Windows Phone 8 was already a pretty decent mobile operating system, but the 8.1 update makes it more complete. While no modern mobile OS is as good as webOS was, Windows Phone 8.1 comes awfully close and some nagging issues it had are gone.
After having used webOS for two years, I got really used to its nice way of managing running applications. Bring up the card view, swipe left or right then swipe away the app you want closed. Easy. Apple ‘borrowed’ the notion for iOS 7 and made it work. Microsoft, as is often their way, half assed it: they allowed you to swipe left and right to SEE the open apps, but you had to actually go back in the app and shut it down. Not hard, but not simple and not elegant. Well, they fixed it with a simple, if in-elegant way: hold down the back button, swipe left or right to the app and tap the big X in the circle. Effective, if ugly.
Fortunately, other things are much nicer.
Speed, for one. The over experience seems a bit snappier, but it could also be that ‘new OS install’ factor. We will see, in a couple of months, if it persists.
The Start page is a bit more customizable. You can now have more tiles across the screen. The number will depend on size of the tiles and the screen. You can now use a custom background as well. Be careful here, some of the live tiles may become unreadable if the background contains the same color as the live tile text.
Storage Sense is a nice new feature that not only lets you know about much of your phone’s storage is being used, but it also allows for the installation of apps to an SD card-something that was not previously allowed. You can also tell Windows Phone to store your downloads on the SD card as well.
Of course, the BIG new feature is Cortana. Cortana is the new personal assistant from Microsoft that is designed to act like Siri or the Google Android equivalent. Cortana can not only answer questions, but can also do things like add a calendar entry, to do item, set up ‘quiet time’ in which it will answer email, texts, phone calls, etc. It stops the phone from making any noise and lets the calling entity know why. I have not fully tested this, so I cannot verify it does what it claims, but, if it works as well as the rest of Cortana, then it should be fine.
This is a worthy upgrade and one that really cleans and polishes some of Windows Phone’s dirtier corners. It is not perfect, but none of the others are either (well, save for the aforementioned webOS. Have I mentioned how much I liked webOS?) and stills need a bit more refinement. For example, while overall performance is better, it seems to stumble when reloading the Start page. Some times it comes right up, other times…not at all or very, very slowly. To be fair, I am running the developer preview, which is supposed to be the shipping bit but without any carrier or phone optimization, which means there are no device specific drivers or other such things to make the overall experience optimal for the device. It also speaks volumes for the work that Microsoft has done: the developer preview will work on ANY Windows Phone 8 device. As is. That says a lot right there.
** If you wish to take the plunge now and not wait for the official release, you can go here to get instructions on how to update your Windows Phone 8 device to 8.1. NOTE: it is a one way ticket, you cannot revert back to Windows Phone 8 and you WILL lose carrier support (not service) until the ‘official’ release is out. This means, if you upgrade to the dev release and then have a problem using your device, your carrier will not assist you. Now, if you want to continue…click the link. (The link takes you to Paul Thurrot’s WinSupersite. The article is dated, but the instructions still work.