Windows 10 review: Code in the latest Windows 10 update fuels rumours of a Surface Phone
This isn’t the first time rumours of such a device have circulated, but this could be the strongest glimpse yet, from an official source.
In particular, code uncovered in a recent Windows 10 update hints at the existence of a device running on Andromeda OS, an upcoming, modular, version of Windows 10. A recent report suggested that the first build of Andromeda OS would focus on mobile devices, and possibly wearables. Andromeda is due to launch later this year, early next year so we could see the Surface Phone within months, although that is an incredibly optimistic estimate.
A Surface Phone has been rumoured for years, since the first Surface tablets launched.
Original article continues below
The Windows 10 April Update (formerly known as the Windows 10 Spring Update) is live. Microsoft began the global rollout to all machines on 8 May, more than a week after the 30 April launch, and staggered it in this way to iron out any bugs or problems.
You don’t have to do anything to get the update; it rolls out automatically to you through Windows Update so chances are, you already have it. If you don’t have automatic updates enabled, you can force the update to appear manually by going to Settings | Update & security | Windows Update.
Click “Check for updates” and the download and installation process will begin. Microsoft has also outlined the steps in a tutorial video (below).
What’s new in the Windows 10 April 2018 Update?
Among the new features in the Windows 10 April 2018 Update is a Timeline feature that will allow you to resume apps and activities if you switch from one Windows 10 device to another. There are also tweaks to the way some parts of Windows 10 look as well, with the taskbar, clock and action centre all getting small updates. Cortana has received upgrades, and there are further improvements to the way Windows 10 scales on high-resolution displays.
What was new in the Fall Creators update?
Fall Creators Update preceded the upcoming Spring Creators update but, despite the name, it didn’t have much to do with creativity. The main enhancement in that direction was an updated version of the Photos app, which now includes a whole new video-editing module.
This, to be fair, is quite fun to play with: you can create animated slideshows of your images and video footage in seconds, drawing on a selection of preset visual themes, audio beds and transition effects. There’s also a one-click “Video remix” function which makes all the decisions for you. Simply select your images and hit the button, and it combines them into a striking video presentation.
It’s all very limited stuff, though. For example, there’s no easy way to synchronise an audio track or overlay sound effects; overall, it’s less capable than the old (now discontinued) Windows Movie Maker app. For anything more advanced than the odd Facebook post, you’ll want to invest in proper third-party software.
Aside from that, the Fall Creators Update also includes the Mixed Reality Viewer app, which lets you superimpose 3D models onto scenes captured by your device’s camera. It’s a cute technology demo – the app automatically identifies the floor, and generates virtual shadows to make your model look like part of the scene – but again it’s hardly what you’d call creative.
Updates to Edge
Not many people use Edge as their first-choice browser, but Microsoft is gradually developing it into a contender. Mobile editions for Android and iOS were released a few weeks ago, allowing you to sync bookmarks and other settings across desktop and mobile devices.
On top of that, the new version included with the Fall Creators Update brings improved PDF handling, so you can now fill out PDF forms in the browser, and even write into them with a stylus. There are improvements to EPUB handling too, plus a “read aloud” feature which could be useful if you’re partially sighted, or just trying to do two things at once. Sadly, the implementation is far from perfect: the synthesised voice is exhaustingly monotonous, and tends to put pauses and emphases in unnatural places.
General interface changes
The Fall Creators Update brings numerous tweaks to the general behaviour and appearance of Windows 10. Notably, the Action Centre gets a new look – it’s one of the first elements to showcase Microsoft’s new “Fluent” design system. This isn’t a huge break from what we have now, but it means that apps and controls start to look more shiny and translucent (a bit more like they did in Windows 7), and make more use of animation. If you’re interested, Microsoft has released a video showcasing the new Fluent elements.
The Start menu has also been given a Fluent touch-up, with shiny highlights following your mouse cursor around. And it’s now possible to adjust the size of the Start menu diagonally, by clicking and dragging from the top-right corner.
Elsewhere, an inconspicuous My People icon has appeared to the left of the notification area. From here you can quickly send emails in Windows Mail, exchange instant messages or set up voice and video calls in Skype. Up to three contacts can be pinned next to it too, for even quicker communications. It’s not a bad feature, but by now most people will surely already have found a communications workflow that works for them – quite possibly involving Slack, or some other third-party technology that doesn’t neatly integrate with Microsoft’s People app.
Still, whichever communications platform you use, the Fall Creators Update makes it easier than ever to send daft messages to your colleagues with a new system-wide floating emoji palette – simply press the Windows key and full-stop together to open it.
Settings and services
The updated Settings app looks much the same as it did before, but browse around and you’ll find some more new features. The Storage settings now include the option to automatically purge untouched files from your Downloads folder after 30 days. There’s a toggle to enable native HDR support too, if you monitor supports it, and a new Cortana section that brings together all the various settings relating to Microsoft’s digital virtual assistant.
One particularly promising new feature is power throttling: if you’re running on battery power, and your profile is set to Balanced or Battery Saver, Windows will now slow down apps running in the background to prolong battery life. The company claims it’s achieved longevity improvements of up to 11% using this feature. If there’s an app that you always want to run at full speed, you can configure it in the Battery section of Windows 10’s Power & sleep settings.
Another significant new feature – hidden away in the Windows Defender Security Centre – is Controlled folder access. With this turned on, Windows 10 will throw up an alert if any untrusted process tries to change files in your personal folders, and block the operation. This ought to completely defeat the sort of ransomware attacks that have caused so much chaos recently. Unfortunately it’s not really mature enough to recommend for general use: by default it blocks absolutely every third-party application, and adding exceptions is a tedious manual process.
Finally, there’s a new “Link your phone” feature, which makes it easy to install the Cortana app for iOS and Android, and share URLs between your desktop and mobile devices. Android users can get other notifications, such as missed call alerts, on the desktop too.
OneDrive on demand
If you’re running out of storage, the best part of the Fall Creators Update might be OneDrive’s new “Files on Demand” feature. When this is activated, new files arriving in your OneDrive won’t be automatically downloaded to your PC. They will however appear in Explorer, with a little cloud icon next to them. When you double-click on one of these files, or access it in some other way, it will be automatically fetched from the internet and opened.
Once a file has been downloaded, it remains on your hard disk and subsequent changes are synchronised just like a normal OneDrive file. If you need to reclaim the disk space, you can simply right-click and send it back up into the cloud.
It’s undeniably a more convenient answer to limited storage than Dropbox or Google Drive. It’s just a shame that it didn’t come along a few years ago, when tiny SSDs were still fairly commonplace; nowadays, a few gigabytes here or there don’t make a huge difference to most people.
What’s not in the Fall Creators’ Update
Disappointingly, the new Timeline feature – originally advertised as a key benefit of the Fall Creator’s Update – wasn’t ready in time for release. That’s a shame, as it’s a neat idea: it gives you a chronological view of the recent applications and documents you’ve been working on, and lets you jump back into any of them with a single click. Judging by Microsoft’s promo video, it looks a lot more convenient than opening apps and documents by hand; alas, we’ll probably now have to wait for the next major Windows 10 update for a general release.
Note too that if you’re still using the old Outlook Express email app, this gets removed in the Fall Creators Update, having now been completely replaced by the Mail app. And while Microsoft Paint is still there, it’s now officially deprecated, which means it won’t get any new features and is liable to be removed in a future update.
The future for mobile platforms
Alongside the main release, there’s also a new Fall Creators Update to Windows 10 Mobile – the platform’s little brother that runs on ARM-based smartphones and tablets. This is a much more minor release than the desktop edition though, with far more bugfixes than new features: the main updates are a new two-factor authentication system, improvements to the VPN system and support for all the hottest new emoji symbols.
To be honest, at this stage it barely matters. A few days before the Fall Creators Update officially started to roll out, Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore confirmed that developing Windows 10 Mobile was no longer a “focus” for the company. That makes sense, since almost nobody is making or buying Windows smartphones any more. Even so, it’s a shame, the idea that the same Store apps would run on your desktop and your phone was a key part of the original Windows 10 vision.
Still, the dream might not be dead. Microsoft has recently been developing new builds of Windows 10 running on ARM hardware – which include a Win32 emulation layer, allowing them to run not only Store apps but older x86 applications too. We might soon see a new generation of lightweight laptops and tablets – and yes, even smartphones – that finally deliver the long-promised cross-device experience.
At first glance, the Fall Creators Update looks like a bit of a let-down. There’s nothing very creative about it, the useful-sounding Timeline feature is missing, and many of the visible changes – new interfaces and switched-around settings – feel more like cosmetic tweaks than solid improvements.
Yet there are some very positive features here to discover. Controlled folder access is potentially a very valuable addition, and app throttling could prove a real boon to overworked travellers needing to eke out every last drop of battery power. OneDrive on Demand, meanwhile, is the neatest answer we’ve seen to the problem of cloud syncing on a device that’s short of storage.
All that’s just as well, of course, because as usual this isn’t an optional update: sooner or later, Windows 10 users are going to get the Fall Creators Update whether they want it or not. That being the case, we might perhaps be thankful that Microsoft has held back from big, transformative changes. What it’s given us instead might not be terribly ambitious, but it’s another definite step forward for Windows 10.
What was new in April’s Windows 10 Creators Update?
The big new idea in the Creators Update – the one, presumably, that justifies its name – is a push into 3D. Part of that is the bundling of the new Paint 3D app. Originally released last year as a technology preview, it’s now built into Windows, allowing you to easily “doodle” 3D objects and scenes. It’s undeniably fun to play with, and you can achieve impressive results with a little clicking and dragging around.
It’s a limited offering, though. While it’s possible to output your creation to a 3D printer and to work with pre-made models from Microsoft’s Remix 3D website, Paint 3D lacks the precision tools needed to create complex real-world objects.
Intriguingly, Microsoft has demonstrated an app called Windows Capture 3D that lets you use your smartphone as a 3D scanner, to create virtual models of real-world objects, but that’s not a capability built into the desktop app right now. Like the original Microsoft Paint it’s a fun showcase for Windows’ potential rather than a serious tool in its own right.
The Creators Update also aims to extend Windows itself into the third dimension, via Microsoft’s Mixed Reality API. Previously known as Windows Holographic, this was revealed as part of the original Windows 10 vision back in 2015; now it’s finally coming to reality. Acer, Asus, Dell, HP and Lenovo are all planning to release headsets that let you map interactive 3D content onto the world around you, at prices as low as $300. Those are expected to arrive in the months following the Creators Update: we’ll have to wait and see how well they work.
Windows 10 Creators update: New features for Microsoft Edge
Having gained support for extensions in the Anniversary Update, Microsoft’s Edge browser now gets a slew of new features, including native WebVR support for 3D apps to go with the aforementioned headsets. Edge can also now read ebooks in unprotected EPUB format and you’ll be able to buy books directly from the Windows Store, so in theory your Windows tablet could replace a Kindle or other e-reader.
Everyday users may perhaps be more interested in new options to save and reload tab groups – so you can quickly call up a specific set of pages – and a new preview bar that shows thumbnails of all your open tabs, helping you to jump straight to the right page. It’s also possible to open a new window, or a new private window directly from the Edge icon’s jump list.
Our favourite new feature is the new “set aside” button that temporarily sweeps all your open tabs into a hidden sidebar, allowing you to start browsing afresh with a clean slate. A quick click opens the sidebar, allowing you to restore individual tabs, or bring everything back at once. Through it all, the browser remains impressively fast and lightweight, and these new features make it a more tempting browser choice than ever. It’s just a shame it still lacks cross-platform capabilities, so you can’t sync your preferences with a iOS/Android smartphone or MacBook.
Windows 10 Creators Update review: Updates, updated
One of the big frustrations with Windows 10 has been the lack of control over updates. You have little or no choice about huge amounts of data coming down the line and, even after years of user complaints across numerous versions of the OS, Microsoft still has the knack of restarting your PC at inconvenient times.
The Creators Update brings several improvements that Microsoft hopes will reduce the annoyance. For a start, when a new update requires a reboot, Windows will now warn you with a large colourful banner, allowing you to choose a restart time that suits you, or snooze the update for three days with a click.
The Active hours options have been extended, too. It’s now possible to set a regular period of up to 18 hours a day during which Windows won’t restart, up from 12 hours in previous versions of Windows 10. And, if you have a major project that simply mustn’t be interrupted, you can now pause updates entirely for up to seven days.
Finally, thanks to Microsoft’s new Unified Update Platform, your PC will now only download the specific files that require updating on your PC, rather than fetching a huge archive that might not be needed. At the end of the day, you’re still going to have to update Windows regularly, but the Creators Update gives you much more clarity and control over when your computer restarts, which gets two thumbs up from me.
Creators update is great for gamers
Some new features in the Creators Update will please gamers. A new Game Mode lets Windows give CPU and GPU priority to games, to ensure background processes and applications don’t drag down performance. There are plans in place to activate Game Mode automatically when recognised games are running in the foreground, although you can always disable it, either via the Game Bar or the new Gaming page in the Windows 10 Settings app.
There’s also new support for Beam, Microsoft’s own live-streaming service. You can now start sharing a live video stream of your game over the internet with just a few keypresses, directly from the Game Bar. Thanks to a claimed latency of less than a second, you can also carry on live conversations with viewers, which appear overlaid on your game screen and even allow remote watchers to trigger in-game events.
Windows 10 Creators Update: Privacy changes
One of the most controversial aspects of Windows 10 is how much information it shares with Microsoft about what you’re doing with it. With the Creators Update, Microsoft has made a few changes aimed at providing greater transparency. When you install the update, you’ll be prompted to review your privacy settings: the Express option, which previously enabled all of Windows 10’s information-sharing settings, is now gone. These configuration settings will now be put directly in front of you, so you can actively choose whether to allow them or not.
Along with this change, Microsoft has also introduced a new online privacy centre where you can check up on the information that’s stored about you online, and optionally delete it from Microsoft’s servers. Really this should have been in place from the start, but it’s a step in the right direction that should go some way towards assuaging privacy fears.
Hey Cortana, what’s new in the Creators Update?
Microsoft’s voice assistant gets some new features in the Creators Update. New capabilities include controlling the volume of audio, and locking, restarting or shutting down your PC or laptop. It’s also possible to set more sophisticated recurring reminders by simply saying (for example) that you want a nudge every week.
Cortana also gets a new full-screen interface. If you leave your keyboard and mouse untouched for a while, then bark “Hey, Cortana!” (assuming you’ve allowed your PC to listen for that phrase), a giant-sized Cortana overlay will take over the screen, with a big font that makes it easy to confirm Cortana has heard and understood your request.
Perhaps most interestingly, third-party app developers can now build Cortana support into their applications. Wunderlist and Netflix already support voice control and no doubt more useful and interesting applications will follow.
And the rest…
For some, these major feature updates may be incredibly valuable; for others they may not make much difference. Either way, the Creators Update also brings dozens of little enhancements, some of which are sure to make an impact.
One you might quickly notice is that Windows Defender has now morphed into the Defender Security Centre, a UWP-style app that conveniently brings together malware protection with monitoring options for system health, firewall protection, app and browser control and parental controls.
Elsewhere, a new option called Night Light automatically fades the screen to a warmer, more restful colour temperature at night. The new Storage Sense feature can now automatically clear out temporary files, and documents that would otherwise be hanging about in the Recycle Bin. New scaling techniques aim to reduce the problem of blurry text on high-DPI screens.
In all, while the Creators Update might lack a single defining focus, its breadth means that almost everyone will get some benefit. And no one loses out on anything: Microsoft has wisely stuck to improving existing features, rather than trying to foist new ways of working on us. Maybe in a few years we’ll be hungry for a more ambitious update, but right now the Creators Update hits the spot perfectly, turning Windows 10 into a more refined, smarter version of itself. Considering it’s completely free for all Windows 10 users, I’d have to say that makes it a pretty big hit.
Continues on page 2