Microsoft’s voice-controlled assistant makes launching games
and finding friends easier, but it’s not perfect
Cortana, Microsoft Corp. ’s voice-controlled digital assistant, has changed the way I play videogames on the Xbox One console. And it’s left me wishing I had a similar sidekick for my PlayStation 4. Still, as much as I think Cortana is a welcome addition to the Xbox—rolling out in a software update in the next week or so—it needs to do more outside of gaming.
Let me be clear: Cortana doesn’t help me play games better. I’m still getting crushed by smack-talkers half my age in everything from Gears of War to FIFA soccer. But I’m jumping into gameplay and connecting with friends online much faster than before using voice commands:
“Hey Cortana, Xbox on” powers up the console
“Hey Cortana, let’s play ‘Hyper Light Drifter’” gets me into the game fast, no menus needed
“Hey Cortana, launch Hulu” lets me easily jump to a streaming video app
“Cortana, what’s Chris doing?” lets me see what that friend is doing online
“Cortana, start a party with Chris” lets me start talking to my friend
Cortana, Microsoft’s voice-controlled assistant, helps users get into game play within seconds.
Messaging is far better with Cortana. While using any game or app, I can say “Cortana, send Aaron a Message. What games have you been playing lately?” to dictate a message in seconds. Before, I had to stop what I’m doing, go into my Xbox friend’s list, find the person I want to reach, then peck out a message on an on-screen keyboard. Previously, this was so tedious, I often decided not to message my Xbox friends.
You can control Cortana with the Kinect camera’s built in mic, or a set of headphones if you don’t have Kinect. Both are easy, but I preferred using Kinect since I didn’t have to always wear headphones.
Where Cortana falls short is when you start to venture outside of gaming and opening apps. Saying “Hey Cortana, watch the ‘Twilight Zone’” doesn’t work. Instead, I have to say “Hey Cortana, launch Movies & TV,” and then I have to find the show and press play the old-fashioned way. On Apple TV, this kind of command is no trouble for Siri.
Cortana on the Xbox One can do most of what it can do on any Windows 10 PC, but that gets old quick. “Hey Cortana, what’s the weather like today?” brings up the weather, but my phone is generally handier for that. “Hey Cortana, did they Dodgers win?” gives me the score for my favorite baseball team. Sure, Cortana can tell me how far away the Grand Canyon is, or how tall the Empire State Building is. But I’ve yet to need those facts in my daily life.
Cortona can do many of the same takes on the Xbox One that she’s known for on Windows 10
Cortana also stumbles when it brings up Bing search results instead of answering with its own voice. “Hey Cortana, find cheap pizza restaurants nearby” gets me a list of pizza places, but scrolling down that list for more details is a pain. And it doesn’t include phone numbers or menus so that I can actually make an order. Cortana can get movie times but it can’t buy me a ticket. So for anything outside of gaming, chatting with friends and opening Xbox apps, I find myself picking up my smartphone.
Microsoft says Cortana will grow more capable over time, I’ve got reason to believe that. When Cortana arrived in a limited beta last June, it couldn’t do much at all. A lot has changed since then. If you own an Xbox One and play lots of games, Cortana is already useful enough for you to strike up a conversation.
July 29, 2016