Your phone companion

     

Microsoft’s Windows Phone has never had much luck with big updates. Unlike Android, iOS and BB10 which started out pushing massive feature updates at every opportunity, Windows Phone picked up major updates after a year and a half – all of which had a major caveat in them one way or another. The innovation done in the OS was mostly on the hardware side, and when Microsoft took control of the full stack, that too stopped to coincide with the next Windows Phone release cycle.

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Now Microsoft has prepared the next major release of Windows Phone, but it’s not calling it Windows Phone or even Windows Mobile (entirely). Instead, Microsoft refers to its new OS as simply Windows 10 on new devices. While some may point out that Windows 10 mobile is the official branding, that is as much branding as is Windows 10 Home and Windows 10 professional.

That is to say, it is now subsumed into the overall Windows ecosystem and one would notice that Microsoft no longer breaks out Windows Phone into its own category online. Rather, it is Windows (phones) and even older versions of Windows Phone are being retrofitted with the Windows brand name.

However, those are just words. What’s important is knowing what’s new in Windows 10 mobile and why it should be considered over IOS and Android, and why it’s better than Windows Phone 8.1. That’s what this review is here to answer.

A Brief History

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In Windows 10, Microsoft has replaced the Xbox Music and Xbox Video apps with two new apps called Groove Music and Film and TV (Movies and TV in some regions).

The videos app is an app called films and TV does exactly what it says on the tin, its primary purpose is to allow you watch films and tv shows purchased from Microsoft’s storefront and also play your own locally stored videos. Strangely enough, for an app named as such, it does not categorize your films and TV shows into appropriate sections.

Rather, it simply dumps them app into a “My Videos” section. While this is bad for people who have massive movie collections, it must be acknowledged that many people now stream their media from Netflix or Hulu. If you’re using the Microsoft app, you have most likely purchased a movie from the storefront, so would have no need for locally stored/imported media. This does not completely excuse the app from its lack of organization or integration with OneDrive, just an acknowledgment of the thinking that probably shaped the development of the app.

Groove Music is fast, fluid and nice to look at

Microsoft Groove Music is the second half of the media equation. It is far better than the Xbox Music app on Windows Phone 8.1 – admittedly it being worse would have been quite a feat. The new app is fast, fluid and nice to look at. I’ve used it on many devices from a small Lumia 735 to the positively gigantic Lumia 1520, and the combination of MDL2 and well-calibrated HD screens on all devices just makes the visual experience of Groove pleasant.

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As far as features go, Groove Music is a full featured app that plays most music formats including FLAC files, incorporates gapless playback, and has a radio for auto-generated playlists by the artist. There are so many other small things and additions in Microsoft Groove that make it just generally nicer to use, but the thing to take away from this is that if you choose to use Microsoft’s service as a music consumer, you won’t be handicapped.

The new Photos app has a lot to offer

Microsoft includes a new Photos app in Windows 10 Mobile. The new Photos app is interesting. It is far more full featured than the Windows Phone 8.1 app. It does auto-enhancing, allows you to print and share photos. The OneDrive integration is done more elegantly than in 8.1. Here photos simply appear in the library from your OneDrive account similar to how placeholder files worked in Windows 8.1 desktop. The full image doesn’t appear (from my looking at storage sense) to be downloaded into the phone until you actually use it.

The app also allows you to create and share photo albums from the albums section as well as navigate your OneDrive library for media (You can even play movies stored on OneDrive using the photos app).

The new Windows camera and maps apps are well designed powerful apps that do exactly what they say on the tin. Maps allows you to download and navigate offline using transit, walking or vehicles with frequent updates to improve features. The camera takes the broad feature set of Lumia Camera and adds in a few tricks like shareable living images, slow motion video for high-end Lumias and auto-HDR.

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Microsoft has also shipped a few new apps in Windows 10 that help improve the experience for first-time users and veterans alike. I’m talking about the utility apps like Alarms and clock, File Explorer, and Voice Recorder and help apps like Contact Support and Getting Started.

A file manager and timer app have been requested on Windows Phone UserVoice for a long time now, so Microsoft finally bringing File Explorer to Windows Phone (replacing the Files app) is a good thing for many users. It also brings to mind in the familiar theme of “Do Familiar things” as there’s nothing more familiar to a Windows user than File explorer.

Cortana undergoes a metamorphosis

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Outside of the built-in app experience of Windows 10, Microsoft also made some changes to Cortana and how she works on Windows 10 and Windows 10 Mobile. In Windows 10, Cortana is no longer in Beta in the EU5, Canada, The USA, China, Japan and a few othe

r countries. What this means is that the Cortana backend service has been tested and localized for each of those regions, as, for Cortana herself, she seems to have gotten a bit weaker.

In Windows Phone 8.1, Microsoft introduced Universal Search for Windows Phone, allowing you to search all built-in apps and files. Microsoft’s removed that in Windows 10 Mobile, possibly due to the addition of a file manager obviating that need somewhat. That’s not all that has been altered as far as search functionality goes, Microsoft debuted Bing Quick Cards in Windows Phone 7.5 as a mobile way to use Bing.

If you’ve ever searched for anything on Bing with Windows Phone up to 8.1, you’ll have noticed that Bing has a custom UI with search results being able to tie into apps. That was all because of Microsoft’s Bing Quick cards which promoted a mobile-first way of looking at Bing search. In Windows 10, searching with Cortana simply opens up a web view of the Bing search results page, which is inferior to the prior implementation, I understand that Microsoft would need to be able to update the web content dynamically, but I wonder if they could have at least created a custom UI for Edge and Windows 10 Mobile to mimic much of the prior functionality.

Internet Explorer gets Edged out

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Just like on Windows 10 for desktop PCs and tablets, Microsoft has given Internet Explorer the boot on Windows Phone and replaced it with a nice Windows 10 app, Edge. Microsoft Edge on Windows Phone isn’t quite feature complete yet, lacking a few things such as back/forward buttons, extensions support (coming soon), a fully immersive reading mode and a handful of other tiny features here and there.

Edge is powerful enough, but that may not be enough for power users

The app experience itself is OK. It works nicely sometimes, and on a few fairly light websites it seems to choke and go berserk. This has happened on TheNextWeb, The Verge, Neowin and the Guardian in recent memory. Microsoft’s Edge is supposed to replace Internet Explorer and clean the slate on Microsoft browsers and branding, if the Edge team can get it right in the next few months, Edge’s reputation would hopefully not come to resemble that of Internet Explorer.

Right now, you get a powerful web-browser, reading list, a reading views and syncing with Windows 10 PCS. If you aren’t a heavy browser user, then you’ll come to appreciate Edge’s simplicity.

Final Thoughts

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Microsoft’s vision for Windows phones has changed in Windows 10. The OS has gone from being all about the mobile experience to being all about the mobile experience of a PC . It’s a slight difference, but it brings back vague memories of the PocketPC phase of Windows mobile. As a result of a shift in strategies and focus of a one Windows for all, Windows 10 Mobile has taken a hit in performance and battery life. Microsoft knows this, and they will be addressing this in builds being pushed out over the next few months, but until, then devices which are weaker may struggle a bit with Windows 10 Mobile as far as performance and battery life go.

Windows 10 Mobile is better than 8, but not quite a 10

Windows 10 Mobile overall is a good update, but it is still beset with the issues of the previous OS. The app gap remains every so wide as spectres of Snapchat, YikYak and other apps beckon over to dissatisfied users. This looks set to change soon. Microsoft’s UWP program has been adopted by more and more developers at a faster pace since Windows 10 took off on desktop. Facebook and Twitter have promised to optimise their apps for Windows 10 Mobile soon, and the gap between Microsoft’s first party apps on Windows 10 and other platforms has been closed. There are also new party tricks like Continuum (detailed here) and Windows Hello (detailed in our 950 and 950 XL reviews) to stand out from the crowd on newer devices like the Lumia 950, Neo NuAns, and Acer Jade Primo. Microsoft has made a good start with Windows 10, now all they need to work on is sanding out the rough edges.

Editor’s note: Review originally scored in at 8.1, upon further consideration, that score has been revised downward to be more appropriate.


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