Windows Phone 8.1 'reviews' around the web

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Maybe it's just us being pedantic but we're amazed by so many sites around the web posting 'reviews' of a developer-only platform release - yes, it's great that anyone can pretend to be a developer and get early access to Windows Phone 8.1 too, but surely 'review' is a bit strong, given that there will be bugs and issues that will be addressed after today and before firmware makes its way onto consumer devices? With that said, it's worth noting what a number of tech sites have said about today's 8.1 access, in all cases thanks to a USA-presence making a preview 8.1-hosting Lumia Icon being made available.

So, leaving aside the 'r' word, it's still worth looking at quotes from assessments from tech writers in the USA of this new platform release of Windows Phone:

From WPCentral's article:

Let’s just get this out of the way. Windows Phone 8.1 could easily be called Windows Phone 8.5 or even 9. This doesn’t feel like a 0.1 update. This feels like a long-term project that Microsoft has been working on for a long time, delivering a massive set of new features. Heck, the ‘reviewers guide’ could pass as a short novel, coming in at 239 pages.

The changes to the OS are significant, not minor patchwork. The only reason Microsoft is calling it ‘8.1’ is to align it with its bigger brother, Windows 8.1 for desktop. That’s fine, although it does slightly downplay this update’s significance.....

Windows Phone 8.1

....for a ‘preview’ release. The OS feels fast; animations have been tweaked for an improved user experience. The new features don’t feel tacked on, but rather well thought out in advanced. And they work. That’s the beauty with this update as almost all of you will get something you really wanted. There’s still room for improvement, but the gap between Microsoft, Apple and Google is certainly getting narrower with today’s release....

....For current Windows Phone 8 owners, you’ll be knocked off your socks with this update. For those who are not on Windows Phone and reading this, you may finally be swayed with all of the new and improved features. 

From PhoneScoop's article:
There's no doubt Windows Phone 8.1 is the most complete and powerful version of Microsoft's smartphone platform to date. It adds a significant number of improvements to the everyday functionality of the OS and also buries in features that will grow in usefulness over time. 

I am pleased with the Action Center, the third Start Screen column, the Word Flow keyboard, the three Sense apps, the camera/photo improvements, the updated messaging tools, and browser. Many of these put Windows Phone on a more level playing field with Android and iOS. Android and iOS have completely different design aesthetics, though, and the blockier appearance of Windows Phone may not be for everyone. 

The two biggest additions to Windows Phone 8.1 are perhaps the least useful at launch: universal apps and Cortana. Universal apps are a game changer. They will really help Microsoft sell its range of products (phones, tablets, PCs) to more people, especially given the pay-once, install-everywhere ideal for applications. Cortana is surely off to a solid start and launches a whole new way to interact with Windows Phone. Though Cortana needs to learn a bit more, she's got plenty of power over essential Windows Phone apps and functions. We hope she'll grow into the personal assistant Microsoft promises. Like all relationships, it'll take time for Cortana to get to know you. 

Anyone who's been on the fence about Windows Phone no longer has an excuse to sit there. Microsoft's smartphone platform is definitely worth a shot. If you're bored with Android and iOS, or just don't like them, Windows Phone is a worthy option for anyone. If you've made an investment in Microsoft's products, be they PCs, tablets, or even an XBox, Windows Phone platform is an complimentary choice to enhance your ecosystem. 

From Ars Technica's article:

At the start of this, I said that Windows Phone needed to do a few things: enable OEMs to go after the growth markets and growth price points in emerging markets, do more to appeal to high-end buyers, give developers a better platform, and get people talking.

I think Windows Phone 8.1 delivers on all these fronts. With Cortana, it has a splashy, highly demonstrable feature—though one I hope will deliver genuine value too. With the new hardware support, we should see more phones at more price points in more markets than ever before. With Universal Apps, we have a platform that can (almost) seamlessly span the phone, the tablet, the PC, and before too long, the console/TV, too.

The result feels a whole lot more mature and a whole lot more capable than its predecessor. The 0.1 version bump, chosen to align the phone platform with its desktop sibling, belies the true nature of this upgrade. It is substantial, and makes Windows Phone tremendously better.

We might still wish that there were a few more apps, and that developers spoke of the platform in the same breath as iOS and Android, but even in spite of this, Windows Phone 8.1 is a polished, fun, clever, and personal smartphone platform that’s just about everyone can enjoy. It’s a magnificent smartphone platform.

From NeoWin's article:

What Microsoft has done with Windows Phone 8.1 is knocked off the list the key items that the Windows Phone community requested. The notification center was likely near the top of the user request list as it provides all applications a home for notifications and we welcome this feature with open arms. Bundling the notifications with new shortcuts, makes Windows Phone feel more polished and helps to level the playing field when comparing feature lists to the competitors.

Cortana is the other side of the coin for large new features. It’s a personal assistant who will become more personal over time. While the current iteration needs a bit of maturing, for a beta product, it’s meeting expectations. Microsoft has a lot of room for expansion with Cortana thanks to its large ecosystem of platforms and this makes us quite excited about how the personal assistant will integrate with other platforms in the future.

As an OS, Windows Phone is growing up and is matching the established systems feature for feature.

Where Windows Phone struggles, still, is with the apps. I will argue that apps have come a very long way on Windows Phone and many of the larger developers are now on Windows Phone but it’s not about getting the app on your device, it’s about supporting the app for the long-term.

Take a look at Twitter, for example, it lags significantly behind the iOS app and even Google’s app and this same story can said for other apps like Spotify and Uber, well, good luck finding a decent Uber app for the OS.

But, the situation is improving and as Microsoft keeps putting out quality builds of Windows Phone and is able to obtain market share, the app support gap will close; we are confident of this.

For Microsoft, Windows Phone 8.1 is another example of how the company can deliver on the expectations of the community and do so in a way that delights the end user but the real challenge ahead is to bring these new features to existing users. Currently, the easiest way to get your hands on a non-devleoper build of Windows Phone 8.1 will be to buy a new Lumia in the coming weeks. But for those of you with existing devices, you will have to wait until this summer.

From The Verge's article:

Microsoft’s real challenge isn't building a good mobile operating system, it's getting people to use it now. That's always been the real challenge. If you buy into all things Windows there’s a fully developed ecosystem waiting for you, but Microsoft was too late to the game. Now that it has something worth switching to, Microsoft has to actually get people to switch. Windows Phone 8.1 goes a long way toward making switching easier, and there are a number of genuinely great, unique things about it — I really love the Start screen — but most people are so entrenched in Android or iOS that Microsoft has to make a stronger case. Business-friendly features like VPN and enhanced security are clearly part of Microsoft’s plan, but Microsoft is still without a truly killer, can’t-live-without-it app. iOS and Android may not have one either, but they have market share on their side; Microsoft needs to swing bigger.

Windows Phone 8.1 is a good operating system. It can’t hide the still-lacking Windows Phone Store, which simply still doesn’t have the quantity or quality or timeliness of apps that Android and iOS do, but it goes a long way toward making Windows Phone feel competitive. It feels finished now, really for the first time. It gives Microsoft its best chance yet to attract the billions of people who haven't yet bought a smartphone. But Microsoft hasn’t changed the game here, only proven it can play; Windows Phone 8.1 will make a lot of Windows Phone 8 users very happy but won’t make anyone at Google or Apple sweat.

A personal assistant from 500 years in the future is a good start, but it’s only a start.

Take the above assessments, from a week's use of the pre-release developer preview, and you'll a pretty good picture of the worth of Windows Phone 8.1. But is IS just a preview. There are still plenty of bugs to be fixed, manufacturer-specific apps and enhancements to add (not least Nokia, or whatever portion of Microsoft its teams will make up), plus plenty of features to explore in-depth, in real world usage.

Watch out for 8.1-specific exposés in the coming weeks in AAWP, we're keen to see just how well the new platform does when pushed to the limit.