calculations are correct, Project Astoria will be ready in Spring 2016 and Windows 10 mobile users will never have to worry again about running an app on this platform. Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, any other popular iOS/Android app and all those hundreds of Android games not supported in Windows today will be available, it will be epic.
  • Those apps still have to be ported. You're never going to see direct access to Google play out ios app store on Windows phone.
  • Except Cortana is not available in enough countries. Really annoying how they keep adding xyz feature to Cortana, but do not focus on making more global availability. For many Europeans Cortana really doesn't exist. Guess that's how MS wants it.
  • Only a matter of time before its fully functional. And this level of attention is in stark contrast to what WP received over the last 4+ years and is exactly what has led to the abysmal state the platform is in today.
  • Not sure that is the case. Does Android let apps run in the background when the device is in standby/display is off? That sounds like some deep level access that most OEMs would not grant through their system. I think this is as far as they can go with it unless they tie it into Cyanogen.
  • I'm pretty sure Android supports it as I can say commands and wake the phone up easily. Microsoft needs to be diverse, not sure why all the hate and paranoid fanboys.
  • Once again, they too need the right chipset and firmware to allow it. Samsung's allow S-Voice. They don't allow OK Google. Wonder why?
  • Motorola has had full access for a few years allowing users to say a command and have their Moto X devices respond while the screen is off since the original Moto X.
  • Yeah, we know. And Samsung and LG? No.
  • Well, considering that you can manage exactly what can run in the background at all times (at least on LG and Sony phones) I'd say yes, Android does allow apps to have that sort of deeper access and OEMs probably don't really mind. And with Marshmallow allowing for deeper control over permissions, I'd imagine that the responsibility of what apps can and can't do is being passed on from Google/OEMs to the consumer. I think it will, however, be something that changes from OEM to OEM with Android. As is the case with other stuff (for example, Samsung and LG opened up their cameras to Google's camera2api to allow third party apps deeper access to the camera, but Sony locked everything there and didn't allow apps to access it).
  • Once again, this is a hardware/firmware thing. It is up to the OEMs. Samsung allows S-Voice below the lockscreen and not OK Google, for example.
  • Just as I said, it will probably change from OEM to OEM. And all other OEMs seem to allow it so, in the end, it may be a case of "it works everywhere EXCEPT on Samsung phones". Which is nothing unheard of...
  • So now we're supposed to hope that Microsoft will fail on their work?
  • In fact WP can run apps with the display off, for example GPS apps like Navigon & Here still give commands with the display off. So actually this functionality is something that could have been implemented on SD400 devices like the "affordable flagship" L830 at least with the same caveat of being plugged in. Its damning though that in the mere months that Cortans has been available on android Microsoft has iterated faster on that platform than their own. Thats the real pointer to how they view their mobile OS.
  • Sigh, it is the "always listening" feature that is needed in the chipset, has nothing to do with "apps running in the background when the display is off".
  • It's a large whiskey moment
  • Perhaps just down the bottle on one lol
  • It is also interesting that since MS has started making all things available to all platforms that their services components are making money...ie:Bing - $1 Billion. I understand the complaint that MS should focus on WP before the other platforms, but MS arrived to the party late. And sometimes you have to forsake yourself for the sake of ours to improve yourself. Anyway WP wasn't really forsaken, it was busy getting a new powerful multilayered OS that allows it to do stuff no one else can.
  • Yeah, like a boss :)
  • Believe me that I tried to use Android with Microsoft ecosystem on it but it's not possible like on WP. It's just a horrible experience.
  • I've recently started testing the waters of using a Microsoft Ecosystem on an Android and it is far better than expected. What problems did you run into?
  • I wouldn't say horrible. I find Picturesque amazing. Hoping something like that will come to WP. But some of the integration with the apps isn't as refined, also the Bing web browser is slow and sometimes doesn't open websites. So they do need to work on that.
  • It is fantastic on iOS. Just waiting for Cortana!
  • It will be nice that Cortana will arrive also to the other half of windows phone users. U know... the one that lives in Italy but prefer to keep the phone in english, for example.
  • I tried that with an Android phone, and didn't work either. Couldn't change region to US without rooting the device.
  • I am romanian, i live in Italy but i prefer english rather than italian and Cortana doesn't work. I have to change my region to states but that affects also the store. It is a small detail that won't be changed for a loooooong time. I am not a hater but i had to choose betwen windows phone and ios and i choosed windows phone because in that moment i loved the stability of windows 8 for pc. For now windows 10 gave me a lot of troubles.
  • Implying that HALF of the WP user base is speaking English in Italy... ;)
  • Implying that if you are from Maroc and you are going in Cina, you will be much happy to have the possibility to have Cortana, in english.
  • Totally agree. Microsoft have gone to sleep pushing Cortana to more regions.
  • It will have zero effect on Android platform but it will do a lot of damage for WP/W10M platform,  good job Microsoft...
  • It's not supposed to do anything for Android, but it allows a person with a Windows 10 computer to continue their Cortana experience to their phone. If they don't have a WP, they still need to have access to Cortana...hence being available on Android and IOS machines.
  • Cortana on PC and Tablet and Laptop and Phone and Android and iOS......now does Siri or Google Now (or whatever its called) do all that.....NO! Now that will be a positive for W10.
  • Ohh it's see Microsoft y put in out the white flag... What a pity I really like windows mobile hope don't die I still believe in this OS what do you think Dan if Microsoft preparing the way out of competition? Or is just a Trojan horse?
  • Yes been waiting for this on my galaxy edge Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • Can HTC One M8 have this?
  • Microsoft needs to leave some exclusive features for their own WP. They are killing their own phones! Wake up Microsoft.
  • They are so awake they realize they can't survive on just supporting 5% of the mobile market. They need to do this, you should really be happy to see services being offered to more devices if you truly want Microsoft to be successful.
  • I'm Ok with Microsoft developing for other platforms. It shows a little more class than what Apple and Google show by restricting certain apps of theirs from Windows Phone. However, I would like to see a little more push with their own platform, too.
  • They are pushing their phones...but the phone they want to push has to be made. Until they have a phone that pushes their unified OS message they aren't going to spend a lot of time on anything else. Notice how all the articles are about Windows 10 Mobile updates. You rarely see an article for 8 or 8.1 updates. MS is moving on. They want everyone on Windows 10...beginning next month.
  • Please
  • Lack of apps has kill Windows Phone, not cool features that MS brings to Android/iOS. I love the UI of WP the best of all of them. Thats why I stay. And this spring when we get Android emulation apps should come to WP and run better and have a superior UX.
  • That's the spirit.
  • Beautiful UI experience just can not be beaten by those rows and rows of dead icons.....
  • What about fixing it first on your own platform for all countries.. Pfff frustrating stuff sometimes same goes for the Kinect...
  • Yeah ms doesn't give shit about the netherlands. Frustrating sometimes