Eight things you didn't know your Windows Phone could do

No matter how hard it tries, and how much it improves, Windows Phone just can’t get respect. If iOS is like Jay-Z—polished and effortlessly cool—then Windows Phone is like Kanye West —overeager and trying too hard.

But there’s something to be said for effort: Windows Phone has improved greatly over the years, and version 8 is the best yet. Despite its also-ran reputation, Windows Phone 8 includes some slick features that will make your life a whole lot easier. These may not grab Kanye-sized headlines, but they’re still pretty handy, nonetheless. Maybe Windows Phone needs to marry a Kardashian.

Note: All of the following features should work on most, if not all, Windows Phone 8 handsets, but some manufacturers and carriers may have disabled or removed them.

Name that tune

Who needs Shazam when your phone can look up songs on its own?

iPhone owners love to boast that there’s an app for everything, and there just might be. But sometimes, less is more—especially when you can accomplish the same task without any app. Such is the case with music recognition, a task that requires a third-party app such as Shazam when you’re using an iPhone.

But Windows Phone has built-in functionality to identify songs: When you hear a song you like, you simply tap Search, and then select the music note icon. Your phone listens to the tune, and then identifies it for you.

If you really like the song, you’ll be happy to know that Windows Phone also takes you right to a store where you can buy and download the track. That’s a level of cooperation that even Apple fans can envy.

Send your apologies, in advance

Rock stars and rappers can get away with being late, but for the rest of us, it’s just plain rude. Luckily, your Windows Phone can help you avoid this social faux pas by letting people know when you’re running late for appointments. It works if you’ve created a calendar entry with attendees: You select the appointment you’ve created, and then tap the icon that looks like a rushing person. You’ll get a draft message, which you can send as is or edit to your liking. Miss Manners (and your boss) would likely approve.

Speak a new language

Windows Phone’s Bing translator app is handy when traveling abroad—or while reading the local takeout menu.

Okay, this cool trick requires an app, but it’s a free one direct from Microsoft. Download Bing Translator to your Windows Phone, and you may never feel lost in a foreign land again.

Once installed, it allows you to point your phone’s camera at a sign, menu, or any printed text in one of 40 languages, and instantly translate it.

You also can type text directly into the app for translation, in case you’re unable to snap a photo. And Bing Translator doesn’t require an Internet connection in order to work, so you can avoid hefty roaming charges.

Power saver

Long battery life is the holy grail of any mobile device, especially when you’re on the go and away from a charger. Windows Phone makes it easy to preserve every last drop of juice, thanks to its built-in Battery Saver option, which you can turn on in the Settings menu.

When Battery Saver is enabled, the phone won’t run apps in the background or sync email automatically. Your calling and texting will not be interrupted, but you’ll have to sync apps and email manually.

iPhone owners can conserve battery life by taking some of the same steps, but they all have to be enacted manually, as iOS does not offer a similar, one-step battery saver option.

Share your location, selectively

Now you can update your friends on where you are.

When you’re running late and you want to tell your friends that you’re almost there, you could pick up the phone and call them. Or you could type out a detailed message with your location. Or, you could use Windows Phone’s built-in location sharing feature.

It works when you’re sending a text: you just tap the paper clip icon and select the option to attach your location directly to the message.

The recipient gets your location as a thumbnail map, which can be opened in the Maps app for more detail. (And if they’re using some other kind of phone, like an, ahem, Android or iOS device, they’ll get a link they can open in their browser.) Now, your friends will believe you when you say “I’ll be right there.”

Calculate like a professor

Every smartphone can double as a calculator, making it easier to split a bill or balance your checkbook. But when you need to handle advanced calculations, Windows Phone has you covered.

Open your calculator and rotate your handset to the left, and the plain-old calculator becomes a scientific calculator—handy when you need to solve a physics equation or want to practice trigonometry in your spare time.

Rotate the handset to the right and the calculator becomes a hexadecimal calculator, which is handy when you want to...calculate hexadecimally? If you actually know what a hexadecimal calculator is, I’m sure you’ll be happy your Windows Phone has one.

Get in the group

Groups in Windows Phone let you get updates from the people you care about most.

With so many friends and contacts, it can be difficult to find out what’s going on with the folks you really want to stay in touch with.

Windows Phone lets you create Groups, which allow you to focus your attention on a smaller subset of people. You can add your close friends to a Group that you create, and in that Group, you’ll see the social and email updates from those friends, and have the option to text, email, or instant message the entire group at once.

If you’d like things to be a little exclusive, consider creating a Room. A Room is similar to a group, but is an invitation-only space where you can share calendars, group chats, photos, videos, and notes. Check out our Windows Phone 8 tips and tricks article for more information on how to create and use Groups and Rooms.

Give your fingers a break

Let’s face it: Typing on a touchscreen will never be ideal. But Windows Phone has a few tricks up its sleeve that will make the hard work of composing your messages a little easier. One of the biggest problems with mobile keyboards is just how small they are—even on the biggest phone screens. You have to toggle between keyboards with letters, keyboards with numbers, and keyboards with punctuation. But Windows Phone can make all of this toggling a thing of the past, as it offers a few built-in shortcuts for accessing the various numbers and symbols you need to make your message complete.

The Windows Phone keyboard features shortcuts to help you type faster with less effort.

For example, if you want to quickly access commonly used punctuation marks, simply press and hold down the “.” key on the keyboard. Want to type in all caps? Double tap the Shift key. Want to insert a number? Press and hold the “&123” key and then, while holding it, you’ll see options for numbers or symbols to insert. Just drag your finger to the number or symbol you want to insert, and it will be entered—and you’ll return to the letter keyboard, no toggling required.

These are eight of my favorite Windows Phone tips, tricks, and shortcuts. What are yours? Sound off in the comments below!

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