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.

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