Cortana and Google Now/Google Assistant are battling it out for the wooden spoon of virtual AI assistants. Neither has quite the A-list status of Siri, which by way of being first past the post and, admittedly, being more responsive to your everyday needs, is at the head of the pack.
But Android users can’t have Siri, so we may as well move on. What we can have now is Microsoft’s virtual assistant based on that blue lady in the Halo games, Cortana.
Here’s how to get your hands on it as well as reasons why you’d want it instead of Google Now, Assistant, or whatever they want us to call it these days …
How to Replace the Google App with Cortana
To properly put Cortana through its paces on Android, you should set it as your default voice assistant for a bit just so you can get a feel for it in day-to-day use. To do this, first install the Cortana app from the Play Store.
Once you’ve done that, there are a couple of ways to go about the next bit. The simplest approach, which may not work for everyone, is to long-tap the Home button on your Android device to bring up Google voice search.
Instead of going straight to it, your device should ask you whether you want to use Cortana or Google Assistant. Select Cortana then “Always” to use that from now on. (You can change this back by selecting Cortana under “Settings -> Apps,” then “Open by default,” and “Clear Defaults.”)
If, however, your Home button doesn’t automatically go to your voice assistant, then you should make the Search Assistant the default action when you double-tap (or maybe long-press) your Home button.
To do this, go to “Settings -> Buttons,” then select either “Home long press action” or “Home double tap action” and tap “Search assistant” from the options that appear.
Once you’ve done that, double-tap or long-press the Home button and select Cortana as the default search assistant.
The third method is to go to “Settings -> Apps,” then tap the cog icon at the top right, “Assist & voice input,” and change the “Assist app” to Cortana.
How Good Is Cortana vs. Google Now?
Cortana on Android still feels like a work in progress, which is fair enough considering Google’s option has been dominating Android devices for years while poor Cortana has had to turn up on Google’s doorstep after the resounding failure of Windows Phone.
Once you’re in Cortana, it has a very similar feel to Google Now, though it won’t be able to draw on your Google search history to get an idea of what kind of stuff you’re interested in. (You’ll need to use Bing for that.)
Cortana’s well integrated with certain Android apps, and if you ask it to send an email, navigate to places, or add something to your calendar, it will generally use the default app for those functions.
However, at this point it’s not quite as robust as Google Assistant, and be prepared for more specific questions to redirect you to Bing’s search results instead of giving you the answer you want straight away.
Cortana is definitely worth a try if you fancy a change of scene, and it has some interesting features in the pipeline, such as the option to access it directly from your Android lockscreen. It also has several unique features of its own, such as ‘My Day’ which shows you information that it thinks is relevant to planning the day ahead, as well as the abilities to tell you a joke and sing you a song!