Windows Phone 8.1: Good OS, Amazing Apps

BreakingModern — I’ve been running apps on the Windows Phone operating system ever since Windows Phone 7 came out back in 2010. That operating system has grown in leaps and bounds, finally landing triumphantly at Windows Phone 8.1. Microsoft releases Windows Phone updates rapidly these days, and there are a ton of hearty, useful apps. In fact, Microsoft recently touted on its By the Numbers news site that the Windows Phone Store surpassed 300,000 apps. If you’re under the impression Windows Phone 8.1 doesn’t have enough apps, you’ll be surprised at how much has changed. Check it out.

Bing and Microsoft Apps

Microsoft’s Bing apps are often overlooked, which is a shame considering how impressive and well designed they are. Unlike the mediocre built-in Apple iOS apps that a lot of people stick in a folder and never use, MS Bing apps provide more than you probably expect. You’ll find most on your Windows Phone 8.1 device and others are available for download at the Windows Store.

Here’s a look at some of my favorites.

  • Internet Explorer 11IE 11 on Windows Phone 8.1 isn’t really a Bing app per se, but we’re all familiar with the search engine so it bears a big mention. Since Windows 8.1 Update 1, IE has received a lot of tweaks that make it faster, more secure and easier easier to use. Of course, Bing is the default search engine on WP8.1.
  • CortanaThis is Microsoft’s digital assistant. It’s similar to Google Now on Android and Siri on Apple iOS devices. It works differently than either of those respective digital assistants, though. Cortana understands natural language better than Google Now or Siri. And it is absolutely great for setting up reminders.
  • OneDrive: Formerly called SkyDrive, OneDrive is Microsoft’s cloud storage service. It works across all platforms. In fact, it recently showed up on the Amazon Kindle Fire and the Amazon Fire Phone. Worth noting: OneDrive now offers subscribers more free storage space. You now get 15GB of free storage — up from the previous 7GB free storage offering. And if you’re an Office 365 subscriber, ding, ding! You get a whopping 1TB of free storage. Nice.
  • MapsWhat would a smartphone be without a maps app? Lost. Bing Maps is well designed, accurate and easy to use. It provides various views from street level to birds-eye.
  • Health & FitnessMS Health & Fitness is an easy-to-use app with a ton of features. It includes step and GPS activity tracking, workout videos, exercise instructions, diet tracking and step counting. Sync with fitness devices like Fitbit — and sync your tracking data across all of your Windows 8.1 devices. If you get a new Windows Phone, such as the newly announced HTC One (M8) for Windows, it comes with Windows Phone 8.1 already installed so you’ll be able to use the mobile OS’s newest features that take advantage of the phone’s hardware.
  • Sports: MS Sports is a quality app for following your favorite sports teams. It provides the top headlines, current scores, schedules, standings, statistics and a lot more. And you can customize it to track the teams that you care about the most.
  • Bing Rewards: Bing search users are now able to collect points just for using the search engine daily. That sounds like promotional gimmick, but I have to say it works. I’ve been using Bing for over a year now and I rarely use Google anymore. Just like the rest of Microsoft’s Windows Phone services, the search engine has come a long way. I’m happy to use it and get points doing it. The Bing Rewards service tallies your points daily. Once you have enough you can redeem them and get free apps, gift cards, specials and more. Bing Rewards allows you to keep track of your points and redeem them right from your phone. I usually use mine to get paid apps and games. I don’t think of it as a gimmick, I think of it as an incentive.
  • Xbox MusicWhen Microsoft launched Xbox Music, it was quite the mess. That’s changed, too. These days, after multiple revs and the appearance of new features, it’s tight. In my opinion, Xbox Music stands out simply because it is unlike any music service out there. It offers all kinds of great, visual information on bands and artists. It lets you create playlists and radio stations. You also can add your own music, of course. But the real bonus comes if you subscribe to Xbox Music Pass. Then the system will sync all of your music and playlists among all of your Microsoft devices, whether they run Windows 8.1, Windows Phone or the Xbox game console. It will sync your music collection with Android and Apple iOS devices running Xbox Music apps native to those platforms, too. An Xbox Music Pass isn’t terribly expensive, either. A subscription goes for $9.99 a month, which is par for the course in terms of other, competing streaming services.
  • NewsThe news app delivers photo-rich news that makes it easy to stay up to date on what matters to you. It’s easily customizable so you can prioritize the topics that are most important for you.

Internet Explorer 11 for Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1 includes hundreds of improvements,” according to Microsoft execs.


Essential Apps and Alternatives

One thing smartphone users will tell you is, they like the phone because it’s well designed and the interface is fast and fluid, but there just aren’t enough apps for it. Over the past year there have been several official apps added to the platform. It has a lot of the essential apps i.e. Pandora, PayPal, Twitter, Facebook, Audible, Foursquare, Instagram (beta) and others. While some popular apps don’t have an official presence on the mobile OS yet, certain third-party substitutes can hold their own. And, in some cases, they exceed the official apps found on Apple iOS or Android devices.

Don’t Forget Windows Phone Games

Since Microsoft is the creator of Xbox and has its own games division, you kind of expect it to have good quality games for Windows Phone. And MS totally does not disappoint on this front. Windows-exclusive games like Halo Spartan Assault can be played with Windows Phone 8 devices like the high-end HTC One (M8) for Windows.

If you’re an occasional gamer or like to dig deep into complex first person shooters or role playing games, you’ll find a lot of choices here.


Carrier and Manufacturer Specific Apps

There are also carrier specific apps that you might find helpful. For instance, I am on AT&T and I use a couple of its apps for keeping track of my bill and for monitoring data usage. Of course with any smartphone, there are junkware apps that you’ll rarely use if ever, but they are easy enough to uninstall.

Bottom line: If you’ve been on the fence about getting a Windows Phone because you’re constantly hearing there’s no apps, think again. Not only is there already a good amount of Microsoft apps, there’s also apps that are proprietary to the carrier and phone manufacturer such as HTC, AT&T, Verizon and Nokia. Also, existing apps are updated on a regular basis, and it’s all done in the background so you don’t need to worry about manually updating them.

For Bmod, I’m Brian Burgess.

All screenshots: Brian Burgess

Header image: ICA Boston Gallery” by Found5dollar - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Disclaimer: HTC and aNewDomain Media co-produce this site, and its editors and writers are paid accordingly.

Brian Burgess

Author: Brian Burgess

Based in rural Minnesota, Brian Burgess covers tech for BreakingModern. Follow him on Google at +BrianBurgess and on Twitter at @mysticgeek.

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