One of the biggest and publicized changes that the upcoming release of Windows 10 is going to bring is the introduction of Cortana, a voice-enabled personal assistant that promises to help you with your day-to-day routine and also allow you to easily search for things, much like Google Now already does on Android platforms. To provide better integration between your phone and your computer, Microsoft promised to release a Cortana app for Android, so that searches and information gathered on your phone would appear and register on your computer. Just recently, the Cortana app leaked out, and it’s already surprisingly usable and close to a final product. Let’s take a look!
While Google Now is still the king of personal assistants for a lot of people, due to the impeccable voice recognition and the deep integration with the Android OS, the fact is that Cortana is an interesting proposition from Microsoft, since it would integrate itself with Windows, the most popular desktop OS in the world. A lot of us have already been surprised by the power and deduction capabilities of personal assistants, with products like Google Now automatically tracking packages you order, showing you game results and concerts that you’re interested in, automatically detecting your flights and travels, and feeding you updates for sites you regularly visit. It’s kind of amazing, and because of that, the possibility of having something as powerful as Google Now on your computer is very appealing to a lot of people.
But let’s get down to it. You can try the app yourself by heading over to this link and downloading the apk file. As usual, you’ll need to enable installing apps from unknown sources in the Settings, which Android should prompt you to do when you try to open the file after you download. After it’s installed, the app introduces itself right away, with some examples of its capabilities and what type of commands you can execute:
The app also prompts you for a name or nickname that you can enter in the text field and use in the app from that point on, much like Siri does on iOS. The mode of operation is similar to Google Now, with the Home screen letting you know about the weather, places near you, interesting stories and any local events:
The voice search works the same as in any other service, although I find that the speed at which Cortana recognizes your commands is on par or even faster than Google Now, which is surprising. There is also a “Notebook” section, which is not actually exclusively related to your notes, but actually a place where you can customize the information that Cortana knows about you directly:
For example, tapping on the “Sports” category takes you to a section where you can disable individual notifications, but also add teams to follow directly:
Same for something like “News”, where you can choose what kind of news get through to you and add any topics or categories that you’re interested in:
Lastly, there is the “Reminders” section which works pretty much like Google Now:
You can use a voice command or input the reminder yourself, choosing the time and place or any other trigger:
Overall, Cortana seems like a genuinely good personal assistant, even at this early stage. It already existed on Windows Phone, so it’s a mature and robust service, but it seems like the transition has been handled well and the features are all here on the Android version. There are a few rough spots when it comes to design – there are some leftovers of the Windows Phone interface that don’t look very good on Android, and even the Home screen seems to hard to navigate and present very little information in comparison to other products. However, it’s mostly small annoyances that will probably get ironed out once the app officially releases, very soon.