Microsoft have just released a preview of Windows 8.1 for developers to try on their devices. Announce a couple of weeks ago at BUILD Windows Phone 8.1 is a big step forward from Windows Phone 8. The update comes in two downloads, an update that enables the download of Windows Phone 8.1 and the actually update. After kicking off the update it took just over an hour to actually get it working.
A unique feature of Windows Phone 8.1 is the home screens where you can have an image load up behind tiles and the images comes through the tiles, it sounds a little strange but it actually works very well. The other change is a new keyboard that uses a swipe style keyboard so you don’t have to take your finger of the keyboard to write out words, you can still tap as you did before but now you have this new fast way. It’s very fast and works very well, I found I could type as quickly as I can on my Nexus 5 which I have become very adept at.
There are new sense features in the update, battery saver that shows which apps are hitting your battery the hardest, this is something I use a lot an Android and is very handy to workout which app is killing your battery life. WiFi Sense is a new feature that automatically connects to WiFi hotspots saving you mobile data use, it will automatically connect to WiFi networks and accept the terms. Storage Sense shows what is using up the storage on your phone.
One of the biggest changes is the addition of Action Center which is a central place for notification and something that Windows Phone has really needed, I frequently missed notification as by the time I picked up my phone the notification had disappeared and you were left hunting around the live tiles to work out what had happened. In Windows Phone 8.1 you can pull down the shade from the top (just like Android) where you can see notification and quickly access settings you frequently need. You can customise what is included so you can have toggles for settings like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and whatever else you need. Live tiles seem to be linked to Action Center, so as you open up Action Center and read the notification it removes you count on the live tile. This one addition makes a huge difference to Windows Phone and I hope Windows 8.1 can have this feature soon as well.
As well as the new live tile look you can also have three rows of tiles which will great for larger phones, on my HTC 8X it makes the tiles feel a little cramped. One nice feature is if you pin a web page from Internet Explorer to the home page it updates the headlines on the live tile, just as Windows 8.1 does.
Also added is VPN support so you can VPN into your work network and access your corporate network.
The headline big feature is Cortana the Windows Phone personal assistant, this isn’t available in the UK yet however if you change your location settings to the US you should be able to try it. I have tried changing my region/keyboard setting and I haven’t got Cortana to show up yet but I will keep going with it.
I am sure there are other changes that I will find as I play with it, for me the main benefit is Action Center and in combination with Cortana Microsoft have a very compelling reason to look again at Windows Phone.
You can see Windows Phone 8.1 in action on a Lumia 630 in this video.