Using previous versions of Microsoft’s Windows Phone could feel at times like interacting with a high-school graphic arts project, with its tendency toward large, spaced-out typography (as shown on the device to the right) creating a general lack of information density. But that’s no longer the case in Windows Phone 8.1 (as you can see in the device at left).
That’s one of the welcome changes in the new version of Microsoft’s smartphone operating system, which I’ve been testing in recent days.
Truth be told, in recent months my SIM card has made its way back to the Apple device, based on my preference for some key third-party apps on iOS. But my time with Windows Phone 8.1 has left me contemplating shifting back to Windows Phone to see if I can stick with it this time.
Yes, there’s the headline-grabbing Cortana, the new personal assistant for Windows Phone 8.1, but the changes that have caught my attention so far are smaller and more subtle, adding up to a notable improvement in the experience on Windows Phone.
In addition to the typography change, above, these are my favorite tweaks so far.
Action Center: Yes, users of other smartphones are familiar with this approach, with alerts, messages and settings showing in an overlay screen, but Microsoft has implemented this very nicely, including the ability to customize the settings that can be accessed via this screen.
Social Integration: Microsoft has cleaned up the way Facebook, Twitter and other social networks connect to the People hub in Windows Phone — letting users log in to a social app once and automatically “light up” the People hub with content, eliminating multiple sign-ins. If you’re in the People hub and want to comment on someone’s post, you now go to the Facebook app, but a quick press of the back button returns you to the People hub.
Separate Volume Controls for Phone Ringer and Media & Apps. Simple and easy, and a welcome change.
A third column of tiles. Initially available on larger Windows Phones, this feature is now an option on smaller-screen devices, providing more welcome information density.
There are many more changes in Windows Phone 8.1, but those are the ones that have struck me as most interesting so far. We’re continuing to use this test device, so stay tuned. In the meantime, also check out our initial hands-on with Cortana.