Phablet-friendly

In the coming months, Microsoft will roll out its third update to Windows Phone 8, the mobile operating system it unveiled in fall 2012. There are plenty of performance improvements on the menu, but you'll also see a handful of new features that change how the OS looks and works, especially on upcoming phablets.

Updated:
Photo by: Microsoft / Caption by:

More tiles!

We've seen leaked images of a Start screen with more live tiles, and it turns out all those rumors were true. Windows Phone 8 Update 3 (its official name) adds a new column and a few more rows to the Start screen, which Microsoft says will effectively double the number of tiles that can show up on the home screen.

There is a major caveat here though. Existing Windows Phone 8 devices will not get the extra column and rows. This feature will only show up in new, yet-to-be announced devices with screens that are 6 inches and larger. That makes the rumored phablet, code-named Bandit, that Nokia is supposedly building seem much more likely.

Updated:
Photo by: Microsoft / Caption by:

Multitasking

Windows Phone devices have had multitasking capabilities since the beginning: you can tap and hold the back button to view all the apps running in the background and quickly switch to a new app. Now you can also quickly close any app from the multitasking app list by tapping the small X button in the corner of the app preview.

Updated:
Photo by: Screenshot by Sarah Mitroff/CNET / Caption by:

Driving mode

Hoping to minimize distractions and keep your eyes on the road, Update 3 adds driving mode. You can have it turn on automatically when your phone's Bluetooth signal pairs with a specific device, such as your car or hands-free headset. When it's on, you can choose to have the phone turn off incoming call notifications or text-messaging alerts, or both. It will also automatically send a text response that you can customize.

Updated:
Photo by: Microsoft / Caption by:

Accessibility settings

Update 3 adds a new mode for people with visual impairments. Called mobile accessibility mode, it gives your phone a simplified home screen with large tiles. There are a few basic apps -- a phone dialer, an IMAP e-mail client, and a browser -- and video-messaging services Lync and Skype have both modified their apps to make them easier to use. The mode also enables screen reading, which uses audio to guide you.

Updated:
Photo by: Screenshot by Sarah Mitroff/CNET / Caption by:

Text tones

One of the most requested features on Windows Phone has been the ability to assign custom text notification tones to individual contacts. Well, Windows Phone owners are getting their wish. Now you can tell who sent that text just from the sound your phone makes.

Updated:
Photo by: Microsoft / Caption by:

Screen rotation

This simple setting has been missing from Windows Phone. Now you can lock or unlock screen rotation from the settings menu.

Updated:
Photo by: Microsoft / Caption by:

View more at once

On upcoming, (yet to be announced) larger-screen devices, you'll see more information at once in many of the preinstalled apps from Microsoft. In Outlook that means you'll see more e-mails on the screen and longer previews for each message.

Updated:
Photo by: Microsoft / Caption by:
Hot Galleries

CNET's Holiday Gift Guide

Tablets that put your TV to shame

Binge-watch your favorite episodes on these portable screens.

Hot Products