Windows Phone 8.1 First Impressions

I installed the Windows Phone 8.1 developer preview this past week and I’m loving it even though, as I live in Canada, I don’t get to have Cortana as my personal assistant.  I’m aware that I could change my phone settings to US locale in order to get it but I haven’t done so yet.

(All images, except for the manually edited Figure 3,  were acquired from the emulator distributed with VisualStudio 2013)

The first feature I noticed was that swiping from the top now brings up a full set of communication settings.  Here, I can see if I’m connected to Wi-Fi and which network it found to connect to, as well as whether Bluetooth, airplane mode, or rotation lock are enabled.  I also get a nice All Settings button I can click to easily access any other setting I wish to see.  This means I was able to remove the All Settings tile I had created on my main screen.J

Below this new menu, I get to see any system notifications such as whether updates have been automatically applied to my phone.  This Action Centre will also bring issues to my attention.  Unfortunately, the emulator is perfect so there are none to show in this picture.  😉

Figure1 - Settings menu from swiping down

Figure1 – Settings menu from swiping down

Up to this release, my main screen could show up to 4 columns of tiles.  In this new version, I can now fit in 6.  This helps me organize my tiles better and I no longer have to scroll so much when on my main screen.


Figure 2 - Original 4-column tile layout

Figure 2 – Original 4-column tile layout

Here’s what the first two rows of my tiles now kind of look like though, naturally, everything is configurable.  As the emulator doesn’t have any buttons that support the new sizes, I’ve manually modified the images so the rough icon image edges and the misalignments are all my own.  I’m not an image editing expert.  My purpose was to show what I meant by 6 columns of tiles.

Figure 3 - Sample of the new 6-column tile layout

Figure 3 – Sample of the new 6-column tile layout

There are now more sound options for my phone.  By pushing the volume up or volume down buttons, I get the usual volume indicator but it now has a drop-down menu that shows the screen in Figure 4.  This lets me individually control the volume of my ringer and notifications separate from the volume of my media and other applications.

Figure 4 - Volume options

Figure 4 – Volume options

The Calendar application now has a much more useful interface that includes the weather on each day.  However, I’m not sure I like the emulator’s forecasted weather: rain every day would be enough to make me decide to move elsewhere!

Figure 5 - Calendar interface

Figure 5 – Calendar interface

The Battery Saver app now breaks down battery usage per application.  I can discover how much of my battery was used up by reading news on my phone vs reading emails or browsing the internet.  Again, as the emulator uses no battery power, it perennially reports no usage and battery at 100% so I am not able to include a useful image of the results.  Suffice it to say that it’s nice to know what I did that cost me so much battery power!

Another feature I appreciate enormously is that in IE, I can now swipe from the left or right of the screen to navigate forward or backwards through the pages I have visited.  Nice to see that functionality finally making it into the browser though I can’t really be sure it was introduced in this version.  For all I know, it’s been there for a while and I simply didn’t know!

I love the features of my new phone operating system.  I wish I had access to Cortana but I’m sure it will come my way eventually without me having to pretend I’m an American just so she’ll agree to work with me!

Are there features I’ve missed that you’ve discovered and would like to rave about?