Windows Phone 8.1 Review
Despite spending a good amount of time telling everyone how great Windows Phone 8 is for business when it launched in 2012, Microsoft is now listing Windows Phone 8.1 as the first "actually enterprise-ready" version of the mobile OS.
By pitching Windows Phone 8.1 at enterprise buyers, Microsoft is clearly looking to grab a share of a market that until recently was dominated by Canada's BlackBerry.
However, with Apple iOS and Google Android already having made their own inroads into the business market, many have justifiably wondered what extra features and services Windows Phone 8.1 offers that make it more enterprise ready than the competition.
Microsoft has worked hard to make Windows Phone's interface as user friendly as possible and on the whole its efforts have paid off. We've found the brightly coloured tiled interface to be significantly easier to use than the UI on many competitors' platforms, like BlackBerry 10 and Android.Windows
Consequently, we are pleased to see Microsoft hasn't made too many changes with 8.1. The UI is still split into two screens. The main home screen displays tiled shortcuts to applications that can be moved, adjusted to three different sizes and deleted as necessary. The second screen is accessed by swiping left and brings up a vertical list of all applications and features installed on the device.
However, after using the OS for a while we did notice a few new customisation options, including the ability to set an image as the main home screen's background. Previous versions of Windows Phone 8 only let you pick the colour of the tiles.
Microsoft has also added a new "Action Centre" feature, which is similar to the quick update feature on Google's Android OS. Action Centre can be accessed by scrolling down from the top of the phone's UI and features shortcuts to key options such as Bluetooth, WiFi and screen brightness, as well as notifications from linked social media and email accounts.
Action Centre is a very handy addition to the OS, making it quick and easy for users to check incoming notifications without having to exit the application they are using.
Windows Phone's already impressive array of productivity services has been further improved on with Windows Phone 8.1, which is packed with a host of new and improved business-focused features.
One of the most compelling business features on the OS remains Microsoft Office 365, which gives users access to key productivity tools like Word, PowerPoint and Excel. This means users can create, save and edit documents using their Windows smartphone. As an added bonus, thanks to the direct integration of Microsoft's OneDrive cloud storage service, users can also sync their Office account and pull files started on a PC onto their phone, making it easier for them to stay connected and productive on the move.
In practice, we've found the limitations of the smartphone format mean much of Office 365's functionality cannot be fully exploited, making the productivity suite essentially a tool for document editing or viewing.
That said, while we wouldn't relish having to type a whole document using our smartphone, Microsoft has made the process easier with Windows Phone 8.1's "Word Flow" keyboard. This has a feature called "Shape Writing" that is designed to help users type more quickly. Shape Writing is fairly similar to Android's Swift Key feature in that it lets users type on the keyboard without having to lift their fingers.
Windows Phone 8.1's calendar app has also been upgraded, with Microsoft adding Google Calendar support, a week view mode and information from its Weather app.
Another key change is Skype's direct integration into the OS, which means you can now make a Skype video call directly from the OS's dialler and synchronise your contacts into Windows Phone 8.1's main address book.
The addition of key new productivity and security features, like Action Centre and mobile device management support make Windows Phone 8.1 one of the most enterprise-friendly mobile operating systems currently available.
Microsoft has prided itself on Windows Phone's security for quite a while now, regularly pointing out that there is yet to be a single serious mobile malware outbreak on the platform. While this is undoubtedly partly due to hackers' lack of interest in targeting a platform with such a low market share, it is still an achievement and a good selling point for business users.
However, despite its robust security, Windows Phone's enterprise appeal has been limited by its lack of strong device management options, which has put off IT managers who want to lock down or manage handsets connecting to their network. We're pleased to say Microsoft's gone a long way to fix this issue on Windows Phone 8.1, adding a number of security and mobile device management (MDM) services to the platform.
These MDM features include the ability to block certain applications from being installed or run, and to remotely lock or wipe handsets.
Another big addition is the inclusion of Outlook S/MIME protection and built-in Virtual Private Network (VPN) support. The Outlook update lets you encrypt email messages coming in and out using the S/MIME protocol, making it harder for hackers to target the platform with things like man-in-the-middle attacks.
The VPN support means Phone 8.1 devices can be configured to only browse the web through an encrypted tunnel between the device and the VPN provider's servers.
Windows Phone 8.1's improved MDM capabilities and VPN support make it an ultra secure and manageable option for enterprise users, and are among the OS's biggest selling points.
A staple criticism of Windows Phone has always been its lack of applications. Aware of this Microsoft's been doing some great work to increase developer interest in Windows Phone. Most recently this was demonstrated by Microsoft's "Universal Apps" development plan.
Announced at Microsoft Build, the plan will in theory make it quicker and easier for businesses to create and deploy applications across multiple Windows versions, including Windows Phone 8.1, using a single set of developer tools.
In general the strategy has paid off and most core applications, like the BBC iPlayer, Spotify, Instagram and Netflix are now on Windows Phone. That said the Windows Phone ecosystem is still significantly less developed than iOS and Android and there are various applications, including Dropbox, the FireFox web browser and Photoshop Touch, missing from its App store.
Microsoft's answer to Apple's Siri digital assistant, Cortana, makes her debut on Phone 8.1. Like with Siri, users can ask Cortana to perform tasks and supply information. Unfortunately, this feature is currently only available in the US, and is not due to arrive in the UK until late 2014. Once we've had a chance to try it out we'll update our review.
Under the hood upgrades
Outside of its overarching security, productivity and user interface upgrades Windows Phone 8.1 has a few subtle, but useful upgrades, chief of which are its Battery Saver feature.
Battery Saver is a new application that offers a variety of power saving features. When turned on the app reduces the phone's power consumption to a bare minimum and shuts down all non-essential features or services. The feature doesn't offer any different functionality to similar features already seen on a number of Android handsets, like the Sony Xperia, but is very useful and should help elongate phones running the OS battery lives.
While most of Windows Phone 8.1's additions aren't revolutionary, they are a definite move in the right direction. The arrival of things like Action Centre and the Word Flow keyboard help make navigating the OS easier. Windows Phone 8.1's robust portfolio of mobile device management, encryption and VPN services also make it one of the most enterprise-friendly operating systems currently available.
Our only real qualms with the OS are the fact that, despite positive work from Microsoft, Windows Phone 8.1's application offering is still behind iOS' and Android's and, despite boasting about it for a good while, the firm hasn't rolled out its Cortana voice assistant in the UK yet. Still, hopefully both these issues will be fixed in the near future.
Action Centre and Word Flow keyboard, mobile device management support, encrypted email and VPN support
Application offering still behind iOS and Android, no Cortana in the UK
Original Article http://www.v3.co.uk/...phone-81-review