I’ve been using Windows Phone since its first week of release in the UK, back in October 2010. Since then I’ve enjoyed the tiles, the slick UI, the smug satisfaction of owning a phone that isn’t using the same UI five years after its initial release….and the pleasure of portable media and the ability to top up my Xbox Live score while I’m on the move.
Of course, there are downsides to owning a Windows Phone, notably the lack of customization options. While the various devices might have minor manufacturer or network carrier tweaks, there is no official way of changing the overall look of the user interface beyond a single colour tile and a choice of black and white backgrounds.
Hardly ideal, but fortunately, there are a few hacks that can be used to get around this.
Refresh The Windows Phone Start Screen The Official Way
Tweaking your Windows Phone settings is limited to just a few options. The differences can be striking, but on the whole there is nothing that will suddenly change the OS into anything unrecognizable – pretty much what Microsoft hopes to avoid (their previous experience with the old Windows Mobile saw all manner of user interface overlays contributing to a hugely fractured platform).
Via the Settings menu, open Theme. Here you will see two options, Background and Accent color. Using this you can switch the background between Dark and Light (the former being the optimum choice if you’re hoping to squeeze as much juice out of your battery as possible) while the Accent color option presents a choice of tile colours, from which only one can be selected. This colour will also be used to highlight links and other important information on your phone.
So, is this it as far as tweaks go?
Say “Thanks” to Your Device Manufacturer
Companies such as HTC and Nokia offer some differences to the Windows Phone experience that you should take a look at if the opportunity presents itself.
Most notable is HTC, which – true to form – attempts to add a version of the Sense UI to the platform, in the shape of a hub. Hubs are a grouping of similar features on Windows Phone. There is an Office hub where you will find Word, Excel and OneNote, and a Games hub where all of your installed games can be found.
In the HTC hub, owners can find a new home screen plus some HTC-only apps to install. This alternative screen includes a weather tool, displays the date and time but does little else. It looks great, however.
Want More Customization Options For Windows Phone?
There are several apps in the Marketplace that give Windows Phone a new UI without actually applying any permanent changes. On the whole, these apps are a bit of fun, but they provide a useful look at how your phone might look if Microsoft opened up the options a bit.
The problem here is that Microsoft locks access to developers wanting to link to the various hubs. This means that apps such as the charming Wiztiles (available in free and premium versions) cannot create tiles that will launch the Games hub or the Pictures hub. What this app can do, however, is allow users to create their own tiles based on photos, achieving some interesting designs.
Really, the only other choice is to customize your lock screen, using images saved to your device (either photos or pictures from the Internet). Do this via Settings > Lock + wallpaper > Change Wallpaper.
A Locked System = Locked Options
Ultimately, the Windows Phone platform is locked down pretty tight. Unless your device is unlocked using any of the available methods, you can’t even hope of changing the basic theme options.
However, for most users, these choices seem to be enough. Microsoft’s attempt to build a secure and safe platform has been far more successful with Windows Phone than it was with Windows Mobile, with much less piracy and virtually no platform fragmentation. Sadly, the downside of this has been a restriction of features, but perhaps we’ll see a freer UI in Windows Phone 8.