Introduction

Microsoft officially announced Windows 10 last September but it took until the end of last month to get more details about it and finally get to try it. Number 9 was skipped and Microsoft is wants us to believe that it's because an upgrade of such magnitude deserves a notable digit. We now have a unified platform that runs on phones, slates, and PCs, or so the PR materials go.

Actually things are a bit more complicated with Microsoft offering one version of Windows 10 for large devices (8+ inch screens) and another one for small devices (phones and small tablets). Chances are things will get even more complicated if ARM-based large slates are to arrive in the future, but that's beyond the point here.

What Microsoft has done is tailor the experience to the size class so you won't get a classic desktop with tiny icons on your small phone, and you won't have to waste any space when you get the more accurate mouse and keyboard combo at hand. The unification consists in many shared interfaces that should will make you feel at home as you switch between form factors.

Windows 10 For Phones Preview

More importantly, much of the code inside the OS is shared across form factors and devices, which will allow developers to create apps that work everywhere, even on an Xbox. Microsoft itself led the way creating a unified People app working across all Windows 10 devices, shared Outlook app plus the mandatory Office package.

Windows 10 Technical Preview for Desktop was already released a while back, but we finally got to see Windows 10 Technical Preview for Phones. And you bet we were eager to get a glimpse of what's coming and we've downloaded it immediately.

The Preview for Phones is currently available for Lumia 630, Lumia 635, Lumia 636, Lumia 638, Lumia 730 and Lumia 830. It will later be seeded to Insider program member with Lumia 1520, Lumia 930 and Lumia 1020. Microsoft has promised that by the time Windows 10 is ready for primetime, it will be compatible with all Windows 8-based Lumia smartphones, even if those with limited processing power might miss on some of the new features.

What's new in Windows 10 for Phones

Windows 10 is said to bring a vast number of new features, but not all of those were announced during the Windows 10 press event. Fewer still are presented in the Technical Preview at this early stage, so keep in mind that things will only get better as we move forward. Microsoft has issued a short change log, which says what novelties made it to the first Windows 10 public release and what's still in development.

Windows 10 For Phones Preview

Here is the official change list:

  • Full-size Background Image for Start: We believe phones should be intensely personal - so we've added another option to customize the start screen with a full-size background image.
  • More Quick Actions in Action Center: We've increased the number of quick actions available to you. Windows _phone_ 8.1 has four programmable quick actions - but with Windows 10 you also get an expanded view that can now have up to three rows.
  • Interactive Notifications: Notifications are now interactive, allowing you to take action directly like dismissing an alarm, or seeing images for maps. For example, for text messages, when the toast pops, you can quickly reply inline via text or voice.
  • Significantly enhanced speech-to-text capability: You can talk to virtually any data field you choose. Your words show up as you speak them - and punctuation appears automatically. This feature is smart enough to understand when to use 'two' - the number - instead of 'too' as in 'also'.
  • More powerful Photos app: From your very first launch, Photos will show the aggregated set of all your local photos and all your OneDrive photos.

In addition to these features, we can also confirm the new Settings menu is onboard the Technical Preview plus some of the system apps have been refreshed with new UI. The keyboard has been enhanced with new gestures, too.

What didn't make the cut? The new Messaging app is still missing - it is supposed to handle all kind of instant messaging such as Skype. Most of the Photos app is still under construction and the new Album view is yet to come. Plus, the major Office overhaul is left for another Preview.

There is still lot to see though in this new version, so let's cut to the chase. We begin our interface inspection right after the jump.

User interface

The tile-based launcher of Windows 10 looks largely familiar, but the Settings menu and the Action Center have been reworked and now share their base design with the desktop Windows. The goal is, again, to make transitioning between the two easier as well as shorten the initial learning period if you have more than one Windows 10 device.

Here is a quick hands-on video to get you started.

The first thing you'll notice in Windows 10 for Phones is the new background - the wallpaper now spreads over the background space, while the tiles become transparent so you can enjoy the picture behind them. The Start background continues to be visible even when you go to All apps section on the right.

Windows 10 For Phones Preview
Windows 10 For Phones Preview
Windows 10 For Phones Preview

The new Start background

Windows 10 Technical Preview for Phones lacks the old Start background option, where the image you've selected was displayed on the tiles themselves, but Microsoft has promised to bring this back and we'll be able to choose between the two options. Of course, if can always opt for a no background option as well.

Show More Tiles settings is available and if turned on, it will allow you to stack up to six small tiles in a row instead of just four.

Windows 10 For Phones Preview
Windows 10 For Phones Preview

Show more tiles ON • show more tiles OFF

A new addition to Windows 10 is the option to use vertical rectangle tiles (4 x 2) and new supersized tiles (4x4) in the grid. Those are already available, but require apps to explicitly support them so they won't be there for most apps.

The Action Center got an update as well. It still has four quick toggles at top and notifications below, but you can now expand the quick toggles and view three rows of toggles. You can configure what to be visible and what expandable from Settings -> System -> Notifications. You can also opt for which apps to use notification banners and which - don't.

Windows 10 For Phones Preview
Windows 10 For Phones Preview
Windows 10 For Phones Preview
Windows 10 For Phones Preview

The new Action Center • settings

The Settings menu finally makes sense! We've been waiting for a more organized settings menu since the day Windows _phone_ 7 debuted and finally it is here. Now you have 11 main sections - System, Devices, Networks, Personalization, Accounts, Time and Language, Ease of Access, Privacy, Update & Recovery, and Extras. The new organization, color scheme and system icons are very similar to the new Settings menu in Windows 10 for Desktop.

Windows 10 For Phones Preview
Windows 10 For Phones Preview
Windows 10 For Phones Preview
Windows 10 For Phones Preview

The new Settings

Cortana is here as well and it's smarter than ever. Or at least it will be eventually - Microsoft promises deeper integration within Windows 10. For now, however, it works just the same, with only a few new commands supported and some new languages learned. It also supports a new big square tile occupying 4 x 4 spots.

Apps

The first and most notable new app is Photos. It defaults at your camera roll, but it is also capable of aggregating all of your OneDrive photos and listing them along with your camera snaps. You can turn on/off the OneDrive picture support from settings.

It is very easy to select, delete and share multiple images. A limited editing option is available as well with support for rotation and crop. For advanced image editing you should go for the Lumia Creative Studio.

Windows 10 For Phones Preview
Windows 10 For Phones Preview

The new Photos app

The Photos app will offer a new Album view, which is coming with some of the next Windows 10 updates. It will allow you to quickly organize, edit and share multiple pictures or albums with your friends and family. Tight integration with the Windows 10 for Desktop and Xbox are yet to come as well.

Windows 10 For Phones Preview
Windows 10 For Phones Preview

Viewint a single image • editing options

Folder view will be also launched with an update later on.

The Clock app has a new tabbed interface. Outside of the makeover, it works just like before though.

Windows 10 For Phones Preview
Windows 10 For Phones Preview
Windows 10 For Phones Preview
Windows 10 For Phones Preview

The new Clock app

Here is the new more powerful Calculator, which now includes an easy to use unit converter.

Windows 10 For Phones Preview
Windows 10 For Phones Preview
Windows 10 For Phones Preview
Windows 10 For Phones Preview

The new Calculator app with advanced features

The new Outlook app is expected to premiere very soon, but we didn't have access at the time of this preview.

Conclusion

We know it's early days, but even now it's abundantly clear that Windows 10 is moving in the right direction. The company has done a huge step forward with this latest release and while we can't really say if it is actually big enough to justify skipping a number before the final version has arrived, it's clear that its mobile platform has never been more competitive.

And that's not just based on the progress we've seen so far. For the first time ever the Redmond-based software giant is doing a beta testing campaign fully opened to the public. And as far as early signs go it is carefully checking all the feedback and fulfilling as many of those requests as possible.

Forget the whole unifying thing - universal apps are cool and all, but they don't make a great smartphone platform. Windows 10 for Phones has a lot more going for it and while it's not quite catchy enough to be the focal point of Microsoft's PR campaign, it does make a difference in everyday usage.

We've used this very early preview on Lumia 630 - a rather basic smartphone. And even at this stage the OS ran smoothly most of the time and didn't crash once. This is a lot more than we've expected. We are really excited to see how Windows is changing and we really hope Microsoft won't stop until it has achieved a truly polished platform. Did anyone say three-horse race?

What's new in Windows 10 for Phones

Windows 10 is said to bring a vast number of new features, but not all of those were announced during the Windows 10 press event. Fewer still are presented in the Technical Preview at this early stage, so keep in mind that things will only get better as we move forward. Microsoft has issued a short change log, which says what novelties made it to the first Windows 10 public release and what's still in development.

Windows 10 For Phones Preview

Here is the official change list:

  • Full-size Background Image for Start: We believe phones should be intensely personal - so we've added another option to customize the start screen with a full-size background image.
  • More Quick Actions in Action Center: We've increased the number of quick actions available to you. Windows phone 8.1 has four programmable quick actions - but with Windows 10 you also get an expanded view that can now have up to three rows.
  • Interactive Notifications: Notifications are now interactive, allowing you to take action directly like dismissing an alarm, or seeing images for maps. For example, for text messages, when the toast pops, you can quickly reply inline via text or voice.
  • Significantly enhanced speech-to-text capability: You can talk to virtually any data field you choose. Your words show up as you speak them - and punctuation appears automatically. This feature is smart enough to understand when to use 'two' - the number - instead of 'too' as in 'also'.
  • More powerful Photos app: From your very first launch, Photos will show the aggregated set of all your local photos and all your OneDrive photos.

In addition to these features, we can also confirm the new Settings menu is onboard the Technical Preview plus some of the system apps have been refreshed with new UI. The keyboard has been enhanced with new gestures, too.

What didn't make the cut? The new Messaging app is still missing - it is supposed to handle all kind of instant messaging such as Skype. Most of the Photos app is still under construction and the new Album view is yet to come. Plus, the major Office overhaul is left for another Preview.

There is still lot to see though in this new version, so let's cut to the chase. We begin our interface inspection right after the jump.

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