Android already has one of the best digital assistants on the market. Even so, there are some users who simply want to try everything available. I fall into that category. And so, when Microsoft announced they were going to release Cortana for Android, I had to give it a try.
You may remember, however, that I covered this once before in my post "Microsoft announces its next upcoming failure: Cortana for Android and iOS" with a less-than-positive opinion. Well, the software finally arrived (in beta form), and I was able to give it a go. The end result? Cortana does a decent job with the minimal tasks it can perform. What can Cortana do?
- Present information like weather, local happenings, etc.
- Send texts (this does require some manual input)
- Place phone calls
- Set reminders (also requires manual input)
- Integrate with Notebook for better, more individualized results
- Offer search results from Bing
What it can't do is:
- Integrate with Google
- Work hands free
Those last two bits make you wonder if Cortana is able to compete with Google Now. After using the beta version, I can say that for users who prefer Bing to Google, Cortana might be an decent replacement. For users who prefer Google, Cortana isn't worth the time. Let's take a closer look.
If you still want to give it a try, here's how to install it. You won't find Cortana on the Google Play Store, at least at the time of this writing. So, you'll have to install it from a third-party source. You'll also need some form of Microsoft account, such as an Office 365 account, Hotmail account, OneDrive account, etc. You'll need that so Cortana can improve and save your results.
Here are the installation steps.
The first thing you must do is enable your device for installation from a third-party source. To do this, go to Settings | Security and tap to enable Unknown sources (Figure A).
Enabling unknown (third-party) sources on a Verizon-branded Droid Turbo.
Once this is enabled, download the beta file for Cortana. Once that has downloaded, swipe down to reveal your notifications, tap on entry for the downloaded file, and then tap Package installer and JUST ONCE (Figure B).
Installing the Cortana beta.
When prompted, tap INSTALL and wait for the installation to complete.
Once Cortana is installed, you have to manually call up the service (there is no hands-free usage... at least not in the beta). When the app opens, walk through the simple welcome wizard, which does require you to agree to the license, give yourself a nickname (Figure C), and log into a Microsoft account.
Giving yourself a nickname in Cortana.
With the app installed and logged into your Microsoft account, you can start using Cortana. You might want to first take a look at some of the available configuration options. Because it's still in beta, many of the options are not available. In fact, as of this writing, none of the Notebook options are available for configuration.
You can, however, set up your favorite places, including Home, Work, and other saved favorite locations.
To do this, follow these steps:
- Open Cortana
- Open the sidebar by tapping the overflow menu (three horizontal lines in the top left)
- Tap About Me
- Tap Edit favorites
- Tap the + button to add a favorite
- Enter a search string or address
- Tap the favorite to be added (Figure D)
- Select what the favorite will be (home, work, other)
- If other is selected, give the place a nickname
- Tap the Save button
Adding a favorite place in Cortana.
You can also manually manage your Cortana reminders by opening the sidebar, tapping Reminders, and either adding a new reminder (by tapping +) or deleting them by tapping the check list icon, selecting the reminders to be deleted, and then tapping the delete button.
Although Cortana isn't complete and probably won't give Google Now much of a challenge, it's certainly interesting to see what Microsoft has in store for the platform. For anyone looking to bridge their Android phone and Windows 10, Cortana might be just the trick... otherwise, you're best bet is to stick with Google Now.
What do you think of Cortana for Android? Share your thoughts in the discussion thread below.
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Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.