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Windows Phone 8.1 introduces some great new features to redesign your Start screen. Among these is the ability to set tile backgrounds, enabling you to create a striking new look for your phone.

Make Your Windows Phone Unique: Redecorate!

Several tools are available for Windows Phone 8 that will help you to decorate your Start screen tiles with a unified background image, but these haven’t proved too popular as the process of configuring with these apps is rather slow.

Fortunately, Windows Phone 8.1 deals with this by introducing some new Start screen settings, enabling the user to add a background image to decorate the tiles.

A selection of curated images are provided as part of the update (the preview version is available now) that can be set as striking Start screen backgrounds. You can also choose from your own photos, although finding a similarly effective image can be tricky.

Configuring The Start Screen

As with previous versions of Windows Phone, the Start screen in 8.1 can be restyled with a dark or white background and an accent colour Four Ways To Customize Your Windows Phone Four Ways To Customize Your Windows Phone Same old is boring! If you’re getting tired of the same old lock screen, ringtone or Windows Phones' limited tile colours, it's time to take action and customize your phone. Read More (used for notifications and tile backgrounds) from a choice of 20. Open the Settings > start+theme screen to change this.

muo-wp81-start-tiles

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Also available in this screen is the option to add another column of 2×2 tiles. Toggle this with the Show more Tiles switch; you’ll need to rearrange the Start screen when this is activated in order to take advantage of the extra space.

Setting A Background Image

To set a background image you’ll need to tap the choose photo button, which will open up the various image folders on your Windows Phone. While you can select from your Camera Roll, Facebook or OneDrive accounts – or even snap a new photo via the camera button – the Backgrounds folder is where you will find 41 preset images to choose from.

muo-wp81-startscreen-bg

After dragging to position the image as you would like it to appear in the background, tap the crop button and this change will be applied.

Although described in Windows Phone as a background image, the graphic you select will appear as the background to your Start screen tiles, rather than the Start screen itself. The effect will be a stunning, mosaic-like finish.

(Note that some tiles will retain their original image after the image is applied. Some native apps such as Games and Music will keep the icon and background colour, while third party apps – particularly those with live tile functionality – will also remain unchanged.)

Choosing Your Own Windows Phone 8.1 Background Image

With 41 images available and flexibility with the tile arrangement on your Windows Phone device (perhaps a Nokia Lumia 1020 Nokia Lumia 1020 Review and Giveaway Nokia Lumia 1020 Review and Giveaway Is it a phone? Is it a camera? No, it’s the Nokia Lumia 1020! Read More , for example), the end result should be that you’re able to customise the Start screen to look stunning.

You can also choose your own images, although you may find a few things to bear in mind when setting a new background for Windows Phone 8.1:

  • Keep it simple: don’t use an image that is too “busy”, with lots of elements and colours.
  • Select an accent colour to match the prominent colour in your background image, or one that contrasts completely.
  • For the best effects, be prepared to rearrange your Windows Phone 8.1 Start screen to group the translucent tiles together.

These layout illustrations are nothing more than suggestions, but they will give you a good idea of what you will need to do to get the best results from background images.

muo-wp81-startscreen-good

As you can see, neither of these background images really work. They feature far too much visual information; essentially detracting from the data your phone is trying to show you via the live tiles.

muo-wp81-startscreen-bad

Will app developers make their app tiles similarly “see-through”? Let’s hope so! In the meantime, a couple of free, third party apps have been released that you can use to create a stunning custom background, Polyscreen and Start Screen Customizer.

muo-wp81-startscreen-3rdparty

Conclusion: Your Windows Phone Can Now Look Stunning!

Like many features in Windows Phone, achieving greater control over the look of your handset has been quite a wait. Fortunately, the Windows Phone 8.1 update delivers many excellent improvements, of which improved Start screen customization is just one.

Having said that, the oft-requested Start screen rotation feature is still missing, perhaps never to be seen. If you’re someone who watches a lot of movies and video on your phone, then this will obviously be a drawback.

Windows Phone 8.1 offers a lot of scope for creating some stunning backgrounds – let us know how you get on with yours!

  1. Posta Notah
    November 10, 2014 at 8:57 pm

    You are spot on, John! I can customize the color of the live tile for Wikipedia through the app but Microsoft can't allow us to customize the background color for live tiles? Give me a break! I've been waiting almost a year for this upgrade and had read somewhere that this option would be included in 8.1 but apparently not. VERY disappointed.

  2. John
    September 15, 2014 at 10:31 pm

    As usual nowadays, a 'feature' which is really more 'fluff' and not really executed that well. It might be sort of 'neat' but half the tiles don't obey the 'background' image. Of those, about half still show the theme color (and theme colors are limited to 20 pastel colors reminiscent of the 16 bit color days ...would it kill a designer to have a 'color choice' wheel, or a spot to type in RGB values?!?) while the other half show random reds, oranges, blues, greens or other images which must have been implanted by the creator.

    So much for a nice unified theme, or being able to add color where YOU want to.

  3. Juan
    May 16, 2014 at 1:06 pm

    Don't forget about Theme+, which generates awesome custom backgrounds. I think they fit perfectly the design of the tiles.

    Link to the Store: http://windowsphone.com/s?appid=10d51fbf-dd6a-4287-bd15-178315545682

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