Saturday, April 26, 2014

Windows Phone 8.1 first impressions

Even though I told myself I wouldn't, I went ahead and did it. Did what, you ask? Went ahead and installed the Windows Phone 8.1 Developer Preview on my new Nokia Lumia Icon. I was hesitant at first, since it's basically an unsupported OS and Nokia needs to tweak it to work with their phone, but anyone who knows me well could probably have predicted that I would cave and risk bricking my phone for the allure of new technology.

I just installed it last night, so I haven't had too long to play with it, but I am already impressed. Even before the new release, I was a Windows Phone convert... the live tiles and overall polish of the OS really work well for me, plus the performance, even on mediocre hardware, is great. But I really think that the new release has put the Windows Phone OS up there with the big boys. Here are some of my first impressions of Windows Phone 8.1

My Start Screen

Look and Feel

The Windows Phone 8.1 update enhances the look of Windows Phone by allowing users to set a picture as a start screen background, and having transparent tiles. The image to the right is a screenshot of my current start screen (featuring an extremely good cosmopolitan). Not all apps support transparent tiles, but I've arranged my phone so the initial view of the start screen is mostly see-through. I really enjoy the added customization this allows, and can see myself regularly changing my background image to suit my mood or the time of year.

The start screen still operates as smoothly as it did under Windows Phone 8, which is great. There aren't any hiccoughs when you scroll, and the live tiles still update smoothly.

The addition of a "swype" style keyboard is also nice. My Samsung Stratosphere had one and I got used to it with Android, and the Windows Phone implementation works just as good as the Samsung version did.

Notifications

The addition of the Notification and Activity Center is wonderful. The number one thing I missed after switching to Windows Phone from Android was the ability to see all app notifications in one place, and now it is here. Users can even see notifications when the screen is locked, but there's an option to turn that off so people can't snoop.

Cortana

Probably the biggest thing to come to Windows Phone in this update is Cortana, Microsoft's answer to Siri and Google Now. Cortana has done well with everything I've thrown at it in the past day. I've asked how long it would take to get somewhere, texted people, gotten driving directions, and checked the weather (in both Fahrenheit and Celsius). I've also set a few place-specific reminders, but those won't trigger until Monday, so I'll see how that works then. All in all, I think that Cortana is definitely on par with the Apple and Google services.

Conclusion

I think that Windows Phone 8.1 brings the OS into the same league as Android and iPhone when it comes to the features available. It allows users to have as complete of an experience as they have come to expect from the older platforms, and provides a fresh, new interface style. It will also open the door for "unified"  apps which will allow developers to create devices for Windows PCs, Tablets, and Phones with a single code base. This should increase the number of apps available quickly for all platforms, and give users a unified experience.


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