Posey's Tips & Tricks

A First Look at Windows Phone 10

While still very much a work in progress, the first preview for the next version of Microsoft's smartphone-based OS feels more like a minor upgrade.

We're getting closer to the much anticipated release of Windows 10 and the gifts from Redmond just keep coming. Recently, Microsoft announced a preview of what many are referring to as Windows Phone 10 (the more official name seems to be Windows 10 for Phones).

The initial preview release is somewhat limited in that the OS will only run on specific models of Windows phones. I couldn't risk installing the preview on my "production" phone and none of my lab phones were supported. Some Web sites have published hacks for installing Windows Phone 10 onto unsupported devices, but I didn't want to risk bricking a lab phone. Besides, I wanted to experience the preview as Microsoft intended.

Fortunately, there was an easy solution. I was able to get an AT&T Nokia Lumia 635 No Contract GoPhone from Amazon for under $50. Upon receiving the device I was able to install the Windows Phone preview onto it very easily.

I will wait to pass judgment on the new operating system until the final release. I don't think that it is fair to scrutinize a preview OS the way that I would scrutinize an OS that has been officially released.

I will tell you, however, that Microsoft appears to have a lot of work to do on Windows Phone 10. In fact, the phone currently looks a lot like Windows Phone 8.1. If you look at the Start screen shown in Figure 1, you would be hard pressed to tell the difference between Windows Phone 8.1 and Windows Phone 10.

[Click on image for larger view.]  Figure 1. The Start screen looks just like Windows Phone 8.1.

As I was digging through the new OS, I also found that the Apps screen is also nearly identical to that of Windows Phone 8.1. You can see what this screen looks like in Figure 2.

[Click on image for larger view.]  Figure 2. The Apps list looks just like Windows Phone 8.1.

At this point I began to wonder if I had done something wrong. I decided to check the phone's version to see if I had actually upgraded to Windows Phone 10 Preview or if I were somehow still running Windows Phone 8.1. It was when I went to the Settings screen that the phone really began to look as though it were running a new operating system. As you can see in Figure 3, Microsoft has created a cleaner, more condensed Settings screen.

[Click on image for larger view.]  Figure 3. The Settings screen looks a lot different from the Windows Phone 8.1 Settings screen.

As I continued to play with the phone I also discovered that Microsoft has made some changes to the notification center. The notification center was a very welcome addition to Windows Phone 8.1. Swiping down from the top of the screen revealed buttons to configure Wi-Fi, airplane mode, Bluetooth and rotation lock. The notification center also displays notifications from Cortana and from a few other sources.

The reason why the notification center was such a welcome inclusion in Windows Phone 8.1 was because it was previously a real pain to enable airplane mode (something that I do often). You had to go to the apps screen, then go to the settings screen, then go to the airplane mode screen, and only then could you enable airplane mode. The notification center allows you to enable or disable airplane mode with a swipe and a tap.

At first glance, the Windows Phone 10 notification center looks a lot like the Windows Phone 8.1 version. However, Windows Phone 10 features a down arrow icon. Tapping this icon adds two more rows of tiles which allow you to access even more system settings through the notification center. In addition to the previously mentioned functions, the Windows 10 notification center adds screen brightness, camera, VPN, location, device discovery, Internet sharing and quiet hours. There is also a tile that you can tap to go straight to the Settings screen without having to first go through the app list.  You can see what this looks like in Figure 4.

[Click on image for larger view.]  Figure 4. This is the new notification center.

While I was at it, I decided to try out Cortana. I use Cortana constantly on my "production" phone, so I was curious about any improvements that Microsoft might have made. On the surface there don't seem to be any major changes, aside from a different color scheme. I did notice however, that my Windows 10 phone offered to track some upcoming flights that my Windows 8.1 phone had ignored, so that was a definite plus.

Microsoft still has a long way to go on Windows Phone 10. The preview doesn't even feel like a new OS, but rather a minor enhancement to the existing OS. Even so, I have to cut Microsoft some slack. When I signed up for the preview the Web site that I used warned me up front that Microsoft still had a lot of work to do and that the OS would look very unfinished. I suspect that Microsoft may attempt to deliver a more polished preview around the timeframe of the Ignite conference.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 16-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.

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