Windows 10 Mobile

Score

Sections

Pros

  • Great user interface
  • Cortana
  • Solid selection of Microsoft services

Cons

  • App offering still isn't strong
  • Buggy

Key Features

  • Review Price: £0.00
  • Universal Apps
  • Cortana
  • Windows Hello
  • Free upgrade to compatible Lumia phones

What is Windows 10 Mobile?

Windows 10 Mobile is Microsoft’s

latest attempt to address the shortage of apps being developed for its

smartphones and ignite consumer interest in its platform.

It

aims to do this by unifying the desktop and mobile versions of

Microsoft’s OS – in theory, developers will then be able to use the same

core code to create special “Universal Applications” that run on

desktop and mobile. The unification process also adds a nifty new

“Continuum” feature, which lets you turn Windows 10 smartphones into

compute sticks via a special Display Dock.

The features sound

great, but with most core Microsoft apps now on iOS and Android, some

have justifiably questioned whether there’s any reason to jump ship to

Windows 10 Mobile. The answer for now is not really – although in a few

months this could change.

Watch: 5 things you need to know about Windows 10 Mobile

Related: Android 6.0 Marshmallow review

Windows 10 Mobile – The same great user experience

I tested WIndows 10 on Microsoft’s latest Lumia 950XL phablet having played with each beta release on a Lumia 535.

At

first glance, the user interface looks fairly similar to Windows 8.1.

It retains the vibrant Live Tile homescreen of its predecessor, which in

my mind is no bad thing. Live Tiles are a nifty alternative to iOS and

Android’s widget and icon-heavy UIs.

They make it easier to keep

on top of things by offering peek views to incoming messages and alerts.

The native Outlook email tile will display the sender and subject line

of the last message to enter your inbox, for example, while the Facebook

app offers a peek view of your latest alert.

For

those who prefer a more traditional mobile experience, the Action

Centre offers similar quick notification shortcuts to Google’s Android

OS. It’s accessed by scrolling down from the top of the phone’s UI and

features shortcuts to key options, such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and screen

brightness, as well as notifications from linked social media and email

accounts. As an added perk it also lets you directly respond to alerts

without launching the applications.  

Cortana makes a welcome a

reappearance too. Microsoft’s answer to Apple’s Siri and Google’s Now

voice command services, Cortana can be activated using a Live Tile on

the phone’s menu screen, or directly from within certain applications.

When launched you can either type or speak commands.

As well as

enacting basic tasks, such as mounting web searches and opening

applications, Cortana can contextually answer questions and take

specific actions within apps. I regularly used her to get directions,

estimate travel times and find good eateries in my area using Windows

10’s reworked Maps app. I also used her to take notes in OneNote, add

entries to my calendar and draft emails while on the move.

On

paper, Siri and Google Now offer similar services, but I found Cortana

works better on almost every level. Her voice-recognition software is

stronger and proved capable of understanding accents that have rendered

Siri useless – tested with an Afrikaans-accented friend on the Lumia 950

XL.

To existing Windows Phone fans, this may sound a little too

much like business as usual. But, when you dive into the phone’s

submenus, you realise Microsoft has made some small, but positive

changes to Windows 10 Mobile’s design.

The majority of the changes work to unify the look of Windows 10’s desktop and mobile versions.

The

two menu screens are now identical. The Store has also been updated to

resemble the desktop and Xbox Live versions. It adds a new vertical

submenu with shortcuts to the app, games, music and film sections, and

an enhanced spotlight feature for recommended content.

The

changes may sound insignificant, but for me they’re a real positive. The

move to make Windows 10 Mobile’s UI consistent with Microsoft’s desktop

and Xbox software makes the OS one of the most intuitive to use on the

market. However, the lack of significant change is a two-edged sword

when you starting diving into most third-party applications – which

haven’t benefited from the same spruce-up.
Windows 10 mobile

Related: iOS 9 review

Windows 10 Mobile – Universal Apps

Developers

generally viewed Windows Phone 8.1 as being of secondary importance to

iOS and Android, despite Microsoft’s best efforts. As a result, Windows

Phone 8.1’s app offering never came close to matching that of iOS or

Android.

During its shelf life, popular apps such as Instagram

and Vine took months to even partially launch on the platform following

their appearance on iOS and Android. Third-party apps on the Windows

Phone also suffered woefully worse update cycles than their iOS and

Android versions. Time and time again, Windows Phone users would miss

out on cool new features even if the apps did appear.

Microsoft

has aimed to fix this on Windows 10 using “Universal Apps”. Universal

Apps are a big part of Microsoft’s promise to create a “truly

cross-device” operating system. They refer to a new generation of

applications that can run on multiple device types using a single common

code.

Microsoft claims the ability to use a common core code

will make it easier for developers to port or create Windows 10 Mobile

applications and create a consistent, “touch-first” experience across

phone, tablet and PC.

On paper this sounds great, and Microsoft

has already begun to migrate core services, such as Office, to become

Universal Apps. But I’m yet to see the Universal Application gamble pay

off on Windows 10 Mobile with third-party developers.

Windows 10

Mobile’s application offering remains a little hit and miss. Key apps

still aren’t there. Even Instagram is still in its beta form, and a

number of the big apps that are on WIndows 10 Mobile feel a little

archaic compared to their iOS and Android counterparts.

Facebook

is one of a number of companies confirmed to be working on a Universal

App. For the moment, however, users are stuck with the dedicated Windows

Phone version. This is a problem, as the mobile version looks like it

hasn’t had a significant update since the days Microsoft Devices was

called Nokia. Icons are huge and the newsfeed looks overly blown up,

giving it a slightly childish feel.
Windows 10 mobile
Windows 10 mobile (left), Android 6.0 Marshmallow (right)

The issue isn’t local to Facebook; the Twitter app has the same problem.

The

BBC iPlayer app is a particularly bad offender, and is missing several

of the service’s newer features. The worst is the missing account login

option, whose absence means regular users won’t be able to easily access

their favorite content, or get tailored recommendations.

This

isn’t a problem for business smartphone users – who are pretty much

covered by Microsoft’s Office 365 suite and Windows 10’s advanced mobile

device management and security services. But for now, the app offering

isn’t up to scratch for most consumers. Hopefully this will change in

the future and Microsoft’s Universal Apps gambit will pay off.

I’ll

be keeping my eyes peeled over the coming months and will update this

review as and when significant new apps appear on Windows 10 Mobile.

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