Reviewers agree: Windows Phone 8.1, the new update to Microsoft’s Windows Phone operating system, is “magnificent.” It features a new pull-down notification area, new apps that help you keep tabs on your battery life and data plan, the ability to move and install games and apps to a microSD card, and Cortana, a “personal assistant” who seems to be meant to rival Apple’s Siri.
It’s not out on most Windows phones just yet, though. And those who have been trying it out early using the Preview for Developers app, like me, have run into a few quirks and annoyances. Starting with …
The Games hub
In Windows Phone 8, your games didn’t show up in the main app list on your phone. If you wanted to see all your games, you had to open the Games hub, an app which had a live tile that played silly animations involving your Xbox Live avatar.
How is it in Windows Phone 8.1? Well, the tile doesn’t animate anymore, and your games all show up in the main app list now. Which is just as well, since loading the Games hub takes half of forever on my Lumia 520, and then the other half to load all my games and their icons. Before it finishes loading, though, I get to see games that it wants me to buy, which it puts at the bottom of the list of Xbox games that I’ve already downloaded.
I actually really like Cortana. I like how her Notebook lets me review and control what she knows about me, so she feels much less creepy than Google Now, which I’ve also used.
What I don’t like is that instead of replacing voice search, which you used to be able to get to by long-pressing the Start button, Cortana replaced Bing search on my Windows phone. So not only do I not get to see a mobile version of today’s Bing wallpaper when I press the hardware search button, I can’t type my searches in landscape mode anymore, because Cortana doesn’t support that screen orientation.
Xbox Music and Video are now separate apps
For some people, this will be a blessing. I personally liked having the same app (and live tile) for both, though, especially since some of the videos that I frequently watched were music videos anyway.
I personally suspect that, like with the advertisements in the Games hub, it’s partly a ploy to make money. There are now three separate apps to buy Xbox content from, besides the actual Store, and the new Video app especially tries to upsell you on buying stuff from them. Out of four different columns that you can swipe through, three are nothing but ads, and the fourth has links to the store in it.
I can hope that Microsoft will improve the Games hub and Cortana app, but I don’t see them backing down from these aggressive ads.