25 Windows Phone 8 tips

New to Windows Phone 8? Read our top 25 tips to help you get started and make the most of your new phone.

Ben Griffin
12 min read


Thanks to Windows Phone 8's strict design rules, all devices running Microsoft's latest phone software operate in virtually the same way. Unlike with Android, manufacturers don't have much freedom to heavily customize Microsoft's OS with their own software. This means most tricks you use on your Lumia 920 will also work on Windows Phone mobiles, such as the HTC 8X, the Lumia 820 and the Samsung Ativ S.

Here's our roundup of the top 25 tips and tricks that will benefit you no matter which second-generation Microsoft phone you own.

1. Kid's corner
To keep younglings and pranksters at bay, Windows Phone 8 includes a feature called Kid's Corner. To activate it, head to settings to find the option (it should be between the "location" and "battery saver" settings if you're struggling), and turn the feature on. You'll then see a number of further options, including games, music, videos, and apps. This is where you select the content you deem suitable for the eyes of others, which you can tick to include when the feature is active.

Once you're happy with your selection, hit "launch kid's corner" to see how it all looks.

Now that Kid's Corner is set up, you can access it by swiping your finger from right to left. Now you should see Kid's Corner and will be able to then swipe from down to up to remove the lock screen. And hey, presto -- you'll have a more child-friendly smartphone, which denies access to the phone, e-mail and any other key functions that you would like to keep off limits.

2. Editing a photo
Once you've taken or downloaded a photo, navigate to the image you want to edit and then hit the ellipsis symbol in the bottom right-hand corner. You'll then see a number of options, from which you should select "edit." From there you'll have access to a couple of options: crop, rotate and auto-fix, or Creative Studio.

Select the former and again hit the ellipsis (this feature is continually present throughout Windows Phone 8) to reveal "save," "rotate," "crop," and "fix." The rotate tool moves the image 90 degrees each time you hit it. "Crop" brings up a grid you can use to slice and dice your image by moving each of the colored corners. When you're happy with your crop, hit the check mark, or instead just choose from any one of the predetermined aspect ratios.

Finally, hit "auto-fix" to see if it improves your photo quality. When images are dark and/or murky, this can prove useful, but the effect can vary from image to image. All that's left is to save your image, which you'll find under "camera roll" for future access.

3. Linking e-mail in-boxes
If you like to keep your e-mail in-boxes tied together so that all your mail arrives handily in one place, you can use the "link in-boxes" option. Simply go into one of the e-mail accounts you want to link and hit the bottom ellipsis. Select "link in-boxes" and then choose the two in-boxes you want to link up.

You can easily unlink the in-boxes at a later date in exactly the same way. Choose the e-mail client you want to unlink by selecting it and just hit "unlink." You can also rename in-boxes while in this menu.

Linking mailboxes in Windows Phone 8. CNET UK

4. Translating text
Handily, translating a menu or a road sign that's in another language is possible with Windows Phone 8. It does require you to have a data connection though, as the data is sent off to Microsoft's servers which then respond to your phone. Assuming you are happy with the roaming charges if you're abroad, press the search button at the bottom of your phone (the button on the right of the three). Now hit the button shaped like an eye to make the camera start up, allowing you to scan barcodes, QR codes, and the like. Press "scan text" to take a picture of the text and then hit "translate."

If the phone throws up an error, try taking the image again from straight on. Once it's successfully recognized the text, select a language from the list you wish to translate to, and Windows Phone 8 will do its best to make it comprehensible.

5. Take a screenshot
This is a nice, easy trick. Navigate to whatever you want to capture a shot of and then press the lock/power and home (Windows) button at the same time. If you've timed it right, you'll then hear a camera snap and the image will float upwards into the digital ether.

To find your screenshot, go into "photos" and then "albums." Here you'll find a "screenshots" subfolder.

6. Identify a song or its performer
Using Xbox Music and a data connection, Windows Phone 8 can listen to a song and then try to tell you what it is. This is done by pressing the search button at the bottom right, then hit the middle option under whatever image Bing has chosen to display. It's the one that's signified by a musical note. Once pressed, the phone will display "listening for music..." If a song is found, it will then show the artist and the album it's from, so you can download it there and then. If not, you'll be presented with the option to try again.

7. Saving battery life
Under settings is a "battery saver" option. When it's switched on, you'll get more hours of battery life, but keep in mind you'll need to manually check for new e-mails, and apps will no longer run in the background. At the bottom is a summary of how much battery life you have left, assuming you don't suddenly start streaming cat videos on a loop.

When this feature is turned on, you can tap on "advanced" at the bottom of the screen (it's grayed out when the feature is off) and choose a point at which it should automatically turn on, or if it should stay on all the time.

Battery saver in Windows Phone 8, plus how to let someone know you're running late (center), and make a Skype call (right). CNET UK

8. Send a "running late" message
Under "calendar" you can view all the appointments you have added. If one of these appointments includes another person -- your colleague, friend, or whoever you're supposed to be meeting -- you can send them a message to let them know you're running late.

To do this, go into your calendar, and select the appointment in question. At the bottom you'll see four options, one of which is titled "late" and is indicated by an icon of a person running. Press this and a message will be automatically generated with some standard apologetic text that can be edited or sent as is.

9. Making a Skype call
Once you have downloaded the Skype app from Windows Marketplace, you'll find it within your apps drawer. Open the app and enter your Skype log-in details. If you don't have a Skype account, you can choose to log in with your Microsoft (Hotmail) account instead. Once you're in, you can browse your recent calls and see who is online. To make contact, select your intended recipient, then type a message for a text chat, or press the phone button at the bottom to make a call.

10. Adjusting text size
Under settings is an option called "ease of access." Here you can slide a bar up to increase or decrease the text size in order to make reading easier. You can also enable "high contrast" to improve legibility, a screen magnifier and turn on TTY/TDD -- the telecommunications system used to assist those with hearing or speech difficulties.

How to increase text size, adjust tab settings, and select an accent color on Windows Phone 8.
How to increase text size, adjust tab settings, and select an accent color on Windows Phone 8. CNET UK

11. Make tabs more handy
Pop into Internet Explorer and hit the Stop icon. Scroll down to select "settings," and from here you have the option to adjust a number of features. The one you want is "use address bar button for," which you can select and then pick from the three favorite options, one of which is tabs. If you choose this function, you can jump between tabs without having to go into the options menu.

12. Customizing Windows Phone 8
Windows Phone 8 allows you to personalize your phone. Tiles can be resized by holding down on them on the home screen, or from within the apps drawer. Once in edit mode -- indicated by one tile lighting up and the rest graying out -- you can either press the bottom-right arrow to adjust the size, or unpin a tile by hitting the top-right pin button. It should be noted that unpinning is not the same as uninstalling.

To reposition a tile, drag it around with your finger, and when you're happy, quickly press the tile to exit the editing mode. If you have multiple tiles to move, just select the next live tile to adjust and keep going until you're satisfied with the new arrangement.

You can also adjust the accent color, as it's known, under settings and then "theme." Pick a color and choose whether you want the background to be light or dark. Go back to settings, and you'll find another option called "lock screen." Press this and you can customize the tabs you see on the lock screen, with the further option to pick one primary tab.

13. Searching a Web page
Within the browser is a search tool called "find on page." It was previously taken out of Windows Phone with the Mango update, but now it's back. When in Internet Explorer, press the ellipsis icon and select "find on page" toward the bottom of the list. Type in your search query and press enter. All text found in the search will show up in your chosen accent color, and there's an arrow key to scroll through all the findings at the bottom of the display.

How to search on a Web page with Windows Phone 8.
How to search on a Web page with Windows Phone 8. CNET UK

14. Keyboard shortcuts
When using the onscreen keyboard, you can hit the "&123" option to jump between text, symbols, and numbers. To save time, though, you can hold down your finger on each key to pull up other options, including numbers, accents or, in the case of the ellipsis button, other useful symbols such as a question mark. For languages, you can jump between each one you've installed almost instantly. Handy, eh?

Other useful functionality built into the keyboard includes a word picker. Type a few letters of a word and suggestions will appear above. Move right and left between them with a swipe and then pick one by pressing it. Finally, a double tap of the space bar adds a period and a space for the next sentence.

If a word is typed that the keyboard doesn't recognize, you can press it to highlight and then hit the "+" symbol above to add it to the dictionary for future use.

15. Adding a language
Head back into the main settings menu and select "language+region." Here you can select a language, with an option to download and install it. Once done, you can easily jump between the languages you need.

If you want to adjust the speech language, head to general settings and then "speech" -- it's further down the list from "language+region." Once again, you can tailor the languages for each feature including the text-to-speech voice.

16. Creating a room
Nice and simple, this one. Browse to the People hub and the word "together" should appear. From here press the "+" key at the bottom and then select either a room or group. Groups have less functionality, so we'll concentrate on rooms. Select "room," choose a name, and hit the floppy disc "save" button at the bottom. Windows Phone 8 will now set up the room.

Next, you can press the "+" at the bottom and add people you wish to make comfy in your room. As with the people list, you can scroll up or down, search a specific name with the search button at the bottom, or press one of the colored letters to jump to whichever part of the alphabet you want. When you've added everyone you want to include, click to signify that you're finished, and your friends will now be alerted of the new room -- if they also have Windows Phone 8 devices, that is. From here you can then share pictures, chat, make appointments, or broadcast your location to everyone inside.

How to copy and paste on Windows Phone 8.
How to copy and paste on Windows Phone 8. CNET UK

17. If in doubt, tap and hold
I've briefly mentioned this before, but I can't stress enough the importance of this tip. If you're not sure how to use something, either use the ellipsis button or press and hold down until options appear. Windows Phone 8 is pretty simple to use, but if you ever are perplexed, this should be the solution you seek.

18. Copying and pasting
If there's text on screen, you can press it and it will highlight. To highlight multiple words, the two end circles can be dragged along to select all the text you want to include. It can prove fiddly, so on a Web page try to zoom in (by pinching the screen with two fingers) to make life easier.

Once something has been copied, you can paste it using the clipboard option that will appear above the onscreen keyboard.

19. Using your phone as an Xbox 360 remote control
If your Xbox is online and your Windows Phone is on the same network (under settings you can find "Wi-Fi" and connect to your home router), you can download and install the Xbox SmartGlass app formerly known as My Xbox Live. Once installed, open the Xbox hub, select the app, and then make sure your Xbox is also turned on. The app will then sign you in, before giving you control of your Xbox.

How to use your Windows phone as a remote control for your Xbox.
How to use your Windows phone as a remote control for your Xbox. CNET UK

20. Using the cloud
If you download and install the Skydrive app, you can manage your cloud storage on the go, but even without the app you can still enjoy access to the cloud. When you've taken a photo, you can press the ellipsis button and select "upload to Skydrive."

You can also choose and store multiple photos at once. Press the "select" button at the bottom of the display when in you're in an image folder and then check off the images you want to share or upload. Again, select "save to Skydrive" and then watch as all your photos are uploaded.

21. Making your media sound better
On the Nokia Windows Phone devices, you can pop in your headphones and then adjust the sound quality via the "audio" option under general settings. You can choose between a selection of predetermined settings, or fiddle about with the equalizer yourself. Alternatively, you can enable Dolby playback by swiping right and hitting "playback."

Although bass lovers may be tempted to bump up the equalizer's lows, the best sound quality in my experience comes from the Dolby option. Other factors including headphones may also affect the end result.

22. Multi-tasking
While not strictly multitasking in the Android sense, Windows Phone 8 has its own system for handling multiple jobs at once. To jump between tasks that are running, hold down the back button until the screen minimizes and color appears around the display. Now swipe left or right between tasks and select the one you need.

23. Paying for goods with NFC
Depending on the retailer, you can now pay for goods using your phone, making it into a kind of digital wallet. Simply hold your phone to the NFC pad in the shop and the phone will do the rest -- as long as you have "tap+share" enabled under general settings.

Unless you've already added a credit card or PayPal to your Microsoft Account (which you will have done if you've ever paid for an app or a song), you'll need to enter your payment details within the "wallet" feature found in the app drawer. Here you can press the "+" at the bottom and then type in the necessary details.

If it's somewhere you visit regularly, it's worth asking the shop whether it supports NFC so that, in the future, you can save yourself from digging out your card and typing in a pin number.

Paying with NFC on Windows Phone 8, taking notes, and managing documents.
Paying with NFC on Windows Phone 8, taking notes, and managing documents. CNET UK

24. Taking notes
Unlike in Windows Phone 7, OneNote is its own entity in Windows Phone 8. Head to OneNote from within the app drawer and you can make, edit, or share notes to your heart's content. To search for a specific note, use the magnifying glass, and press the "+" key to add a new note.

As long as you have a data connection, changes you make will sync across the cloud, your notes will update on every device you own that has OneNote capability. No more e-mailing yourself a shopping list.

25. Creating and editing documents
Last but not least, you can create and edit documents. Pop into the Office hub and then press the "+" at the bottom to add a new document -- you can choose from Word and Excel -- and then start typing. You can also choose from templates if you so desire.

When in a document, select the ellipsis icon to bring up the available options. "Outline" lets you jump between sections quickly, whereas "comment" lets you add comments to a shared document, so you can let people know what you are working on or what needs changing. You can also search for a specific word or phrase, and of course edit the document itself. When you press "edit," it's a case of scrolling through the document and tapping on words, before using the onscreen keyboard to make adjustments.

Bring up the options menu at the bottom when you're editing and you can select format options -- color, font size, text size, and so on -- and then share your finished piece via e-mail.

Originally published as 25 Windows Phone 8 tips on CNET UK