The deadline to upgrade to Windows 10 for free ends on 29 July, giving those still on Windows 7 and 8 little time to decide whether or not they want to make the leap. After this date you’ll have to buy Windows 10, which will cost around £75 or more from a legitimate retailer. There's no better time to read our in-depth Windows 10 review, to help you come to a conclusion.
As a reminder, Windows 10 is seen as a big turnaround from Windows 8, which was largely viewed by PC and laptop users as a confusing mess that made the OS more difficult, rather than easier, to use. Windows 8 didn't exactly make Windows tablets or touchscreen laptops an entirely convincing proposition, either.
However, Windows 10 has far less of a focus on touchscreen use, and far more has been done to address the issues that both developers and general users experienced with Windows 8. Key changes include the reintroduction of the much coveted Start menu, as well as under-the-hood changes designed to make it easier for app makers to flog their wares on Microsoft’s platform.
There’s one more carrot on the end of Microsoft’s stick, and that’s the promise of the Anniversary Update that’s launching on 2 August, which falls after the upgrade date. There are a few features that might look attractive, and we’re going to run through them here.
Once the Anniversary Update has been released, we’ll update this review in full to include all its new features.
First, the key features that you need to know about:
Better stylus and handwriting support with Windows Ink. Ink is an entirely new feature that expands on Windows 10’s fairly low-key stylus support. You’ll be able to write into applications and have them interpret your stylus movements without you having to use a keyboard or mouse.
Sticky Notes will also see a huge improvement, with the notes you write being sucked into Microsoft’s personal assistant, Cortana, and converted into reminders if the text on them is relevant.
Cortana. You’ll now be able to issue Cortana commands from the lockscreen. You’ll be able to ask it questions about your diary, flight info and plenty more without having to unlock your machine. This is more useful on laptops and tablets, but still an interesting addition.
According to Microsoft, you'll also be able to enlist Cortana to remember info you always forget, such as your frequent flier number or where you parked your car. Cortana can now also display notifications from other devices – such as your Windows phone – on your main PC.
Edge. Microsoft’s Edge browser receives some much-needed attention, with extensions being added for the first time – including Pinterest, Amazon and, shudder, AdBlock Plus. If your laptop has a compatible webcam or fingerprint reader, you’ll also be able to log into websites using Windows Hello.
These won’t be enough to convince staunch non-upgraders, but they’re worth bearing in mind if you’re giving it some serious consideration.
Watch – A quick guide to what's new in Windows 10
For most, Windows 10 manages a good balance of core usability, performance, useful new features and some fun new extras too. We've also found the upgrade process to work seamlessly from both Windows 7 and Windows 8 machines, meaning there's little of the headache of previous upgrades.
There's perhaps not enough in Windows 10 to truly excite us but we're glad it's here and for the most part we do recommend that you take the upgrade.
See also: How to get Windows 10 free
Over the next few pages we’ll look at the key new features of the operating system, guide you through the experience on desktop PCs, laptops and touchscreen devices, and explain how Microsoft wants Windows 10 to bind all your devices together.
We’ve split the review into broad sections – it’s up to you whether you read from start to finish or jump to a specific section in which you’re most interested. You can use the review contents below to do just that, and we’ve also included links to other features that help explain what’s new in Windows 10.
Part 1 – Introducing the New Desktop, Start Menu and Cortana – In this section we explore the new desktop, the return of the Start Menu and the introduction of Cortana.
Part 2 – Using Windows 10 on PCs and Laptops – Not everyone wants a tablet or a hybrid, so what is Windows 10 like to use if you mainly use a traditional desktop PC or laptop?
Part 3 – Using Windows 10 on Hybrids and Tablets – Windows 10 has to work on a huge variety of devices, none more demanding than tablets and hybrids.
Part 4 – Microsoft Edge, Mail and Native Apps – You probably spend most of your life either browsing the web or sending emails. Windows 10 introduces new apps for both, but are they any good?
Part 5 – Gaming on Windows 10 – How will Windows 10 change gaming on PC and Xbox One? Quite a lot, actually.
Part 6 – Stability, Performance and Verdict – Is Windows 10 ready for you to upgrade to now?
If you know nothing about Windows 10, here are a few common questions before you read the rest of our review. You can also read our Windows 10 tips, tricks and tweaks guide for more help using Windows 10.
Anyone with Windows 7 or Windows 8 can get Windows 10 for free if they upgrade in the first year since release (until July 29th 2016). Windows XP and Vista users will have to pay upwards of £75 to upgrade. Read our Windows 10 Free Upgrade guide for more info on this.
If you simply want to upgrade your existing Windows installation you can get Windows by using the Get Windows 10 app that should be downloaded automatically through Windows updated and confirming that you'd like to get the upgrade. It'll check your PC for compatibility and kick start Windows Update into downloading all the files needed. Once everything is downloaded you just tell Windows to do its thing and away it goes.
The upgrade process is totally automated and should keep all your files and apps so you're ready to carry on as normal after, though backing up your files beforehand is always a sensible option.
Alternatively, if you want to perform a clean installation you can download the Windows 10 ISO directly from Microsoft's website. Read our guide How to download and install Windows 10 right now to find out how.
Anything that works with Windows 7 or Windows 8 should work fine on Windows 10. If you're not sure, the Microsoft 'Get Windows 10 app' will check and make sure your device is compatible.
Windows 10 is a big upgrade over Windows 7, bringing much of the touch-focussed stuff debuted in Windows 8 but in a far more integrated manner. It's also faster and adds many new features, which you can read about over the next few pages.
Compared to Windows 8, Windows 10 primarily tidies up the touch-screen elements, making them less obtrusive than on Windows 8. It also introduces a host of of other little tweaks plus new apps, such as the Edge web browser and Xbox gaming hub.
Any Windows 7 or Windows 8 computer should run Windows 10 fine. Windows Vista users should be ok, too, but it's worth checking the Windows 10 System Requirements first before installing.
One of the slightly annoying things Windows 10 does when you upgrade is change all your default programs back to Windows ones. So, for example, if you use Chrome or Firefox as your default browser then Windows 10 will set it to Edge when you install Windows 10.
This is the same for many programs, including your default video player and so on. Typing 'Default Programs' in the search box will get you to right place to change these, or you can read our How to change the default browser on Windows 10 guide for a step-by-step guide – the same method should work for all kinds of programs.
If you decide Windows 10 isn't for you yet then you do have the option of going back Windows 7 or Windows 8. To do so, go to Settings > Update & Security. Next, head to Recovery and you should see an option to Go Back to Windows 7 or Windows 8.1. This option is only available within the first month of upgrading, though. After that, you'll have to install that version of Windows anew.
It's a fairly simple process – you need to enable Xbox One streaming on your console, plug-in your Xbox controller into your PC or tablet and then run the Xbox app. Our How to stream Xbox One games to your Windows 10 PC guide explains it all in more detail, including how well it works with specific games.