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Christmas Gift Guide

Cortana has come

Cortana front and center

Information overkill

The background is up to you

Fresh lock screen designs

Go diagonal if you dare

Add extra textures and patterns

Cortana can learn your name

Off the grid but reachable

Shut down the chatter

An eye on your interests

You control Cortana

Reminders set around people

Time you reminders

Notifications are important

Hunt down local eats

Cortana on many Windows phones

Catch the word flow

Choose your Start Screen theme

Add a dash of color

One of the star features of Windows Phone 8.1 is the Cortana voice assistant.

Caption by / Photo by James Martin/CNET

Microsoft made sure to place a shortcut to activate Cortana right from the Start Screen.

Caption by / Photo by James Martin/CNET

Think Android has the monopoly on information-dense home screens? You might want to check out the new Windows Phone 8.1 Start Screen with smaller, closely-packed tiles.

Caption by / Photo by James Martin/CNET

You can now add personalized backgrounds to the Start Screen.

Caption by / Photo by James Martin/CNET

New to Windows Phone 8.1 are fresh and funky lock screen designs.

Caption by / Photo by James Martin/CNET

One of the new lock screens uses a wild diagonal design.

Caption by / Photo by James Martin/CNET

You can now graft eye-catching colors and textured patterns to the once static Windows Start Screen.

Caption by / Photo by James Martin/CNET

Within Windows Phone 8.1's options menu, you can train Cortana to say your name.

Caption by / Photo by James Martin/CNET

Train Cortana to only let the ones you care for most get a hold of you.

Caption by / Photo by James Martin/CNET

Similar to the "Do Not Disturb" mode on the HTC One M8 and night mode on BlackBerry 10, Cortana can turn off all communication when in "Quiet Hours".

Caption by / Photo by James Martin/CNET

Cortana and Windows Phone 8.1 will make note of your personal interests in the Notebook feature.

Caption by / Photo by James Martin/CNET

Here's a top-level look at what Cortana's Notebook section keeps track off.

Caption by / Photo by James Martin/CNET

Cortana can create reminders around specific people.

Caption by / Photo by James Martin/CNET

In addition to having Cortana remind you of things to do when certain people call, you can also set alerts for traditional time triggers.

Caption by / Photo by James Martin/CNET

Windows Phone 8.1 now brings Android-style notifications to the table.

Caption by / Photo by James Martin/CNET

Cortana can search for nearby restaurants that you might find to your liking. For instance it might learn Mexican spots or Pizza parlors are your weakness and adapt accordingly.

Caption by / Photo by James Martin/CNET

Microsoft says Windows Phone 8.1 along with Cortana will hit current WP8 handsets (like the HTC 8X shown here) in the next few months.

Caption by / Photo by James Martin/CNET

Similar to Swype and Android's gesture typing keyboard, Windows Phone 8.1 uses Word Flow for one-handed text entry.

Caption by / Photo by James Martin/CNET

Pick your accent color and style of your Start Screen.

Caption by / Photo by James Martin/CNET

Bring a little color to your settings and notifications screens.

Caption by / Photo by James Martin/CNET
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