SMALLER TABLETS — Windows 8.1 now has a home screen that looks good in portrait mode on screens measuring 7 inches to 8 inches diagonally.
LOCK SCREEN ACCESS — You can now answer Skype calls or take photos from the lock screen without having to log in. Just swipe down. You can also set other apps like Twitter to send notifications when the screen is locked.
BETTER MULTITASKING — In Windows 8.1, you can run up to four apps at once side by side, double the previous amount, though you need a large, high-resolution monitor to do so (On their own, Microsoft's Surface tablets are not big enough for more than two). You can resize panes using a slider that moves side to side, instead of being limited to one larger window and one slender one. This is still not as capable as Windows 7 or in desktop mode, where you can open dozens of items in windows that can be resized horizontally, vertically and diagonally. And many app makers have yet to adapt, meaning some apps still appear as a thin sliver, even if you want them to take up half the screen.
GLOBAL SEARCH — Typing while on the tile-based start screen will pull up multiple search results — if applicable — from your computer, the Web and the Windows app store. If you're searching for a musician, you'll see a list of popular songs you can play using Xbox Music, and if it's someone famous (like President Barack Obama) you'll see biographical details, videos and other information. Before, you had to choose where to search: in apps, settings, computer files or on the Internet.
EMAIL UPDATE — The standard-issue Mail app now has a "power pane" on left-hand side with folders for updates from social networks like Facebook, messages from favorite contacts and newsletters. Some of these features work only with Microsoft accounts such as Hotmail and Outlook.com, though. A new "sweep" command deletes multiple messages with a couple taps.
BETTER BROWSING — No longer are you limited to 10 open tabs in the tile version of Internet Explorer. Before, Web pages automatically closed without prompts when you try to open more. You can open as many as you want now. Better yet, you can have two different websites displayed side by side, the way you've long been able to before Windows 8 came along.
XBOX MUSIC REFRESH — The music streaming app now optimizes playback over discovery with a layout that has more lists and smaller photos. It also adds the ability to create playlists from any website with a couple taps. When on a website featuring artists, swipe in from the right edge and tap the Share button followed by the Music button. It will create a song playlist based on those artists, which you can then stream for free.
PICTURE EDITING — A picture editor with pre-set effects comes with the update, allowing for photo touchups, cropping, contrast changes and other features.
XBOX ONE INTEGRATION — You can pick up where you left off if you start playing a video purchased on Xbox Video on a tablet and then watch the rest on Microsoft's upcoming game console, Xbox One.
Follow Ryan Nakashima on Twitter at https://twitter.com/rnakashi
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