Cortana, which premiered with Windows Phone 8.1, is Microsoft's answer to Siri, S Voice and Google Now. It does a pretty good job with voice recognition and it has the potential of helping you out on a number of occasions throughout your day.
Cortana is very similar to Siri. The voice comes courtesy of Halo's Jen Taylor and is probably the most human-like sounding virtual assistant we've encountered. It recognizes your voice commands and questions in natural human language and provides voice feedback.
So, what can Cortana actually do for you? First you need to personalize it in order to utilize its full potential. The Settings are called Notebook and are divided into Interests, Reminders, Quiet Hours, Inner Circle, Places, and Music Searches. In Interests you can assign literally everything you like and Cortana will help you track specific news, plan trips, find restaurants or bars, and more.
Cortana supports reminders including people-based ones - you can tell her to remind you of something next time you call some of your contacts. It also supports reminders by location (home, work, university, stores), so it can remind you to wish a coworker a happy birthday before starting with the work-related questions.
Cortana can also remember places, important people to you (it can even suggest such people based on your activity), plus it can actively control your quiet hours mode.
Cortana can fully interact with your phone and carry out all kind or commands related to it - make a call, send a message, add appointments, take notes, set alarms, play specific music or playlists, navigate you to locations or simply search the web. It can also turn on/off settings or give you straightforward answers to simple questions.
Cortana is also capable of checking the traffic in your city and it will remind you to leave early or warn you if your bus or train has been delayed. It can also provide alternatives routes to avoid traffic jams.
Unique among virtual assistants, Cortana can also forward your commands to third party apps, so you can for example ask it to open Skype and call some of your contacts. Only Skype, Facebook and Twitter currently support this functionality, but others should follow sooner rather than later.
As far as the speed of voice recognition is concerned, WP's virtual assistant does a fine job. Words are recognized almost in real time, and the accuracy has greatly improved since its earlier iterations.
Siri can do a lot more than Cortana today, while Google Now with its automatically appearing cards is probably the most useful of the bunch, but those two have quite a head start. Microsoft does remind you that Cortana is still in beta, so we expect even better performance and functionality once it's finalized.
We'd also like to see Cortana hitting other regions and languages as the US is the only supported one for now. The good news is you can bypass that limitation by simply changing your region in the settings menu - no complicated hacks required.
People Hub is the phonebook that you'll find on the Lumia 930, and is one of the more capable such applications we've seen. It supports multiple accounts, including social ones, and has multiple pages like the rest of the WP interface. The first page is your contacts list, the second one is What's New with all of your friends' social updates, then come (chat) Rooms, and Groups.
Just like the People app, viewing a single contact also allows you to check this specific person's social updates plus you can view the complete history of exchange with this contact in one place, displayed chronologically. Everything but status updates is listed here: calls, texts (actually threads from the Messaging hub) and emails.
The Me tile is also available, which acts as your collective social hub - you can see all of your social updates here, post statuses across all services, and even a check-in option is available. You can send IMs to your Facebook/Twitter friends from the Me app, too.
The phone application on the Lumia 930 shows you call history with call duration, courtesy of the WP 8.1 update. There are shortcuts to voice mail, dialer and phonebook. Smart dial is not supported, but you can use Cortana to dial someone in a flash.
One new feature you'll notice in the in-call screen is the Skype button. If you hit it, your call will be automatically transferred into a free Skype video chat. Of course, the other user must have a Skype client installed plus an active internet connection.
We ran our traditional loudspeaker test and the Lumia 930 scored a Very Good mark, so having missed calls or notifications are unlikely in all but the loudest environments.
|Speakerphone test||Voice, dB||Ringing ||Overall score|
|HTC One (M8)||65.8||64.7||75.7|
|Samsung Galaxy Note 3||70.5||66.6||78.0|
Learn more about the loudspeaker text here.
The Messaging hub has two new options - a shortcut to go to the contact's full details in People Hub, plus a setting to mute the thread. If you choose Mute, then you'll stop receiving any notifications for incoming messages from this number, though the messages will still be saved in the thread.
Threads are the building blocks of all non-email messaging. As a sort of conversation view, threads mash together SMS, Facebook and Windows Live messages. That's one thing we love about Windows Phone: the Messaging hub removes the old division between texts, IMs, social messages.
The native email client has very simple interface but it offers everything an email client should feature - support for multiple accounts, threaded view, batch operations, search.
Linked Inbox is available too - you can link all of your mail boxes into a single one from the Outlook app's settings.
While retaining the same looks, the virtual keyboard now supports Wordflow - a Swype-like input method allowing you to quickly input words without lifting your finger by swiping through the letters. It is extremely accurate and recently managed to set a new Guinness Record for typing on a virtual keyboard.