Tips and tricks for Windows Phone 8's new features

Windows Phone 8 isn't just another ho-hum operating system update with some fixes, a few scattered patches, a freebie "feature," and a new version number—it's a major OS overhaul with a slew of new features that include useful, intelligent interface upgrades, and fun options for personalization. For example, the resizable Live Tiles show you real-time data and information from your favorite apps, while the Kid’s Corner feature allows you to hand your phone off to your toddler without worrying about what kind of damage they'll do to your photo feed and email inbox.

If you've recently become a Windows Phone 8 handset owner and are wondering how to take advantage of all the OS has to offer, here are some tips on how to use some of Windows Phone 8’s new features, namely Live Tiles, Kid’s Corner, Data Sense, Rooms and Groups, and NFC/Wallet.

Live Tiles

Pinning Live Tiles

Windows Phone 8 Live Tiles are the tiles that populate the home screen, the majority of which update automatically with new information from their associated app or feature. For example, a tile for email might flip to show new messages, while a Facebook tile might show status updates and friend requests.

Live Tiles can relate to Live Apps or to people. To pin a Live App such as Facebook, Gmail, or Groupon to your start menu, go to Apps > [the app you want to pin]. Tap and hold the app until a box pops up that says 'Pin to start'. Tap the box, and the tile will appear on your start menu. Some apps do not have Live Tile functionality, and some Live Apps have Live Tile functionality only in certain sizes. You’ll have to play around with each app to figure out whether its Live Tile-ness is limited. To resize a tile on the start menu, tap and hold the tile until it pops out at you, and then tap the arrow in the lower-right corner to change the size.

To pin a person as a Live Tile, go to Apps > People > [the person you want to pin]. Tap and hold the person's name until the 'Pin to start' box pops up. Tap the box, and the person will appear on your start menu. The information available for each person’s tile will vary depending on what accounts you have associated with their name—if, for example, your contact has Facebook and Twitter accounts, the tile will show their Facebook and Twitter updates. The tile will also show you texts, email messages, and calls from that person.

One note: Windows Phone 8 will allow you to pin a variety of things to the start menu—webpages, videos, photo albums—and not all of these items will be "live."

Kid’s Corner

Preselected apps in the Kid's Corner

Windows Phone 8 is unique in that it has a safe mode just for children—useful if your child wants to play games on your phone but you don’t want them to be able to purchase apps, change settings, or check your email.

You'll need to go through a few quick setup steps the first time you use Kid’s Corner. To open Kid’s Corner, go to Settings > System > Kid’s Corner. The first screen has a toggle button to turn Kid’s Corner on; once you've done so, you can choose which games, music, videos, and apps your child can access, and you have the option to set a lock-screen password (if you don’t already have one) so that if your child accidentally exits Kid’s Corner, they won't gain access to your full phone menu.

After setting up Kid’s Corner, you can launch it by swiping left from your main lock screen. It’s a simplified version of the start menu interface, with just a lock screen and a tiled list of the apps, music, videos, and games that you have preselected. You can customize the lock screen with a picture and your child’s name, and move and resize the tiles. You can also choose a color scheme (dark or light) and an accent color for the tiles that don’t have pictures.

To exit Kid’s Corner, simply tap the phone’s power button. When you tap the button to reawaken the phone, you’ll see your standard lock screen (which will ask for the password you chose when setting up the Kid's Corner account).

With Kid’s Corner turned on in the settings menu, you can quickly add apps to the mode from your menu screen by tapping and holding. Now, when you tap and hold an app, you’ll get both the 'Pin to start' option and an 'Add to Kid’s Corner' option. To turn Kid’s Corner off, go to Settings > System > Kid’s Corner and flip the toggle switch to the off position.

You cannot add Internet Explorer to the Kid’s Corner app list. However, if your child taps a link inside an app that you have added to Kid’s Corner, they will be able to see that link and any links they find on that website—but they won’t be able to navigate to a page by typing an address into the URL bar. Also, although children cannot make Windows Phone Store purchases from Kid’s Corner, they can make in-app purchases (such as coins or levels) if they know your Wallet PIN.

Data Sense

Data Sense overview

Data Sense is a feature capable of running on any Windows Phone 8 handset, but it must be enabled by the carrier—and at the moment only Verizon Wireless customers have access to Data Sense. The feature uses a combination of a Live Tile and an app to help users stay on top of their data usage and set appropriate data limits.

The Data Sense tile constantly rotates to show relevant information, such as how much time is left in your billing cycle and how much data you’ve used so far. Tapping the tile takes you to the app, where you’ll see more info about your data situation.

The app has two screens: an overview screen, and a usage screen. The overview screen shows how much data you have remaining (as measured by your phone), as well as how much time is left in your billing cycle. The usage screen shows details about your usage, specifically which apps are sucking the most data.

If you tap the settings icon at the bottom of the Data Sense app screen, you can change Data Sense settings (set data limits, set your billing cycle date, and choose to have the phone automatically restrict background data usage when you get close to your limits), as well as map out nearby Wi-Fi hotspots.

Rooms and Groups

Groups and Rooms in the People Hub

Windows Phone 8 has two new features—Rooms and Groups—designed to help you connect better with family and close friends. Rooms are invitation-only places where users can connect with other room members. When one member shares a photo, video, note, or calendar event in the room, all members of that room can see that shared item. Thus, the Rooms feature is best for close-knit groups of people who all know one another and are comfortable sharing.

While rooms live on every member’s phone, groups live on just one person’s phone: yours. When you create a group on your phone, you can add anyone you want (without having to invite them), and they will never really know that they’re part of a group. The Groups feature is best for lists of people—such as close friends, coworkers, or schoolmates—whose social updates you want to see in one place. You can email, text, and instant-message an entire group at once, so the Groups feature is useful for planning big events.

To access both Rooms and Groups in Windows Phone 8, go to Apps > People. In the People menu, swipe three times to the left to get to the Together menu. Here you will see both the rooms that you are a part of and the groups that you have created. Your Windows Phone 8 device comes with one room ('Family Room') and one group ('Best Friends') already created.

Using either feature is easy. To create a room or a group, tap the plus sign at the bottom of the Together screen. Pick whether to create a room or a group, give your room or group a name, and then tap Save. To invite someone to a room, tap the Invite button and find the person on the contact list. You will have to wait until they accept your invitation to begin sharing with them in the room.

To add someone to a group, tap the group and then tap the Members button in the contact list. Tap the plus sign to add members to the group from your phone books. You do not need to wait until they accept an invitation to add them to a group.

Using Rooms

The default Family Room

Once you’ve set up a room, you can access it by tapping its name. Each room has several screens: the main screen (which shows all the members of the room), as well as a Chat screen, a Calendar screen, a Photos screen, and a Notes screen. Any member of a room can start chatting, add an event to the calendar, add photos to the room, or add notes to the room. All members can change the room’s background picture.

Note that only Windows Phone 8 users can fully experience Rooms. Windows Phone 7 and iPhone users can join a room and access the shared calendar, but that’s all. And as of now, Android users cannot join a room at all.

Using Groups

Groups messaging view

Once you've set up your group, you can access it by tapping its name. Each group has three screens: Group, What’s New, and Photos. The Group screen shows the members of the group, and lets you send a text or email to all members (or, at least, all members whose phone number or email address you have on record).

The What’s New screen shows updates from the group members, including Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking posts, while the Photos screen displays photos that the group members have shared on Facebook or other social networks.


Tap + Send instructions

All Windows Phone 8 handsets come equipped with NFC technology. Through NFC (near-field communication) you can wirelessly transfer files, apps, games, contacts, videos, and other content simply by pressing your phone to another NFC-enabled handset. NFC also enables Windows Phone 8 devices to support mobile-payment and digital-wallet functions.

To use NFC, first make sure Bluetooth is turned on (Settings > Bluetooth, then slide to the on position). Then turn on NFC (Settings > Tap + Send, and move the slider to the on position), and select the item you want to share. For example, if you wish to share an image, tap More (...) > Share > Tap + Send. Your handset will instruct you to hold your phone up to the other device, and the device will emit a slight buzz. A receiving device will put up an alert that someone is sharing files; click Accept, and you're done. You can also opt to ignore the transfer.

Sharing a website works in much the same way: Tap More (...) > Share Page > Tap + Send and then hold two devices together until they buzz. You can also use NFC to do wireless charging, to pair your device with NFC-capable accessories such as Bluetooth speakers, and to make payments.

The Wallet feature on Windows Phone 8 devices uses NFC technology to make mobile payments, but it also stores digital versions of loyalty cards, membership cards, and credit or debit cards. To add cards to the Wallet app, tap the plus sign from the All section and then follow the instructions to add the card. If there's an app that can be linked to that card, Windows Phone 8 software will find it and ask whether to install it, which leads us to the other common way to add a card to Wallet: Install an app.

Turning on NFC

Many banks and credit card companies have apps that are already compatible with Wallet features on Windows Phones. When you download the app, open it, and sign in, the card will be added to the Wallet app, giving you access to the information on that account directly from the app. Alternatively, if you've ever purchased something using your Microsoft account, you may already have a card associated with that account. Simply signing in with the account login information will associate that card with the Wallet app.

If you choose to use the Wallet feature, you'll want to set up a Wallet PIN—a numeric passcode to prevent unwanted access to your cards and accounts. To set up a Wallet PIN, go to Wallet > More (...) > Settings + PIN. From there, slide the Wallet PIN switch to the on position, confirm a PIN (which must be at least four digits), and then tap Done.

You can use your Wallet PIN in the Windows Phone Store to buy music and apps, as well. Remember that entering an incorrect Wallet PIN three times will temporarily lock you out of the Wallet features; you should be able to try again after a few minutes.

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