Windows 10 review: Code in the latest Windows 10 update fuels rumours of a Surface Phone
Windows 10 review: Look and feel
In the first release of Windows 10, one thing that no-one at Alphr was keen on was the way all title bars were either white or grey – it created a dull appearance that made it harder to see at a glance which window was active. Thankfully, since then Microsoft has tweaked the desktop to make things much clearer, through the use of drop shadows and borders.
Windows Explorer, meanwhile, has been renamed File Explorer, and the old Favorites list has been replaced by a new Quick Access area. This may appear to do the same thing, but it includes self-updating shortcuts to the last few folders you accessed – a real time-saver if you’re switching back and forth between folders. To pin a shortcut here permanently, simply click the pin icon next to it.
The new Action Center is another big improvement. In previous editions of Windows, notifications used to pop up and then vanish. Windows 10 collects them together in one place, for you to review by clicking the icon in the system tray. The panel also offers one-touch shortcuts to let you quickly switch to Tablet mode and access settings such as screen-sharing, brightness and network settings.
And it’s good to finally see Windows adopting a sensible approach to scaling for multi-monitor setups. Windows 10 lets you set display scaling on a per-screen basis, so you can hook up your compact laptop to a 4K desktop screen, drag windows back and forth between the two, and get the best image quality from both. Sadly, this doesn’t mean scaling problems will vanish entirely. That requires software developers to ensure their applications scale properly, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Windows 10 review: Snap Assist and Task View
One simple but very likeable feature in Windows 10 is Snap Assist. It’s an upgrade to the old Aero Snap feature from Windows 7, which let you dock windows to the sides of the screen by dragging or pressing the Windows key plus the left or right cursor. In Windows 10, when you snap a window into half-screen view, you’re presented with thumbnails of other open windows: a click expands one to fill the other half of the screen.
Task View takes Windows 8’s old app switcher to another level. Launched via an unobtrusive icon next to the search box on the taskbar (or the Windows+Tab keystroke), this displays thumbnail images of your open apps in a tiled overview, similar to the macOS’s Exposé feature: you can click on a thumbnailed window to open it, or use the cursor keys and Enter to select one.
Task View is also where Windows 10’s new multiple desktop features reside because, finally, Windows 10 lets you set up multiple desktops, each with its own applications and windows. This is perfect for those who like to set up specific workspaces for different projects.
You can switch desktop in the Task View, or by holding down Windows+Ctrl and pressing the left or right cursor key. Applications can also be dragged from one desktop to another in the Task View.
Windows 10 introduced a shiny new Settings app, with a cleaner, hierarchical interface that helps you discover and access configuration options more easily than before. It looks a bit like Windows 8’s PC Settings app, but it offers many more controls; with the arrival of the Creators Update, you should be able to do everything you need to from this interface, and while the old Control Panel is still accessible, it’s hidden away.
The Network and Sharing Center, introduced in Windows Vista, has always been a bit of a mess. Windows 10 introduces a pop-up view for wireless networks, making it easier to see and connect to your chosen network. The pop-up also offers an accompanying shortcut to the network-configuration page in the streamlined Settings app, but there remain some settings you can only get to via the Network and Sharing Centre.
Windows Hello says goodbye to passwords
Windows 10 also includes a new technology called Windows Hello that can identify you biometrically, using a fingerprint reader, iris scanner or even a 3D camera.
It’s less straightforward to use than you’d think. the Windows Hello options don’t show up if you don’t have compatible hardware connected and switched on, so you need to make sure you have the latest drivers running for your various bits of hardware for it to work.
I’ve also had problems with hardware failing to recognise my face completely, forcing me to enter a password or PIN to unlock the laptop. The sytem does at least resist efforts to fool it with a printed photo, which suggests it’s more secure than a straight webcam-based recognition system, but there’s some work to do still on the recognition reliability.
Windows 10 review: Other features
Windows 10 also comes with a raft of smaller new features that are worth knowing about. Here’s a list of our favourites:
- New sounds and sound control: A new set of system sounds adds to Windows 10’s distinct identity, and it’s supported by a new finger-friendly volume widget that drags left and right rather than up and down.
- Updated command prompt: The command prompt harks back to MS-DOS days, but in Windows 10 it gets a modest update: at last you can freely resize command prompt windows, and select, copy and paste text just as you can in regular Windows applications. PowerShell comes to the fore too, as Microsoft is encouraging advanced users to adopt its much more modern command-line interface.
- OneDrive selective sync: For the original release of Windows 10, Microsoft dropped the idea of “placeholder files” and updated OneDrive so only files actually present on your hard disk would be shown. Now it’s reportedly planning to bring back placeholders – though exactly how this will work remains to be seen.
- Calculator: It’s a small change, but a symbolic one: the familiar Windows Calculator tool, barely changed since Windows 95, was replaced in Windows 10 with a new Modern calculator app. All the familiar options are still available (including unit conversions and Scientific and Programmer modes), but it’s a clear illustration of how Modern apps can now fit happily into a desktop workflow.
- Print to PDF: Windows has long supported the XML Paper Specification (XPS) – a kind of alternative to PDF – and if you don’t have a physical printer connected, then the Print function in Windows 7 and 8 will default to generating an XPS document. The XPS format has never gained widespread adoption, though, and in Windows 10 the default driver is replaced with a new Print to PDF function.
- Windows Spotlight: A new feature called Spotlight allows Windows to show live content on the lockscreen while you’re away from your PC. It’s been suggested that Microsoft might use this to highlight features of the operating system; others have noted that it could be used for advertising.
- Automatically upload photos and videos to OneDrive: Windows 10 includes new OneDrive AutoPlay options: when you mount an SD card or attach a smartphone, the operating system can automatically import your pictures and sync them up to your OneDrive account. A similar auto-upload feature was already available in the OneDrive smartphone client, but the idea hasn’t previously been supported on the desktop.
- Continuum: Continuum is a fancy name for a simple concept: Windows 10 devices can switch automatically into Tablet mode and back based on what hardware is connected. It’s aimed particularly at two-in-one devices, which you might want to use as a regular laptop or as a tablet.
- New three-finger gestures: For touchpad users, Windows 10 introduces a range of three-finger swipe gestures. Swiping upwards with three fingers from the desktop brings up the Task View; swiping to the left or right with three fingers lets you switch between virtual desktops. If you’ve used OS X’s Exposé and Spaces features then – not to put too fine a point on it, just in case any lawyers are reading – you’ll be right at home.
- Codecs galore: Audiophiles and video enthusiasts can celebrate: Windows 10 includes native support for FLAC lossless audio and Matroska video, so there’s no need to mess around with third-party codecs. FLAC was released in 2001, and the Matroska project was started in 2002, so it’s a case of better late than never.