How to install Windows Phone 8.1 on your smartphone right now

By James Geddes | Apr 17, 2014 10:19 PM EDT

Microsoft will release Windows Phone 8.1 as an update for existing Windows Phone 8 smartphones in the coming months, but you don't have to wait and can install it right now.

Windows Phone 8.1 is a huge update for Microsoft's smartphone operating system and adds many features iOS and Android users have been using for quite some time. The update will be released to all current Windows Phone 8 smartphones sometime in the next few months, but if you want to give it a try now, here's how you can install it for free.

First, you'll need to make sure you have Windows Phone Update 2 installed on your smartphone before you can continue. This can be achieved by going to Settings on your smartphone, tap Phone Update, then tap Check for Updates, then once the update is found tap Install. Your smartphone will restart and then begin installing the update.

Installing Windows Phone 8.1 on your Windows Phone 8 smartphone is a pretty easy task. You'll need to sign up as a developer and create a new project using Windows Phone App Studio, a free tool used to create Windows Phone applications. Don't worry, you won't need to learn how to code to create a project, just click the "Start new project" link on the site.

Once you've started a new project, you can then download Microsoft's free "Preview for Developers" app located here. Once you've installed Preview for Developers, locate it on your smartphone and run it. You'll be presented with a short setup wizard that will guide you through the install and that you'll have to agree to, and sign-in with your Microsoft account. Next, agree to enable the Preview for Developers and then click done to complete. You'll now be running Windows Phone 8.1 on your smartphone.

One of Windows Phone 8.1's biggest and most notable updates is its new Cortana digital assistant feature. Cortana is a mixture of Siri and Google Now and can be used to search by voice, set alarms, create reminders and more.

Windows Phone 8.1 has a new Action Center that is used as a centralized location to access notifications and different settings like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Airplane Mode, and rotation lock by swiping down from the top of the display (similar to iOS and Android). Microsoft has also added a new "Word Flow" keyboard that will allow users to slide their fingers on the on-screen keyboard to create words, similar to Swype and Android's built-in keyboard.

One word of caution when thinking about installing Windows Phone 8.1: Once you install the update, there's no going back to Windows Phone 8. Let us know what you think of Windows Phone 8.1 in the comments.

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