Windows Phone 8.1: Leaps Forward

Thanks to their “Developer Preview” program, Microsoft is allowing a wide array of users access to its latest version of the Windows Phone OS:  Version 8.1.  This release is greatly anticipated by the Windows Phone community and is widely regarded as an important step in bringing Windows Phone into alignment with what competitors are offering.  With a milestone as great as this one, I though that it would be a good time to dust off my Windows Phone 8 Gripe List and see how Microsoft has done in addressing my own concerns.

I had originally compiled my gripe sheet after only 3 weeks of usage, and I’m glad to report that it hasn’t really grown at all since then.  I’ll be summarizing the points below, but you can refer to the original article if you would like more details. Here we go!

  • There is no punctuation when authoring a text or email using speech recognition.
    I hate to start off on a sour note, but this is still a bit annoying.  There are really two issues at play:  (1) There is no way to add punctuation to a dictated email, note or text message; and (2) there is no way to dictate multiple sentences in a row.  This may just be a limitation of the technology; I don’t know.  Ideally, some form of natural language processing would understand to create two sentences and whether or not you wanted an exclamation point or question mark at the end.  
  • Group text messaging does not maintain the group thread
    Happily, this was actually introduced last year with one of the GDR releases.  WP8 now knows when there are several recipients of a text message and can now group replies together as a single discussion thread.  Brilliant.
  • The phone does not remember or reset volume settings
    This one is finally being addressed with WP 8.1.  As far as I can tell, there are now separate volumes maintainable for Media & Notifications, the Ringer, Bluetooth, and Headphones.
  • I do not have quick access to the 10 or so phone numbers I call most frequently.  
    What?!  Could it be?! WP 8.1 actually has a ‘Speed Dial’ section in the phone app!  You can now open the Phone app and swipe to the “Speed Dial” page and add phone numbers.  Alternatively, you can long tap a phone number on the “Recent” page and add a number from there as well.  Why did it take so long to add this feature?  Also, why is nobody else jumping up and down at this new feature?
  • Syncing music and files to my phone is confusing.
    It may still be confusing.  I’ve since given up my battle with syncing and now manually select which music I wish to carry on my phone.  With the addition of Plex, I can now stream music from my home server which takes off some of the pressure.  Also, utilizing OneDrive for files makes way more sense than dragging-and-dropping from Windows Explorer.  I’m leaving this orange, but it’s not as important to me anymore.
  • The monthly calendar view is fairly useless.
    Again, it may have taken longer then I would have liked, but WP8.1 now replaces the micro-sized text with a simple colored bar on each day indicating which calendar has an event on a particular day.  My calendar is littered with Facebook birthdays and I can clearly see when that is all I have “scheduled” on a particular day.  It will take some time to memorize which colors correspond to which calendars, but it’s WAY better than before.
  • Filling out web forms is tedious with no auto-complete on the phone’s web browser.
    I haven’t really spent a lot of time investigating this one. I seem to remember the ability to link safari to a contact record on my iPhone that can be used to auto-fill forms on the web. That is what I’m looking for on my windows phone. I don’t think it exists.
  • The on-screen keyboard takes up a LOT of screen real estate when typing in Internet Explorer.
    I haven’t performed a side-by-side comparison between 8 and 8.1 yet, but it feels like they have tightened things up a bit.  Or that’s just my perception.  However, it’s still around 50% of the screen.  I’ll leave this entry Orange until I can compare.
  • In Internet Explorer, access to browser tabs is slow.
    Man, it’s like Microsoft is reading my mind! … or my blog. IE11 now has the tabs menu accessible with a simple touch of a button. I also understand that they have increased the number of tabs from six to infinity. Nice.
  • I find the on-screen keyboard to be less than intuitive
    When I originally wrote this comment, i was referring to my inability to find the math operation keys (+,=,-,etc.). I guess i just need to chalk that up to a learning curve, since MS has made no changes to the icon. It is worth mentioning that they HAVE introduced a new swipe keyboard to WP8.1, and it is simply amazing. In fact, I’m using it now to compose this post. Writing is now so much faster than before, and i find the error correction to be VERY forgiving. It is good enough to turn this bullet green.


Really, the only complaint that i can register at this point is the lengthy amount of time it took to deliver these enhancements and features. But it is clear that MS is listening, and that is important. With the above list whittled down, I feel that most of my remaining gripes reside in the nit pick category.

There are, of course, still some very big shortcomings. An “app problem” still exists and will continue to exist as long as WP has a diminutive market share. Case in point: Windows Phone is a tough sell to my wife without a native Pinterest app. I know that it will EVENTUALLY arrive, but Windows Phone will be the last platform to receive mainstream apps.

At any rate, this is a watershed release for Microsoft and I look forward to seeing what comes next.

What say you?