Cortana has proved as popular as a ski resort in the Seychelles. The Windows 10 voice assistant is, like a Victorian child, seen but not heard. So how do you disable Cortana and replace her with a voice assistant that has proved much more popular, namely Amazon’s Alexa? Here’s how.
How to disable Cortana
It’s dead easy to disable Cortana and ensure she’s not constantly listening for your call.
- Click in the Windows 10 search box, the one next to the Start button
- Click on the Settings cog
- In the screen that appears, switch all the Cortana-related options to OFF, as shown below
If you really want to go the whole hog, you can hide the Windows 10 search box and all the Cortana paraphernalia that goes with it. Right-click on an empty space on the taskbar, select Cortana and choose Hidden. However, despite Windows search’s many flaws, it does come in handy occasionally, so I’d be tempted to leave that be.
How to replace Cortana with Alexa
The first step is to go to the Microsoft Store from within Windows 10 and download the Alexa app. Watch out for impostors – it’s the app that looks like this:
The two-star user rating you can see won’t fill you with confidence, but those scores were largely accrued before the app recently turned on the option to summon Alexa with a voice command. This has made the app much more useful.
When you’re installing the Alexa app, there are a couple of options that you must enable during the setup procedure.
The first is the option to talk to Alexa using the app:
As the screen says, make sure you click “Yes” on the next screen, when you’re asked for microphone permissions.
The second option is to turn on Hands Free, allowing you to summon Alexa by merely hollering her name in the direction of your computer, much like you would do with an Echo speaker:
If you don’t switch this on, you’ll have to use an in-app button to summon Alexa, which isn’t very practical.
Alexa on your PC – what can she do?
Alexa for the PC has most of the features you would expect from a standalone device. You can check your calendar, set timers and alarms, check the traffic on the way to work, and switch your smart devices on and off. You can also access Alexa Skills.
You can play music from Amazon’s own music service, but the PC app doesn’t work with third-party music services such as Spotify, which is a bit annoying.
One tip: make sure you wait for the Alexa pop-up to appear in the bottom right of the screen after yelping “Alexa”. It can take a second or two to appear and, if you speak too quickly, it will likely miss the first part of your command.
One more observation: if you have another Alexa device in the same room as your computer, you don’t get two responses to your voice commands. In my case, the computer issues the response and the Echo speaker stays quiet. Clever.
What effect will Alexa have on my laptop battery life?
One disadvantage of having Alexa running on a laptop is the potential impact on battery life. To be able to respond to your “Alexa” calls, the computer has to leave the microphone open permanently, which has a knock-on effect for battery life.
How big is that effect? Not very big at all. Here’s the Windows Task Manager from my laptop, which had been left running on battery power for about 30 minutes, during which I made frequent Alexa requests. As you can see, Windows is registering minimal power drain:
If you want to avoid any battery drain while you’re running on battery juice, open the Alexa app and tap on the small Hands-Free button next to the main Alexa button, as shown below:
With Hands-Free off, you’ll have to press the blue Alexa button to summon the voice assistant.
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