Yesterday I stumbled on a news article mentioning Nokia’s live Lumia upgrade status page and I of course went there right away. To my surprise I noticed that the entry for Lumia 925 on Orange France listed the WP 8.1 upgrade as released. Surprise because I had not gotten any notification on the phone. Naturally I went to the phone and tapped “Check for updates” and voila, the update was indeed available.
Some people hail this upgrade as huge, a new operating system, the second coming of Christ etc… Well, that it is not. It is a pretty big upgrade which has a few rather useful improvements and new features but to me most of them are really improvements and tweaking of the system. It clearly makes a good phone OS even better and, as with previous updates, they fix some sloppily implemented parts and omissions of an OS that, even though it was (is) very good, was originally shoved out the door in an incomplete state.
Now I must of course mention that this rather over-hyped Cortana feature is not available in France as is the case in most (all?) countries outside of the US. Without having seen Cortana in action I think this is just as well for me. I might change my mind when it finally becomes available but I really do not feel comfortable with some piece of software trying to think for me, second guess what I want and I certainly do not want to speak to my phone. I want my phone to do things when I push a button (or rather tap a command on the screen) and that is pretty much it.
Anyway, as I wrote, there are a fair amount of useful new features on the new version. The ones that are most visible are of course the tweaks to the start screen like being able to add more icons and set a background image making the tiles transparent. Well the ones that support it at least. I actually did not think I have any use for any of that since I thought my phone’s screen was too small to support more icons and that using a background would clutter the screen and make it more difficult to read. As it turned out I am using both features. You have to choose the background image with a bit of care of course otherwise the screen does indeed become fairly unreadable. Getting more icons on the screen actually meant that I could use a bigger size for the ones I really cared about and still fit all my icons on one screen without having to scroll down to get the last ones.
Something I have to say that I am not really very interested in is the Wi-Fi-sense feature which automatically detects and connects to Wi-Fi networks around you to save cellular data and I was somewhat surprised (an annoyed) to see that the install proposed to turn that feature on automatically. Someone not looking properly at what was checked when updating would just get it turned on. I sure as hell do not want my phone to connect left right and center to Wi-Fi networks around me. It also proposed to turn on automatic update of apps. No, I do not want my software to be updated under my feet! I want to check and approve when things are changed on my phone, period.
Another great improvement however is the notification center. This is really one of those things that should have been in there from the start. Just swipe down and you get the notification center. You do not even have to do that to see if you have any notifications since there is no a dedicated icon for it in the status bar at the top. Not only do you get a central place for all of your notifications, including the ones that would just disappear previously if you did not notice them right away, but you also get quick access to a few useful commands like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth. There are four commands available and you have some control over which they are. The status bar do not go away but stays visible by the way which is another nice improvement.
There are also a new file app and improvements to the web browser. I have to say that the file app is rather meh and the browser improvements do not interest me much since I rarely use the browser. The screen on a phone is really to small to do any meaningful web browsing. The file app shows a tiled list of files and folders and that is pretty much it. I found no way to change the display format for instance. When I need to browse files on my phone it is usually because I want to get files on or off the phone and then I connect to my PC and use the PC’s file browser. Sure it is good to have the possibility to browse files directly on the phone but to me it is not a big deal and I honestly doubt that many “ordinary” people will use that app.
On the contrary the improvements to the calendar app are really big improvements. This is an app that have really been left in a crappy state for too long. Finally you can get a proper weekly overview which is the view I use all the time, not only on the phone but on any of my devices. Click on a day and it smoothly zooms up without switching screens. Click again and you are back to the weekly overview. The updated app I just what I need.
There are a lot more minor tweaks all over the place and there are surely a lot that I have not discovered yet since I have only used WP 8.1 for a couple of days. The improvements mentioned above are the main ones that makes this update a worthwhile one for me at least. It made a good phone OS even better and plugged some holes in the previous release. I have of course not used it for long enough to know if there are any changes in battery life time but during the time that I have used it have not seen any immediately noticeable differences.