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November 7, 2014

Fast, not furious: 6 tips for using Lock screen and Action Center on the go

I’m all about shortcuts and timesavers. I brush my teeth in the shower if I’m running late, synchronize taking out the trash with picking up the mail, and take advantage of certain track abnormalities to win at Mario Kart.

Windows Phone 8.1 provides some equally satisfying life optimization, thanks to Action Center and other things you can use without having to unlock your phone.* Here’s how I get the most out of my phone, all without having to waste 1.47 seconds entering my password.

1. Screen envy

In order to get the most out of the dozens of times I compulsively check my phone each day, I’ve taken full advantage of the lock screen’s ability to give me quick info from the apps I choose. Up to five quick status slots can be filled with various and sundry apps of your choosing, which can show the number of voicemails, texts, and other app updates you have waiting for you. One app can even be promoted to King of the Apps and show a more detailed status. My Calendar currently sits on that lofty throne. Fiddle around with your quick and detailed status notifications in Settings > Lock screen.

As for the background behind these notifications, you can use a photo from your Camera Roll, but I like to change it up often (as much as I like looking at the transcendently delicious coconut fudge sundae I ate last week, it’s eventually time to move on). The daily Bing photos are a good way to get variety with minimal effort—they’re almost always awe-inspiring (or hilarious). You’ll find Bing, your photos, and a bunch of other options under Settings > Lock screen > Background.

The Lock screen with the daily Bing image selected as the background

2. Oh, snap!

Your dog won’t be making that ridiculous face forever, so you shouldn’t waste precious moments entering your password to take a photo of it. Press and hold the Camera button (most Windows Phones have one) to bring up the camera and snap as many photos as your heart desires. The phone will need to be unlocked before those photos can actually be viewed or deleted, so no one can mess with your pics or albums. (Make sure to select the Press and hold camera button to wake up the phone check box in Settings > Photos + camera. If your phone doesn’t have a Camera button, though, it won’t have this setting.) You can also add Camera to your quick actions in action center. Speaking of…

 3. Instant action

Swipe down from the top of the screen to pull down action center and see your notifications and quick actions in Windows Phone 8.1’s shiny, new Action Center. Notifications range from app updates and recent text messages, to social network info, including when people “Like” your insightful status, or when someone tags you in that photo where you totally have a double chin and need to untag yourself immediately. Quick actions won’t save you from unwanted photo tags, but these dynamic settings can be changed with a quick swipe and a tap (more on that in a bit).

So what’s my tip? Use Action Center! It’s crazy convenient and fast. Swiping down from the top of my screen to see what’s new has become an automatic gesture for me—that’s how often I use it.


4. Peek-a-boo

Now for some more specific action center tips, specifically about quick actions, which let you change settings like Bluetooth, airplane mode, rotation lock, and more. Swipe partway down to show just your quick actions, but not your notifications. This comes in handy for quickly turning on rotation lock without having to swipe Action Center all the way down—perfect for when I’m reading in bed and want to keep the article, message, or whatever in view, while making sure the screen doesn’t rotate when my head hits the pillow.

Quick actions in Action Center

5. Need for speed

Usually I’m on top of my notifications, but when a sunny weekend rolls around they tend to pile up while I’m pulling my shorts out of storage and scarfing down various grilled meats. That’s when I turn to the Karate Kid “Wax Off” method of notifications triage.

Usually, you have to swipe away each individual app’s notifications to remove it, but if you want to disappear the whole lot of ‘em, swipe over with two fingers instead of one. You can also tap Clear all, but I think the “Wax Off” method is more satisfying.

6. A banner day for personalization

For me, Windows Phone 8.1 hits the sweet spot of having granular control without being overwhelming or confusing. The new settings for notification banners are a perfect example of this balance.

In Settings > Notifications + actions, you can tap individual apps and settings to choose whether notifications vibrate, make a sound, or even show up as banners or action center notifications in the first place. Setting up individual notification sounds for each app means you don’t even have to take your phone out of your pocket to know where a notification is coming from. That’s some Mario Kart-level timesaving right there.

Dismissing a notification banner

*This post refers to features in Windows Phone 8.1. If your phone is running Windows Phone 8, some of them won’t be available. Check to see which software version you have and find out if an update is available.