I recently upgraded my Nokia Lumina 521 to Windows Phone 8.1 Developer Preview and want to share my experiences with WP 8.1. I will try to keep this blog short and to the point but I doubt it. I will go over some of the features that I have noticed changed for the good or the bad, some of the new features that have been added, and features they didn’t include that I was looking forward to that previous mobile OS’s have had.
My Quick History with Windows Mobile Devices
My first Windows device was a Casio Cassiopeia E-125 running Microsoft Windows CE 3.0. (I think, it was 2004 some time and my brain can’t remember that far back.) I then upgraded to a UTStarcom (HTC) XV6800 my first Windows Mobile 6 device. From here I dabbled a little with the evil Android OS but came back with an HTC Trophy running Windows Phone 7. I ventured over to Samsung and did some time with a Samsung Note II before coming back to Windows Phone OS. Since then, I have been using my Nokia Lumina 521 and enjoying my decision. However, there are features from my Note II that I do miss and was hoping that Windows Phone 8.1 would bring to the table.
Where and how to get the Developer Preview
Just a quick warning, once you install the developer preview you can not downgrade back to Windows Phone 8. You also may void the phones manufactures warranty.
To get the upgrade you will need to install the Preview for Developers app on your mobile device. You can search for it within the App store on your phone or Click Here to install from the Windows Phone web site. Since this isn’t a how to install the Windows Phone 8.1 Developer Preview, I will skip the how to install.
What I love and hate about Windows Phone 8.1 Developer Preview
The following are features and changes I have noticed for the good and/or for the bad. For the features they changed or removed I will try to show alternative ways to get the same task done. I want to also rant on some major features that haven’t made it to the Windows Phone OS as of this developer preview release of 8.1.
Enterprise Management Tools?
First, I will mention a feature that the normal every day users won’t care about or even notice if it is included or not included. However, since I do work with mobile management tools like Windows Intune and Configuration Manager 2012 R2 I will need to bring up the Enterprise Management Pack for Windows Phone that was promised by the Windows Phone team. I have not had a time to really research if 8.1 includes these enterprise management tools or if that is still another pack that you will need to download/push to all your Windows Phones on an Enterprise level.
As of the time I have written this blog the only information I can find about these features you can read about here. However, some of the features listed in that blog I have found in settings on 8.1 so I am going to assume that this will be integrated into 8.1 upgrade and not a standalone update.
The start screen now has the options to add even more tiles as well as assign a photo (or photos) to the start background. The default theme you choose for your phone will or can be synced across all your Windows 8 devices. Just be aware if you have the setting set to sync your settings that your Windows 8.1 devices will also have their start screens changed.
Photos and Camera Features
The internals for the photo app pretty much looks the same except for a few settings. You can now group your photos by time and location. You can also create a Start Tile show based off of all photos, favorite photos, and the single photo like I mentioned about in the Start Screen Section.
The only major change I noticed was how to manually upload files to SkyDrive (OneDrive). Before when you had a photo open you could hit the menu settings and select send to SkyDrive. This would then allow you to share a photo to SkyDrive directly. This feature was moved into the share button along with all the other options like email, text, etc..
I didn’t use Bing Vision a lot but I got use to having it available from within the search screen in Windows Phone 8. It took me some time to find how to get to Bing Vision again since they didn’t include a short cut from within the Cortana main screen. The discover music feature is still available from Cortana’s screen but they left out Bing Vision. For those not familiar with Bing Vision it was the native Windows Phone app that allowed you to scan barcodes, QR codes, and translate text, etc.. There is an app that you can download that gives you a 2 step process to bring it back but I will explain how to get to Bing Vision without that app. Just start your camera application. I still use the default app over the Nokia camera app. On the screen you can change lens’s. There you can select Bing Vision. Instead of 2 steps it is now a three step process. No big deal but at first I was a little upset when I thought they took this feature away.
Battery Life (Battery Saver)
I have noticed that my battery life is a little worse with 8.1. The Battery saver has a few new changes that could help me out but the application that is draining my battery is an application I need/want notifications from. (Cough Cough Facebook)
Internet Explorer 11
With Windows Phone 8 we had IE 10. It was good but not great. Did its job, right? Windows Phone 8.1 includes IE 11. The one feature I noticed right away was how to access your tabs. Before you would bring up the settings menu and select tabs and it would then display any open tabs. Now you can integrated the a tabs button on the browser bar. You will also notice that you can open any tab that was opened on other devices that you have synced. There are some nice Data Sense settings that can help save your data usage as well.
This is a new feature that I do really love. It reminds me a lot of my old Samsung Note II. Being able to pull down and get instant access to notifications and some quick configuration buttons that are customizable. The notifications can be customized from the notification and alerts section within the settings.
So, this right here has to be close to one of my favorite new features or improved features in Windows Phone 8.1. My biggest issue I have with my Nokia 521 is the small internal storage size of 8 GB. Yes, at one point that was a lot but after the OS takes about 2-3 GB of that you are down to about 5-6 GB free. Even with a SD card with Windows Phone 8 you could only store Music and Photos on the card. I am pretty sure the podcast where still stored on the internal storage along with your downloads, temp files, and application data. Now with WP 8.1 not only can you move your music, videos, podcast to your storage card, but you can move your downloads and your applications and data to the SD card as well. There are some applications that can’t be moved.
WiFi-Sense I think existing in WP 8 but has been improved with some nice new features in WP 8.1. The new features that I will point out is the ability to automatically connect to WiFi hotspots that have been registered. For example airports and other public places that may offer guest WiFi.
The other new feature is the ability to share your WiFi profile with anyone in your contact list. If your friends have an 8.1 device and you have shared for example your home Wi-Fi guest network or even your primary network, their phones would be configured to use your configuration without giving out a password. This is a cool idea but I am wondering how this will work in a corporate environment and sharing out their Wi-Fi information?
Video, Music, Podcast, Games and the Windows Store
There now is a separate application for Video, Music, and Podcast. Before, you would go into the music app to listen to podcast and music. The Video application was a little weak and you couldn’t watch XBOX Live subscriptions until they introduced the XBOX Video application. Now, that has all been combined into a single video app. In fact, if you are using Windows 8 on your laptop/desktop and have an XBOX 360 the new video app will look familiar. The Games application looks pretty much like the XBOX Live app on Windows 8 and has been improved over the previous version. The games also show in the app list as well as in the games hub.
The Windows Store has had a major face lift and again looks like the App store that is available on Windows 8 devices. They are moving toward the buy one app and install on both device direction from what I heard. As long as that app can run on a mobile device and a Windows device.
Ah Cortana! Last but not least for my list of new or improved features. Being that this is the big push behind 8.1 marketing, maybe I should have started with our new personal smartphone assistant. For those non Halo fans, Cortana is the artificial intelligence character in the game series.
So far my overall experience with Cortana has been good. She still is in beta so there may be some better improvements in the areas that Cortana is lacking. The only big thing I have found so far is the inability to create an email and send it directly from Cortana. Unlike with Text Messaging where you can have Cortana create the Txt and send it, you can not do that with an email message as of yet. You can have Cortana open the mail application but you can’t go any farther then that. You will then need to start the voice command from within the keyboard app to dictate an email and then manually press the send button.
Just an FYI, Cortana is powered by Bing so if you don’t care for Bing well, then don’t use a Windows Phone. :0) I Bing everything, Googling is such a… well, I better say something nice?
She is pretty intelligent at recognizing and understanding what I am asking her. She learns by monitoring the stuff you like. You can ask her to remind you for example that the next time you are at Home Depot buy some light bulbs. The next time you arrive at Home depot she will remind you. You can ask her the weather, find out flight information, and many other things.
I have played around with some random questions and always love what I get back. For real world information like flight information she is probably the best and for sure beat Apples Siri.
I have asked her the following example phrases just to see what I will get back:
- What is the meaning of life? Her response, “We all shine on, my friend.”
- What is the best mobile phone OS? Her response, “Oh come on Chief, Windows Phone.”
- What is the answer to the universe? She didn’t respond by voice but gave me plenty of links to The Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy and 42.
- What happened to Clippy? Her response, “What’s not to like? That guy took a heck of a beating and he’s still smiling.” (If you have to ask who Clippy is you don’t deserve the answer.)
There is some much more you can do with Cortana. I think she can be blog by herself. :0) I suggest you go the the Windows Phone blog and read more.
Here is a good blog that will give you more detailed information about Cortana.
CNET did a good review comparing Siri, Google Now, and Cortana.
Changes removed or I just can’t find where they are now located.
Facebook Integration with Messaging App
One feature that seems to have been removed is the integration of the Facebook messages, text messages, and Windows Messenger messages from within the Messaging Windows App. It was nice see all these messages from a single contact in ongoing thread. Now you have to use the Facebook app in order to send Facebook messages. Not the worst thing but the fact that the application now needs to be running full time in the background can cause havoc on your battery life. Hence, why my battery life has gone down now like I mentioned earlier. I am really hoping they will bring this feature back, it is the one change that really bothers me about the 8.1 upgrade. Yes, you can see Facebook post, and Skype Messages (took over Windows Messenger App) from with in the Action Center. However, you still need these apps configured to run in the background.
The Me App
I am not really sure what the applications official name is but I call it the Me App. There use to be three sections called Share, Notifications, and What’s New. The What’s New section pretty much looks like it stayed the same. This is where it would show you status updates and such for Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. The notification section has been removed from this section and notifications now show up in the Action Center. I did like the notification section in 8 because I could track better my Facebook comments and people who responded. Now, they do show up in the Action Center but when you click on them it will load the Facebook application and then you have to click on the notification icon within Facebook to see responses to your post, etc.. The Share section, and I forgot the name they called it in 8, has changed. When you post an update or check in you can no longer create a single update that goes to Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. You have to decided which one of these three and it only updates that specific one you choose. Same with the Check in feature. Now if you choose Facebook it again opens the Facebook application and takes you to the check in feature there.
A list of things that should be improved on
My first thing on the Microsoft Windows Phone team wish list would be to add or update a feature to the Calendar application that is pretty much in any Android device. Something I wish they would have added this go around. I some times wonder if the Windows Phone team are heavy users of their product and have to drive or check appointment locations while on the go. When you create an appointment that has a location of just a company name and then open up the event on your phone that field is not clickable. So if someone sends you an appointment for lunch at Little Earl’s All You Can Eat Liver House and you don’t have the physical address you will need to manually do a search by either asking Cortana or searching the Nokia maps program. This is a pain when you are driving or even if you are not driving. My Samsung Note II and my wife’s old S3 had no issues with this. Now, if someone used an address instead of the name the field is now clickable and will launch the default map application.
I do have to say that I do love the new view included in the Calendar.
Weak Voice Commands
Yes, Cortana is pretty nice and actually pretty powerful voice assistant. I will probably say it is close or equal to what Samsung’s voice assistant can do with some minor exceptions. My biggest request ever since Windows Phone 7 and maybe before that was better voice commands within non Microsoft applications. For example and remember I am comparing it to Samsung’s current capabilities, when I open the Facebook app on my old Note II. I can from the Keyboard start the voice command app and then dictate my Facebook messages or any other program in fact. As long as I could open the keyboard I could use my voice instead of typing it it. This is something that Windows Phone hasn’t caught up to yet. I only use Facebook as an example but it is pretty much all non Windows apps and some Windows apps themselves.
Here is a few more features that I have noticed but didn’t go deep into.
- Phone call and Skype Call integration
- Microsoft Word Flow Keyboard (Samsung’s Swipe)
- Windows 8 Devices sync
- Volume Controls
- Notification Customization
- Shortcut Keys
- Project Phone Screen onto PC, TV, or Projector
There are many more smaller changes that I haven’t listed. Over all I do enjoy using the Windows Phone OS over Android and IOS. I am looking forward to upgrading one day to a nicer Nokia phone. Waiting for T-Mobile to pick up something like the Nokia Lumina 1520. However, I am happy with my little 521. It does the job and hasn’t failed me yet.