Cortana will now read your email and let you verbally compose a response

Microsoft has added the ability to ask about, have read, and respond to Outlook email using Cortana, its digital assistant. Here's how it works.

Building a slide deck, pitch, or presentation? Here are the big takeaways:
  • Microsoft has given Cortana the ability to read emails aloud and take dictation for responses, making it the second digital assistant to integrate those features by default.
  • The features are only available for Harman Kardon Evoke smart speakers and Windows 10 devices, with no word on whether they're coming to the iOS or Android apps. They're also only available for Outlook accounts, and not or other email services.

As announced on the Windows Insider Webcast, Microsoft's digital assistant Cortana will now read and take dictation for email responses.

Features like this have been among those commonly requested by digital assistant users, but Cortana is only the second assistant, after Apple's Siri, that can read email aloud and take dictation without third-party addons.

Along with announcing the change to Cortana's capabilities, the Cortana team also announced a change in the way you get the digital assistant's attention: You don't need to say "hey, Cortana" anymore—simply "Cortana" will suffice.

How to use Cortana's email features

As reported by Windows Central, all it takes to get Cortana to read email or take dictation is to ask if you have any unread emails. Cortana can also search for email from specific people or specify unread emails by a specific date, as well as take dictation to be sent as an email.

Microsoft hasn't released any commands to use to access these features, though our sister site ZDNet reports saying "did I get any new email since last night" has generally worked.

SEE: Mobile device computing policy (Tech Pro Research)

If you want to access the new Cortana features you'll either have to have an updated Windows 10 PC or a Harman Kardon Evoke, a smartspeaker with Cortana integration. The features aren't yet available for the Cortana app on Android or iOS, and Microsoft hasn't said when (or if) they will be.

Also of note, ZDNet reports that the new Cortana features only work on an actual Outlook account—not, Gmail, or any other services. So if you don't have an enterprise-managed Outlook account you may be out of luck.

Getting your other digital assistant to handle your email

The lineup of digital assistants all offer different features when it comes to reading email aloud, taking dictation, or even interacting with an email account.

Apple's Siri is the digital assistant when it comes to controlling email with your voice, provided you use the native iOS email app. Any account you've added email support for can be accessed via Siri simply by asking if you have any new email. Siri can also take dictation, find emails from particular senders, and do everything that Cortana can now do, without being locked to an Outlook account.

Google Assistant can check for emails, display results on the screen, and even take dictation, but it doesn't include reading emails aloud as one of its features, which is a bit stifling. It can read text messages and will turn on your flashlight if you say "lumos," but sadly, email recital is missing.

Amazon Alexa doesn't offer native email support, but you can install the Newton skill to get it to read email back to you. Bad news: Using the Newton skill requires a paid Newton subscription, which is $49.99/year.

Kudos to Microsoft for adding this new feature, but by locking it to one particular email service it's still leaving Cortana behind the competition, which in this case is solidly led by Apple.

Also see

Image: Microsoft

About Brandon Vigliarolo

Brandon writes about apps and software for TechRepublic. He's an award-winning feature writer who previously worked as an IT professional and served as an MP in the US Army.

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