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Of the many new features in Windows Phone 8.1, the revisions made to the notification center are among the most impressive, enabling you to quickly check emails, notifications and even change connectivity state.
One of the biggest complaints of Windows Phone 7 and Windows Phone 8 was the inability to manage notifications. As soon as the phone or an app informed you of a particular situation (perhaps a reply to a Facebook status, for instance) the message was lost shortly after, never to be seen again. This would happen whether the toast popup was dismissed manually (by swiping left to right) or if it simply timed out.
Needless to say, this was an inadequate situation, especially when compared with the similar features on Android and iOS, both of which enabled past notifications to be reviewed and dismissed.
With the introduction of the Windows Phone 8.1 Developer Preview (which anyone can install) we can see how problems with this feature have now been resolved with the new Action Center, named after the similar feature in the desktop OS.
Where Is The Action Center?
You can take a look at the Action Center by dragging it down from the top of the Windows Phone 8.1 display. This can be done from the Start screen and app list, as well as any app or game that leaves the notification area (where the icons, battery status and time are displayed) visible.
Once opened, you’ll find that the Action Center can be displayed in two states. The first is just for the connectivity options, and displays Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Airplane Mode and Rotation Lock, along with a shortcut to the Settings screen.
The second state is a full screen view that also includes your notifications.
In previous versions of Windows Phone, toggling Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and other connectivity states was a case of opening the relevant Settings page and sliding the corresponding switch. Even with third party apps that would create Start screen shortcuts the process was clunky, the apps only providing shortcuts to the Settings rather than existing as single-tap toggles in their own right.
How To Toggle Wi-Fi From The Windows Phone 8.1 Action Center
With Wi-Fi activated, Windows Phone will disregard any mobile Internet connection (as such, there is no toggle for mobile Internet). Rather than spend valuable seconds navigating to the Settings screen for Wi-Fi, in Windows Phone 8.1 this can be toggled on with a single tap.
Long-tapping will bring up the Wi-Fi settings screen where you can adjust things like whether the network should be connected to automatically, or proxy settings.
Interestingly, tapping the Wi-Fi button to disable the connection doesn’t have the effect of immediate disconnecting. Instead, you will be returned to the settings screen to flick the switch to turn Wi-Fi off, whereupon a new menu, Turn Wi-Fi back on, will be displayed. This enables you to specify 1 hour, 4 hours, 1 day, near my favourite places and manually as conditions. Hopefully there will be the option to simply tap to disable when Windows Phone 8.1 is finally rolled out as a full update, but until then these are good options, not dissimilar to the functionality available in other mobile operating systems using third party apps (such as Tasker for Android).
Conversely, Bluetooth, Airplane Mode and Rotation Lock can be toggled on and off with single taps.
Checking Messages In The Action Center
Messages from apps that appear in the Action Center might be notifications from Facebook, alerts about new emails, even updates from games you’re currently playing (specifically online turn-based affairs).
Tapping a notification will take you to the relevant detail in the corresponding app, while tapping the more notifications option will open the app at the main screen or any list of notifications that it might have.
Finally, notifications can of course be dismissed. You can use a couple of different methods to do this. First is the Clear all option, found at the top portion of the Action Center in full screen view – tap this to dismiss all of the notifications.
You can also dismiss notifications by swiping them from left to right as they appear in the list. For multiple notices from the same app, find the app heading, then swipe this to dismiss en masse.
Securing The Action Center
By default, the Action Center can be accessed from the Windows Phone lock screen. Obviously this isn’t particularly secure, but fortunately it is a setting that can be changed.
Open Settings > notifications+actions where the Show notifications in action center when my phone is locked check box can be found, and clear the check. From now on, only the connectivity options will be accessible from the lock screen.
Configuring The Action Center
You may find that the Windows Phone 8.1 Action Center is far too busy for your liking. This might be due to having too many apps that can access it.
Deal with this by opening the notifications+actions screen and configuring how the app notifications are displayed, what sounds are used and, of course, whether you actually want a particular app to even bother informing you of any notifications!
From the notifications+action screen you can also change the quick action buttons. This is done by tapping the button you don’t want to use, which will then display a second screen of alternatives. Replacement buttons might be to quickly launch the camera, or enable Internet sharing, for example.
Manage Notifications & Connectivity With Ease
We’ve already explored the many reasons to upgrade to Windows Phone 8.1 from a compatible device.
Even if you prefer to wait until the official roll-out rather than get in early and use the Developer Preview, you should be aware that there is a whole host of excellent new features being introduced.
Of these, the Action Center is probably the one to improve how you use your phone, reducing the time navigating pointless menus and enabling fast and efficient review and dismissal of notifications.