Windows Phone is often considered weaker than its rivals, Android and iOS. The operating system doesn’t have as many features, and it certainly doesn’t compete when you talk about apps. However, the problem with that assumption is that it is outdated. Over the last few months, the mobile operating system from Microsoft has welcomed hundreds of thousands apps, added tons of new features and has partnered with many new mobile makers.


The other reason why this update is so important lies in the fact that when Microsoft updated Windows Phone 7.5 to Windows 8.0, that update didn’t bring any headline features. Although it made sense, since Microsoft was trying to match and unify its desktop and phone operating system. But now, the update is here, and it is better than ever. Below is a list of some new features you will find in your phone, and changes made to the existing apps.

Cortana: The primary feature among all the things Windows Phone 8.1 brings, Microsoft’s voice assistant service is going to change the way we use our phone. The “pure digital assistant” app offers a plethora of services which includes setting up a reminder for opening and performing some actions on an app.


Notification center: Yes it resembles Android a bit too much, but originality isn’t the point Microsoft was trying to score while introducing it. While Windows Phone had live tiles and toast notifications, it wasn’t as handy as it is on Android. Now, Windows Phone users can enjoy that too.

Shortcut to Bluetooth and WiFi settings: Attached with the notification center, we have shortcuts to WiFi and Bluetooth. Again, not a very big feature, but something users will definitely appreciate.

Improvements to Live Tiles and home screen: Now you can finally have a background image to make your Live Tiles and the home screen look great. In addition, you can opt for another column for tiles.

Word Flow keyboard: Much like Swype keyboard which is available on Android, now Windows Phone users too can have a similar keyboard on their phone. Not only does it let you to write fast, but as Microsoft claims, it is the fastest keyboard available on any smartphone right now.

Support for third-party SMS clients: For the first time, Microsoft has opened things on its Windows Phone. One such functionality is its option to choose any 3rd-party client to replace the existing SMS client. However, it will take time before you will be able to use this feature since Windows Phone Store doesn’t have as many SMS clients.

Phone and Contacts: Several little changes have been made here as well. Now you can make inner circles of up to 40 members which will make it fast and easy for you to contact those people.

Sense apps: Several sense apps have been included and updated on Windows Phone. You have a Battery sense app to keep tabs on how much juice is left in your handset, a WiFi sense to see how much data you have used over WiFi, a Data sense app to control how much data you are using from your cellular network etc.

Backup: You can now backup your app content – notes, achievements, high scores, settings to your One Drive account. You can now download your text messages from last week, last month or even a year back. Also, the mobile asks you what quality of image and videos you want to upload on your account.

Internet Explorer 11: The new version of Internet Explorer has been ported to Windows Phone. Much like Chrome, now Internet Explorer too lets you sync data and settings across various devices. You can make changes to Internet Explorer on your system, and it will reflect on your phone (and vice-versa of course). In addition, the browser now supports HTML5 videos. There is also a reading mode, after selecting which you will get an advert and other layout free page to see texts and images. 

VPN: Finally. Microsoft has included Virtual Private Network feature in the phone. It was originally available on Windows Mobile, however, Microsoft didn’t include it in Windows 7.5 and higher.

Video and Podcast app: Now we have separate app for Video files, which means you no longer have to open both audio and video content from the same application.

Similarly, there is a dedicated app for Podcast as well. Follow all your favorite podcast on your phone now!


Other small features and changes

  • The update also brings Chkdsk ability, which will now let you check your SD card for health.
  • It now supports Bluetooth 4.0.
  • Phone and WiFi toggles have been properly placed.
  • The Store, Skype and Calendar apps have also gotten visual revamps.
  • It also comes with Quiet Hour, which will now allow you to keep the phone silent when you don’t want to be disturbed. What’s unique about it is its ability to let a few people buzz you.
  • Mouse and keyboard support.
  • NFC and Virtual SmartCard support.
  • You won’t be able to take screenshots using the usual key combination, though. Hold the up volume key and press the power key simultaneously to take screenshots.

When Microsoft said Windows Phone 8.1 will have tons of new features, it wasn’t lying.

Raju PP contributed to this post. 

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Manish is pursuing a degree in Computer Science and Engineering but spends more time in writing about technology. He has written for a number of Indian and international publications including BetaNews, BGR India, WinBeta, MakeTechEasier, MediaNama, and Digit magazine among others. When not writing, you would find him ranting about the state of digital journalism on Twitter.