Microsoft Details Features in Windows Phone 8 GDR3 Update
Since July, Windows Phone 8 devices have been receiving what’s known as the General Distribution Release 2 (GDR2) update, an OS update that brings about new features (depending on device manufacturer and carrier), such as Data Sense that lets you keep track of your phone’s data usage, the ability to set a Lens app as the default camera app, and FM radio support. There are also updates and fixes for Xbox Music, Skype, and Internet Explorer, as well as support for CalDAV/CardDAV, the latter of which allows Windows Phone users to continue to connect to Google services, such as Google Calendar, when the Mountain View-based search giant finally removes its support for Exchange ActiveSync (this was supposed to take place on July 31, but has since been extended to December 31, 2013).
For Nokia Lumia Windows Phone 8 phones, GDR2 is part of Nokia’s own Lumia Amber update, which enables additional Lumia-specific hardware and/or software capabilities, such as Bluetooth 4.0, and the Glance Screen and double-tap-to-wake features we see in the Lumia 925 and Lumia 1020.
Since then, there has been no shortage of rumors on what the next update, GDR3, would bring. The more plausible ones include support for quad-core processors and 1080p displays, more Start screen tile sizes, and screen rotation lock. Nokia (which handset unit is being bought over by Microsoft) is also expected to rollout a new ‘Bittersweet Shimmer’ update that includes GDR3. Like the Amber update, Bittersweet Shimmer will have additional Lumia-specific features.
Of course, until Microsoft officially announces what’s changed and new in GDR3, the aforementioned belongs strictly to rumor land. But lo and behold, the Redmond-headquartered company, which is due to deliver Windows 8.1 (the desktop OS update) in a few days’ time, did exactly just that moments earlier.
So, what’s new in GDR3, a.k.a. Windows Phone 8 Update 3 (8.0.10512)? In a nutshell:
- Support for bigger & higher-res screens: Currently, the biggest Windows Phone 8 phone has a screen size of 4.8 inches. GDR3 will bring support for screen sizes well above 5 inches. More specifically, on-screen elements will look a bit different between 5 to 5.9-inch and 6-inch and above phones. While both groups will get a 3-column Start screen layout (all current phones remain at 2 columns, sorry), the latter will show more things in apps like Email, Messaging, People, Photos, Music+Videos, and Store. This is a result of font footprint reduction (down to 83%). For example, in Email, you get to see more content in the email previews. Despite the 3 columns, there are no new tile sizes; the wide rectangle tile still spans the width of two columns. That said, if you've a 6-inch Windows Phone 8 device, you can now fit six small square tiles horizontally, showing you more info at a glance.
- Support for more powerful hardware, including quad-core processors: While Microsoft didn’t announce any new devices (we’ll have to wait till next week where Nokia is expected to announce new devices in Abu Dhabi), the company has confirmed that GDR3 will bring along support for newer and more powerful chipsets, such as the Qualcomm 8974 (that is, the quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800).
- Driving mode: Essentially, for drivers, you can now choose to suppress reminders when you’re driving. You can also set the type of response (silently ignore, auto respond, handled by voice) when Driving mode is activated. Navigation and Music apps will continue to work under Driving mode, and you can still unlock the phone and use it. Driving mode is able to automatically start (and stop) when it’s connected to (and disconnected from) a Bluetooth device.
- Improved Internet Sharing: After establishing a Bluetooth partnership with a Windows 8.1 device (say, a laptop), you can remotely turn on the Internet Sharing function right from the laptop without the need to enter a password or fish out the phone.
- Restore data over Wi-Fi during setup: Finally, you can connect to Wi-Fi when you first setup your phone or after a reset, allowing you to restore your data over Wi-Fi instead of a cellular data connection.
- Easily close apps: When you press and hold the Back key, a close button will now appear at the top right corner of each opened app.
- More useful ringtones: You can now set custom text, email, and reminder tones. Always wanted to assign a different text tone for each contact? You can do it now.
- Screen rotation lock: It took a while, but a major bugbear of Windows Phone 8 is now gone in GDR3. You can now lock the screen’s orientation.
- Better storage management: Under Settings > System > Phone Storage, you can see more info on how storage space is being used and adjust more settings.
- Cloud messaging: A new feature in GDR3 that won't be making an appearance here in Singapore is cloud messaging. In a nutshell, a central cloud service will sync up read/unread statuses between the server and the phone. According to Microsoft, this requires hardware commitments from the telcos, and none of the local telcos are doing it at the moment. Some accessibility features that require hardware support aren't available for this region as well.
The GDR3 update for Windows Phone 8 will be available by the end of this year. Microsoft has also announced that registered developers in the Windows Phone Preview Program will be getting GDR3 early, starting tomorrow.