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Hands-on: Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1

Windows Phone 8.1 has seen its first major update, GDR1, which has just seeded out to developers. Naturally, we can’t let devs have all the fun to themselves so installed it on one of our test devices.

As you can imagine, that gave us access to all the latest on Microsoft’s updated mobile OS. Highlights include folder support, Cortana for additional regions, and the new Apps Corner.

While the update includes a plethora of under-the-hood improvements, there are a fair share of software updates you’ll see with GDR1.

First, the long-awaited folder support has arrived. Dubbed Live Folders, the new feature lets you group an unlimited number of Live Tiles in folders, simply by dragging Tiles on top of one another on the homescreen. What’s nifty is that Tiles within folders can be arranged just like you would on the homescreen, so you’ll still see updates from the Live Folders themselves, which can also be resized.

Cortana has also been updated, and now has support for several new localized regions. In China, the virtual assistant will speak in Mandarin, and has a different visual appearance, animations, and sounds from her western counterpart. Likewise, the UK has also received the Cortana beta, with special localized spellings and pronunciations, and, of course, a British accent.

Cortana US improvements include snooze time for reminders, and Bluetooth car kits support, which lets you invoke Cortana hands-free by simply saying “Call Cortana.” Also, some more fun personality additions have been included – see our video below for a demonstration. Canada, India, and Australia have also received an opt-in “alpha” update, which lets users in those regions try Cortana using the English language models.

Microsoft also introduced their new Apps Corner feature, which is a sort of guest mode for WP devices. You can select which applications, settings, and features Apps Corner mode can have access to, then give them to another user without worrying about them accessing advanced functions on your phone.

We’ve previewed all of the above features (including the folder creation process) in a quick video. Check it out:

Also included are optimizations to SMS messaging and Xbox Music, as well as enhanced security and privacy. The Windows Phone 8.1 Update, versioned 8.10.14147.180 has seeded to developers today, although you might get it in conjunction with the 8.10.12400.899 hotfix which fixes issues certain users had with BitLocker on Windows Phone.

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