Windows Phone has been gaining traction over the past few years but simply hasn’t felt complete when compared to other mobile operating systems such as iOS or Android. The OS excels in some areas like the camera, but lacks in other important places like functionality and apps. While Microsoft can’t change the app situation overnight, they can improve the OS as a whole with just one update, and they’ve done just that with Windows Phone 8.1.
Some of the new included features make Windows Phone 8.1 a much more viable competitor to Android and iOS while retaining the beauty and software optimization that we had with Windows Phone 8. Let’s take a look at the three that I feel made the biggest difference in the update.
Disclaimer. All content referenced in this article is while using the Windows Phone 8.1 Pre-Release Developer Preview.
One of the biggest improvements included in Windows Phone 8.1 is Cortana. Cortana finally brings a digital assistant comparable to Siri and Google Now to the platform. It works relatively well so far, and will only get better as more people start using it. You can launch Cortana through the app’s live tile on the homescreen or the search key on your device as it does replace the Bing app.
Every mobile OS needs a way to show your notifications. Microsoft made the decision to show notifications solely through the live tiles on the home screen which did work, but wasn’t very productive or efficient. The Action Center, as Microsoft calls it, is accessed by swiping down from the top of the screen. It show cases your notifications such as text messages, Twitter interactions and more. The notifications are similar to both iOS and Android. They are grouped like iOS while being able to swipe them away like in Android. If there was one thing I could change here, I’d allow users to swipe away a single notification at a time rather than an entire group. The Action Center also contains a customizable group of quick settings such as WiFi and Bluetooth toggles and several other settings. Below that is a shortcut to the full settings app and above is a battery monitor and the time and date.
One of the biggest improvements I’ve seen in Windows Phone 8.1 is in the home screen. Microsoft introduced several new features including wallpapers, extra live tiles, and more. Wallpapers aren’t done traditionally but instead they become the background for your tiles. Personally I feel that this is the best route Microsoft could have taken for implementing this. The ability to toggle on and off and extra column of live tiles. While on smaller devices like the Lumia 520 this does cause 1×1 tiles to become unbearably small, it is of massive benefit on devices with larger displays such as the Lumia 1020 and Lumia Icon (929). In my experience the live tiles have also become much more fluid and overall more useful.
Overall, I feel that Windows Phone 8.1 was just what Microsoft needed to do to make the platform more complete and a more viable competitor to other mobile operating systems. If you want to try out Windows Phone 8.1 on your own device, check out our tutorial here on how to do just that. Make sure to let us know your thoughts on Windows Phone 8.1 in the comments below!