Meet Cortana and Windows Phone 8.1

One of the big announcements at build 2014 was Windows Phone 8.1 which offers a serious amount of functionality over and above Windows Phone 8.0. The new operating system is a significant update for the phone and is available as a developer preview for developers only. It will be rolling out with new phones shortly and we can expect it over the air as an update for everyone during the summer.

For me the big improvements are:

  1. A new action centre which gives me access to my notifications and quick actions like wifi etc.
  2. Quiet hours which allows me to block all notifications including calls and texts during defined times and let only certain special people through if I want.
  3. A calendar that doesn't force me to leave the month view if I just want to browse my appointments.
  4. A new Word Flow keyboard which makes typing sooo much faster, in fact the fastest in the world, check it our here
  5. Cortana which is simply fantastic. Define places and have reminders when you leave or enter that place. Make calls quickly to people using aliases like "The Boss". You can even ask Cortana to sing a song or tell a joke or keep track of the latest result of your favourite sports team or stock. It is definitely the most innovative piece of kit I've seen from the Windows team. Do try it!
  6. Project my screen. I can now demo my phone :-)
  7. Ability to access internal documents from my phone using triggered VPN.

You can get full details on all of the changes here:

How Do I Get It?

To get Windows Phone 8.1 you must sign up as a developer, but it's easy, here's what you need to do.

(NOTE: There is no going back so do this at your own risk. This is the final release of Windows Phone 8.1 so it is stable)

  1. Using the link to the right click the link "Register as a developer with App Studio", it's free. Make sure to use the same Microsoft Account (previously Live ID) that you use on your phone to sign in whenever asked.
  2. On your phone go to the Windows Phone Store and download the following app: Preview for Developers.
  3. Once downloaded open "Preview for Developers" and click the enable check box after logging in with the same Microsoft account as above.
  4. Now, on your phone, go to settings and Phone Update and check for updates. You may need to do this twice as there are normally two updates and it may take up to an hour. Power your phone and connect to wifi.
  5. That's it, enjoy! You won't have Cortana so read on if you want that.

What about Cortana?

Cortana is only available for US English so if you decide to use it please be aware that some location services may not work perfectly. I have been using it and it is pretty good if you ask it to "Find a Starbucks nearby". To access Cortana you must have Language set to English US, Region set to US and speech set to English US. If you do change these settings you may need to wait for the language packs to download and reboot your machine. Cortana is a separate app and is currently in Beta, so it's available in your app list and can be pinned (once turned on in settings/applications).

Turning on Project My Screen

I won't re-invent the wheel check out this article that talks about how to project your Windows Phone 8.1 screen. You need to get a tool for your Windows 8.1 desktop as well as update drivers on your desktop too.

Best of Luck!