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Microsoft announced a huge update to the Windows Phone platform during its BUILD 2014 developers conference. The Windows Phone 8.1 update brings with it hundreds of new features but how many of them are useful to the general consumer? We’ve listed 20 useful features, and many are game-changers for Windows Phone OS.
- Action Centre — The single biggest feature in the Windows Phone 8.1 update is the Action Centre which brings in quick setting toggles and notifications in a single place. The Action Centre can be accessed by a swiping down on the screen. You can customise which quick setting toggles you want in the Action Centre. All the notifications from individual apps are grouped together. You can dismiss all the notifications or only the notifications from a single app.
- [BONUS] File Manager — Recently, in an AMA session over Reddit, Joe Belfiore (VP of Windows Phone development) confirmed that Windows Phone 8.1 will get a native file manager sometime in late May. It will be very helpful in moving and managing files between folders or internal or external storage. This will bring Windows Phone close to Android.
- Word flow keyboard — Swipe typing is now included in the new keyboard with the Windows Phone 8.1 update. You can simply glide your fingers over the keys to type words. It also predicts words, making it easier for you to type faster. Most Android owners have enjoyed this feature for years, so now it’s time for Windows Phone to get in on the swipe-to-type action.
- Install Apps/Games on SD card — Apps and games can now be installed on SD cards. Also, apps can be transferred from internal storage to SD card or vice versa. You can also backup data or store app/game data on SD cards. This will be real handy for devices that come with minimal internal storage.
- Finally, burst mode in camera — The inbuilt camera app now includes burst mode. You can hold and press the shutter button to start clicking images in burst mode. All the images shot in burst mode can be deleted at once if you want.
- IE 11 can now remember passwords for you — Internet Explorer 11, the default web browser in Windows Phone 8.1 can save username and passwords if you want.
- Always download images in email — Yet another frustrating thing about Windows Phone was its inability to always show images in emails. Now you can set the updated email client to always show images from trusted sources.
- Support For password protected Office documents — You can now look-over password protected Microsoft Office documents with Windows Phone 8.1. I wonder why it took Microsoft so long to add this feature as they own Microsoft Office?
- OCR document scanning in Office — Microsoft Office Camera Lens can now be used to scan physical documents through the camera and the application will recognise the text and save it in digital document format.
- Google Calendar support — Windows Phone 8.1 brings back support for Google Calendar so if you are someone who uses Google Calendar or someone who wants to switch from Android to Windows Phone, this will be right up your alley.
- Cortana Voice Assistant — The Cortana Voice Assistant is one of the most exciting features of Windows Phone 8.1. It is a mix of Apple’s Siri and Google Now. It can show relevant data such as weather, flight information, and whatever else you ask it. Just like Google Now, it understands complex questions (for a phone) from the user such as playing back music or setting up reminders.
- Support for more connectivity options — Windows Phone 8.1 brings support for a lot of wireless connectivity options such as Miracast Screen Mirroring and data transfer through WiFi Direct.
- Support For on-screen buttons and dual SIM-card slots — There is now support for on-screen buttons in Windows Phone 8.1. If you are someone who doesn’t like physical/capacitive buttons, this will be a treat for you. This minimises the chances of accidentally hitting the buttons resulting in undesired actions.The first devices to utilise these feature would be the Nokia Lumia 630 Dual SIM and Nokia Lumia 635.
- Back button suspends apps rather than closing them – Earlier, clicking the back button used to close the apps. Now, apps remain suspended and jump to life when reactivated.
- Quiet hours — You can set up a ‘Do Not Disturb’ time so that you can focus on sleep or work without distractions. There are extensive customisation options. You can set periodic times for Quiet Hours or set it manually when needed. You can also set exceptions so that you get notifications from your best friends or family members.
- Separate volume for notifications and media – Finally, Microsoft included separate volume sliders for notifications and media playback. This was one of the most frustrating points about Windows Phone 8.
- Mute threads in messaging — You can selectively mute threads in messaging if you find them irritating.
- Call duration in-call log — Call logs now show duration of each call.
- WiFi, data and battery Power Sense — The WiFi and Data Sense feature lets you keep a tab on data usage via WiFi or mobile data. You can even set limits for data usage after which, the data will be cut off automatically. You can also keep an eye on battery usage and which apps are drawing the most power from the battery.
- Support for keyboard and mouse (HID) — You can now connect and use a keyboard as well as mouse with your Windows Phone 8.1 device via a USB OTG adaptor. This really comes in handy when you want to type long emails or documents.
Windows Phone now has all the essential needed as well as advanced features under its hood. With these really useful features Windows Phone 8.1 overtakes iOS and comes dangerously close to Android. 2014 should be an interesting year for the smartphone platform wars.