So I have had the 8.1 preview for about a week now and feel I’ve used it enough to talk about it at least semi-intelligently. I am not a power user but I do use my phone all day for various tasks. This isn’t a full review of all the new stuff on WP8.1 but rather my experience with it as it pertains to me and how I use my phone. So I will break this down into the areas that have impacted me.
Internet Explorer 11
The most used app on my phone is Internet Explorer and with WP8.1 you practically get the full blown IE11 which comes in very handy. I enjoy using the internet on my phone and rarely encounter a web page that it will not load. Adobe Flash is still an opportunity for it but youtube, NHL.com and other websites that use video all load fine and play fine. It loads HTML5 content without any issues.
My favorite part about IE11 on Windows Phone is that you can load the desktop version of the websites by default, which may not seem like a big deal at first as most phones do that, but with IE11 they actually act like the desktop sites. A big win in this area is that Youtube will block some content from being able to play on mobile devices even if viewing the desktop version of the site, at least that has been my experience on Android phones and tablets and the ipad. But on IE11, I just load the desktop version and that video is no longer blocked. It even plays in browser if I want instead of auto-full screen just like on a real computer. It’s a little thing, but it makes a huge impact with how I use my phone.
Ah Cortana, Microsoft’s answer to Siri. Sure it is a few years late to the party but it looks to be worth it. I first cringed when I heard Cortana was Bing based and could not be switched to work with Google as her main search engine. I use Google and very much dislike Bing. However, Cortana has been very pleasant so far. I have found the voice recognition to be very accurate and the search times to be quite fast. There is still some opportunity with the accuracy of the searches but I put that on Bing as opposed to Cortana’s core programming. I realize that ultimately she will only be as good as Bing will let her but so far the experience is good. She is currently in Beta and it shows a bit, her voice is near identical to Siri but luckily the voice actor who does her voice in the Halo games is recording quite a bit of dialogue for her so there will be some personality to the responses, and the gamer in me is thrilled for this. I feel as time goes on Cortana will just get better. So far I have used her for random searches, to set alarms and even to remind me of certain tasks when I arrive home or at work. She has done all of this flawlessly. For the way I use my phone and Cortana so far, I have no real complaints.
The Notification Center
Windows Phone now has a notification center accessed by swiping down from the top of the screen. Not much to say here as it’s the same thing, basically, that Android and iOS has had for a bit now. But it’s a welcomed addition that has provided some amount of usefulness to me. I enjoy looking at all my notifications at once and having all the live tiles recognize this and remove redundant notifications afterwards.
There is now a dedicated Podcast app built into the OS. The Music app used to have a podcast section that was, at best, broken. I could not subscribe to podcasts from it, and I was not the only one. In order to get it to work I had to have the Windows Phone application on my desktop interface with iTunes and download podcasts from them. This worked with a small degree of success but still had it’s own frustrations. Now I can download and manage podcasts right from the phone with no need to use iTunes ever again, thankfully. It works flawlessly and I can choose to download or stream them depending on my situation. It’s fantastic. For me, this was a very welcomed change and one I use weekly.
Well that is about it as far as how it has impacted me, but it’s been a great update so far. I’m sure as I continue to use my phone with the new update I will find new ways that 8.1 impresses me. If you don’t have the update yet and don’t want to sign up for the developer preview, know that it WILL be worth the wait. It has a lot of small tweaks and a few big adds that add up to a whole new user experience that has made, at least for me, a much better total experience.