Microsoft is preparing for the next major update to Windows Phone 8.1 — Windows 10 Mobile–which is due in early 2016, and it took Microsoft almost 22 months. This is longer than the last update which took 18 months, and being an insider the good news is that we have passed through its worst phases, and its 90% ready for consumers.
I have written this review in a format, which takes you through a journey on how Windows Phone 8.1 evolved into Windows 10 Mobile. I am not jumping right on to the problems, without letting you know its capabilities. There are shortcomings, it’s still an ongoing process, but IMO its going in the right direction. I am going to complain where its required, and praise where its doing things differently.
A Step Back to Move Forward:
Windows Phone always had solid integration of internet & services into its platform. It worked well for a while, and always made the OS unique. For example, option to view Facebook Feed, chat, and interact without need of an app was intuiting. However, it did not go well for long. Microsoft soon realised that this needed constant updates to the OS, and companies like Facebook & Twitter wanted end consumers to use their app for best experience.
This is when Microsoft started ripping out Windows Phone 8.1 to lay foundation of Windows 10 Mobile. Not only the OS was designed from scratch, and it switched from people first to app first strategy, and finally started rolling out features to get on par with Android and iPhone. I won’t deny, if somebody says that Microsoft actually booted their Mobile platform, twice!
Related Reading: List of New Features in Windows 10 Mobile
Design Evolution, One Core and Universal Apps
Windows 10 Mobile UI is completely different from Windows Phone 8.1, both in terms of design and features, but home screen layout itself is still what we all are used to. You get to see the same start screen layout, notification centre from top, background wallpaper and so on.
Microsoft has completely ditched long scrolls & panoramas, introduced more customizations, and chose design patterns which resembles looks of iOS and Android.
However, Microsoft hasn’t just followed the design pattern, blindly, followed by everybody. They have gone a step ahead. When Microsoft introduced Windows 10, they promised a universal platform on all of their hardware portfolio. Now, Desktops, Mobile and Xbox now are powered by Windows 10.
In the process of doing so, Microsoft rewrote the OS & rebuilt all the necessary apps from ground up. This made sure that every app now can be updated without updating the OS. And here comes advantage, Universal Apps. All the rebuilt apps were developed such that they run on any device running Windows 10, and on any screen size.
So if you look closely, the apps were not built for just Desktop or Mobile, they were getting designed for screen. The best part is, that it requires the minimum effort from developers to perform, look good on all screen sizes and resolutions.
Features & Apps:
Microsoft is the first company who is truly visualising their services to go mobile, and independent of screen. Their strategy to be on every platform is paying off, and when it comes to their own Mobile Platform, Continuum is here to set the difference.
This feature turns your phone into a PC, and delivers almost a desktop like experience. How is that possible? Building Universal Apps and Targeting Screen is the key ingredient. Most of the phones these days have processing power which is more than average PC. Microsoft wants consumers to utilise that power through their Continuum Dock.
Any universal app on Windows 10 Mobile can be used on any screen size. So if you have Word or Excel on your Phone, you just connected it to your TV via the dock, and use it like you were on your PC. This is simply brilliant. However, this is right now limited to high-end phones.
One of the problem with Universal App right now is getting developers oriented for that. This is the reason why every universal app is not available for Continuum. Developers need to utilize whatever is required, to support Continuum.
A classic example is Microsoft Xbox app (and Xbox Beta app). Both are no doubt Universal Windows apps, but neither the official one nor the beta support Continuum (yet). And there are several more apps that don’t.
Introduced in Windows Phone 8.1, Cortana is now finally out of beta, and she works in more countries and devices. Starting with Windows 10, Cortana now works on Windows 10 Desktop and Mobile both. This impressive digital assistant can search web, look into your emails to remind you about flight schedules, bill payments, add calendar entries, send SMS, traffic, travel and so on. You also get “Hey Cortana” feature, similar to “Google Now”.
That said, while Cortana’s backend may have improved, its (or her) capabilities on the phone have decreased. There’s no dedicated phone search anymore to have her look up files, photos, videos or whatever. Sure, she can still discover your music, but that’s pretty much about it. Not to mention that her results-list is the bing mobile web results list. It looks aweful. And look up images, you can’t even zoom in or save an image to your device anymore. All that was possible on WP8.1.
That said, it is still evolving, and Microsoft needs to cover few extra miles to make this service go one on one with Google Now. Those who are interested on what it can do, read this post.
This is another unique feature in Windows 10 where you can look at your phone to login. It uses an IR scanner to create a map of your face, and its so accurate that it can differentiate between twins.
Not sure whose idea it was, but the messed up File Explorer in Windows Phone 8.1 had created most of the problems, mostly because it was an app. In Windows 10 Mobile, it is integrated into the core.
You can now download files using the Microsoft Edge (a replacement of Internet Explorer), files can be attached in Email, bluetooth files are save properly, and in devices like Lumia 950 and 950 XL, USB OTG is also supported.
It’s one of the best email client Microsoft has made till date. Instead of using panoramas, and pivots. Instead Microsoft took the modern approach used by Gmail and iOS email clients. You can configure to archive or delete, configure gestures, automatic reply and so on. However few caveats remain. Many a times emails don’t render properly, and the features are yet to match the likeness of Android and iOS apps.
When Microsoft bought Skype, a lot were looking forward for a deeper integration, and it’s done in Windows 10 Mobile. You can use it with default messaging app, start a video call without launching the app, and call someone directly from the phone app over Skype.
However it is till in its early stages. For example you cannot send file attachments, a few days back there was no support for Emoji and so on. I am sure features are on the way, and with increased frequency of app updates, you won’t have to wait longer.
Media Apps :
Microsoft have a strong portfolio of in-house apps for almost any media consumption. Groove for Music, Fils & TV for Video, and the Photos App. These apps have matured enough to get most of the job done.
There is one small problem though. Microsoft have their services tied up with these apps, and they aren’t available in many countries. Those consumers will be annoyed because few features seems to be dependent on that. As an example, Groove Music can stream music from OneDrive, but you need to sign-in, and since it is not supported everywhere, this feature gets blocked.
My experience of using Edge is pretty smooth. Heavy websites like Times of India, Hindustan Times, Verge, GSMArena, Arstechnica worked well even on slow internet speed. The only thing that I miss is extension support.
This is one of best apps on the platform right now. The default maps app uses Here Maps API in the background, and delivers almost all the features that Here Maps delivered. You get turn by turn navigation, voice support, Offline Maps, pin recent locations and so on.
Device Sync & Continuum for All
When you use the same account on every device, you will be able to sync most of your content. PC is able to interact with Phone via Cortana, Your Files on OneDrive is accessible, Theme, Password, Language Preferences, and other settings can sync across.
So is it complete? Nope it’s not, but this definitely points towards even a bigger version of Microsoft view of Continuum, on device level. No matter where you are, which screen you use, you carry your data along with your account, and start where you left.
Updates, Delays & Performance :
The journey of Windows 10 Mobile from Insiders had been terrible, but thanks to all the feedback, Microsoft has ironed out most of the bugs, but it’s still going to take time. This is the reason RTM is yet to be announced by Microsoft, even though the Flagship is selling.
Starting with Windows 10 Mobile, Microsoft has finally started by passing carriers. Windows Insiders was the first step with it, and Microsoft has clearly understood that Carries block update on intention, than for real bugs. The carries still get the new updates to test, but they aren’t the doorkeeper any more.
Microsoft did this first with Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL when it rolled out updates to those devices which were carrier locked. This is huge, but it still needs to pass through its greatest test.
While it started super slow, recent months have been terrific. We have sen increased number of updates for apps, and bug fixes during the insiders phase. The OS update is decent enough keeping in we still don’t have the RTM. Microsoft is showing positive signs. However, there is a big question Microsoft needs to answer to all Windows consumers.
Why are the features of Apps on Windows 10 is not on par with same apps on Android and iOS”
Windows consumers are feeling left behind, and everybody is now looking at Microsoft. Why is that the company taking so much of time to deliver their own products on their own platform?
We sure understand that Microsoft had to do lot of work, and appreciate on what they are doing, but it’s getting critical for Microsoft.
Now lets discuss the most crucial part. Is Windows 10 Mobile ready for day-to-day usage? 90% Yes, but there are bugs that Microsoft needs to iron out, and they need to be quick.
As per my experience, when I started using Windows 10 Mobile, it only had bugs, then in the second build, it improved by a great margin, and then it got better and better. It still has bugs, but lot less. Here are few:
- Microsoft has ironed out the “resume” screen from most of the places, but some of the apps are still slow. Microsoft Store is the biggest example of that.
- Battery Life is the worst hit part, this is the top reason we don’t have an Official RTM. The bugs here, and there are killing it.
- The user interface looks good, but there is a lot of inconsistency in the design. At some places, you would see Hamburger menu used, while at some places its looks bad. End user won’t really like it if they see more of this.
Microsoft is going to officially roll out Windows 10 to Mobile in January. We hope the bugs are fixed by then, and the upgrade goes smooth.
The Last Reboot
At the end, there is one thing Microsoft needs to clearly understand. There cannot be another reboot. Consumers aren’t looking for a place holder like Windows Phone 7 and 8.1. Windows 10 Mobile needs to be a foundation for the next generation. iOS moved to 9.2, and Android reached 6.0, adding features, and making it better overtime.
While Microsoft is uniting the platform, offering unique feature but they need to do it at faster pace. It would not surprise me if Android or iOS manage to scale up, and perhaps unite their desktop and mobile before Microsoft takes it to the level, they planned for it.
Let’s hope they can at least announce and launch Windows 10 Mobile RTM soon, and upgrade existing consumers like they did for Windows 10 desktop. Delaying it further will be another blow. The next obvious step after this, is to work with some of the bigger OEMs to get them to make phones and market heavily.
Thanks Mark Tepper, Rajesh Pandey and Rashid Khan for the inputs!
- Design - 8/108/10
- Software & Features - 8/108/10
- Performance - 7/107/10
- Battery - 5/105/10