Windows 10 review: Code in the latest Windows 10 update fuels rumours of a Surface Phone

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What is Windows 10 and what makes it special?

If you haven’t already tried Windows 10, you’ll find plenty in it that’s new and improved. Even before the Creators Update, the OS represented a major step up from what went before.

Windows 10 review: Code in the latest Windows 10 update fuels rumours of a Surface Phone

The headline feature is the return of Start menu, after its temporary banishment in Windows 8. This isn’t just a reinstatement of the old Windows 7 orb, but a new version offering resizable Live Tiles, providing at-a-glance updates from apps such as News, Mail and Calendar.

To the left of the Live Tiles, the Start menu displays a series of shortcuts to recently used and most-used applications. In the first release of Windows 10 there was an All Apps option, but that’s gone: now the menu always shows all apps.

One small feature we really like is an Uninstall link that appears directly on the Start menu tile, for every desktop and UWP app. It’s a welcome step towards easier housekeeping. Icons for account actions, Settings and shutdown and restart are conveniently located right by the Start button too, not hidden away like they were in Windows 8.

By default, the Start menu is a rather generous size, taking up at least a quarter of a Full HD screen, but you can resize it both horizontally and vertically, and if your tiles don’t all fit, you can scroll to view them. If you have a tablet, touchscreen laptop or 2-in-1 hybrid, you can switch into Tablet mode, where the Start menu opens in a full-screen view reminiscent of the old Windows 8 Start screen.

start_menu

Windows 10 review: Cortana

Cortana, the smart personal assistant introduced in Windows Phone, is the default search agent for Windows 10; it can be accessed by tapping the Windows key, or with a three-fingered tap on your touchpad (assuming your touchpad supports multitouch gestures).

You can also talk to Cortana directly, using Windows 10’s built-in voice-recognition capabilities. If you like, you can even choose to activate Cortana by simply saying “Hey Cortana!”; in this way you can carry out web searches and other tasks without touching the keyboard at all.

The system finds programs and documents as before, and can respond to other types of request too: type in a calculation or a phrase and results will pop up directly from your taskbar. It’s good enough for simple errands, but not perfectly smart: after a few requests such as “show me bus times” yielded only dumb Bing searches, I found myself falling back on the browser.

Windows 10 review - Cortana shows the weather

Cortana can also perform simple actions such as setting a reminder, checking your calendar or opening applications. It’s even possible to send an email using only your voice, although be prepared to correct misrecognised words before you send missives – it isn’t the most accurate speech to text in the world.

While speech control won’t work for everyone – especially not if you work in a modern, open-plan office – the rise of appliances like the Amazon Echo is starting to normalise voice as a way of interacting with an electronic appliance. It’ll be interesting to see how Cortana catches on.

Windows 10 review: Microsoft Edge

Microsoft’s next-generation web browser is one of Windows 10’s signature features. Originally it was designed primarily to be simpler and slicker than Internet Explorer but subsequent updates have given it a broad enough feature set to serve as your everyday browser, as long as you don’t need a specific extension or account-syncing feature that’s found only in Chrome or some other browser.

edge_with_alphr

Edge’s distinctive features include an annotation tool that lets you scribble with a stylus onto a web page, or type into sticky notes, and save or share your markup for future reference – and across Windows 10 devices.

There’s Cortana integration, too. Visit a restaurant’s website and you’ll see a Cortana prompt in the address bar: “I’ve got directions, hours and more.” Click and the details appear in a pop-up pane at the side of the window.

Windows 10 review: Microsoft Edge and Cortana

Edge is also more secure than your average browser, since it’s a UWP app that benefits from the sandboxing built into that framework. As a result, it’s far less vulnerable to hackers and drive-by downloads than Internet Explorer ever was. So confident is Microsoft in the robustness of its new browser that it’s offering a bug bounty of up to $15,000 for anyone who manages to expose a security vulnerability.

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