Thanks to more affordable options like the Nokia Lumia 520 and 620, owning a Windows Phone 8 device no longer means emptying out your bank account. And if you have snagged a Windows Phone device recently, or just want to squeeze some more out of your existing one, you’ve come to the right place. You see, while Windows Phone 8 is extremely intuitive and hardly requires any learning curve, it lacks some features compared to Android, including folder support, widgets etc. And this is where third-party apps come in handy. One of the most useful features offered by Windows Phone is live tiles and there are a smorgasbord of apps that let you use this functionality to the max, and help overcome some of the limitations of the OS, generally making your usage experience a whole lot speedier and more convenient.

WP8-StartScreen

Let’s take a look at some free third-party apps and utilities for the Windows Phone Start screen that help enhance the overall experience.


Group Tiles

Group-Tiles

Considering Windows Phone 8 doesn’t let you organize your apps into folders, Group Tiles is a pretty useful app, especially if you’ve got tons of stuff pinned to your Start screen. It lets you organize your Start screen tiles under groups by making use of customizable tiles. It supports all three tile sizes, and you can specify the text, style and icon for each. There are a bunch of style and icon options baked in, so you can get the exact match as per the desired layout on the Start screen.

Also see: My Tiles, new group*, Groupy

Battery

Battery1

Another limitation that Windows Phone 8 has is that there’s no easy way to view battery percentage, and you have to dive deep into settings for that. What you need is Battery, an app that displays remaining battery status as a percentage, and even lets you pin a live tile that gives you that figure right where you want it – on your Start screen. You can also set alerts for low battery, charging completion, etc.

Also see: Battery +, Battery Meter

1 Tile

1Tile

The premise is simple – to use a single tile to access others and leave more room on the Start screen for other live tiles. The aptly-named 1 Tile is a multi-faceted shortcuts app, providing quick access to speed dials, sending text messages and emails, posting updated to Facebook and Twitter, camera and photos etc, along with connectivity settings. You can also assign two related tasks to a single tile for further convenience and space saving.

Also see: Lightning Dial

Dashboard

Dashboard

Yet another app that makes life simpler if you’re a Windows Phone user, Dashboard lets you pin shortcuts to various actions and connectivity settings on the Start screen. The available actions include new text message, new email, adding a contact etc. The connectivity settings shortcuts include flight mode, WiFi, cellular data and Bluetooth. Handy tools utilities such as system and storage information are also offered within this Swiss Army knife of an app.

Also see: ConnectivityShortcuts, Easy Connect, Shortcut Tiles, WiFi Live Tile

Speed Dial

Speed Dial

Windows Phone lets you pin favorite contacts to the Start screen for quick calling and texting. However, Speed Dial goes a step further and helps save precious screen real estate. Just import your favorite contacts into the app, and then pin it to the Start screen for one-tap access. Unfortunately, you can’t import contact photos into it, but you can choose from a set of built in icons.

Also see: SpeedierDial

Webapps

Webapps

Feeling tied does with the apps on offer and looking for something more? Try Webapps. It offers a curated list of HTML5 web apps that can be added to your collection and pinned to the Start screen. Everything from social networks, utilities, news, games etc is covered. Dropbox, Pulse, Google Calendar, ICICI Bank, ESPN – you name it, and it’s there.

Also see: webapps

Skinery Tiles

Skinery Tiles

If Windows Phone’s lack of customization options are getting you down, you need Skinery Tiles. A custom tile maker that lets you launch third-party apps like Facebook and Whatsapp, it allows you to use wallpapers or your own photos to skin tiles, and change the look of your phone completely.

Also see: Wiztiles

Pin My Photos

Pin My Photos

A straightforward and no-frills app that does one thing, and one thing alone – allowing you to pin your favorite photos on the Start screen. Keep your little ones, family members, friends, pets and vacation memories in front of your eyes at all time. All three tile sizes are supported!

Tile CheckList

Tile Checklist

Stay on top of your to-dos with Tile CheckList. Pin your to-do heads on the Start screen as tiles, and choose custom front and back colors for each one. Each tile displays the list of pending tasks / to-dos as specified by you.

My Notes

My Notes

A feature-rich note-taking app, My Notes has quite a few tricks up its sleeve. For one, you can password-protect your notes. Next, notes can be backed up and restored with SkyDrive. It also lets you create your own note categories and pin notes as live tiles, with the note details displayed on the back. What’s more, notes can even be sent via text message or email.

Also see: Note Tiles, Tile Notes

Live Tile Countdown

Looking forward to the summer vacations? Or the little one’s birthday? Pin the date to your Start screen using this handy app, and the live tile will count down to the specified date. And once you get past that, it starts counting up, so you can also use it to keep track of the says since an event.

Also see
: Live Countdown

Use any other app on Windows Phone that you think is a must have? Use the comment section to let us know!


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Ex-Contributing Editor

Tinkerer and lover of all things gadgety, Deepak has been covering personal technology and reviewing gizmos for almost fourteen years. After stints at Digit Magazine, T3 India and Engadget, he's now trying to carve a corner for himself on the interwebs. Smartphones and tablets are his favorite toys and he's played with most platforms out there to stretch them to their limits and figure out what they can really do.