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    Preview for Developers

    Last week, Microsoft announced Windows Phone 8.1 to the world. We gave you numerous video tours of the OS, and we’re sure you watched Joe Belfiore's on stage demonstration of Cortana. Microsoft also announced that the Preview for Developers Program will go live for 8.1 "sometime in April". That program will allow you to install the 8.1 update early on any Windows Phone 8 device. Every. Single. One.

    What is this program? How can you prepare for it before it arrives? Head past the break for all you need to know!

    What exactly is the 'Preview for Developers' Program?

    Back in June 2012, Microsoft revealed plans for the ‘enthusiast program’ for Windows Phone fans.  It was during the Windows Phone 8.0 announcement and many people here on this site were tantalized by the prospect of getting updates earlier and faster than carriers.

    That’s what the Program is for. It’s labeled ‘Preview for Developers’ but in reality, it’s for anyone with a Windows Phone 8 device, as the barriers to participate are extremely low (more on that below). Microsoft is well aware that carriers tend to drag their feet on updates, so this is their way around that roadblock. It’s a sly move as Microsoft actually wants you to use this Program.

    Unfortunately, details were sparse at the time of the announcement in 2012. Sparse as in there was just one line in a PowerPoint presentation that mentioned it. Fast forward 18 months later and Microsoft finally got the Program setup, just in time for Windows Phone 8 Update 3 (and before fans nearly revolted).

    Will it run on my...

    Yes! Lumia 520, Lumia 525, Lumia 620, Lumia 1520, HTC 8X, Samsung ATIV can 'Preview' 8.1 on all of these phones and get all the same features, even Cortana. Cortana is only available in the US? Change your region or just use the default Bing search like now.

    Is this a hack or will it damage my phone?

    No, this is not a hack. It’s still an over-the-air update that is pushed by Microsoft. Technically speaking, things could go wrong, just like with any OS update. In reality, we have had zero complaints or problems reported to us with the previous Preview for Developers. Literally zero. Even Microsoft confirms the same, with almost 185,000 people participating in the program. So yes, it’s safe.

    But be advised, there is no “rolling back” the OS. Then again, we’re not sure why you would want to.

    Will it erase your phone?

    Nope. It’s an over-the-air update that will only update/refresh the OS. Your apps, games, contacts, photos and even settings should remain the same. This will not wipe your phone.

    Will it void your warranty?

    It depends. It’s actually up to your carrier or the manufacturer who made your phone. To be honest, we don’t have much to go on here because we have had no reports come in to serve as a test case. As far as we know, no one’s phone has been damaged enough to warrant this action. Even still, you do have the Microsoft support forums should any problems arise. Likewise, Nokia is pretty darn good for service.

    Keep in mind, once the “official” update goes out, your phone will look the same as someone who just waited for the update, meaning it will be impossible to tell it from any off-the-shelf phone with 8.1 installed. All phones are equal, post official update. That leads us to…

    What’s the difference between this and the official update?

    There are technically two parts when it comes to official updates:

    1. An OS update aka Windows Phone 8.1 build xxxx.xxxx
    2. A firmware update specific for your phone and carrier (if sold through one)

    The OS update is universal; it works across all devices and, for all intents and purposes the Preview for Developers is the same OS update as the official release. This is not a beta version of the OS.

    The one difference is the Preview for Developers does not include new firmware.

    All the firmware does is enable some device-specific functions, most notably new camera improvements on Nokia devices or the new SensorCore APIs, which will come with the Lumia Cyan update. With the OS update though, you’ll still get 100% of the all the 8.1 features announced, you’ll just keep your current firmware.

    What happens when 8.1 officially rolls out for your phone and carrier?

    Basically, nothing. Nothing in the good sense. Your phone will get the same update, but unless the OS is different, the only thing that will be updated is your firmware. After the update, you’ll be on the same page as everyone else.

    In other words, you risk not a thing by doing this.

    How do you signup?

    If you’re already a Windows Phone developer, then you don’t need to do anything except download the app (see below). If you’re just a regular person without an ounce of coding skill, then you can sign up for Microsoft’s App Studio:

    Cost? $0

    Just sign in with your Microsoft ID and let them register your email address. That’s it.

    Next, you need the Preview for Developers App for your phone, and you probably need to have Update 3 already installed, though we’re sure most of you already do.

    Get the Preview for Developers App

    Now that you are a registered ‘developer’ with Microsoft, you need to download the app to your phone. This app, published by Microsoft, lets your phone register with Microsoft so that they can send you the OS bits.

    QR: Preview for developers

    Run the app, sign in with the same Microsoft ID you registered with App Studio and check the box that says ‘Enable Preview for Developers’. Likewise, you can always uncheck that box and unregister that device.

    Watch the above embedded video to see it all in action!

    When will you get Windows Phone 8.1 Preview for Developers?

    Microsoft has not announced a specific date, just a timeframe of April. All we can say: pay attention to our site as we’ll be the first to tell you when it is live.

    Once it’s live, you head into your device Settings > Phone Update > Check for updates. The OS update will begin downloading immediately, and the program will walk you through the process (note: it’s the same process as every other Windows Phone over-the-air update).

    You’ll want to have a battery with at least 50% charge and have access to Wi-Fi, as OS updates can be large – too large for some carriers. Also, you should have at least 1 GB of storage space available, as that update has to be downloaded and unpacked somewhere!

    When will you get the official 8.1 update with new firmware?

    It will be contingent on your carrier and phone manufacturer. Since this will be like previous updates, you can expect a rolling schedule spanning a few weeks to even months as each carrier has their own time frame. From past experience, we’d push this out as far as July and August for some of you, with the Lumia 810 on T-Mobile probably not getting it at all (blame T-Mobile).

    Anyway, hope this quick guide helps. Prepare now so you’ll be ready whenever Microsoft throws the switch!

    Want to learn what’s in Windows Phone 8.1? Check out our features page or head into our 8.1 forums where you can discuss what’s new!

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    Windows Phone Memory Management

    Some will argue that you can never have enough storage memory on your Windows Phones. It seems to take no time at all to fill up the eight, sixteen or even thirty-two gigabytes of storage on our Windows Phones. We often install apps and games that begin to collect dust after a few days, never delete photos, and often have several music albums worth of songs. All of which take up valuable memory space.

    Some Windows Phone models have expansion card slots to help with storage needs but even that relief has restrictions. So, how do you manage your Windows Phone storage memory? For those who struggle with keeping enough storage space free on your Windows Phone, we’ve got a few suggestions that might help you manage your memory better.

    #1 Sizing up your storage space

    First, if you are curious how much memory you have left and what is occupying it you can easily find this information out by going to your Windows Phone settings. Every Windows Phone will have a Phone Storage setting that will display how much memory is being used, how much memory is free and you can also see how the used memory breaks down. Tapping the memory bar, you will pull up a category break down that shows how much storage is used for apps and game, music and videos, pictures and documents.

    Phone Storage

    Going back to the main page of the Phone Storage settings, if you have a Windows Phone with a micro-SD card expansion slot two options will be available to redirect music, video, and picture files to the expansion card for storage. This is a handy option to let you free up on-board storage for apps and games.

    If you own a Nokia Windows Phone, you will also have a Storage Check setting that essentially serves the same purpose as the Phone Storage setting with a few exceptions. The Nokia Storage Check will present you with a graphic of how much storage is available, in use and how it’s being used. You also have a details page in the Storage Check settings where you can pull up a more detailed listing of how this memory is being used. This will include a detailed view of all your apps and games with the memory they require, a listing of any maps installed, and the ability to delete any temporary files. Most of the time these temporary files are deleted automatically but you can clear them up manually if you need the space sooner.

    Storage Check

    For the most part, neither the Phone Storage nor Storage Check settings menu will let you delete items from within. Storage Check will let you delete those temporary files and maps but otherwise, you’ll have to delete apps/games from the App List or Gaming Hub, delete photos from the Pictures Hub, and delete music and videos from the Music+Videos hub, etc.

    Managing your Memory

    Here are just a few suggestions on how to better manage your Windows Phone storage memory and avoid running out of space. Some of this may be second nature for the seasoned Windows Phone users but it may be different for those new to the platform.

    #2 Backup those photos and videos

    Windows Phone Pictures Hub

    Everyone will have either photos that haven’t seen the light of day in months or photos of the ground, your thumb, or other unwanted subjects. How about those five second long videos where something messes up the shot and you have to start from scratch?

    For those unwanted photos and videos the solution is simple, delete them.

    For those older photos videos that you just cannot bring yourself to delete, back them up to your OneDrive or transfer them to a Windows PC. You can set your camera to automatically upload photos to OneDrive in the Settings>Application>Photos+Camera menu or use the Windows 8 Windows Phone app to transfer them to your home computer hard drive. In using OneDrive you can delete your photos and videos locally and still have them accessible from your Windows Phone while on the go.

    There are other cloud based solutions available (such as AT&T Locker) but with your Windows Live ID you get 7 GB of free storage on OneDrive, why not take advantage of it? Personally, I back up my photos and videos to my computer and keep a decent collection of images available on my OneDrive. I still have trouble deleting the images from my Windows Phone but if I need to, I know the images are backed up somewhere.

    #3 Uninstall rarely used apps and games

    Quick show of hands? How many have apps and games installed on their Windows Phones that haven’t been launched in weeks? We all have some. These are often free titles that spark our interest, we tinker with the app or game for a few days and then we let it collect dust. These dust collecting apps and games are taking up storage space and about once a week, you should scan your game and app lists and delete those you haven’t used in a while or will never use again. I install probably a dozen or so apps and games on my Windows Phone weekly and constantly are reviewing the ones I can live without and those I use with regularity.

    The plus side is that if you decide you want to play a deleted game again, the Windows Phone Store will remember the purchase and you can re-install it as much as you’d like. The downside is that often when you delete a game you lose any progress you’ve made. Our suggestion is if you are hoping for an update that will add more levels to the game, you might want to keep it installed for that very reason.

    #4 Cut back on Music + Videos or stream them instead

    Music and Videos Hub

    Confession time. I rarely use my Windows Phone for music and videos. If I’m in the mood for listening to music, I have the car radio (XM Satellite) or get connected to my laptop. But for those who do, there really isn’t a need to download your complete music library to your Windows Phone. Create playlists and import them to your Windows Phone to minimize the storage space.

    With the Windows Phone 8 app, you can easily manage your music where you can keep a decent selection of tunes on your Windows Phone while minimizing the amount of storage needed. Also keep in mind that some music files can be stored and played from your OneDrive account.

    Likewise, if you're near Wi-Fi a lot or have a big data plan, you can stream music from Pandora, Songza, Spotify and more. Not only will you discover new music, but you can save space too.

    #5 Use expansion cards and Cloud accounts

    Simply put, use them if you have them. A 32 GB MicroSD card runs in the neighborhood of $20 and is a simple way to free up on-board memory. As we have mentioned, you can currently route image, music and video files to the expansion card and you can store documents on the card as well.

    With cloud accounts such as OneDrive, you can send files to the cloud and still have access to them from your Windows Phone, all of which will free up your Windows Phone on-board storage.

    Unfortunately there is no silver bullet with regards to managing your Windows Phone storage. The likelihood of us seeing a 500 GB hard drive installed in our Windows Phones is slim. Then again, 32 GBs used to be a dream.

    The bottom line is that to make the most of your 8, 16 or 32 gigabyte storage, you are going to have to do a little work in managing that limited space.

    Bonus #6 –  Sneak peek at Windows Phone 8.1 and installing apps to the SD card

    Keep in mind that with the Windows Phone 8.1 we will get Storage Sense. Storage Sense falls in line with the current Phone Storage settings but expands what you can shift to the expansion card. With Storage Sense, you can download and run apps/games to your expansion card as well as photos, videos, music, and downloads from the browser. That should help greatly for those with low-memory devices, or even high end ones like the Lumia 1520.

    We’ve tossed out a few ideas on how to make the most of your Windows Phone storage. There’s more than one way to skin a potato and you’ve got a suggestion on managing your Windows Phone storage, sound off below in the comments.

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    Xbox Music

    Microsoft’s Xbox Music streaming service is free for everyone with a Microsoft account to use. It’s also available cross-platform, on both Android and iOS as well as Xbox, Windows and Windows Phone (plus the web).

    Today we’ll be taking a quick look at how to efficiently manage devices connected to an Xbox Music subscription.

    Purchasing the Xbox Music Pass

    Priced at $9.99 (or $99.99 per year), the Xbox Music subscription opens up a whole new world for consumers. Adverts are removed for you to enjoy a seamless experience, whether you’re on a Windows 8 tablet, iPhone or gaming on the Xbox One. Fully synchronized libraries and playlists join offline downloads.

    It’s easy to get started with the pass too. Simply head to the Xbox Music website or purchase the subscription through any of the published Xbox Music apps. Job done.

    Xbox Music

    There’s a slight issue with the Xbox Music Pass, however. Microsoft limits consumers to just four active devices at a time (that's part of the music licensing agreement) This isn't a limitation that prevents other devices from accessing the online content, but subscribers can only download tracks to the four selected products. Luckily, the company makes it easy to switch them out.

    Managing devices

    There’s a neat interface on the Xbox Music website where devices can be managed on an Xbox Music Pass. This area will list all devices you’ve accessed the service from, using your Microsoft account.

    New devices will automatically be detected and added to this list (with its ever-important device name displayed). To remove any of the listed entries, simply hit the cross button. Note: You can only remove two (2) devices every 30 days. It’s enough for the average consumer, but we strongly dislike the restriction – chopping and changing between a million phones.

    When removing a device, the interface will remind you of the above 2 device removal limitation, and will confirm whether or not you wish to continue. That’s essentially it. Really simple.

    Manage Xbox Devices

    You can quickly access the device management area from the apps (as illustrated above in Windows 8). Hitting “Done” will take you to the main Microsoft account portal where the Xbox Music Pass can be configured alongside Xbox Live, Office 365 and other products.

    Use the new Xbox Music App, dynamically switch your Windows Phone

    Back in December 2013, Microsoft released a beta version of their Xbox Music app for Windows Phone. The app is a precursor to what is coming in Windows Phone 8.1, as Microsoft is removing the built-in apps in favor of ones that can be updated through the Store.

    One neat side effect of this change is it gives users the ability to "swap out" their Windows Phone dynamically, ahead of the 'two devices every 30 days' policy noted above.

    For example, say you have already swapped out a few Windows Phones for April and you now have to wait 30 days. By using the Xbox Music app, you can in essence bypass that limitation. You're still limited to just four devices, but one of them will be swapped out for this generic 'Windows Phone' one using the app. Switching to another device and logging in with the Xbox Music app will swap it to that one, instantly.

    Download the Xbox Music App for Windows Phone 8 here in the Store.

    QR: xbox Music

    Fan of the Xbox Music Pass? Let us know in the comments how you rate the service.

    Further reading:

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    Screenshot Image Folder

    One of the many welcomed features with Windows Phone 8 was the ability to capture a screenshot from your Windows Phone. For those of us who write about Windows Phones it was a fantastic feature to allow us to better illustrate what we write about.

    For the average consumer, having the ability to capture a screenshot can come in handy in the same manner. You can share a screen capture of your high score, a glitch in the programming or for those times you just want to share screens that appear on your Windows Phone.

    While screen captures will still be available with Windows Phone 8.1, how we go about capturing them will change.

    The current method for capturing a screenshot from your Windows Phone is to simultaneously press the Start Screen and Power button. The screen image is captured and saved to your Pictures Hub in the Screenshots Folder.

    With Windows Phone 8.1, this process changes ever so slightly. Instead of pushing the Start Screen and Power buttons, you now press the Volume Up and Power Button at the same time. The screenshot will still find its way to the Screenshot Folder of your Pictures Hub. This change is likely due to Microsoft allowing for on-screen Start Screen buttons in lieu of the physical buttons we enjoy now.

    Screenshot in Windows Phone 8.1

    • Press Volume Up and Power Button at the same time

    When Windows Phone 8.1 hits the open market and you go to capture that screenshot of a record high temperature this summer, just remember to use the Volume Up button instead of your Start Screen button. For some, this change may take a while to get used to.

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    How to find anything on your phone with Windows Phone 8.1

    Windows Phone 8.1 brings a wealth of new features and improvements to the table. Some of these changes are meant to bring Windows Phone more in-line with Windows 8. The more closely the two operating systems resemble each other, the easier it is for users to transition between phone, tablet, and PC. And of course, any such changes would qualify as improvements even if you’ve never touched a Windows 8 device. Microsoft is simply smart enough to pick and choose better implementations where they see them.

    One such change comes with Windows Phone 8.1’s new and improved search feature. The Search button and Cortana app (US only) now searches not only the web for queries but also the user’s actual phone (much like Windows 8 and RT). This makes it easier than ever to find specific information and files on your phone. Even the actual web search results share a cleaner, slicker look as well. Head past the break to see how convenient searching can be on Windows Phone 8.1.

    Starting the search

    How to find anything on your phone with Windows Phone 8.1

    Beginning a search on Windows Phone 8.1 works exactly as it did on Windows Phone 8 – just hit the Search button at the bottom of your screen and type something to search for.

    Actually, 8.1 users in the US do have a cool new option for starting searches: ask Cortana. Simply tap the microphone button at the bottom corner of the screen and speak a search term out loud; it doesn’t have to be phrased like a question.

    You might be surprised just how well Cortana listens for your search queries. I asked her to search for Machinarium (a favorite Windows Phone and Windows 8 game of mine) and she understood the query right off the bat, no repetition needed. Pretty impressive considering Machinarium is not a dictionary word!

    Better than ever search results

    How to find anything on your phone with Windows Phone 8.1

    Once you’ve typed or spoken the desired search term, you’ll receive results in several familiar categories: Web, Local, Images, and Videos. But it’s the Phone category we’re really interested in…

    Bing and Cortana can now search your phone’s installed apps, music, calendar, contacts, email, messaging, and settings. This is quite similar to the Search charm on Windows 8 and RT, which searches practically everything on a computer or tablet. For instance, try asking Cortana:

    • "Find emails from < contact name>" and Cortana should search your Inbox for you

    My search for Machinarium turned up two results specific to my phone: the game itself and the soundtrack installed in my phone’s Music folder. Pretty handy way to find something when you don’t have it pinned, can’t type easily (just use voice!), or don’t know where to look.

    The 8.1 Search function does NOT search the Windows Phone Store by default. To perform Store searches, you’ll have to launch the Store itself and search from there – exactly like Windows 8 and RT. I’d like the option to include Store results in general searches, not to mention Internet Explorer bookmarks and video apps like Netflix and Hulu. 8.1 can’t do those things at present, but never say never.

    On the plus side, searching your phone’s email, messaging, contacts, and calendar is super useful. No need to scroll through a lengthy text messaging conversation now; just search and jump straight to the part you were looking for. Hop to all of your contacts with ease, and even find their birthdates if they’re marked on your calendar.

    Oh, and you can search for specific settings on your phone instead of having to hunt through the Settings menu. Search for brightness and you’ll be able to jump directly to your phone’s brightness control. It’s fast and convenient, especially if you’re driving and need to use voice instead of scrolling around on your phone.

    Superior searches are near at hand!

    Windows Phone 8.1 has just become available in the US for Microsoft's Preview for Developers program. It will become available for regular users in the near future as well. Whether or not you've already grabbed the Windows Phone 8.1 update, how do you like the update's new and improved search feature? What’s the first thing you’ve asked or will be asking Cortana to search for?

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    Mute message threads on Windows Phone 8.1

    While I totally love the messaging app on Windows Phone, sometimes long, meandering conversations can be annoying with their constant alerts. I’d rather text passively when I choose to, rather then get distracted by a ping every second.

    Apart from the plethora of big feature additions that you’ve been reading about at Windows Phone Central, Windows Phone 8.1 has also introduced a nifty feature that allows you to mute text message threads. As far as we know, no other smartphone platforms has this useful feature, making it quite interesting for Windows Phone users.

    Let's take a look at how it works!

    We wrote about this feature a couple of months ago, and how it is different from blocking an individual. Once you mute a thread, you will not receive notification alerts for a new message in this thread and the Live Tile for messaging app won’t take the messages into account for the unread message count it displays. You will though, continue to receive the messages. 

    Blocking rejects; muting just hides. Here's how to enable it:

    Mute message threads on Windows Phone 8.1

    How to Mute a thread

    All you need to do is, go into the message thread you want to mute, check out more options at the bottom of the screen, and tap on mute thread. You’ll get a confirmation prompt warning you that you’d not receive notifications and Live Tile updates for the particular thread. That’s the intention, so hit mute, and you’re done! To unmute a thread that you’ve muted before, just tap on the unmute thread option.

    I think it’s a pretty useful, yet seamless, feature in Windows Phone 8.1. Check it out and tell us if you like it, and if you would mute a few threads in your list? Also, would you mute when your girlfriend/spouse/partner if they're being less than agreeable? (Asking for a friend, ahem)

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    Quiet Hours Windows Phone

    There are so many new features in Windows Phone 8.1. Of course Cortana and the notification center will steal the headlines, but it’s the other features that help make this a momentous update. We’re going to highlight quiet hours and show you how to get the most out of it. Quiet hours is the new “do not disturb” feature in Windows Phone 8.1 that’s powered by Cortana.

    What is it?

    Quiet Hours is a new mode in Windows Phone 8.1 where you aren’t disturbed by notifications or other forms of incoming communication. Quiet hours can be set manually or automatically based on a few parameters that you control. Cortana also helps to power quiet hours and will allow select contacts, called your inner circle, to get through the quiet hour block.

    When am I going to use this?

    Any time you don’t want your phone to disturb you. Quiet hours is an appropriate feature for when you’re in an important meeting, giving a presentation, watching a movie or trying to sleep. Quiet hours can be trigger automatically based on specific times you control or for important calendar events. You’ll use this automatic mode probably for when you don’t want your phone to bug you late at night when you’re sleeping. Alternatively you can trigger quiet hours manually, which is very useful for spur of the moments activities like watching a movie.

    What’s my inner circle?

    Turning your phone completely off would be just as effective if quiet hours wasn’t an intelligent feature powered by Cortana. You can add important contacts to your inner circle. Those in your inner circle are individuals that you care about and can get to you no matter what. This is your spouse, your boss, your mother, your kids and anyone else that can reach you no matter what.

    How do I add someone to my inner circles?

    Inner Circle Windows Phone

    Adding that special someone to your inner circle is as easy as pie. Just open Cortana and click the hamburger icon in the top right (three lines stacked on one another). This takes you to Cortana’s notebook where you can control all settings that she controls. Tap inner circle to add and delete folks. Cortana will suggest people based on your interaction and relation to them. You can also click the plus icon on the bottom to find and search for someone from your contact list. The option to add nicknames will also pop up. This gives you the ability to use voice commands using those nicknames and Cortana will know who you’re talking about.

    Congrats. You’ve added someone to your inner circle. They’ll now be able to reach you when it matters most.

    How do I set up quiet hours?

    We’ve established that quiet hours are either automatic or manual. We’ll show you how to set up quiet hours both manually and automatically.

    Manual Quiet Hours

    Manual– The easiest way to get quiet hours whenever you need is to add it to as an option to your quick actions. To do that go to settings > notifications + actions > choose your quick actions > tap an icon slot > select quiet hours. Now you can trigger quiet hours just by pulling down on your notification center and tapping quiet hours (crescent moon icon). You’ll see that icon in your status bar whenever you’re currently in quiet hours mode. Bonus: You can also just tell Cortana to turn quiet hours on or off.

    Automatic– While you certainly can toggle quiet hours on and off using the manual method above, there’s a more elegant solution to automatically trigger quiet hours. Cortana can automatically trigger quiet hours during specific times or when a calendar event has you marked as busy.

    Automatic Quiet Hours

    To set automatic rules for quiet hours launch go to settings > quiet hours > toggle on automatic rules. You’ll now see the option to select what specific days and hours you want quiet hours. Beneath that you can select whether or not you want quiet hours to automatically come on for calendar events marked as Busy. You can also specific and select which calendars on your phone these rules apply for. Like when you manually trigger quiet hours, you’ll see the crescent moon icon in the status bar anytime these automatically launched quiet hours are active.

    Breakthrough rules

    Quiet Hours Breakthrough

    There’s one more level of control you as a user have over quiet hours on Windows Phone 8.1. You’re still looking at the quiet hours settings page, but now you’ve scrolled to the bottom to see edit and change the breakthrough rules. Here’s where you tell Cortana who and who can’t get through to you when you’re in quiet hours. Set it up so that someone can reach you if they call twice within three minutes, though they may not be in your inner circle. Or have Cortana automatically reply to text messages when you’re in quiet hours. Cortana can also ask those in your inner circle to breakthrough by starting off a text message with the phrase "knock knock". These are useful settings you control.

    That’s a wrap

    Quiet Hours Status Bar

    Windows Phone 8.1 is a wonderful mobile operating system thanks to Cortana and features like quiet hours and inner circles. We’ll definitely be using quiet hours and hope you do too. If you have any questions feel free to ask bellow in the comments. Alternatively, head to the Windows Phone Central forums for help or reach out to me on Twitter (@samsabri).

    Don’t forget to check out these other how-tos on Windows Phone 8.1:

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    The Windows Phone 8.1 update introduces private browsing in Internet Explorer. It’s called InPrivate Browsing and it prevents Internet Explorer from storing data about your browsing session. This includes cookies, temporary Internet files, history, and other data.

    1. To get started, click the Tabs button to the left of the address bar. It shows all the tabs that are currently open.
    2. Click the three dots on the lower right corner to reveal more options
    3. Click ‘new inprivate tab’

    That’s basically it. The new InPrivate tab briefly explains what it’s all about. There’s also an indicator that appears in the address bar.

    We’re glad to see this new feature on Internet Explorer. Previously, those who wanted to browse privately had to manually delete their history in the settings. Another option was to use third-party browsers that supported private browsing. UC Browser is a popular alternative. Curious to know what else is new on Internet Explorer? Check out these 8 new kickass features in IE11 on Windows Phone 8.1.

    Are you excited for this new feature? What kind of web pages do you visit that require private browsing? Let us know in the comments!

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    Start background Windows Phone

    Start backgrounds are probably one of the more interesting changes we’ve seen in Windows Phone 8.1. It’s another step Microsoft has made to allow users to customize and make their Windows Phone experience unique and personal. We happen to be very big fans of the Start backgrounds and have seen the community respond to them positively as well. A lot of you were timid and curbed your enthusiasm when Start backgrounds leaked a month ago, but the response after actually using it has been the opposite.

    Today we’re going to highlight some tips, apps, resources and images to make Windows Phone truly beautiful with a unique Start background.  

    How do I change my Start background?

    It’s pretty easy, but you might not know how to add an image as a Start background. Just go to settings > start + theme > choose Start background photo and voilà, your Start background is up and running.

    What kind of images make a beautiful Start background?

    Clean vs Busy

    These aren’t rules, just guidelines we’ve been thinking about to make select some really great images for beautiful Start backgrounds. You’re going to want an image that isn’t busy. And by busy we mean an image that takes it easy on the contrast and amount of details. Like the metro design language, you’re going to want so select images that are relatively simple and clean. Less really is more.

    Of course that’s just what we’re finding that we like. Play around and see what works for your Start screen and layout. Up above you'll see the left and middle images as good examples, but avoid those Dragon Ball Z characters on the right ;) 

    Clump translucent Live tiles together for beautiful Start screen


    This is pretty weird, but we’re finding ourselves rearranging our Start screens to work with the background images more. To get a really beautiful Start screen you’re going to want to move your Live tiles around and group translucent tiles together. Going forward we think a lot of developers will want to enable the functionality and rework their logo to work with the effect.

    To get a really beautiful Start screen put groups of translucent Live tiles together. That doesn’t mean you need to just automatically put every single clear Live tile towards the top and relegate your opaque Live tiles to the bottom. We’re just suggesting that groups of translucent Live tiles will give you a better picture of your Start screen and we happen to think that looks really good. It can be as simple as a row of translucent Live tiles between sets of opaque ones, but it’ll dramatically make your Start screen pop. Up above you'll see the image on the left has been a good example of how Start backgrounds look when you clump translucent tiles together. The right? Not so good looking. 

    Use apps to get images for your Start backgrounds

    There are going to be a ton of different ways to find images for your Start background. Here are a three apps for Windows Phone 8.1 that’ll help you make some a stunning Start screen. Feel free to share any app suggestions in the comments below!



    This is a brand new app in the Windows Phone Store that we found from this post on Reddit. You can use PolyScreen to generate wallpapers stylized with the low-poly look that’s been popular lately. The app is simple, but can produce some really neat images for your Start background. You can control the size, padding and color to create low-poly images. Download PolyScreen from the Windows Phone Store. (Free)

    QR: PolyScreen

    Start Screen Customizer

    Start Screen Customzier

    This is another new app for Windows Phone 8.1 users to get creative with their Start screen. The app allows you to create either solid color images or gradient images. You can also edit your own photos to make them work better on the Start screen. For example, you can add a blur and add a color hue to a photo you’ve taken to make it look better on your Start screen and not contrast so much. Download Start Screen Customizer from the Windows Phone Store. (Free)

    QR: Start Screen Customizer

    Zedge - Wallpapers and ringtones


    This app just joined Windows Phone last week and we’re already pretty big fans. Zedge ( is a popular source of over 300 million ringtones and wallpapers. The wallpapers in Zedge are all over the map, but we’ve found some quality images that look great on our Start screen. Download Zedge from the Windows Phone Store. (Free).

    QR: Zedge

    Head to the Windows Phone 8.1 forums for Start backgrounds

    There’s no way we’re not going to plug you, our community. There’s a thread in the Windows Phone 8.1 forums dedicated just to covering wallpapers and images that look great as Start backgrounds. The thread is a great place share your own wallpapers and images. It’s also great for inspiration and to check out how other people are getting creative with Start backgrounds on Windows Phone 8.1.

    Head to the Windows Phone Central forums to check that thread out!

    Great Start backgrounds from the community

    Curious what images folks like Ben Rudolph, Major Nelson, and Daniel Rubino are using on their Start screen? Of course you are. Check out some screenshots below from some heavyweights in our community.

    Daniel Rubino's Start screen - Source 

    Daniel's Start Screen

    Major Nelson's Start screen - Source

    Major Nelson Start Screen

    Ben Rudolph's Start screen - Source

    Ben's Start Screen

    Daniel Gary's Start screen - Source

    Daniel Gary Start screen

    Mary Jo Foley's Start screen - Source

    MJF Start Screen

    Your turn

    Now we want to know what you think about Start backgrounds in Windows Phone 8.1. We also want to hear your thoughts on how to make truly beautiful Start screens. Share your favorite wallpaper apps too. The comments are yours, so long as you talk about Start backgrounds ;)

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    Cortana Schedule

    Cortana is your personal assistant on Windows Phone 8.1. She’s great for finding nearby sushi joints, reminding you to get milk on your way home and much more. You won’t find Cortana confined to her app though, she’s hanging out in other parts of Windows Phone 8.1. Here’s a quick tip for adding events to your calendar from text messages and emails.

    Cortana is contextually aware anytime someone messages you through a text message or email with plans. She then makes setting it up as a calendar event really easy. Feel free to tap any underlines in your messages. Most likely, those underlines will be related to a date. Below you can see two examples of Cortana aware of plans with myself to get tacos tomorrow.


    Cortana Scheduling Text


    Cortana Scheduling Email

    Cortana is intelligent enough to understand that your contact wants to do something at a certain time. She’ll then make scheduling that appointment easy and with a few taps it’s in your calendar. She’ll do her best to understand what it is you’re doing with that person, but she’s pretty accurate at understanding the time. You might need to edit the actual activity, but that’s a minor quibble.

    We’re loving all the small features of Cortana and Windows Phone 8.1. We’ll continue to share more little tips and tricks. Have any questions you want answered? You know how to reach us. 

    Have you already used this feature with Windows Phone 8.1 and Cortana? Let us know what you think about it!

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    Windows Phone 8.1 Call History

    The more we use Windows Phone 8.1, the more we discover such as the changes to our call history. For starters, we now have a Speed Dial page that sits alongside the History and Voice Mail pages. You also have the ability to pull up call details that reveal the date, time and duration of the calls.

    Finally, the History page now groups calls from the same caller, based on the date, to avoid repetition. For example if Rich had called my Windows Phone four times today, the history would display “Rich Edmonds (4)” instead of four entries for those calls.

    Windows Phone 8.1 Call History Pages

    So how do you access all these new features?

    Just tap your Phone Live Tile to pull up the History, Speed Dial and Voice Mail pages. Individual call options are accessible by tapping and holding the screen on a specific number. This will generate a pop-up menu with options to:

    • View the call details
    • Delete the number from your history
    • Add the number to your Blocked Number list
    • Add the number to your Speed Dial page

    The details view will not only show you the time, date and duration of a call but it will also break down any grouped calls. You will also notice that the pop-up menu on the Voice Mail page has changed slightly to add the option to add a caller to your Speed Dial page. Just tap and hold on a voice mail entry to access that pop-up menu.

    Along with the new features, the layout of the History Page has changed ever so slightly. Along with the grouping of calls from the same source, an icon is now displayed to the right of the number. This will send you to your Windows Phone contacts page where you can view information from existing contacts who call you or add a new number to your People’s Hub.

    The new features that Windows Phone 8.1 brings to our call history are nice touches that should help you manage your calls easier. Let us know what you think of these changes in the comments below.

    Thanks, Jorge, for the tip on the call timer!

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    Internet can almost be called the lifeblood of our society; if the internet goes down or our phones lose signal, it is like a part of us dies. Whether you view the aforementioned statement as a glum view of today’s society or an undoubtable truth – we are going to make sure you get internet onto your tablet or PC as long as you have a Windows Phone by your side.

    We are going to dive into two different methods to get LOLcats and the rest of the internet to your PC. The first involves using your phone’s built in tethering ability and carrier support to get the job done; the second involves a bit of a proxy configuration, but we will be sure to walk you through both.

    Carrier Tethering

    The easiest way to turn your Windows Phone into a Wi-Fi hotspot for you devices is to enable carrier tethering. Depending on your specific carrier and their terms of service, you may be able to activate tethering without any additional charge or you may be forced to fork over a bit more money. If you are unsure of which option you will have to take, follow our steps below as you will be given a message telling you to contact your carrier if your current plan does not support tethering.

    The Detailed Explanation

    Begin by unlocking your Windows Phone device and head to Settings, which can be found in your app list by swiping to the left from the home screen. Once within Settings, the fourth option down should be entitled “Internet sharing” – select it.

    This is the point at which you will discover whether or not your current data plan supports the use of tethering. You will see a single toggle switch for switching Internet Sharing on or off – click it to enable tethering. If the ability is supported, you will now be presented with a collection of other options and you can continue on down below, otherwise you will be presented with an error message telling you to contact your carrier to enable the feature.

    However, wait! If tethering is not enabled on your current data plan, you can either call your carrier or skip to the next section where we show you how to “tether” on a plan that does not support it.

    If you phone does support tethering, you should now see a notification telling you can share your internet connection over Wi-Fi with a number of guests. If Internet Sharing is left inactive for a few minutes, it will automatically shut off to conserve battery life – something important to note.

    Below the brief description of Internet Sharing, you will now see the Broadcast name of your network, the network’s password, and the number of guests connected. To change any of these settings you can hit the “Setup” button onscreen. It should be noted that you must have a password on your Wi-Fi network, Internet Sharing will not allow you to go without one.

    The Quick Explanation

    1. Go to the Settings area on your Windows Phone.
    2. Select “Internet Sharing” from the list.
    3. Click the toggle switch to enable tethering (if your data plan does not support it, you can either follow the next section below for an alternative method or contact your carrier to enable it)
    4. Hit the Setup button to create a network SSID and password.
    5. Connect your devices and being browsing the web.

    That is it – you are setup and ready to tethering. Simply head over to your PC or other Wi-Fi enabled device and connect to your newly created network. Remember though, you are using your phone’s data and as such, should be conscious not to use too much. If you are using Windows 8, the operating system will automatically detect when you tethered and will try its best to reduce the amount of total data usage. Some programs also recognize this mode, such as Norton’s suite of security programs, which will prevent downloading updates during this time.


    Maybe you are paying your bill’s (which are probably quite expensive), but you still do not have tethering ability and to get such a feature, you must pour out even more of your hard earned cash. That doesn’t seem very fair, does it? You paid for the data and should be able to use it however you like. Under that clause, we are going to show you how to tethering your device even if your carrier does not want you to.

    We are going to begin by downloading a free application from the Windows Phone Marketplace entitled Tether-X. You can acquire the app by clicking here, searching for it in the marketplace yourself, or by scanning our handy dandy QR code included below.

    The Only Explanation

    Tether-X works by setting up a proxy server (or “engine”, as they call it), which all your internet data requests on your PC will be routed through. We will accomplish this by setting up a network between your phone and your device, and then configuring the proxy. Since the steps are a bit detailed, we have carefully outlined them below:

    1. We will begin by setting up an ad-hoc network (or direct connection) between your PC and your Windows Phone device. To start, head to your Windows 8 Start Screen and type “cmd”. You will see an application called “cmd” appear in the results, but instead of hitting enter – hit “Ctrl-Shift-Enter” to launch the program under administrator control.
    2. Once the Command Prompt program is in front of you, we can setup the adhoc network. Type the following without quotes into the command prompt and hit Enter: “netsh wlan set hosted mode=allow ssid=tether-x key= microsoft”. Note: You can change “tether-x” to any network name you would like, and you can change “microsoft” to any password you like – we have provided the above as examples. Once you have hit Enter, you should see three notifications stated that the network has been setup.
    3. To launch the newly created network, now type the following without quotes into the command prompt: “netsh wlan start hosted”. You should receive a message stating that “The hosted network started”.
    4. Head to your Windows Phone device and opening the Wi-Fi menu under Settings. If all was setup as it should be, you will now see “tether-x’ as an available Wi-Fi hotspot to connect to. Connect to the network with the password we setup before (“microsoft”) and then continue on to the next step.
    5. On your Windows PC, go to the start screen and type “Internet Options” – hit Enter.
    6. You will be presented with the Internet Properties window, select the Connections tab, and then select the button “LAN Settings”. Within the Window that pops up, select the first checkmark box entitled “Use a proxy server for your LAN”.
    7. In the address field - enter the IP address of your phone (To acquire the IP address, click on the listed “tether-x” network under Wi-Fi settings on your Windows Phone.). In the port field, enter “8080” without quotes. Once all is filled out, hit “OK” to close the dialog window.
    8. Finally, on your Windows Phone, head back to the Tether-X app and select “Start Proxy Engine”. You are now all set and ready to browse the web via your phone!


    When done tethering your phone via Tether-X you must go back into “Internet Options” and disable the “Use a proxy server for LAN” option for your internet connection to work normally again. When you wish to use tethering again, simply reconnect to the Tether-X network you created and turn back on the proxy server settings. Note: You may have to update the IP address.

    Let us know if you have any questions about either methods by commenting below and we will be sure to answer them! As always, you can contact myself on Twitter for one-on-one help by clicking here (I love you guys that much).

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    IE11 Reader mode Surface 2

    Microsoft recently released the Windows Phone 8.1 Preview for Developers and introduced a collection of new features, including an updated version of the mobile Internet Explorer 11. The new software update brought forward a collection of new exciting features along with an ability we have had for quite a bit in Windows 8.1’s IE11 browser – Reading Mode.

    The Reading Mode embedded within IE11 on Windows 8.1 has spent quite a bit of time being overlooked, but in fact, can provide a simple and distraction free reading experience for your favorite news and blog sites (including Windows Phone Central!)

    To access reading mode within Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser, first make sure that you are running Windows 8.1 on your PC, which includes Internet Explorer 11. Next, go ahead and launch Internet Explorer from your Start Screen; you must have Internet Explorer set as your default browser for it to launch in Windows 8 mode.

    If you are unfamiliar with setting Internet Explorer to your default browser, you can do it in a few simple steps. From your Windows 8 Start Screen type “Default Programs” and a new window will appear on your desktop; from there, select “Set your default programs”. Find Internet Explorer in the list on the left hand side and confirm your choice by clicking “Set this program as default”. Once finished, click “OK” to close the window.

    Once Internet Explorer is set as your default browser, clicking on it from your Start Screen will launch the browser in the Windows 8 mode. To take a look at the Reading Mode, let us get started by heading to a site that contains articles and news – let us say Windows Phone Central. Once you are on the site of your choice, click on an article and wait for the page to load fully (the Reading Mode option will not appear unless the page is done loading).

    The “Read” button should now appear in the address bar of your browser if you have landed on a site that is supported. Click the “Read” button in the address bar to launch the experience. From here, you can scroll left and right to read the content. Full text and images are displayed for your enjoyment, but all other content is removed.

    If the Reading Mode is not displayed exactly how you wish it to be, you can access the browser’s settings to customize your experience. Simply access the Charms bar, you can do so by swiping in from the right border of your screen (or by pressing WIN-C on your keyboard), and then select the “Settings” option. A new menu will open up for all of Internet Explorer’s settings – click the “Options” button.

    Within the options menu you are able to adjust the size of the font within Reading Mode between small, medium, large, and extra-large. The options menu also allows you to change the color of the reading background between sepia, black, white, and grey. Find what settings work easiest on your eyes and enjoy your favorite content!

    If you have a Windows Phone with the Windows Phone 8.1 Preview for Developers, we recommend checking out our article here, to see exactly what has been changed. The customizable reading mode along with new swipe features, synced tabs, and more, are worth reading about.

    Have you used Internet Explorer’s Reading Mode before – how do you like it?

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    Windows 8.1's Windows 7 style makeover

    Let us be honest, what people really want when they ask for Windows 7 back is that it be done with the modern Windows 8 Start Screen and make their machine more mouse and keyboard friendly.

    Windows 8 has placed a large amount of its reliance on touch based PCs that is the Microsoft future. If you do find yourself without a touch screen and are yearning for the days of Windows 7, then read on as we bring you as close to the experience as we can.

    To begin, we are going to talk about how to make Windows 8.1 act as close to Windows 7 as we can without using any third party software. At the end of the article, we will discuss a few third party option you do have, for adding a Start Menu replacement.

    Before we proceed, it is important that you have the latest version of Windows 8.1 along with the recently released “Update 1” for Windows 8.1. Head to your Windows Updates section by typing “Windows Updates” from the Start Screen. Continue scanning for updates and restarting after each, until your system is fully up to date.

    Boot to desktop

    If you have a machine without a touch screen, then Windows 8.1 should take notice and boot your directly to the desktop instead of the Start Screen. For those of you who have a touch screen device, but still want to boot to desktop, there is an easy tweak to make it so.

    1. Go to the legacy desktop and right click on the taskbar – click “Properties”.
    2. When the properties menu appears, head to the “Navigation” tab.
    3. Within the navigation area, find the “Start Screen” section below and check the box that states: “When I sign in or close all apps on screen, go to the desktop instead of Start”.
    4. Done – your system will now boot to the desktop upon login.

    Display apps instead of the Start Screen

    In previous versions of Windows, clicking on the Start Button would open a Start Menu from which you could view and run any of your installed programs. By default, the Start Button now takes you to the Windows 8 Start Screen, but we can change that.

    If you wish to see a list of your installed apps when you click the Start Button on the desktop, then follow the steps below.

    1. Go to the legacy desktop and right click on the taskbar – click “Properties”.
    2. When the properties menu appears, head to the “Navigation” tab.
    3. Within the navigation area, find the “Start Screen” section below and check the box that states: “Show the Apps view automatically when I go to Start”.
    4. If you wish to see your legacy desktop applications listed before your Windows 8 apps, be sure to also check the box entitled: “List Desktop apps first in the Apps view when it’s sorted by category”.
    5. Done – your Start Button will now display a list of apps to you when pressed, instead of the default Windows 8 Start Screen.

    Minimize Window Store apps to the taskbar

    If you are a heavy desktop user but occasionally use a few Windows 8 style apps it might be a good idea to allow them to be minimized to the desktop’s legacy taskbar for easy access. Using this method, you would not have to switch completely away from your desktop and thus would enable a more efficient workflow.

    1. Go to the legacy desktop and right click on the taskbar – click “Properties”.
    2. When the properties menu appears, head to the “Taskbar” tab (which should already be selected).
    3. Within the Taskbar area, find and check the box that states: “Show Windows Store apps on the taskbar”.
    4. Done – now you can easily use the mouse to minimize Windows Store apps to the taskbar by moving your mouse into the upper right hand corner when they are running.

    Taking Advantage of new Windows 8.1 Update 1 features

    This is not so much of a tweak, but instead a reminder of the abilities brought forward in “Update 1” for keyboard and mouse users. For those who are unaware, the large update pushed by Microsoft for Windows 8.1, entitled “Update 1”, offered a collection of new features with a heavy focus on non-touch screen users.

    The biggest change to note is that you can now close Windows 8 applications by moving your mouse into the upper right hand corner of an app; when you do so, a classic style title bar appears. If you went ahead and enabled the ability mentioned above to “minimize Windows Store apps to the taskbar”, you will also see a minimize button next to the close button.

    Lastly, it might be a good idea to check out what Microsoft has introduced in the latest updated instead of fighting against it. Navigation with a mouse and keyboard has become much better due to the ability to easily close apps with a mouse and boot to the desktop. Large power and search buttons have now also been placed on the Start Screen for easier access and you can now right click Start tiles to view their options or rearrange them. In essence, less mouse gestures and more clickable controls with the latest update.

    Bring back the Start Menu

    A collection of various companies including Stardock, Start Menu Reviver, and Pokki, are trying to create alternative Start Menu solutions for those who are still mourning its removal from Microsoft’s latest operating system. Please note that these solutions only work on Windows 8.1 - not Windows RT.

    Each solution provides the ability to replace the default Windows 8 Start Button with a new custom solution that allows a more traditional way of viewing the installed applications on your PC. Some solutions, such as Pokki, also provide their own application store for handy widgets.

    Pokki and Start Menu Reviver are both two great free solutions to get the job done; you can check them out by clicking here for Pokki and clicking here for Start Menu Reviver. Stardock’s Launch 8 application is also a great solution that includes a free trial, but is $4.99 to purchase thereafter - click here to view it.

    Be sure to stay tuned to Windows Phone Central as we will be posting a comparison article shortly, so you can easily decide which your favorite solution is. Be sure to let us know in the comments below if you have tried one of the third party Start Menu solutions above, and if so, what you think of them.

    What do you think about Windows 8 – are you still yearning for the past days of Windows 7, or have you moved on to a better and brighter future?

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    Windows Phone 8.1 Burst Mode

    One of the many new features Windows Phone 8.1 brings to the table is a burst mode for the native camera app. The burst mode allows you to capture a series of images then select the best of the group to save to your Pictures Hub.

    Think of it as a motor drive back in the old film camera days or a 10 frame per second drive for today’s digital cameras.

    Burst Mode Operations

    The Windows Phone 8.1 camera has three mode buttons sitting in the right of the screen (bottom if you are holding the camera vertically), one for still images, one for video capture and the third for the new burst mode (icon with the three image frames). Just tap on the burst mode and you are ready to capture your kids running across the backyard, your pets chasing its tail or any other action scene.

    Burst Mode View

    A single press of the shutter button (on-screen or physical button) will capture 15 frames, more if you continuously hold down the shutter button. I’m not sure if there is a buffer limit on the number of frames you can capture while holding down the shutter button but I was able to capture over 100 frames without any issues.

    It should be noted, if you tap the screen to focus/shoot your photos the burst mode is only good for the 15 frames. To capture more images at once you will need to use the on-screen or physical shutter buttons.


    There are two caveats with burst mode. No deal breakers, just some limitations you should be aware of.

    First, the burst mode will only captures images at low resolution (1024x768). The lower resolution is needed to keep processing time down. I can imagine it would take several minutes to process 15+ high resolution, 38MP files. Images may not be good enough for large prints but are just fine for electronic sharing. 

    Second, there isn’t a continuous focus with burst mode. It locks focus and then captures the series of images. It is not the end of the world but may limit your camera’s focus range on moving subjects.

    You will need to time things just right to avoid focusing on subjects too far away, which will result in out-of-focus images as they get closer to you. The same can be said of subjects moving away from you.

    Reviewing Your Images

    Burst Mode Image Selection Screen

    Once captured, you can preview the entire series and select particular frames to save and discard the rest. Here’s how to go about it.

    • When you review a burst image (either from the Pictures Hub or from the camera viewfinder) a burst icon will appear in the lower left corner of the image.
    • Tap the icon and your full series of images will appear.
    • Scroll through the images and tap the frames you want to save.
    • Once you’ve selected all the frames, tap the save control button that sits to the side of the screen and those individual frames will be saved to your Pictures Hub.

    Any images not saved will be automatically deleted, by default, after seven days. You can change this duration in the camera’s setting to as short as one day or never delete the burst images. You also have the option to manually delete any un-saved images. That option is up under the three-dot menu on the review screen for the burst mode.

    Burst Mode Retention Settings

    While it’s not perfect (no high resolution files or continuous focus) the new burst mode with Windows Phone 8.1 does expand our camera’s capabilities. If you’ve tried the new burst mode, let us know what you think of it in the comments below.

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    The more we use Windows Phone 8.1 the more features we discover. Such as re-installing apps and games you’ve purchased in the past.

    In the past there were basically two ways to re-install an app or game you had deleted from your Windows Phone. First, you could hunt down the app in the Store and re-install it. Second, you could pull up the Windows Phone Store’s website and go into your account to view your purchase history to find the app or game to re-install.

    While those two options still exist, Windows Phone 8.1 now offers you a third option.

    My Apps list

    Windows Phone 8.1 redesigned the Store app rather significantly. One of the new features is a My App section that will list every app you’ve purchased with the ability to re-install these titles directly from this list. Here’s how to go about it.

    • Launch your Windows Phone Store App
    • Up under the three-dot menu you will find an option to view My Apps
    • A list will be generated from your purchase history

    It may take a few minutes to generate this list based on the size of your purchase history. Once generated, you can tap on an app or game to pull up the Store listing or tap the select control button at the bottom of the screen to choose which apps you want to re-install.

    Once you’ve made your selection, tap the download button that is now at the bottom of the screen and the selected apps will start to re-install.

    Now it's your turn: What do you think of this new feature and, perhaps more importantly, how would you make it better? Give us your thoughts in comments!

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    Storage Sense manage apps

    For those of us who love our apps, or have limited storage on our phones, freeing up space can be a concern. Prior to the Windows Phone 8.1 update, we were limited to installing apps directly on the phone, so when things got tight, one might take to uninstalling rarely-used apps to free up precious space. And anyone who has had to uninstall a bunch of apps at once can tell you how much of a hassle it can be to go through the list one by one to clear them out.

    However, in this new post-8.1 era, we now have the ability to conserve device storage by installing apps directly to a micro SD card, should our device have one. With Storage Sense, it becomes easy to move apps that are already installed on your phone over to micro SD in a group, rather than individually. Similarly, if you want to uninstall several apps at once, you can use Storage Sense to do that as well.

    Here’s how:

    1. Open Storage Sense on your phone. TIP: If you think it is something you will use fairly often, you can now pin it to your Start screen. (The same goes for Battery Saver and Data Sense.)

    2. Tap where it says 'phone'. Storage Sense may take some time to enumerate your data usage, but you will eventually see something like this:

    3. Next, select Apps+Games and then press the folder select icon at the bottom.

    4. Here you can select which apps you want to uninstall or move to the micro SD.

    5. If you choose to uninstall the apps, simply confirm your choice. If moving them to your secondary storage, choose the micro SD, then confirm.

    And there you have it.

    For a little more discussion about phone storage, especially on low-storage devices, be sure to check this out.

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    Cortana Location Reminder

    One of our favorite features on the Windows Phone 8.1 Preview for Developers is setting up location-based reminders with Cortana. You can tell your Windows Phone device to remind you certain things when you leave or arrive at certain locations. Head past the break to watch our how-to video.

    To get started, bring up Cortana by holding the search button for a few seconds. Tell Cortana to remind you something when arriving or leaving certain places. Here are some examples:

    • Remind me to walk the dogs when I get home.
    • Remind me to buy a tripod when I leave the house.
    • Remind me to buy milk and bread when I get to Fairways Market.
    • Remind me to get cash when I’m near any Chase Bank.

    Cortana Location

    Cortana will figure out where you work and live over time, but you can manually add favorites and nicknames in Cortana’s Notebook. It’s the button on the top right corner when you’re using Cortana. Click ‘places’ to edit or add your favorite places with nicknames that you want to use.

    If the location isn’t immediately recognized from your favorite places, Cortana performs a search for it. In one of the examples above, Cortana searches for a Fairways Market and asks you which one you want. Select the right place and confirm to set the reminder.

    Another great feature is that you can select “any place” for reminders. In one of the examples above, I’ve asked Cortana to remind me to get cash when I’m near any Chase Bank. She lists nearby banks, but you can choose “any Chase bank” from the list.

    Cortana location reminder

    These location-based reminders perform surprisingly well. We have noticed immediate notification of reminders when arriving at home, but it took a few minutes sitting in the Chase Bank parking lot before the reminder came up.

    Have you tried setting location-based reminders with Cortana on Windows Phone 8.1? Has she been successful? Let us know in the comments!

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    Xbox Controller with Windows

    For those looking for a portable tablet gaming experience, Windows tablets can sure hit the mark like no other platform. Whether you are looking at the fully equipped Razer Edge with an Nvidia GeForce GPU and dual joysticks, or you are looking at a Surface 2– experiences are ready to be had.

    The power of a full Windows 8 tablet allows gamers to experience their favorite titles like Counter Strike: GO, Team Fortress 2, World of Warcraft, Call of Duty, and Titanfall anywhere they go.  If you are using a Windows RT based tablet, the fun does not end just because you are limited to the Windows Store - not if you have an Xbox 360 controller.

    As Microsoft likes to tout, the Surface and Surface 2 tablets both include full USB ports, which allow you to attach a collection of peripherals – including their own Xbox 360 controller. Using the Xbox 360 controller, you can turn simple Windows Store games into a more immersive and kick-back experience. If you have a Windows 8 machine, you can even make use of the Xbox One controller using a hack included at the end of this article.

    Over in our Microsoft Surface forum for Windows 8 Pro, psurob55 wanted to know what games are compatible with the Xbox 360 controller. While the conversation did originate in a forum for the Surface Pro, the Xbox 360 controller can be connected to Windows RT devices and the majority of the apps within the app store do run on the ARM architecture.

    To make it easy, we went ahead and compiled a list of compatible games that some of our readers, including psurob55, Himanshu Chowdhary, Ed Boland, and jhoff80, pointed out. These titles include:

    Mobile games for platforms like Android, iOS, and Windows RT had very humble beginnings, but have evolved into quite impressive experiences with storylines and graphics to back them up. What was once a store of different solitaire games, Sudoku, and Angry Birds, has evolved into titles such as Halo: Spartan Assault, Cold Alley, Soulcraft, and Dungeon Hunter 4.

    If interested, you can pick up the wired controller from Amazon for around $33 and the wireless controller with receiver for around $42 (prices are from Amazon US). Let us know if you know any other games, besides the ones listed above, that include support for Microsoft’s Xbox 360 controller. If you already have an Xbox 360 wireless controller, you can find generic wireless receivers available for sale in the $10-15 range.

    If you are a huge Xbox One fan and can not imagine going back and using the Xbox 360 controller, you can take a look at our unofficial guide to using an Xbox One controller with your Windows 8 PC (not Windows RT).

    To participate in the chat, feel free to head over to our Windows 8 forums by clicking here. While, the original title of the thread called for just “Xbox” games compatible with the Xbox 360 controller, it has seemed to evolve into any good quality game that can take advantage.

    Have you tried gaming on your Windows tablet using the Xbox 360 controller – what do you think of the experience?

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    Data Sense Windows Phone 8.1

    Windows Phone 8.1 introduces a handful of new features like Cortana, Notification Center and Wi-Fi Sense, but also improves on older features like Data Sense. We’ll be going into detail over the next few days about all the various features. We figured we’d make ‘sense’ of Windows Phone 8.1 by spending quality time with Data Sense, Storage Sense and Wi-Fi Sense. Here’s the page you bookmark to know everything you want about Data Sense.

    Data Sense

    As much as we’d like, data isn’t unlimited anymore. Depending on your situation, you might be grandfathered into an old unlimited plan, but the vast majority of consumers have a limit to the amount of data they can use on their Windows Phone. Even if you have “unlimited” data, you might have access to the highest speed possible (usually 4G/LTE), but will be throttled to a lower connection after using up a specific amount of data.

    Which is why we’re pretty excited that Microsoft has improved upon the Data Sense feature first introduced in Windows Phone 8.0. Now in Windows Phone 8.1, Data Sense is better and more useful than ever.

    Data Sense is a feature that helps monitor your data usage and it can even optimize that data, this way your phone doesn’t cost you overage charges. There are a mix of tricks, like compressing browser info, which Data Sense uses to help keep you in within the limits of your carrier plan.

    It’s worth pointing out that there are three components that make up Data Sense. There’s the Data Sense app, the Browser Optimization Service (BOS) found in Internet Explorer 11 and the ability to map nearby Wi-Fi hotspots. We’ll take an in-depth look at those features.

    Data Sense App

    Data Sense Screenshot

    Before you get too excited about Data Sense, you’ll need to be with a carrier that supports the feature. You’ll know your carrier supports Data Sense if you scroll over to the App list and see the Data Sense app. See it? We’re good to go.

    The beauty of Data Sense is that you can set up and customize the app to meet your specific requirements. You might be on plan that gives you 500 MB per month or you might have an unlimited plan, it doesn’t matter since Data Sense will still help you.

    The first time you launch the Data Sense app you’ll be asked to set a data limit. You can do this at any time if you skip it initially, and you can edit the information you enter whenever you want. Though keep in mind, skipping this step will make Data Sense assume you have an unlimited plan.

    Data Sense Set Up

    You have a few options for selecting a limit in the Data Sense app.

    • None specific– Will help you conserve cellular data, but Data Sense can do more if you enter your data limit.
    • One time– This is useful for those on prepaid plans. Select this option to enter the remaining days until your data expires and the amount of available data. Data Sense will notify you when you approach your limit.
    • Monthly– This is for those on contracts who have a given amount of data that they must use within the month. You can select which day of the month your data resets and how much data you’re allowed to use in that month. Like the above option, Data Sense will notify you when you approach your limit.
    • Unlimited– This is for those who truly do have unlimited data. Most data will go over your cellular connection, but Data Sense will still keep track of how much data you and your apps are using.

    It’s very important for you to select either the one time or monthly option if you fit into those situations. Data Sense will help control the amount of data your apps use in the background. For example, if you have a limited amount of cellular data, Windows Phone 8.1 and Data Sense will save certain downloads and background activities for when you’re connected to a Wi-Fi network. Look for a shield icon over the Live tile for Data Sense on your Start screen.

    • Pro tip: Pin Data Sense to your Start screen, as the app has a Live Tile that reveals your current usage

    Through the app, you’ll see the number of days and amount of data remaining if you have a one time or monthly limit set. Do you have an unlimited data plan or didn’t specify a limit? The Data Sense app will still show your cellular and Wi-Fi data use over the past 30 days. The Live tile for Data Sense will also keep all this information surfaced on your Start screen if you pin it, which is why we highly recommend doing it.

    Data usage can be sorted by app

    All that information about your cellular usage, Wi-Fi usage, days remaining and data remaining is found on the overview page of the Data Sense app. That’s the default view you’ll see anytime you launch, because it’s the most important. But if you swipe to the side you’ll be on the usage page where you can get detailed information about data usage by application. Do you use Facebook a lot? Then you’ll probably see the Facebook app sitting at the top of of the apps list. It’s worth pointing out that this page is sorted by cellular data. This is also a good place to go to see which apps are using more data than you expected. 

    Control how your phone uses background data

    Data Sense Background Data

    On the bottom of both the overview and usage page in Data Sense, you’ll see the settings icon. Tap that and you’ll get even more control over how data is used on your phone. Here you can adjust your data limit, which you can also do on the overview page of Data Sense. But this settings page is very important if you want to control how your phone uses background data. It’s also where you control the Browser Optimization Service found in Internet Explorer 11. We’ll go into detail about IE11 further below, but for now let’s focus on background data.

    You’ll see two toggles that you can control in this settings page. One is to restrict background data and the other is to restrict background data while roaming. Remember, anytime background data is restricted you’ll see a shield icon on the Live tile for Data Sense.

    When you tell Data Sense to restrict background data you’ll have the option to do so only when you approach your data limit or always. Whatever you select will depend on the penalties you have with your carrier for going over your limit. You can also tell Data Sense to restrict your background data whenever you’re roaming, a useful feature if you get charged more when consuming data that is on another network. (Make sure to check your carrier's policy on data roaming).

    Again, restricting background data just means that Windows Phone 8.1 and Data Sense will be a little more aggressive with how apps are used in the background.

    Find nearby Wi-Fi hotspots with Windows Phone 8.1 and Data Sense

    Map Nearby WiFi Windows Phone

    One of those three Data Sense components in Windows Phone 8.1 is the ability to find nearby Wi-Fi hotspots. If you’re on a limited data plan you’ll probably prefer connecting to a local Wi-Fi hotspot vs. consuming cellular data. The feature is officially called Data Sense Wi-Fi Guide and it’s one we’ve seen for a while on Windows Phone. It just gets even better on Windows Phone 8.1.

    The ability to find nearby Wi-Fi hotspots is integrated into the native Maps application on Windows Phone 8.1 (Note: Nokia devices will default to HERE Maps instead, which does not have this feature). Over 1 million hotspots around the world are part of Microsoft’s vast collection of public Wi-Fi locations. The data comes from mobile operators, Wi-Fi providers and crowdsourcing. There are a few different ways to find Wi-Fi on your Windows Phone 8.1 device:

    • From the Data Sense app, tap the three dots menu to bring up the app bar and click ‘map nearby Wi-Fi’.
    • When using the Maps application, tap the three dots menu to bring up the app bar, tap show more options and click show ‘nearby Wi-Fi’.
    • Go to settings, then tap Wi-Fi and tap ‘find nearby Wi-Fi’.

    Sadly, we couldn’t get Cortana to show us nearby Wi-Fi. We tried a few different commands and it looks like you’ll need to use your fingers to find a local hotspot.

    What’s really cool about Wi-Fi on Windows Phone 8.1 is the ability to automatically join nearby networks. There’s a feature called Wi-Fi Sense that will effortlessly connect to free and public Wi-Fi locations by automatically completing the sign-in process for you. We’ll go into more detail over Wi-Fi Sense soon.

    Browser Optimization Service in Internet Explorer 11

    Browser Data Savings
    Uncompressed image on the left and the same image on the right after being compressed.

    The third way that Data Sense works to save you data on Windows Phone 8.1 is through the Browser Optimization Service or BOS. This works by reducing the data you consume while browsing the web with Internet Explorer 11. The webpages you view through IE11 go through proxy server that Microsoft uses to compress images, HTML text and JavaScript. This allows less data to be consumed by you when browsing the web. Don’t worry, Microsoft does not store any personal information that goes through their Browser Optimization Service.

    You can select between three different modes for browser optimization on Windows Phone 8.1. You can set it yourself be going to Internet Explorer > Settings > Data Sense savings or by going to Data Sense > Settings > Browser data savings. Why they’re called slightly different things in the settings of IE11 and Data Sense is beyond me, but the options available are the same with the same results.

    By default, it looks like Windows Phone 8.1 will put you into the Automatic Savings Mode for the Browser Optimization Service, though you can turn it off. Here are the three settings and what they do:

    • Standard Savings Mode– This mode saves up to 45% of browsing data with minimal impact on your browsing experience. Photos are slightly compressed, but we couldn’t really notice a difference.
    • High Savings Mode– This is for when you’re on a very limited data plan or you’re running out of data. Selecting this mode will save up to 70% of browsing usage data. Some ads might not load, images will be compressed even more with a slightly noticeable reduction in quality. If it’s a long webpage you’re on, the bottom half might not load until you scroll down. This is the mode for when you need to save as much data as possible.
    • Automatic Savings Mode– Most of you will be quite happy with this setting. It’ll switch between from the standard saving mode to the high savings mode when you reach the last 5 percent of your data limit.

    You can of course turn the Browser Optimization Service completely off if you don’t want any reduction in quality when using IE11. If you’re on an unlimited plan you might want to do that, though we recommend trying out the Automatic Savings Mode just to get a faster browsing experience.

    Does Data Sense make sense?

    Avoid going over your data
    Stay within your data limits by using Data Sense.

    Congratulations, we’ll all now experts in how Data Sense now works on Windows Phone 8.1. Feel free to share this article with any friends or family members that don’t quite understand how Data Sense works. Or bookmark it yourself for future reference.

    We’ll be looking at the Wi-Fi Sense, Storage Sense and Battery Saver features in future articles. In the meantime, feel free to ask any questions about Data Sense below in the comments. You can also ping me on Twitter (@samsabri) if you’re reading this way in the future and I might miss your comment. But the best solution out of all is to head to the Windows Phone Central forums where the community can help you out!

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