Hands On With The Windows 10 Technical Preview For Phones

Windows 10 is coming this year, and a Technical Preview came out today. The Preview is limited in terms of devices it can run on, and in terms of features it offers, but it’s a start, and a first look at the next generation of Microsoft’s mobile OS. I loaded it onto a Lumia 830 to see what it brings to the table, and limited though it may be, it already does a lot to improve the overall experience, once you get past the lack of polish that comes with any pre-release software.

The main new features in this build are an overhauled Action Center, which provides access to two more rows of quick access settings with an expanded view, as well as notifications that you can interact with directly. Dismissing an alarm from a notification is easy, even if you don’t catch it on the main screen, and you can also reply to inbound messages directly. Settings has been completely redefined, and organizes a lot of information in a way that’s more dense but also much easier to parse. At first it was a big change, given how much it differs from navigation in the rest of the OS, but it’s an intelligent redesign that ultimately makes sense, once you think through where certain settings should be located.

Other new additions here include the Photos app, which now pulls in images from your OneDrive cloud storage. I’ve stored some pictures there from a long, long time ago as you can see, and these now show up right alongside my locally stored photos and screenshots taken on the 830 itself, as well as more recently cloud-based images. It’s a smart way to keep everything together, but right now it’s pretty basic, with more advanced organization and sharing features like Albums (which you can create along with family and friends) and Folders coming in a later build.

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The ability to set a photo as a full-size background is a very small but appreciated nod to user customization. And one final new tidbit that Microsoft didn’t mention in its official list of features is the revamped keyboard, which includes a virtual “nubbin,” not unlike the red one that is synonymous with the iconic ThinkPad. This lets you navigate back, forward, up and down in blocks of text, which makes it easier to get to the exact location you want to be at when working in text fields or documents, as compared to stabbing around with your imprecise, meaty fingertip.

We haven’t spent all that much time with the new Windows 10 for phones build, and it is admittedly rough around the edges in a few places, but this very early look also promises a lot to look forward to in terms of Microsoft’s smartphone experience.