How to scan QR codes in Windows Phone 8.1

In this easy Ask the Admin, I’ll show you how to scan QR codes using Bing Vision in Windows Phone 8.1.

Are QR codes effective?

There’s lots of debate in the marketing industry about how useful QR codes are. Unlike other methods of getting potential customers to interact with you, such as SMS codes, email and Facebook, QR codes are a one-way transaction that don’t allow the collection of contact information for re-marketing purposes. Some even say that say QR codes are dead.

Nevertheless, when I was on vacation in Greece earlier this year, I’ve seen them dotted around in various places, and although I’ve not been especially tempted to scan them, I realized that I had no idea if it was possible to scan a QR code in Windows Phone 8.1 without downloading a third-party app. The Microsoft Authenticator app has built-in capability to scan QR codes, which I know because I’ve used it on the phone before, but I didn’t know how to scan a code independently.

Using Bing Vision to scan QR codes

One of the barriers cited for the lack of uptake of QR codes is the need for smartphone users to download an app that’s capable of scanning them. Back in 2011, Microsoft introduced Bing Vision in Windows Phone 7.5, which not only scanned QR codes, but also barcodes, books, CDs, DVDs and now phased-out MS Tags.

Windows Phone 8.1 makes it easy to scan QR codes with Bing Vision. (Image: Dreamstime)
Windows Phone 8.1 makes it easy to scan QR codes with Bing Vision. (Image: Dreamstime)

But many users new to Windows Phone could have a hard time finding Bing Vision in Windows Phone 8.1. And even if users happen to find it, note that there’s only the ability to scan QR codes and translate text.

Scanning a QR code

Let’s scan a QR code using Windows Phone 8.1. If you don’t have a code handy, then you can use the code at the top of the Wikipedia page on QR codes. The instructions in this article assume that the default camera app on your phone is set to the Microsoft camera app.

  1. Before scanning a QR code, unlock your phone. If you don’t unlock your phone now, you will be prompted to do it at a later stage in the process.
  2. Press and hold the camera button on the side of the phone until the camera app opens.
  3. In the camera app, press the lenses icon in the bottom left corner.
  4. You will be shown a list of available lenses on your phone. Select Bing Vision, which should be first in the list.
  5. Now hold your phone’s camera in front of the QR code.

That’s it! You don’t need to do anything else. The camera will automatically detect and focus on the QR code. There’s no need to press the shutter. The translated QR code will be displayed at the top of the screen. You can then click on the result to open the URL if you have an Internet connection.

If you aren’t connected to the Internet at the time of scanning the code, the history button allows you to see results for codes you’ve scanned so that you can use them at a later time.