[sc:mobile-category ]Today Microsoft release Windows Phone 8.1 to the developers preview program, which basically means anyone can download it by registering as a developer for free.
Microsoft released App Studio a while ago and you can sign up for free. This gives you access to the Microsoft Preview program, which gets you Windows Phone 8.1.
App Studio is free as long as you don’t need to publish the app to the Store, so effectively anyone can get WP 8.1 today.
Getting the update is a two-step process, first a series of preparatory updates are installed, they’re relatively small and comes down quickly. It does take a while to install, it goes through the standard data migration, but once complete your ready for WP 8.1.
The WP 8.1 update is much larger, it looks to be over 400 meg and it obviously requires a Wi-Fi connection to download.
Once downloaded it went through the same process as every other update, preparing to install, the gears screen and then data migration. This was a much longer process and the data migration bar now breaks the process up in to multiple steps so it’s not so opaque.
Once installed, Microsoft prompts you to set some defaults and then your off to the races with the update.
The Start Screen
The first thing I noticed is that the status bar text and icons is no longer black (I use the light theme, so white background with black text) but grey. It looks fine, just different.
Bringing down the new notification center effectively adds a second row of information to the status bar, the carrier your connected to, the percentage of battery left and the month and day. It’s a nice touch.
Overall the animations and screen transitions seem faster and have been tweaked in a few different ways as well. Nothing earth shattering but all improvements.
Another big feature that’s been brought to the Start Screen as an option is the six tiles wide mode. On my Nokia 925’s 4.5″ display this looked a little small for my preference, but the extra tiles is quite nice. I’m going to have to think about this for a while and see if I enable it or not.
E-Mail/Contacts is largely untouched but the big item here is full GMail support has returned using iCal, CardDAV and IMAP.
The Calendar on the other hand is a huge improvement over WP8. The week view is much more usable and the year view is kind of neat. I don’t understand why they dropped the Agenda view, but I don’t mind in the slightest, I hated it with a passion 😉
One other little item in the Calendar is Tasks, it’s available my bringing up more options on the button bar, but there’s lots of space left on the bar for it to have its own icon. Just kind of weird they didn’t add one for it.
Most of the changes here are under the hood, IE 11 and other goodies are hard to see at first blush.
However a few items do stand out.
- The stop/refresh button is now overlaid at the end of the URL. A nice feature.
- No limit on the number of tabs!
- Tabs from your other computers are now available.
- Password storage!
Automatic updates! Nuff Said.
Cortana is not available in Canada yet, though one would expect Microsoft to be enabling it soon enough.
There are a few tweaks to Bing search though and the best one is the ability to search the local phone for information.
Previous version of WP allowed you to block an application from running in the background, this feature has been removed from 8.1. I would think Microsoft has thought of this and there must be some mitigation in the OS for it, but I haven’t found it yet.
Nokia Glance Screen
After the upgrade Nokia’s Glance screen is partly disabled, the time comes up but you have to go to Glance which will then tell you it needs to do a restart. After the restart you can enable the rest of your Glance settings and everything works again.
I noticed before I updated the Glance settings that the phone ran a little hot and the battery was running down pretty quickly, afterwards it has been running fine. I don’t know if this was coincidence or not.
WP 8.1 also introduces separate volume controls for media and system sounds. The new controls are a good thing, but I don’t like the interface so far. By default when you hit the volume button it give you a status line with the current volume, but you have to tap it to bring down the actual volume controls.
There is also no single ‘mute’ button, you have to mute each control separately.