Microsoft’s new Windows system for smartphones addresses many of the shortcomings in previous versions. Before, voice search lacked the natural language interactions of Apple’s Siri and Google Now. The updated Windows Phone system has Cortana, which combines Siri’s personality with Google Now’s knack for anticipating what you need before you even ask.
Meanwhile, Windows Phone’s lack of a central hub for checking notifications from Facebook and other services has been addressed with a new Action Center. Beyond that, the new Windows Phone 8.1 has tools to simplify connecting to Wi-Fi hotspots, save battery life and block non-emergency calls overnight.
The new system still doesn’t address one of my major frustrations: There aren’t as many apps for Windows smartphones compared with iPhones and Android phones. The Windows store is getting better and has many popular apps such as Facebook and Netflix. But now and then, you’ll encounter something that only your iPhone and Android friends have. That includes apps for my bank and JetBlue. If you already have a Windows phone or are thinking of getting one, the new features should please you.
I reviewed Cortana separately on Monday and found plenty to like, even though it’s still in a “beta” test mode and has kinks to work out.
You get notifications from various apps by pulling the Action Center down from the top of the screen like a window shade. It’s similar to what iPhones and Android phones offer.
The Action Center also has four buttons at the top for frequently used settings and tools, such as airplane mode, similar to Apple’s Control Center. But Windows lets you choose the four options you need most, while the iPhone picks for you. What Windows doesn’t offer, though, is quick access to a flashlight app, as the iPhone does.
You can ask the phone to block calls, texts and notifications during certain hours, or turn the feature on when you’re at a movie or concert. Unlike merely shutting down your phone, though, you can set exceptions — such as calls from family members or emergencies, as defined by someone trying again within three minutes. The iPhone has a similar feature. Android doesn’t, though Samsung includes one in its phones.
Windows Phone surpasses both iOS and Android in letting you automatically connect to known Wi-Fi hotspots. You can have it accept hotspots’ terms of service automatically, so you aren’t interrupted with prompts while trying to get to the senseless cat video. I continued…