Windows 10 Mobile review: A solid upgrade, but not shiny enough

Earlier this year, Microsoft unveiled its vision for the future of Windows on the desktop, and Windows 10 proved a great improvement over Windows 8.1. Now it’s the turn of Microsoft’s mobile OS and, after months of user feedback, it’s finally available in its finished, official guise: Windows 10 Mobile.

Arguably, it’s an even bigger deal than Windows 10 on the desktop. The introduction of Universal apps, which run the same code on phone and desktop, is something that’s never been attempted before in the mobile space, and it could eventually turn the smartphone world on its head. The changes Microsoft has made to bring the UI of the phone in line with that on the desktop could also help broaden the appeal of Windows 10 Mobile.

Windows 10 Mobile review: Homescreen and all apps menu

Windows 10 Mobile review: Which phones will receive the free upgrade?

The first people to experience the final, complete version of Windows 10 Mobile – aside from those on the Insider Program – will be anyone who buys a Microsoft Microsoft Lumia 950 or Lumia 950 XL smartphone. Owners of existing handsets will also be upgraded, but this will happen in stages.

The phones in the first wave of upgrades are listed below. The final complete list of phones set to receive the upgrade hasn’t been finalised yet, but Microsoft has said it has ambitions to upgrade all handsets currently running the Denim update to Windows 10.

Note, though, that some of the new features of Windows 10 – namely Windows Hello and Continuum – are hardware-specific and, as such, won’t be available on older handsets.

  • Lumia 430

  • Lumia 435

  • Lumia 532

  • Lumia 535

  • Lumia 540

  • Lumia 640

  • Lumia 640 XL

  • Lumia 735

  • Lumia 830

  • Lumia 930

Windows 10 Mobile review: What’s new?

At first glance, you’d be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss is about. The lockscreen and homescreen look largely as they did in Windows Phone 8.1, and that’s a good thing. After all, Windows Phone’s biggest strength, and what sets it apart from Android and iOS, has always been its vertically scrolling, data-rich Live Tiles.

It doesn’t take much digging before the changes begin to emerge, however, and the most obvious are to be found closest to hand in the Action Center notifications menu.

The first time you look, you’ll see the same four toggle buttons along the top of the menu, with notifications lined up beneath. Look closer, though, and you’ll see a number of subtle alterations.

Windows 10 Mobile review: Notifications menu

The “All settings” shortcut has disappeared, to be replaced by Expand. Tap this and the single row of shortcut buttons expands to four, allowing quick access to all 16 of Windows 10’s available shortcuts. It’s still possible to customise the four that appear by default, but you can’t currently remove or add items to the expanded list.

Below the shortcut buttons, notifications have also received an upgrade. To the right of each notification now sits a small down arrow, which, when tapped, expands items, allowing you to either read more or even interact with them. Currently, however, the range of apps that hook into this capability is limited: you can respond directly to text messages, but not emails or Slack messages.

Tuck the notifications menu away for a moment, and you may also notice a tweak or two to the look of the homescreen. Background wallpapers, which were previously displayed, rather oddly, through the tiles – as if they were windows onto an image behind – now fill the entire screen behind those tiles for a much more modern look. And some tiles, such as those for Outlook and Microsoft Edge, are now translucent, showing up like squares of frosted glass.

There are some new tile sizes to play around with, too: a huge 4×4 square tile, and a tall thin, 2×4 rectangular tile – although not all apps are compatible with these sizes.

Swipe right to Windows Phone’s alphabetical list of apps, meanwhile, and you’ll see another of the changes, with a list of recently installed apps conveniently displayed in a group at the top of the list for easy access, and a search field permanently displayed at the top.

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