Making progress

First look at Windows 10 on phones: Clean, elegant and promising

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Microsoft promised a preview version of Windows 10 for phones would arrive before the end of February and it delivered on that promise earlier this week. If you’ve signed up for the Windows Insider program and have a currently supported phone, you can install Windows 10 on your handset. I’m not sure I’d do that if I were you, though.

That’s not a knock against Microsoft at all. It’s more of a disclaimer — one that Microsoft makes as well — that the software is just a preview and the final release will certainly have improvements and features that aren’t here yet. If I used Windows Phone as my primary device, I’d heed the company’s warning. But I’m a risk taker and I have a loaner phone from Microsoft, so I installed Windows 10 on a Lumia 830 yesterday. I haven’t used the software for long but I like the direction Windows 10 is headed in so far.

Right off the bat, the biggest visual improvement, in my opinion, is the revamped Settings app. Gone is the relatively unorganized endless list of options. In its place is a well-designed interface with clear setting groupings and high-information density. Microsoft still needs to do some work, though: Some groupings use this new look while others are still pre-Windows 10.

Windows 10 settings

The one-touch settings in the pull-down notification shade are expandable as well. You still get Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, screen rotation and a button for the Settings app (or whatever Quick Actions you personally choose), but now you can tap an Expand dropdown button for additional settings buttons.

Windows 10 settings pull down

And while we’re on this screen, the notifications themselves are easier to work with. Instead of dismissing all of the notifications tied to a single app, you can dismiss individual notifications within an app. Here’s an example with email.

Windows 10 notification dismiss

I see that some notifications have expansion options, presumably for some additional actions — think replay and delete in email, for example — but such options aren’t there yet. Incoming text notifications now support inline responses as well, either by voice or keyboard. I believe that Microsoft will add similar interactions for other notifications so that you can take action or respond without leaving the app you’re currently using.

I noticed a new microphone icon on the software keyboard in Windows 10 as well; it sits above the keyboard, next to where word suggestions appear. Tap the microphone and Windows 10 will transcribe your spoken word, complete with punctuation if you add it; I said “comma” in the test below and it worked fine, even adding the period on its own. In hindsight, I probably should have said “semi-colon” though.

Windows 10 speech input

I’ve long thought that Microsoft’s native keyboard was one of the best by comparison to iOS and Android and the addition of the voice transcription will only make it better for some. An interesting addition to the keyboard is a little four-way software button at the bottom left: Press and hold to activate it. You can use it like a virtual directional pad for improved cursor movement.

Windows 10 phone d-pad

Also new to Windows 10 for phones is a native File Explorer application. It looks clean and I love that it works in landscape mode as well as portrait. You can create new folders, get the property information of an object, move files and more.

Windows 10 phone File Explorer

I don’t see any link here to Microsoft OneDrive and don’t know if there will ever be one, but I’d like to see it at some point. Yes, the OneDrive app comes with Windows on phones; it just seems like an obvious way to blend local and cloud files in one place to me.

Speaking of OneDrive, Microsoft Windows 10 brings a new Photos app that does what I want the File Explorer to do: Shows local and cloud-stored photos all in one place. The OneDrive photos don’t have to appear; I found a slider to disable that feature. The app will group pics into Collections, Albums and Folders automatically but in this preview version I’m using, the latter two functions aren’t yet working.

Windows 10 phone Photos

Microsoft says that many anticipated features and functions aren’t yet in the preview version. So I haven’t seen the new Mail and Calendar universal apps, for example, nor the changes to Office or integration between text messaging and Skype. And I have seen some glitchy behavior here and there. But that’s to be expected.

Windows 10 preview is clearly a work in progress. And it is progress: Building upon many of the Windows 8.1 aspects I like with a more modern, clean and universal take on mobile computing. Microsoft still has a bunch of work to do here, but I think it’s on the right track with Windows 10 on phones so far.

I expect the software to get frequent updates so I won’t be writing about all of them. However, I’ll revisit the software here with new posts when it makes sense do to so based on Microsoft’s progress. In the meantime, I’m happy to answer any questions about the software for those who don’t have a supported handset or don’t want to install the beta software.

10 Responses to “First look at Windows 10 on phones: Clean, elegant and promising”

  1. This looks like nice progress.

    It’s a real shame that they have been quite lazy with flagships. I don’t intend to consider moving off of iOS moving forward, but I wanted a Windows Phone badly before and couldn’t find any flagship devices as the Icon was discontinued and I don’t want a 6″ phone (which would require changing carriers).

    I am looking forward to Windows 10 on my Notebook, though. The day I get rid of the start screen will be a glorious day, indeed.

  2. RE: “Also new to Windows 10 for phones is a native File Explorer application. It looks clean and I love that it works in landscape mode as well as portrait. You can create new folders, get the property information of an object, move files and more.”

    Can you upload files other than a photo or video file that are on the device’s built-in or SD card storage within the IE browser (I deliberately am not asking about files stored on OneDrive)? That is one function that is native to computing that is still missing from “smart” phones. I often need to create, edit and upload .xlsx and .docx files and would love to not have to carry my laptop around if this feature works on Windows Phone. I understand mine is a niche need on a “smart” device, but certainly a powerful feature for those who find themselves finding productivity with that usage scenario.

  3. I have a 635 too. How is the update in terms of lag? I am happy with the response time of 8.1, but I have pretty low standards. I am wondering if #512RAM is really a functional base for this system update … @theJfadams