Home windows Telephone eight.1 assessment: Microsoft’s cellular OS lastly feels entire

Windows Phone 8.1 review: Microsoft's mobile OS finally feels whole

Android, iOS, Home windows Telephone. Every of those cellular platforms needed to begin someplace, and none have been anyplace close to good on the primary attempt. Thankfully, every OS will get higher with each iteration till, sooner or later, all of it simply clicks. Arguably, Home windows Telephone simply got here of age with its newest replace, model eight.1.

Even earlier than in the present day, Home windows Telephone solely had a number of huge holes remaining and certainly, eight.1 seems to fill these gaps. Particularly, the OS now has a flowery notification middle along with these signature Reside Tiles; the keyboard now permits for swipe gestures; and final however not least, it now has Cortana, a digital assistant to tackle Siri, Google Now and Samsung’s S Voice. The eight.1 replace is a reasonably vital one, and I received the chance to take it for a spin forward of the official developer preview’s launch. It is probably not good but, however it’s clear Home windows Telephone has lastly grown up.

Gallery | fifty five Pictures
Home windows Telephone eight.1 screenshots

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Microsoft

Home windows Telephone eight.1

Execs

  • Motion Middle is nicely-designed, desperately wanted
  • Cortana voice assistant works properly contemplating it is nonetheless in beta
  • Swipe keyboard is straightforward to make use of
  • Extra trendy hardware help
  • Extra personalization choices

Cons

  • Giant telephones cannot take full benefit of the display area
  • Google help nonetheless lagging

Abstract

Home windows Telephone eight.1 is the OS we have been ready for years to see, bringing a notification middle, private assistant and different nice touches. 

Cortana

Windows Phone 8.1 review: Microsoft's mobile OS finally feels whole

Home windows Telephone included a search choice from the start, and although it was helpful on the time, rivals like Siri, S Voice and Google Now have shortly turned the tide, rendering Microsoft’s first “voice assistant” utterly out of date. Fortunately, the eight.1 replace introduces a private assistant named Cortana to assist convey Home windows Telephone into the fashionable period.

Named after Grasp Chief’s trusty AI sidekick in Halo, Cortana is designed that will help you do no matter you do on a telephone. Assume: scheduling appointments, alerting you to approaching flights, telling you the climate, providing up instructions, dictating messages, opening apps and adjusting settings. She even tells jokes and responds in humorous methods to (most) foolish questions. These are all givens nowadays, so let’s as an alternative transfer on to the extra uncommon issues she will do.

First, very similar to an actual-life assistant, Cortana has a pocket book, which she makes use of to collect details about you. She learns about your eating preferences, journey wants, day by day routine and information tales you are maintaining monitor of (I am hooked on the hunt for MH370 proper now, so Cortana retains that entrance and middle). Typically, this stuff will even pop up on Cortana’s Reside Tile on the house display.

One other fascinating factor about Cortana is that she may give me reminders about particular individuals. As an example, I do not need to overlook that I have to ask my mother about her newest street journey, so I inform Cortana and she or he ensures that the reminder flashes on the display the subsequent time she calls. Moreover, if you ever need to activate Cortana in a public (or quiet) place and do not need to disturb these round you, you possibly can simply sort your request within the bar on the backside as an alternative of utilizing your voice.

Windows Phone 8.1 review: Microsoft's mobile OS finally feels whole

Cortana also can arrange what’s often known as Quiet Hours. That is Home windows Telephone’s model of Do Not Disturb mode, which restricts calls and texts throughout particular hours, in addition to occasions the calendar lists you as busy. If there are specific individuals you need to permit in throughout these occasions, ask Cortana so as to add them to your Inside Circle (or simply add them manually, if that is the best way you roll).

Home windows Telephone eight.1 additionally helps geofencing, and Cortana takes full benefit of this chance. If you already know that you’ll be driving by the native pizzeria and also you need to seize a pie in your method house from work, inform Cortana to remind you once you move by, and she or he’ll ensure you keep in mind.

Whereas Cortana does not have an all the time-listening mode, you possibly can a minimum of get to her in a single step: an extended-press of the search key will take you to the service and activate the mic mechanically. When you’d slightly simply sort out your request as an alternative, that is additionally attainable.

Microsoft boasts that Cortana can perceive context — she will see one thing like, “Thursday for espresso,” in an incoming textual content and she or he’ll assist you set it up within the calendar — however that is one space during which she wants slightly work. Working example: I used Cortana to activate two alarms (one for 5 minutes from now, the opposite quarter-hour from now), however she could not perceive once I requested her to show off each of my alarms.

Cortana additionally could not perceive once I requested that she flip off my subsequent alarm, and mistook 1:39PM for AM. (I did not specify one or the opposite, however Cortana simply assumed I meant AM, despite the fact that she might’ve checked out my alarms and seen for herself.) Curiously, the enter bar, which doubles as a suggestion field, advised me to ask Cortana very particularly to show off the 1:39PM alarm. This implies the telephone itself was sensible sufficient to determine which was which, however Cortana did not share the identical information for some cause. There have been additionally loads of occasions once I’d ask a query conversationally and ended up getting only a record of Bing search outcomes.

Kinks like this remind me why Cortana continues to be in beta for now. There’s much more for her to study, however at the very least she has a strong base to start out from. Not solely will Cortana get a greater concept of your likes and dislikes, however she’s additionally powered by Bing servers and can always obtain updates, which suggests she’ll additionally proceed to get smarter as extra individuals use her — and you will not have to attend for formal updates to profit from these modifications.

For now, at the least, I used to be impressed by how nicely the telephone dictated my requests, apart from the occasional occasions when she could not get precisely what I used to be telling her. I am unsure but how nicely she’ll work on finances units with decrease-powered processors, however the Lumia Icon I performed with was capable of course of my requests in a short time. Now it is only a matter of refining how Cortana interacts with customers by making her much more private and understanding context just a little higher.

Motion Middle

Windows Phone 8.1 review: Microsoft's mobile OS finally feels whole

Ever since Home windows Telephone was first launched, I’ve loved with the ability to look at Reside Tiles and shortly get the knowledge I want. Sadly, it wasn’t a full answer to what was truly a a lot higher drawback: How do you take a look at notifications with out having to exit an app or unlock the display? It is arduous to consider it took Microsoft virtually 4 years to determine it out, however Home windows Telephone eight.1 lastly addresses that oversight with a notification menu, dubbed the Motion Middle. Forgetting the truth that it is taken so lengthy to reach, it is truly properly accomplished. In truth, after a couple of days of use, I already choose it over the iOS notification middle (though it is nonetheless inferior to the one on Android).

The Motion Middle consists of 4 areas on prime for customizable shortcuts. That is the place you possibly can entry brightness, airplane mode, Bluetooth, web sharing, quiet hours, location and rotation lock; you might also need a shortcut in your digital camera (extraordinarily useful in case your telephone does not have a bodily shutter key) and settings like WiFi or VPN entry. For many of those settings, utilizing the Motion Middle is far simpler than pinning a selected Reside Tile to the Begin display, a lot much less digging by means of settings menus. Persevering with our tour, the previous standing bar nonetheless sits on the prime of the display, nevertheless it now exhibits a battery meter and the date, each of which I’ve discovered useful. The choices to clear all notifications or go straight into settings are additionally up there, although somewhat farther down.

Windows Phone 8.1 review: Microsoft's mobile OS finally feels whole

As for the notifications themselves, they’re straightforward sufficient to click on, in addition to swipe whenever you’re able to clear them. You can too click on to entry a selected notification (say, one specific e-mail) or select to easily open up the whole app itself. Oddly, do you have to select to open up a sure e mail, there isn’t any method to transfer backward or ahead via your inbox, so you must re-open the Motion Middle and click on on a unique e-mail to learn it.

The Motion Middle presents a number of benefits over its iOS counterpart. For one, iOS does not have shortcuts or toggles of any type; moreover, you possibly can swipe away your notifications, sync them up together with your apps and Reside Tiles in actual-time, clear all of them directly (arguably one of many largest ache factors on the iOS model) and the standing bar signifies that you’ve new notifications awaiting you. That stated, iOS no less than presents a number of tabs for extra kinds of content material, corresponding to a “as we speak” tab that exhibits calendar appointments, a climate forecast and inventory info.

Windows Phone 8.1 review: Microsoft's mobile OS finally feels whole

It does not fare as nicely towards Android choices, nevertheless. Whereas a handful of variations of the notification menu exist because of producers wishing to distinguish, the rules are the identical. Not solely are you able to swipe away notifications, however you may also use two fingers to broaden particular person ones — and you may even act upon most of them (for example, you’ll be able to select to delete or reply to emails immediately from that menu). On Android, you may also entry loads of shortcuts, settings and toggles by flattening the tray with two fingers; there are extra on-display, however they are not as customizable as they’re on Home windows Telephone. For now, although, do not get too wrapped up in the way it compares with Android — whilst a 1.zero product, Motion Middle is just not solely usable, but in addition gratifying. This can be a big win for the corporate, which must nail notifications if it needs to finally achieve traction with customers.

Phrase Stream Keyboard

One other sore spot within the Home windows Telephone expertise has been the Phrase Movement keyboard; although it was among the many greatest when it first debuted on Home windows Telephone 7, it is barely improved since. In the meantime, Android has flourished with a number of nice keyboard choices. With eight.1, the keyboard has been upgraded to help swipe gestures, which is one thing I’ve grown used to on Android telephones and tablets. (Enjoyable reality: We first noticed keyboard swiping on an previous Home windows Cellular gadget, so it is good to see it make a re-look on Home windows Telephone.)

With the swipe gestures, Phrase Stream works simply as you’d anticipate it to: Use your finger to attract to every letter in a phrase, and the telephone figures out what you are making an attempt to say. It isn’t good, because it did not all the time get each phrase that I attempted to sort, however that is nothing new with some of these keyboards. It is nonetheless an enormous enchancment over the earlier model of Phrase Stream, and I observed my expertise obtained higher with follow after just some days of use.

Hardware help

Windows Phone 8.1 review: Microsoft's mobile OS finally feels whole

Final fall’s firmware replace (recognized merely as Replace three) added help for bigger and better-decision shows, in addition to newer processors. This improve was essential for Microsoft, as a result of till then, the corporate struggled to persuade producers and shoppers that a flagship Home windows Telephone might be simply nearly as good as an Android or iOS system on the similar worth. Microsoft had some strict hardware necessities to make sure WP8 units have been optimized to its liking. Nokia discovered a solution to differentiate the Lumia 1020 by that includes a forty one-megapixel PureView digital camera, however in any other case there wasn’t a lot purpose to decide on it over, say, an HTC One or Samsung Galaxy S4.

The excellent news: Model eight.1 comes with much more hardware enhancements, with help for twin-SIM units being crucial. That is primarily a nod to rising markets, the place having that additional SIM beneath the hood will probably be important as Microsoft continues to compete towards Android. There’s additionally help for digital mushy keys (till now, solely capacitive keys have been allowed), together with much more Qualcomm chipsets than earlier than. Additionally, a bodily digital camera key’s not required. As a lot as I like utilizing that button, it does not make as a lot sense on finances units; eliminating the shutter key might assist decrease a telephone’s manufacturing prices, which can hopefully open the best way for much more handsets just like the Lumia 520 (simply inexpensive).

Lastly, WP8.1 additionally allows you to save your apps to an SD card, which makes an enormous distinction when you’re low on additional storage. Apparently sufficient, Microsoft says the apps are nonetheless encrypted to make sure that random customers cannot snag your SD card and attempt to copy your video games over to the system.

Different key enhancements

Windows Phone 8.1 review: Microsoft's mobile OS finally feels whole

The change log is just too prolonged to record all the new enhancements to Home windows Telephone, however I need to spotlight a number of different options that acquired some a lot-wanted consideration from Microsoft.

Personalization – The brand new replace makes Home windows Telephone really feel a contact extra private. Not solely are you able to select your personal wallpaper for the Begin display, but in addition the image you select strikes behind the Reside Tiles (or via them, within the case of clear tiles). I might like to see one thing comparable for the appliance record as properly, since not a lot appears to occur visually on that display. Microsoft may even have a brand new app out within the coming weeks that may allow you to select from numerous lock screens.

Battery Saver — Up to now, Battery Saver has labored precisely the best way you’d assume it ought to: When your battery begins getting low, this function begins shutting off the non-important apps and providers with a purpose to maintain your telephone alive so long as potential. It nonetheless does all that, but in addition provides the power to see which apps are inflicting probably the most drain to your battery. If any of your apps are hogging all the facility for themselves, you possibly can inform them to close off within the background.

Calendar – Arguably, one of many weakest hyperlinks within the OS has been the calendar. This additionally noticed some vital enhancements throughout the board in eight.1: Most significantly, Microsoft’s added a weekly view and improved the calendar’s month-to-month view. The month view now exhibits coloured strains for every day that you’ve appointments, with totally different colours representing the precise calendar it is assigned to. The weekly view is a grid of eight bins (one for every day of the week and one other that exhibits the week in relation to the remainder of the month), however you’ll be able to press on any day and it’ll broaden to point out extra particulars.

Retailer – The Retailer has a barely totally different look, however probably the most fascinating factor is that apps can now replace routinely, should you so select. Moreover, apps you’ve got bought prior to now now present up as “owned” if you conduct a seek for them. Lastly, the act of putting in an app does not kick you out to the appliance record — it simply retains you on the identical web page you have been already on.

Wrap-up

Windows Phone 8.1 review: Microsoft's mobile OS finally feels whole

Lastly. I’ve admired Home windows Telephone for years now, however the eight.1 replace marks the primary time that the platform truly feels… full. There are not any extra gaping holes in its options or performance; I can now use Home windows Telephone with out feeling like I am giving up one thing I might in any other case take pleasure in on an iPhone or Android gadget. With model eight.1, now you can take pleasure in a practical private assistant, strong notification middle, strong hardware help and an excellent keyboard, all of which have been big ache factors that wanted to be addressed a very long time in the past.

In fact, Microsoft nonetheless has loads of challenges forward. In any case, it stays unclear what sort of modifications will occur to Home windows Telephone after the Nokia acquisition is finalized, and we nonetheless have not seen a ton of producers announce new hardware but, regardless of Microsoft’s declare that there is renewed curiosity within the platform. The OS has struggled to develop since its inception and is simply now beginning to hit double digits in market share (in sure areas, anyway). My hope is that this replace ushers in a change in momentum for Microsoft. With new management, a greater product and the corporate’s “One Microsoft” imaginative and prescient, Home windows Telephone eight.1 might simply be the increase the corporate so wants proper now.

The publish was up to date on four/14 to mirror that Cortana’s listening mode is activated with an extended-press of the search key.

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