No one loves Windows Phone more than I do, so it won't surprise you to discover that I've written tons of tips dedicated to Windows Phone 8.1, and more are on the way. Here's a single place where can go to find what you need and master Microsoft’s latest smart phone platform.
Note: I'll be updating this article regularly as new tips are added to the series.
Most of my 30+ Windows Phone 8 tips works fine as-is in Windows Phone 8.1 too!
If you're using any Windows Phone 8-based handset, you can get the final shipping version of Windows Phone 8.1 for free on the day that Microsoft announces it later this month. Here's what you need to know.
If you have a compatible Windows Phone 8.1-based smart phone, you can enable a feature that lets you double-tap your handset's screen to wake it up. This can often be much more convenient than the normal method for doing so, which requires you to pick up the phone and press the power button.
Windows Phone 8.1 dramatically improves how Microsoft's smart phone platform deals with notifications from the OS and from apps. Now, in addition to live tile updates and banner notifications, the system includes a new notification manager called Action Center. It is arguably the single best new feature in Windows Phone 8.1.
One of the best new features in Windows Phone 8.1 is that the OS, finally, downloads and installs new app updates automatically. This behavior is probably optimal for most users, and you can see which apps have been updated at any time. But you can also configure this behavior in various ways and even disable it if needed.
A beta version of Twitter for Windows Phone 8.1 leaked this week, providing an answer to some questions I was just going to pose about social networking integration in Windows Phone. With this release, we can see a version of Twitter that works like the Facebook app for Windows Phone 8.1, one that integrates deeply with the system in a now-consistent way. And that's a good thing.
As Windows Phone gets closer to the PC- and tablet-based Windows OSes, we're starting to see some neat integration bits. Key among those are the new settings sync features in Windows Phone 8.1, which let you sync key settings between your handset and your Windows 8.1-based PCs and tablets.
Among the many seemingly small but very useful changes in Windows Phone 8.1 is a rethinking of the ways in which you can interact with the various sounds that come out of your handset. Now, instead of a global volume control, Windows Phone 8.1 supports separate, custom volume settings for the ringer and notifications and for apps and media.
Airplane mode seems simple enough: Simply toggle this feature when you're on an airplane or other offline situation, shutting down all of the device's radios and saving battery life. But in Windows Phone, Airplane mode is a bit more nuanced, and in Windows Phone 8.1, in particular, it's far more accessible too.
Windows Phone 8.1 includes an improved Storage Sense utility that lets you easily track how much of your handset's storage is used and by what. But now you can also use this utility to uninstall apps, move apps between built-in and microSD storage, and determine which items are stored on microSD by default. It's a much more complete solution than what was available in previous Windows Phone versions.
If you're using a new Windows Phone 8.1 handset with Back, Start and Search "soft buttons," you can configure how they appear in the software-based navigation bar onscreen. This navigation bar can be colored to match the background or accent color, or can always be black to match the handset's front panel.
I bet you didn't think there was much more to say on this topic. But with the release of the HTC One M8 for Windows, we see a new Windows Phone 8.1 behavior that wasn't available previous: As it turns out, that new navigation bar, with its software-based Back, Start and Search buttons works differently depending on the type of display used. Let's take a look.
Cortana + Search
I've been holding off on discussing Cortana too much before I learn the ins and outs of this incredible new feature in Windows Phone 8.1, but here's one tip that will benefit even the Cortana newbie: You should pin Cortana to your Start screen because it behaves differently when you do so.
While most people who have upgraded to Windows Phone 8.1 (in the United States at least) seem to be enjoying the new Cortana virtual digital assistant, some miss the secondary search features—like Local Scout, Bing Music and Bing Vision—that used to be available from the Bing Search interface in previous Windows Phone versions. No worries, as each of these features is still available in Windows Phone 8.1
If you're upgrading to Windows Phone 8.1 on your current handset, there's one new feature you'll want to seriously consider: The ability to show more tiles on the Start screen. Previously available only on those devices with a 1080p "Full HD" screen, this denser, more usable Start screen layout is now available on all handsets that can run Windows Phone 8.1, from the affordable Lumia 520 to the flagship Lumia 1020.
Depending on your design sense and Start screen tile layout, one new Windows Phone 8.1 feature may really grab you: The ability to use a photo or other image as a Start screen background. Oddly, this feature doesn't work as it does in Windows: With Windows Phone, the background comes through on the tiles, not on the space between. And the effect can be quite interesting.
Windows Phone 8.1 includes a new and improved collection of "Sense" apps, utilities that take the guesswork out of using your smart phone. These include Battery Saver, Data Sense, Storage Sense and Wi-Fi Sense. And the first four of those can now be pinned to your Start screen for quick access and live updates.
Internet Explorer 11
As a major new part of the Windows Phone 8.1 upgrade, Internet Explorer 11 isn't just numbered to appear similar to its tablet-based sibling in Windows 8.1. No, this is the real IE 11, with the same InPrivate browsing, Reading View, settings sync, and improved standards support you've come to expect on your other devices. But the similarities don't stop there: You can now navigate the web using many of the same techniques you use on a tablet.
Windows Phone 8.1's new web browser has a number of interesting features, including some that will be familiar to those who use Internet Explorer 11 in Windows 8.1. One of my favorites is Reading View, which makes an average web article or blog post much easier to read.
With the move to Internet Explorer 11, Microsoft has dramatically improved the capabilities of its web browser in the Windows Phone 8.1 upgrade. Key among them is the ability to pin a web site to Start as a live tile.
Windows Phone 8.1 ships with a basic Maps app, which provides location and direction information, as well as a neighborhood guide called Local Scout. What's missing, of course, is voice guided turn-by-turn navigation. But thanks to an integration model, these facilities can be provided by a third party app that you can get from your handset maker, your wireless carrier, or the Store. Here's how to configure a navigation app, and access it from Maps.
One of the more eagerly awaited new features in Windows Phone 8.1 is the ability to project the handset to display to a secondary screen via wireless Miracast or wired USB technologies. This feature works much like screen projection in Windows 8.1, and is useful for those that need to show their Windows Phone handset to others in real time.
Microsoft added the ability to take a Windows Phone screenshot in Windows Phone 8, and it's worked consistently ever since. But with Windows Phone moving towards a more integrated platform with Windows, the way you take a screenshot has now changed in Windows Phone 8.1. Why? To make it more consistent with Windows 8.1, of course.
Write your own apps
Interested in learning how to make apps for Windows Phone 8.1? Or are you just interested in software development in general? Either way, here's a great—and free—way to get it done, using a free new instructional video series from Microsoft and the software giant's amazing free development tools.