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Windows Phone 8.1 is coming: Until then, enjoy some new tips for good ole’ WP8

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Image used with permission by copyright holder

Windows Phone 8 launched in late 2012. It was another roll of the dice for Microsoft in the mobile space and it was fairly well received by the tech press. It’s a slick platform that’s packed with features and customization options. We’ve already discussed how to take a screenshot on a Windows Phone and we looked at five ways to customize your Windows Phone 8 start screen, but there’s always more to uncover.

In this roundup we’ll explore some Windows Phone 8 tips and tricks. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments at the end.

Updated on 4-03-2014 by Simon Hill: Updated to add tips on how to translate text, how to reply to calls with text messages, how to access multitasking, how to filter your contacts, how to access scientific calculator, and how to quickly swipe through photos.

How to Customize your Start Screen

You can change the size of tiles by holding your finger on them to activate edit mode. You can drag it around and tap the arrow at the bottom right to change the size. You can change the background color in Settings > Theme. Be sure to check out our recommended ways to customize your Start Screen, as well.

How to use your Unified inbox

With WP8 you have the ability to merge your email accounts into one manageable inbox. Go to your Mail app and tap the ellipses in the lower right hand corner and choose link inboxes. You can choose to link as many as you like, so it’s possible to merge a bunch and still keep some separate. You can always unlink them again.

How to use built-in Shazam-clone ‘Name that tune’

You don’t need the Shazam app to recognize a tune you like. Windows Phone 8 has music recognition built-in. All you have to do is tap Search and then choose the music icon (it’s a musical note) and it will listen for a few seconds and then tell you what song is playing and provide you with a link to buy it in the Windows Phone Store.

How to enable Kids Corner

There’s no need to install a parental control app because WP8 has Kid’s Corner. You’ll find the option in the Settings menu and it allows you to dictate exactly what content is available when Kid’s Corner is activated. It allows you to give your little angel your smartphone without fear that they’ll send a text or email, phone someone, or do something else crazy.

How to conserve battery life

If your battery is getting dangerously low, you can head into Settings and select battery saver. It closes background apps and puts a stop to automatic syncing so that you can squeeze a little extra time out of that battery. If you tap the Advanced option in battery saver then you can set it to come on automatically when your battery dips below a certain percentage.

How to share your location

When you write a text, you can actually add your current location to the message. Simply tap the paperclip icon and choose your location. If your friend has a WP8 device it will open in their Maps app, otherwise it will open in their browser.

How to use keyboard shortcuts

When you are typing, you can hold your finger down on a key to get more options to pop up instead of jumping into the symbols keyboard. You can also double tap the space bar to create a period and a space for the next sentence. You’ll find word suggestions pop up as you type. If you type a word that isn’t recognized you can always add it to your dictionary by holding down your finger on it and choosing the plus symbol when it pops up.

How to stop accidental photos

Having a hardware button for quick camera launch can be handy, but you might also end up with some pocket interior shots. If you want to disable the button you can do it in the Photos app settings where you’ll find an option to prevent accidental camera launch when the phone is locked.

How to scan QR codes, Microsoft tags, or translate text

If you press the Search button on your phone you can also use it to scan QR codes or Microsoft tags. All you have to do is tap the Vision icon (it’s an eye) and then point your phone’s camera at the code in question. You can also use this function to scan text and then translate it into a new language, so it’s potentially handy for trips abroad.

How to quickly send out apologies if you’re running late

If you’ve entered appointments into your calendar along with attendees then you can quickly send messages when you are running late. Just go to the relevant appointment in your calendar and tap the rushing person icon. A draft message will pop up and you can edit it and set the recipients, or just hit send.

How to hide your caller ID

You can decide who should see your caller ID when you make calls – everyone, your contacts, or no one at all. To change this just go into your caller history, tap the ellipses at the bottom right, and hit Settings. Then choose who gets to see your caller ID by default.

How to change the text size

If you find yourself squinting at the screen of your Window Phone then you should really consider resizing the text. Go into Settings > Ease of access and you’ll find five different size settings for the text.

How to use voice controls

You won’t find Google Now or Siri on Windows Phone 8, but it does support voice controls. Start by going into Settings > Speech and make sure that you have the correct language pack installed. You use it by holding down the Start button until the prompt pops up. Now you can command your WP8 device to launch apps with the command “Open Facebook,”or phone a contact with the command “Phone Jenny”. You can also search on Bing by prefacing your command with “Find” or “Search.” Tap the Help symbol or say “Help” on the Speech screen to learn about more options.

How to change search engine

If you don’t like Bing then you can fire up Internet Explorer and tap More at the top right (three dots) to open up the menu and select Settings > Advanced settings and then change your Default search provider.

How to backup in the cloud

You get a free 7GB of storage space with Microsoft’s SkyDrive, so you may as well backup those precious photos, videos, and documents. For an individual photo or video you can just tap More and then choose Save to SkyDrive. If you would rather just automatically back up photos, then go to More in the Photos app, and choose Settings > SkyDrive, where you’ll find an automatic upload option. You can save individual documents by tapping Add when you have the document open. You don’t need the SkyDrive app to use the service on your Windows Phone 8 device, but it does help you organize things and it’s free.

How to avoid going over data limits

Microsoft has included an app called Data Sense in Windows Phone 8 that can be used to set data limits and review your usage. You have to set it up with your billing date and monthly allowance and then it will be able to warn you when the limit is approaching. You can even set it up to automatically restrict background data usage. Load up Data Sense and tap Settings to see your full range of options. If Data Sense is not available on your phone then your carrier probably blocked it (AT&T does not currently support it).

How to use NFC

You can share photos, videos, songs, documents, web links, business cards, contacts, and even apps and games using the NFC (Near Field Communication) feature. As long as both devices support NFC and they are unlocked, place them together and choose More > Share > Tap + Send on the relevant file. You can make sure this feature is turned on via Settings > Tap + send > NFC sharing.

You can also use NFC tags to automate features on your device with a simple tap. Nokia offers tags and the Nokia NFC Writer app which enables you to program a tag or sticker, so that you can tap your device on it and automatically share content, bring up a web page, call someone, or complete a number of other actions.

How to translate text using your camera

Did you know that you can translate text on a sign, menu, or even a newspaper? This can be super-handy when you’re adventuring abroad. Press the Search button (magnifying glass icon) and then tap Vision (eyeball icon) and point your camera at the text you want to translate. Now tap Scan text and tap the boxes round the words you want to translate, tap Search and then tap Translate and choose a language.

How to respond to call with quick text

If you can’t take an incoming call right now, but you want to respond, simply slide up and tap the text reply option. You can choose one of the default messages or you can create your own. If you want to edit the default messages to suit you, head into Settings > Applications > Phone and tap on edit replies to create up to four custom messages.

How to quickly switch to or close apps

You can access the multitasking menu by holding down the Back button. Swipe through your recently used apps and tap on the one you want to load it right up. Tap on the cross at the top right corner to close anything that you don’t need to be running right now.

How to filter your contacts

When you pull in a large group of contacts from a bunch of different sources, maybe some from the SIM card, some from a Facebook account, some from Twitter, and some from Hotmail, you can end up with a long list in your People app and many of them will be people you never really intend to call. Fire up the People Hub and tap the Menu button then go to Settings > Filter my contact list and you can thin the herd and make it easier to find the people you really want to call.

How to access scientific calculator

If you fire up the calculator app in portrait view, you’ll see a basic calculator, but if you turn your Windows Phone to landscape view it will turn into a scientific calculator. If you want to access even more options then turn your phone the opposite way in landscape view and you’ve got a whole new set of expanded options.

How to swipe through your photos

You can swipe through photos one by one, but it can take forever to find that one shot you’re looking for. Instead of the slow method select a photo, rotate to landscape view, and then pinch to zoom out. Your photos will be displayed in a continuous filmstrip which you can swipe through much more quickly.

More Windows Phone 8 tips coming

That’s it for now, but if you have any more handy Windows Phone 8 tips to share then please post a comment and tell us about them. We’ll update this article with new tips from time to time.


Article updates

Updated on 01-06-2013 by Simon Hill: Updated to add tips on how to use voice controls, how to change search engine, how to backup in the cloud, how to avoid data limits, and how to use NFC.

Article originally published 3-29-2013.

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Simon Hill
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Simon Hill is an experienced technology journalist and editor who loves all things tech. He is currently the Associate Mobile…
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