The Tech News Blog

September 4, 2014

Microsoft Tips New Version of Windows Phone, Lumia Denim

Lumia 830 BERLIN—Microsoft might license its Windows Phone OS to third-party manufacturers, but it really only wants you to buy Lumia devices. How do I know? Look no further than the new Lumia Denim update for Windows Phone 8.1, which the company announced at IFA on Thursday.

Lumia Denim—a much catchier name than Windows Phone 8.1 Update 2—combines the latest Windows Phone 8.1 update with exclusive enhancements for Lumia smartphones, particularly in the camera department. But I'll get to that in a moment.

Microsoft has introduced a feature called "Hey Cortana," which is a more convenient, hands-free way to activate Cortana, Microsoft's Siri-like voice assistant. All you have to do is say "Hey Cortana" and your phone will automatically be listening for you, even when it's in an idle state. Cortana is rolling out to new markets, too, including China, the U.K., Australia, India, and Canada.

June 30, 2014

Leaked Doc Tips Folders for Windows Phone 8.1

Microsoft Windows Phone 8.1 (Developer Preview)

Microsoft's Windows Phone OS might soon be getting a new feature that should make organization aficionados happy — the ability to create folders for easier app management.

Redmond hasn't officially announced the feature, but the company accidentally posted (and quickly pulled down) a how-to page for creating folders on the Windows Phone Start screen.

"Folders help you keep your Start screen organized by letting you group Tiles the way you like," the now-cached page reads. "For example, you might have a folder with all your games or one with your favorite apps. It's completely up to you."

Folders are, of course, nothing new to iOS and Android users. Based on Microsoft's how-to page, it appears that the process of creating a folder on Windows Phone will be similar to that of iOS and Android.

May 12, 2014

Windows Phone 8.1 Launching June 24

Microsoft Windows Phone 8.1 (Developer Preview)

If you're waiting for Microsoft to roll out Windows Phone 8.1, you'll have to be patient for six more weeks.

Microsoft plans to start sending the updated smartphone operating system to existing Windows Phone 8 users on June 24. Redmond unveiled the news on its product support website, noting that it will provide updates for devices running Windows Phone 8.1 for three years from the lifecycle start date, which is listed on the page as June 24. Mainstream support for Windows Phone 8.1 is slated to end on July 11, 2017.

"Microsoft will make updates available for the operating system, including security updates, for a minimum of 36 months after the lifecycle start date. These updates will be incremental, with each update built on the update that preceded it. Customers need to install each update in order to remain supported," Microsoft said.

"The distribution of these incremental updates may be controlled by the mobile operator or the phone manufacturer from which you purchased your phone, and installation will require that your phone have any prior updates. Update availability will also vary by country, region, and hardware capabilities."

April 2, 2014

Windows Phone 8.1 With Cortana Arriving in Next Few Months


Microsoft on Wednesday paved the way for the launch of Windows Phone 8.1, an improved version of what the software giant touted as "the fastest growing smartphone operating system."

The new mobile OS will roll out to consumers in the next few months, Microsoft said. Former Nokia chief Stephen Elop, now a Microsoft executive vice president, took the stage here to say that all Lumia devices will get Windows Phone 8.1 as an over-the-air update this summer.

Windows Phone developers at the Build conference here in San Francisco were given immediate access to Windows Phone 8.1 for download. It will be generally available on April 8.

Many of the new features in Windows Phone 8.1 were previewed pretty extensively at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona a couple of months ago, with one big exception. That would be "Cortana," a long-rumored, prototype digital assistant using a natural language interface to perform tasks in the new Windows Phone 8.1 OS.

Cortana stole the spotlight during the introduction of Microsoft's new smartphone platform, but there's plenty more to Windows Phone 8.1.

February 23, 2014

Microsoft Reveals Windows Phone 8.1 Details

Microsoft Reveals Windows Phone 8.1 DetailsBARCELONA—Microsoft today revealed some critical details about the upcoming Windows Phone 8.1, including more big-name manufacturers coming to the platform as well as the ability for any phone maker to load Windows Phone onto existing Qualcomm-based Android hardware.

The official Windows Phone 8.1 launch isn't coming until "this spring" (read: Microsoft's Build conference on April 2), but Microsoft's corporate vice president, Joe Belfiore, revealed a set of new capabilities that will let a wider group of companies build cheaper Windows Phones.

The new platform will support Qualcomm's Snapdragon 200, 400, and 400 LTE chips, and more notably it will let Windows Phone run on existing Android hardware, with soft buttons instead of hard buttons and no mandatory physical camera button. SD support will be expanded so you'll be able to store apps on SD cards, which is a big deal on low-memory phones. The platform will also support dual SIMs, and a range of new Chinese network standards, he said.

New enterprise features will include S/MIME support, enterprise VPNs, enterprise Wi-Fi, extended mobile device management, and certificate management.

Along with that, Microsoft announced a huge array of new hardware partners, including LG, Lenovo, and ZTE, as well as a bunch of Chinese and Indian vendors that are largely unknown in the U.S. like Gionee, Longcheer, and Xolo. Any company will be able to build a Windows Phone based on a new Qualcomm reference platform, the company said. (That Qualcomm reference phone is shown in the image above.)

December 31, 2013

Rumor: Sony Working With Microsoft on New Windows Phone

Microsoft Preps for Windows Phone Phablets With Update

Sony is rumored to be working with Microsoft on a Windows phone for mid-2014 that would go a long way toward boosting support for Redmond's critically acclaimed but market-share deficient mobile device platform.

The rumor comes from the new paywall-protected tech site, The Information. The site only launched in early December, so it's track record on being correct with scoops has yet to be established.

The Information cited unnamed sources as saying that Sony is considering "launching a Windows phone as soon as mid-2014," even as Microsoft also woos Chinese handset makers like ZTE with proposed deals that include incentives like "slashing the software licensing fees" Redmond typically charges for use of its Windows Phone mobile operating system.

The Sony rumor is intriguing because the Japanese tech giant has, to date, almost exclusively made Android phones, though a couple of years ago, a prototype Windows Phone 7 phone made by the then-Sony Ericsson was supposedly spotted, as noted by the Phone Dog blog.

December 22, 2013

Windows Phone Owners Get 20GB of Bonus SkyDrive Storage

The Best Windows PhonesHo ho ho.

If you happen to be proud owner of a Windows Phone device, then Microsoft has a little something to stuff into your digital stocking during this holiday season.

Well, twenty little somethings.

According to emails sent by the company to Windows Phone owners, Microsoft is giving a bonus twenty gigabytes of SkyDrive storage to those who have purchased said devices. Before you go running around screaming like Nintendo 64 Kid, however, know that the free capacity boost comes with a catch or two.

First off, Microsoft's generosity only extends to the end of January next year. If you received an email, but choose to not activate your bonus 20GB for whatever reason, the offer goes away if you don't sign up by January 31 of next year.

Second, the storage isn't going to last forever. According to Microsoft, the 20GB will be applied to the accounts of Windows Phone owners for a total of one year. After that, it's a bit unclear as to what might happen to the data of those who forget to trim their SkyDrive data back down to the standard seven gigabytes of free space. We can only presume that you'll receive an email with instructions instead of, say, an unexpected, random deletion of your files.

November 20, 2013

Windows Phone, Xbox One to Share Video Store, Currency

Halo: Spartan Assault Windows Phone 8

The Xbox One is coming, and Windows Phone is getting a little bit of juice from it.

Microsoft announced today that Windows Phones will soon be able to download and play TV shows and movies from the Xbox video store, as well as use Microsoft dollars (the former Microsoft Points) to buy things in the Windows Phone store.

More "three-screen" games will come, too, with Windows Phones getting more Xbox Live-compatible and Xbox-extending games. Call of Duty: Ghosts, for instance, has a companion app that runs on Windows Phone.

"We've already started doing some three-screen games," said Todd Brix, general manager of the Windows Apps and Store at Microsoft. "Skulls of the Shogun was one of them. There will be experiences like Smart Glass to enable the phone to be a mirror [of the Xbox One] and Photobeamer, which sends photos to any device with a screen that's connected to the Internet."

Windows Phone has always had a relationship with Xbox, but they've been more like cousins than siblings. The two systems use the same Microsoft Account login, and Windows Phone supports and adds to Xbox Live avatars and gamer profiles. The Xbox Smart Glass app lets you use your phone as a remote control or secondary screen for an Xbox, but it isn't a Windows Phone exclusive - it's also available on iOS and Android.

November 20, 2013

Instagram Finally Comes to Windows Phone

Instagram Logo

A lot of people are taken with the Windows Phone operating system. It was the dark horse, yet clear winner, in PCMag's 2013 Readers Choice survey for mobile operating systems, handily beating out behemoths iOS and Android. But the big question has always been: Where are the apps?

Today's launch of Instagram for Windows Phone fills in a major piece of a puzzle, one that's been getting more and more complete, as evidenced by the recent release of the hit video sharing app Vine. Also lanching on the phone's app store today is Waze, the crowdsourced traffic and navigation app. Both apps were announced on the Windows Phone blog.

The Instagram blog states that its app will be available for download from the Windows Phone Store. It also notes that the app only includes "core features" at present, but the development team will continue to update it. In the store, it doesn't sport the traditional instagram icon, but a simplified blue camera, and its name includes an all-cap BETA, to drive home its incompleteness.

Instagram for Windows Phone was first announced last month in Abu Dhabi by Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom. But PCMag sat down with Microsoft's Todd Brix, general manager of the Windows App Store, and Casey McGee, Windows Phone senior marketing manager, last week to discuss the latest addition to the Windows Phone store.

October 14, 2013

Microsoft Preps for Windows Phone Phablets With Update

Microsoft Preps for Windows Phone Phablets With Update

LONDON – The Nokia phablets are coming. This we know now. Setting the groundwork for larger Windows Phone devices, Microsoft today announced Windows Phone 8 Update 3, a revision of the company's mobile OS, which supports 5- and 6-inch screens, 1,920-by-1,080 screen resolutions, and the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor.

While Microsoft's Windows Phone product manager Greg Sullivan refused to comment about specific hardware, it's obvious to anyone with half a clue that this is setting things up for Nokia's upcoming announcement of the 1520 Windows Phone phablet in Abu Dhabi on Oct. 22. The extensively leaked 1520 features a 6-inch, 1080p screen, and a Snapdragon 800 processor.

The update "is enabling a new category of hardware for us, which is the phablet," Sullivan said.

Most of the changes in Update 3 adapt Windows Phone's interface to the new screen size, Sullivan said. That means more tiles on the start screen, and a third column of information on screens like the People and Music hubs. Five-inch devices will get the new start screen; 6-inch devices will get new email, messaging, People Hub, music and other app layouts, Sullivan said.

"Throughout the system you'll see that instead of just stretching the UI we've modified it," Sullivan said.