Cortana officially made her debut this week inside the Windows Phone 8.1 Developer Preview. While she’s still just a beta, we’ve already noticed a few areas where she has clear advantages over Apple’s Siri. Cortana isn’t perfect yet and Siri has had time to grow up, but it’s a really pleasant experience so far that works relatively well. Let’s examine a few areas where the Cortana virtual assistant may be more useful than Siri for some users.
1. You can type to her.
The cool thing about Cortana is that she doesn’t entirely rely on voice commands, so she’s a full-fledged virtual assistant, not just a voice assistant. If you’re in bed and don’t want to bother your wife, or you’re sitting in a quiet meeting, you can type out your command. This also helps if your voice command isn’t recognized for some reason – I had some issues asking the “Yankees” score, for example and Cortana kept thinking I was saying “Yankee.” I was able to correct it quicker by typing out my request.
2. She’s a virtual assistant that can learn about you.
Cortana has a unique “Notebook” feature that Microsoft said it added to the software after speaking to real-life personal assistants. You can set your interests, like the news you care about for at-a-glance headlines or sports teams, specific quiet hours and an inner circle of people who are able to contact you during them, view your list of music searches and more. Siri will give you sports scores, but she doesn’t remember and remind you about your favorite teams, which Cortana is capable of doing. Likewise, Siri can perform a search for news headlines, but Cortana has them up every time you open the app.
3. She can track your packages and trips.
Google Now is capable of providing you constant updates on your packages and upcoming travel plans, and is certainly a full-fledged virtual assistant, but Siri isn’t built that way. Thankfully Cortana is, and she can scan your emails for information on flights or packages on their way to you. Then, Cortana can automatically keep you up to date with your travel plans. There’s even talk of integrated support for Apple’s Passbook files, though information like your flight gate or delays won’t change in real-time. Either way, Cortana is in-the-know on what’s happening, while Siri requires a command.
4. Cortana is a standalone app
This is one of the biggest advantages Cortana has over Siri. You can open the full-fledged Cortana Windows Phone app at any time to see the top headlines for news you’ve requested, the weather, the final score of teams that you care about and more. That means you don’t even have to ask, it’s just always right there ready to provide you with what you want to know – kind of like Google Now. It’s also beneficial to have a standalone app because there’s an entire area to tweak your settings, in case you want to add to your inner circle, change your quiet hours or manage your reminders.
5. Cortana is Always Running
Siri is only on when you hold the home button on your iPhone. By contrast, Cortana in Windows Phone is always on. Yes, it’s currently consuming the bulk of the battery life on my Lumia 1520, but I suppose that’s the cost of convenience. Data refreshes in the background of Windows Phone so that you always have the latest information inside the standalone application. Also, since it’s always running, Cortana can alert you of updates throughout the day. Unfortunately, while it’s always just a tap away and is always running, it’s not “always on,” which means you can’t just speak to your phone without first tapping the microphone or search button.