Windows Phone 8.1

The Windows Phone 8.1 update has arrived for the dozens of phones running Microsoft's smartphone platform.

Live Tiles, which deliver live information from all over the internet, are at the heart of the Windows Phone platform. As well as having the ability to change the accent colour of your Live Tiles in Windows 8.1, the biggest change in Windows Phone 8.1 is the ability to change the background of the Live Tiles and replace it with your favourite photograph.

Another new feature, Action Centre, borrows from both Apple's iOS platform and Google's Android mobile operating system. With one swipe from the top of the screen the user is given quick access to Wi-fi, Bluetooth, Flight Mode and Rotation Lock settings. With one touch of each of those settings you can either enable or disable them. From the same screen you can also read unread email and texts or hit the All Settings button to dive further into the phones menus and settings.

Shape writing is a new way to use the Windows Phone keyboard. Instead of old style typing you can drag your finger around the touch screen's keyboard to join letters together to make words. If you can get used to the change it will help you type much faster. If you can't get used to it then the old methods of the past still work.

Cortana, described by Microsoft as the most personal smartphone assistant, is at the heart of Windows Phone 8.1 experience.

While the Windows Phone 8.1 update has been downloadable to Windows Phone 8 handsets for some weeks in New Zealand the Microsoft Bing powered assistant hasn't come with it.

Cortana is meant to get to know Windows Phone 8.1 users by learning their interests over time. She is supposed to look out for users, providing proactive, useful recommendations, keeping them closer to those they care about the most. But this is currently only so in the U.S.

But she will eventually come to New Zealand too.

Cortana continually learns about the way you do things to help your day flow smoothly. She works by creating her own notebook on your smartphone to which she stores details of your interests, friends and routines.

Even without Cortana's arrival in New Zealand, Microsoft's description of the Windows Phone platform as the world's most personal smartphone is apt.

Windows Phone 8.1, like Windows 8 and 8.1 personal computer operating systems, has Live Tiles which bring personalised information from your favourite apps to the phone's Start screen. By pinning the personal tile of your friends and family from the People app onto the Start screen of the phone you can see all their social media status posts as they are made. That's not all. You can pin your favourite albums from the Music app, the most visited websites visited in Internet Explorer, and your favourite smartphone apps.

The best thing about Windows Phone models is the variety of makes and models that are available, meaning there is something on the market for every price point and need.

The Nokia Lumia range alone range from flagship phones with 41 megapixel cameras, to entry level models at a tenth of the price.

There's also models from manufacturers as diverse as ATIV, Huawei, HTC and Samsung.

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