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8.1 things I like about Windows Phone 8.1 after two months

It's kind of hard to believe that I've been using Windows Phone 8.1 for over two months now. Like many of you, I downloaded and installed (and upgraded) to Windows Phone 8.1 on April 14. That was the day the Preview for Developers version was released to Windows Phone developers and enthusiasts. I've been using Windows Phone 8.1 as my daily driver on my Lumia 925 and Lumia 1520 since then.

How's the OS holding up? What are my favorite features all these days later? Read on to find out the 8.1 things I like about Windows Phone 8.1 for over two months.

1. Cortana

Cortana

Cortana is by far one of the biggest features of Windows Phone 8.1. Especially when it comes to headline grabbing features. Am I still using her the same way I was when I first loaded up Windows Phone 8.1? Yes and no.

I don't use Cortana as much as I'd like for queries and questions. Occasionally I'll humor myself and ask her if I need an umbrella this week. Which is silly since I live in southern California and rain is this concept that takes place in lands far away. I still haven't broken the habit of just opening the weather app, but I'm slowly getting better at remembering I can just ask Cortana.

However, I do love, love, love using Cortana for reminders. People based reminders are nice, but it's the location-based reminders I use the snot out of. I have location-based reminders set for so many different locations and scenarios. Out of laundry detergent? No problem, just have Cortana remind me to pick some up the next time I'm near Target. Saw a cool restaurant in Laguna Beach over the weekend? Cortana will remind me to eat there the next time I'm in town.

So yes, I still love and use Cortana on Windows Phone 8.1.

2. Notification Center

Notification Center

This list of things I like in Windows Phone 8.1 isn't any particular order, but if I did order it to reflect importance you'd see the Notification Center as numero uno. It has changed how I use Windows Phone. I still admire the concept of Live tiles and glanceable information, but you just can't match the perks of a single place for your all notifications.

It's weird going back to a device with Windows Phone 8.0 and hearing a notification, then not being able to find it if you don't get to your phone in time. That all changed with the Notification Center in Windows Phone 8.1.

No more stress or anxiety because I now know every notification or alert will be caught by the Notification Center. It's awesome and probably my single favorite feature in Windows Phone 8.1.

3. Quiet Hours

Quiet Hours Windows Phone

Windows Phone 8.1 introduced a 'do not disturb' mode called Quiet Hours. It is wonderful for helping you relax in the evening and sleep at night. It's another favorite feature in Windows Phone 8.1 that I couldn't do without.

I've set up my Quiet Hours to automatically trigger and turn on every night at 10:30 pm and turn off the next morning at 6 am. During those hours at night, nobody can reach me and any notifications from Twitter or email won't show up. Unless I've placed you inside my Inner Circle.

Inner Circle is just one of the many aspects of Quiet Hours you have control over. You can configure Quiet Hours so that those important to you, like your spouse or children, can always reach you. Or maybe your boss can reach you if he calls three times within the span of a few minutes, because that's probably an emergency at that point.

4. Word Flow keyboard and Shape writing

Word Flow keyboard

The new and improved keyboard is so good Microsoft gave it a name – Word Flow. The new Word Flow keyboard is notable for a number of improvements that I dozens of times throughout a given day.

Shape writing is the biggest addition to the new keyboard that I can't live without. This is the new 'typing' mode where you glide your finger from letter-to-letter to spell out words.

Other things I'm really digging in the new Word Flow keyboard include the additional support for more Emoji, a bigger word library out of the box, the names of your contacts added to your dictionary and the ability to add swear words to your dictionary (or any word you want really).

5. More tiles on my Start screen

3D Touch

Windows Phones with large screens, like the Lumia 1520, come with an additional column for medium-sized Live tiles on your Start screen. However, handsets with smaller screens, like the Lumia 920, have traditionally had just two columns for medium-sized tiles. Windows Phone 8.1 changed that by giving users the option to show more tiles.

Every single Windows Phone 8.1 device I have has been enabled to show more tiles and I wouldn't have it any other way. It doesn't feel cramped at all to me, and I like the ability to not scroll as far to see more Live tiles and their respective content.

Thanks Microsoft for giving me the option to have a ton of Live tiles on my Start screen!

6. Transparent tiles

WPCentral App

Speaking of the Start screen, I can't get enough of those transparent tiles. And neither can the lot of you.

The struggle is real to find the perfect Start background to complement those see-though tiles. But that's a good thing because it means we have transparent tiles. It's probably a superficial feature in Windows Phone 8.1, you just can't deny how awesome it is with the parallax scroll effect. It's also just one more way you can make your Windows Phone truly yours.

7. Unlimited tabs in Internet Explorer 11

Windows Phone 8.1 IE 11

For someone who writes about apps for a living, I actually spend a lot of time using the browser on Windows Phone. I always have and don't expect that too change too much. For reading long content I still prefer to send things to Pouch and use an app like Poki to consume it all.

The browser is where you end up when you click an interesting looking link inside a tweet. Which is why I'm a big fan of the unlimited tabs you get with Internet Explorer 11 on Windows Phone 8.1.

8. Calendar redesign

Windows Phone 8.1 calendar

To be honest I didn't use the native calendar in Windows Phone 8 and below. Instead third-party calendars, like Simple Calendar or Cal, added a bit more functionality that made me prefer them.

The redesigned Calendar app in Windows Phone 8.1 is getting a lot more love from me and it's used all the time now. I'm partial to the new week view and the integrated weather forecast. The week view alone makes me love the new calendar. Oh and the calendar can now be update through the Windows Phone Store and won't require an OS update like before. Which means we'll hopefully see even more improvements going forward.

  • Related: (/video-tour-new-windows-phone-81-native-calendar)

8.1 Check for updates in the Windows Phone Store

Windows Phone 8.1 Store

C'mon. How many times did you get frustrated pre-Windows Phone 8.1 waiting for updates to appear for your apps in the Windows Phone Store? The new Store on Windows Phone 8.1 allows you to go in to the settings and manually check for updates for all your installed apps. This is super useful and I use it a few times a day.

Your turn

You too have probably been using Windows Phone 8.1 for over two months now! Congrats and do let us know in the comments below your favorite features!

347 Comments
  • i hate Xbox Music, Xbox Video and Game hub  
  • "your favorite features!"
    not your favorite apps
  • Lol =D Calendar, Cortana and IE are technically apps too
  • But Sam pointed out new features within those apps. And Cortana is really an exception since it integerates into WP.
  • There's one in every crowd. lol
  • They are called trolls.
  • Any idea when it will be rolled out officially? 
    Waiting and waiting here in Germany...
  • Good question, I thought it would be today...
  • I think we have to wait forever :D.
  • Less than a week left
  • +8s
  • Its time to upgrade.
  • Yip until they fix that I'm not giving a shit about the rest of it
  • U should have said. I like how I hate Xbox Music, Xbox Video and game hub. This counts for me to BTW :P but I really like Cortana! I Use it every day. And i would like to see Vertical tiles :)
  • Some people can't follow simple requests. No one cares what you hate. Try something new that doesn't involve complaining and say what you like...it won't kill you.
  • Some people can only be negative.
  • Some people want to hear both the positive and negative.
  • Best. first. comment. In. Lyke. ever. OMG. It's. Lyke. Lindsay. Lohan. Lyke. Okay. Lyke.
  • Hey guys what's the matter if he is complaining? Let him express his feelings. If we won't complain, how would they listen to us. (remember brothers at MSFT too read these articles?)
  • Wrong, they dont read every single stupid article on wpcentral, neowin, wmpoweruser etc. How do you think that would be possible? The only single way MS is aware, if people keep bashing the uservoice forum, that seems to be the only place where MS guys SOMETIMES have a look at. Nowhere else, I bet on that.
  • This has a lot to do with why I haven't installed the dev preview yet. Oh and I don't want to enjoy Data Sense just to have it taken away by (shitty) AT&T even though my phone is unlocked and on another network.
  • I personally believe that some of these apps need to be consolidated. Xbox Music app is now just 2 levels deep & lacks any type of sophistication. On the other hand, Xbox needs to have all their services under a tiered membership rather than Subscritions for Music, Games and then I still have to pay for MS Office separately. I really love WP8.1. All the new features & apps are reeally necessary. Sometimes I wonder how I survived without them.
  • Try the App "Hey DJ!". The free version, with advertisement, it's pretty cool! The paid version should have more features, without advertisement.
  • I always wondered, what'll happen when WP8.1 officially rolls out with a broken xbox music app (I assume will be the case, since the app hasn't been fixed really during the beta)? Does MS realise this is what'll end up happening?
  • I think you answered your own question.  Re-read your question back S-L-O-W-L-Y....   "with...a...broken...xbox...music..."app".   It's an APP, not part of the OS.  It can be updated from the app store and I'm sure once they get done with all the OS fixes that need to be made, they will start working on the Xbox stuff.
  • There will NEVER be such state as the OS is "complete" or "bug-free". Its a never-ending spinning cycle of software-industry nightmare: new features --> new bugs --> some bugs fixed --> in parallel another set of new features implemented -->another set of new bugs --> some bugs not fixed for some devices --> vendor drops further software support for device --> you have to buy new device that is still maintained by the vendor --> new device is built from a new revision of sillicon --> new bugs on the new hardware -->and keep repeting this until the universe ends.. By the way that keeps the industry from collapsing. As long as people freely and happily spend money on buying things every 2 year, the system can still be kept at the edge of collapsing. So back to your wish about working on the xbox stuff after the OS is ready: I am more than sure the Xbox-stuff-team is completely separate from the WP8.1 OS developer team, so they work in parallel. So its not a valid excuse to the Xbox stuff team that they fail miserably to deliver a damn working MP3 and AVI playback software.
  • But not everyone realises that! They expect an official working music app. And once the 8.1 update comes along, their built in music app will be replaced with this broken app. That's the issue that I have -- it will go from working to broken.
  • Ref: DecadeMoon,
    I agree.
    I hate that we have lost so many Music features from ZUNE to WP7, to WP8 and now the lowest point, WP8.1. Please go to uservoice and vote and comment.
  • . Try the App "Hey DJ!". The free version, with advertisement, it's pretty cool! The paid version should have more features, without advertisement.
  • same here
  • Thanks Daniel Windows Phones are not popular in Sri Lanka. But I have decided to use it because of the OS and of course Windows Phone Central forum. Thank you for letting us know the fix.
  • Games and apps on micro SD 
    and by the way how many tabs was IE limited to ?
  • 6 tabs
  • Was the single most annoying thing about Windows Phone 8. Glad they fixed it in 8.1
  • 7 I think
  • Six
  • Unlimited :p
  • This was a big deal that doesn't get much press.
  • apps and games in microSD is the best change we get with WinPho8.1, cause now I, literally, install whatever sh*t I see in the store :D
  • Lol. Me too...will get a larger microSD card
  • I hate I have to soft reset my 920 every morning, because as soon as I open any app it freezes, not sure if it has to do with quiet hours or not.
  • Bet you have "Clock Hub" installed right?  I was having the same issue. The moment I uninstalled Clock Hub the soft resets every morning went bye bye.
  • Is clock hub really the problem? I really like that so, but if it is the cause, I might have to uninstall it.
  • I believe it has something to do with the frequency with which it updates. All I can say of any certaintly is the moment I uninstalled Clock Hub, the problem went away.
  • Highly recommend "Tile-Clock" for an live tile clock.  This program works great and doesn't drain your battery.  It takes a few minutes to set it up but you only have to set it up once.  Once it is done, the time is updated every 30 secs so the time is always correct.  The only problem is the live tile MUST be set to "wide" or the clock won't show up.  Other than that, this is a really great app.   If anyone knows of a better app, let me know.
  • I have had similar issues with it. There is however another clock app called startscreenclock or something like that, I am using that one now and it is infinitely better. Back on topic: I still don't like the notification center. I loved having the live tiles and if I didn't care about notifs I just didn't pin a tile. Now when I respond to a notification on a tile, it often lingers in the notification center still. I was quite happy to get rid of a bad UI tech like a notification center, only to get it back in 8.1 cause people are too slow to learn a more efficient way and apps sucked at making good use of it.
  • I'm with you. I came from Symbian to WP so I wasn't familiar with a notification center, but over the past year + I've used an iPhone and a couple of Galaxies and now I know why people wanted it. But for the WP only users there isn't a need for it. I found that iPhone and Android train you to use the notification center mainly because there is another efficient way to broadcast it on those os so you spend a lot of time in the notification center. But with live tiles there really isn't a reason...unless you are used to having a notification center. I gave my 8.1 to a friend whose iPhone broke because I don't like the destruction of the hubs. In fact I'm thinking of just keeping my 920 on 8 just to keep the hubs...we'll see.
  • I didn't think I'd use it, but I've found it immensely useful. I have 4 different email accounts and being able to see a snippet of new emails in the notification centre means I can at a glance see if any emails are urgent and require my attention. If not I can just swipe them all away. Before I'd have to (potentially) open 4 different tiles to check my emails. Tiles only displayed the most recent email so as soon as I had more than one it was no longer so 'glanceable'. The notifcation centre really makes a massive difference and makes it much quicker and easier to use my phone, I'd never go back to 8.0.
  • New notification center has API that allows notifications to be pulled away when you launch an app and vice versa. Nice example is the default Phone app - if you have a missed call notification on the tile and in the center, whichever you tap the other goes away. It's just that the 8.1 APIs are not widely adopted by devs so some apps don't correctly pull their notifications.
  • You do know that in the action center settings you can individually disable any app from showing in the notification center?
  • Can't you just ignore the notification center?
  • Yeah I do actually have clock hub installed, I'll unpin it tonight and see what happens, thanks for the tip!
  • I'm not sure un-pinning will be sufficient. You might also have to disable it from running as a background task.
  • I noticed that the GLANCE screen was making my phone freeze. :( Glance Screen settings: - Peek (Every few hours) - Interval (didn't try it) - Always On (every couple of days) - Off (it hasn't frozen since last Thursday.)
  • I had the same problem with glance IF "touch" sensitivity settings are set to HIGH.  Dialed touch sensitivity back to "Normal" and all good on the glance front using "peek"
  • It seems I jinxed myself. The phone froze today. The pattern that i started noticing is that it's always freezes on Wednesday morning between 9 and 10AM EST time. I didn't have this issue or any at all until I installed the Developer preview.
  • Same thing happens to me on my 1520. Every morning I check notifications than it freezes up. Very frustrating.
  • Try uninstalling Clock Hub. Remvoing the app resolved the issue for me.
  • Same here . Clock hub is full of bugs since the beginning
  • That's odd, I've never had that problem
  • Now that u mention it my soft resets went away when I switched to time me
  • I removed the transparent tile and now its fine in the morning. And I still have ClockHub pinned to start. Weird.
  • Uninstalling Clock Hub was the fix for me as well.
  • Thanks for the info was wondering what was causing the freezing.
  • I thought it was just me. I am using an older phone with most of the memory used up (HTC 8X) and figured that was the issue. I had clock hub installed. I've now uninstalled it. Hopefully tomorrow morning will be better.
  • My 1520 still does it too... Maybe ita a firmware thing.. IDK, but it sucks, and I hope it gets fixed.
  • My 1020 does the same thing, it freezes in the middle of the night though which means my alarm for work doesn't go off!!
  • That's weird. My 920 has had no (or very little) problems with the 8.1 preview.
  • Great list Sam!
  • I'd like to see an "8.1 Things To Improve" also
  • Yes. This is a good idea.
  • +1
  • Good idea amigo theroyboy44. List a few things you'd like to see improved:
  • Can I?
    1. Email Client
    Change colors of font
    Change font and BOLD, ITALIC, etc File Picker for send files like .PDF in a talk    2. Better PHOTOS Create albuns copy and paste photos 3. BETTER MUSIC, VIDEO AND GAMES APP I think that I haven't say anything about this, right? 4. Copy texts and paste text after I lock the phone. Yeah, if you copy a text and lock the phone, you will lost what you have copyed. 5. More natives apps, like stop watch, voice recorder, etc 6. Lock the phone and made a picture a passward like Windows. 7. List of apps like Windows 8.1, Category, etc 8. Oh, Man... The Settings is horrible! Would be good if is like Windows 8.1.... 8.1. Data Toggle 8.2 Cover of Album at in the bar on top when press to change the music, volume, you know.                                                                                                                                           
  • Yeah, that and plus the ability to copy one word from the message, it copies the whole message instead
  • But you can copy just one word... o.O
  • How? I can't :/
  • Even a letter. 
    Simply select and... copy.