Windows Phone 8.1's Cortana is Google Now Plus Siri

By Eric Limer on at

Today at the Build Developer Conference, Microsoft is showing off the newest version of its phone OS, Windows Phone 8.1. And now, Windows Phone finally has a notification centre, and its own personal assistant: Cortana.

We've been hearing a lot of rumours about Windows Phone 8.1's upcoming "Cortana" features; a Google-Now-ish Siri-ish digital assistant named after the AI of Halo fame. Now, Microsoft has finally confirmed it's on the way, and it looks awesome.

Just as the leaks predicted, Cortana is powered by Bing and is a mix of Google Now-ish prediction powers injected with some Siri-like personality, and she has a lovely voice. Cortana can be triggered either by a Live Tile on the home screen, or via the phone's built-in search button.

From there, Cortana works pretty much exactly like Google Now or Siri. She can add items to calendars, set alarms, find nearby restaurants, and all that other pretty standard but pretty awesome jazz. Cortana is launching as a beta, but so far she looks about on par with either of competitors, responding to voice-queries about sports scores and celebrity ages just as well as Google now, except with Bing behind the scenes.

Just like leaks suggested, Cortana also comes with her own "notebook" which lets you teach Cortana things and where she stores info she's learned about you. Anything from interests she has picked up from search queries, people who you call a lot, locations you frequent, and other contextual information.

This is also where you can set certain people or things as off-limits from her electronic gaze. You can also use the Notebook to set up things like quiet hours, and specific contacts that are allowed to bust through your wall of silence.

Of course Cortana isn't the only thing that's new in Windows Phone 8.1. The next update to the OS will also bring along a notification centre with actionable notifications, another feature that helps bring Windows Phone up to par with Android and iOS.