Windows Phone 8.1 First Impressions

In case you are wondering what’s RG then let me sort it out, it’s ‘Reader Generated‘ :).

Our blog has many fans & friends & Pradeep Ananth is one of them who has been kind enough to share his findings/first impressions of Windows Phone 8.1 (Developer Preview) with us. Pradeep has used Android (phone) in past and currently holds a Nexus 7 tablet and a Nokia Lumia 720 so we are in for an unbiased view from him.

Let’s check it out

April 14, 2014 was a joyous occasion for some owners of Windows Phone 8 devices for they received a peek into the latest version of Windows Phone – 8.1.

You can get the full list of new features in Windows Phone 8.1. That’s a long list of new features is an indication of the significance of this update which puts the Windows Phone as an operating system right up there in the ‘usability’ category. I was really looking forward to two features:

  • Cortana
  • Notification Centre

The fact that I was actually looking forward to a notification centre says a lot about how the UI occasionally frustrated me as a user. Cortana, the digital assistant, is the purported Siri-killer that is expected to replace Bing.

I am a very average user, I don’t play a lot of games on the phone. I do access the web a lot and use the phone to read news or tweet once in a while and take pictures. My only requirement, so to speak, from the phone is that the battery lasts and it doesn’t slow down.

Now, Windows Phone 8 and Lumia 720 have kept me happy in both these aspects. Add a superb camera to the list and I’m one happy customer. But, just like any other customer, I want the product to improve. Android OEMs have spoilt their customers with updates (even if they are irregular), so Nokia and Windows had to do the same to retain the users’ faith (especially after the fiasco that followed the unveiling of Windows Phone 8).

Long story short, I’m glad that all Windows Phone 8 devices will get this update and this lays to rest a lot of doubts about the platform.

Without further ado, here’s my quick review about WP 8.1.

The installation is a breeze, download an update, install, and the installer does everything for you. Your settings and apps are retained, which means you don’t have to worry about reinstalling anything.

Cortana Windows Phone 8.1 image 5

As a user from India, I didn’t get Cortana by default. I had to change my region to US and language to “English US” get Cortana. At first glance, I was pretty impressed with the app and I feel the future of search may revolve around Cortana (it has already replaced Bing in the US version). What I love about this is that Microsoft has borrowed from both Apple (digital assistant) and Google (personalised search) and has come out with a killer app. It’s a sign that MS is looking to learn from the competition and that is always good for us – the consumers.


The notification centre is also very cool, you also get four quick settings buttons, which is a nice addition. You can also choose which app gets to display notifications. This is really good foresight by MS where they are anticipating an app sending annoying spam notifications. It’s a good way to control it.

Another improvement is the volume function. FINALLY, you get to choose the volume for the ringtone and volume for other applications. You can also turn vibrate on or off from that menu. What is missing is a quick way to turn your phone into silent mode.

Start screen backgrounds WP8.1

There are two other features that wasn’t on my wish-list, but nevertheless blew me away. One of them is the much, much improved start screen. You get an extra column AND you get to have custom background. I thought the latter looks extremely cool and I’m sure a lot of folks are looking to copy this! With the addition of an extra column, the start menu looks sharp and a lot of fun to organise.

The other mind-blowing new feature is the swipe to type feature. Of course, you might say that this is a feature that MS has copied from others. But here’s the actual mind-blowing part – it predicts Hindi words “swiped” in English. This has left me astounded and I think WP 8.1 has the best interface for typing.

Games (you can access games right off the start screen) and Music have improved. Radio has its own app and so does Video. New apps like Podcast and Battery Saver add some shine to the already glowing update.

But the update does have some downsides. Battery performance has reduced drastically and for the past couple of days, I actually have had to charge the phone twice a day. The culprit is mostly Cortana, but there is very little improvement even after disabling her.

The performance too has been a little sluggish and the 512 MB RAM on my device really shows its true colours.

But it’s just the Developers’ Preview and from the looks of it, Microsoft finally seem to have a winner in the mobile arena now. But they have to push on and push hard if they are to ever hope to beat Google and Apple.

But for now, as soon as the final build is ready, Microsoft deserves a solid pat on its back.

In case you are wondering how the hell I got the update and you didn’t, relax. You can get it too. Just follow the steps here.