I've been holding off on discussing Cortana too much before I learn the ins and outs of this incredible new feature in Windows Phone 8.1, but here's one tip that will benefit even the Cortana newbie: You should pin Cortana to your Start screen because it behaves differently when you do so.
Note: Cortana is technically only available in the United States during its initial beta period. However, if you change your region settings to United States, you should be able to access this feature. Microsoft tells me that doing so could impact Windows Phone Store access, but I've not heard of this actually happening to anyone.
Cortana, as you must know, is the new personal digital assistant feature in Windows Phone 8.1, something akin to—but more powerful than—Apple's Siri and Google Now. It replaces Bing Search, so when you press the hardware Search button that's present on all Windows Phone handsets, you'll be presented with the new Cortana Search interface instead.
And that's all very useful and everything: It works much like Bing Search did before in that you can launch a search query from here. If you tap the Microphone button and speak, Cortana will try to respond in kind. But if you just type your search, it will display normal, Bing-based search results.
But remember, Cortana is billed as a personal digital assistant. She has a notebook where she stores information that is relevant to you. She learns as you interact with her more. And she can anticipate your needs, providing you with reminders, weather update, driving directions and more.
You can access this information if you launch Cortana from the Search button. Just swipe up from the "Good morning" text you see just above the Search box. Here, you'll get a personalized view of what's going on in your world: It includes various "planners," such as a Daily Glance planner with your local weather, commute, and news headlines, and, if available, a Travel planner with flights, airport traffic, weather, and other destination-related information.
But you can access this view automatically if you pin the Cortana app to the Start screen.
Cortana works better when you've fully configured it using the Setup wizard that appears when you first launch the app, and if you later take the time to step through some further customization steps that will be the subject of a future tip. For now, consider pinning Cortana and accessing the app that way.