Windows Phone 8.1 review and initial reaction

2 years ago many of you know I drank the Microsoft Kool-Aid and went to all Microsoft driven technology tools.  Windows 8 Desktop, Laptop, Surface RT Tablet, and Windows Phone.  I started using Skydrive (now OneDrive) to sync my personal data and Office 365 with Skydrive Pro for my business data.  The immediate benefits included a common interface amongst the devices.  Once you figure out how to do something on your laptop, chances are you can find it on your phone.  I loved the picture syncing, and abandoned carrying a digital camera around.  One disappointment was the camera on the Surface – it’s terrible.  But my HTC Windows phone has taken some great pictures – especially outdoors.

A little history of the ‘mobile-me’.  I had been a die-hard Blackberry user for years, from the green screen calculator through the failed attempts at combining sleek design with a full or partial keyboard.  I would regularly type up the equivalent of a 1-2 page draft or fully thought out email.  At one point, in search of better multi-media and apps I switched to Android for a year.  I never fully recovered from not having a full keyboard, though I did become fairly proficient with swipe.  After a fatal screen-shattering drop, I went back to Blackberry – electing the Torch touchscreen with a vertical slide out keyboard.  This device brought me through to electing the Windows phone, about the time that Windows 8 released.

So 8.1, my point of writing.  To get the pre-release, I had to join the developer club and void all warranty from T-Mobile.  My phone was 6 updates behind, so I spent an afternoon accepting updates and letting them run.  It went smoothly but was time consuming.  The finishing touches are great – in my mind polishing out most (if not all) of my laments for other platforms.

Camera:  Just as I went Windows, Blackberry released 10 with a great bursting feature on its camera.  Windows phone 8.1 now has burst mode!  As I mentioned, my phone is my on hand camera and this is great for getting just the right look – especially with kids, pets, and events.

Keyboard:  Still missing my full keyboard, Microsoft now has swipe.  A close runner up!  Maybe my responses will start to be more than “Got it – thanks”  (or maybe people appreciated short and to the point).

Background:  The solid-color theme choices were a little stale and limiting.  My background is now an amazing sunset picture that I took (with my phone) and the first impression of grabbing my phone is ultra-modern.  Love-it.

Cortana:  The idea of telling my phone what I want and getting an appropriate and accurate answer is still a little distant.  Like anything automatic, accuracy less than 99% and the manual approach is more effective.  Still the idea of giving Siri some competition is sexy and fun, and they’re bound to get this technology dialed in someday.  So far I have not heard her voice, though the articles claim she has one.  She has called the correct people for me, and run a couple of web searches.  I’ll give her more testing over the next week, but at the first mis-dial she’ll get demoted to the mailroom.

Settings from the homescreen.  Very Android-like but needed.  They pull down from top of screen with quick access to Wifi, Bluetooth, Airplane mode (??), and Rotation Lock.  ‘All-Settings’ are one more click out.

Those are the big ticket items that come to mind.  The upgrade went well and all my Apps continue to work, which was my biggest concern of going ‘Beta’.  Now if the last of my ‘short-sighted’ providers would release Windows apps, all would be perfect in Windows land (Hello SONOS!!!!)