Microsoft has released the developer preview of Windows Phone 8.1, the first version of the company’s smartphone operating system to feature the new “Cortana” voice assistant, a pull-down action center for responding to notifications and accessing settings, and many other enhancements.
The first phones with Windows Phone 8.1 are expected to ship later this month or in May, and soon the software will be available as a free update for many phones that currently run Windows Phone 8.
But if you want to get your hands on Windows Phone 8.1 early all you have to do is register as a developer.
Keep in mind, technically Windows Phone 8.1 is still pre-release software at this point, which means it’s not officially supported as a consumer operating system until Microsoft releases it to everyone. But with a public launch imminent, running the developer preview isn’t as risky as it could be… although you could risk voiding your phone’s warranty.
But as Engadget points out, pretty much anyone can register as a developer with Microsoft’s App Studio for free, and that’ll snag you the ability to install the developer preview. You have to pay $19 if you actually want to publish apps to the Windows Store, but if you’re not really a developer, you probably don’t need to do that.
You can find more details at the Windows Phone Preview for Developers page.
Early reviews of the operating system suggest it’s the best version of Windows Phone yet… and something that could be even more competitive with Android and iOS than earlier versions of Microsoft’s mobile OS. You can read some of those reviews at Engadget, Gizmodo, Ars Technica, and The Verge.