After much hype, Microsoft finally rolled out Windows Phone 8.1 Developer Preview to app developers on April 14th. The operating system comes with a ton of new improvements, both visually and behind the scenes, along with the debut of new features such as a notification center and a digital voice assistant.
I've been using Windows Phone 8.1 on my Verizon Nokia Lumia 928 for nearly a week now and I am extremely impressed with the new features. Cortana, the new digital voice assistant in Windows Phone 8.1, is fantastic, but I rarely use it. The Battery Saver, Storage Sense, and Data Sense apps are all fantastic, but I rarely use them.
These are all great features, but we are all unique and we utilize our Windows Phone devices in a unique way. Some use it as a computer, some use it as a media device, some use it simply for communication, while others use it for all sorts of reasons. I am going to talk about my top three favorite features, which include the new notification center called Action Center, the ability to use Start Screen backgrounds, and the separate volume controls for the ringer, media, and headphones. Let's dive in.
Windows Phone 8.1 comes with a notification center - called the Action Center- which has been a highly sought after feature by Windows Phone fanatics. Prior to the inclusion of the Action Center, Windows Phone users had to rely on toast notifications. If you missed the notification, there was no way to go back and see them again. With the new Action Center, you can easily see what notifications you have missed and you can even clear them one by one, or clear them all at once. The Action Center also features the ability to have four quick-toggle buttons for various settings. This is absolutely perfect and allows me to quickly adjust my WiFi settings, or even my rotation lock settings.
The Action Center also features a link to All Settings - giving you the ability to access all the system and app settings without having to head into All Apps and scroll all the way down to Settings. I just wish the Settings page had all the options listed alphabetically.
For those of you who want to see a battery percentage or the date, you can see all this in the Action Center right below the icons. All you have to do in order to access the Action Center is to swipe down (from the top of the screen).
Start Screen backgrounds
My second favorite new feature in Windows Phone 8.1 is the ability to set a background image on your Start Screen. With this new feature, you can set a background and utilize transparent tiles to see the background image. This allows for a personalized home screen, in my opinion. I just wish there was a way to take up more of the white space with the background image, but beggars can't be choosers. This is definitely an improvement to the old and boring Windows Phone 8 Start Screen.
Along with the Start Screen backgrounds, I also love the fact that I can add another column of tiles on the home screen - even on my non-1080p Lumia 928. The added option of extra tiles really spices things up and I love that.
Now, I like the idea of transparent tiles, but it seems to be a bit of a pain when using a light background. The white text on a transparent tile doesn't allow you to see the tile very well when using a light background. I found that using a multi-colored background image looked best on my Start Screen - giving the illusion of multi-colored tiles.
If you want transparent tiles, you do not need to enable any setting. Most of your apps will support it, while some will not and you will have to wait for an app update that addresses the transparency. Or you can try Transparency Tiles, a free app that makes several popular app tiles transparent.
Better Volume Control
The third feature that I absolutely love is the ability to adjust the ringer volume separately from your music volume. With Windows Phone 8.1, you can set your ringer and notification volume to a certain value, while setting your music volume to the max. If you insert a headphone, you can also independently adjust the headphone volume too! How cool is that?
On a daily basis, I use Spotify (where is that new update we were promised?) and SoundCloud. With the ability to control my headphone volume, independently from my ringer/notification volume and media volume, I am a happy camper. Prior to Windows Phone 8.1, I sometimes would forget I had the volume on max while listening to music hours prior. This would result in blowing my ear drums out when I watched a video clip on YouTube or played a video file. Now, I can simply set my desired headphone volume without affecting the other volume options.
I was beginning to be bored with Windows Phone 8. You can only adjust your tile position and sizes so much before your home screen becomes boring. I found my self looking at Verizon's inventory for the possibility of upgrading my Lumia 928 to another device. In fact, Android was becoming an option. But Microsoft rolled out Windows Phone 8.1 Developer Preview before I made a mistake and jump shipped. Now I'm happy again.
Now, I'm not knocking any of the other important new features that come with the operating system, including Cortana. I simply value the three features I listed above due to my every day usage. I'm sure there are some of you who find Cortana to be your top new feature.
Well, I've told you my top three favorite features, what are yours? Let the world know in the comments below.