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Upgrading to Windows 10 Mobile: What you need to know

By Adam Z. Lein March 29, 2016, 10:48 am

The Windows 10 Mobile upgrade for existing Windows Phone 8.1 devices has started to show up. Most people probably have the automatic updates option turned on which will probably notify you when an update is ready to install and allow you to proceed. There’s a few things you might want to be wary of when that Windows 10 Mobile upgrade comes along though.

Do you even want the upgrade?

Many people think the newer version of an operating system is going to be better than the current version. That is how things should normally go, but that’s not often the case with Windows Mobile. In Windows 10 Mobile, many of the user interface elements have changed for the worse. Microsoft has switched to a more “anything goes” style of user interface design that makes everything much less intuitive and much more confusing. There’s no longer a consistent way of finding commands and finding out what the commands mean by reading their text labels.  It’s a lot more like Android in that sense.  Furthermore, many buttons are now at the top of the screen where you can’t reach them with your fingers while holding the phone in one hand. This is a pretty obvious usability failure, yet somehow all smartphone operating systems make the same mistake these days and Microsoft has gone along with the terrible design of the other platforms.


You’ll also lose some great features of Windows Phone 8.1. The photos app will no longer integrate with Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and Google Photos. You will no longer have access to Office 365/Exchange Server tasks. That’s a pretty big deal breaker since task notifications won’t fire either. If you’ve got a phone with Glance mode, that will not longer support lock screen apps like weather. The new email program does have some improvements like lots of HTML email formatting capabilities, but it loses the easy of use for switching between sorting options. The new Calendar has usability problems as well and no longer auto-completes addresses in the location field for Cortana to track. Don’t be surprised if you can’t copy and paste content between certain apps. On the other hand Cortana is a bit improved with a stronger alignment with Windows 10 desktop and the ability to send emails using only voice commands. Plus Windows 10 Mobile supports the new universal apps that developers have been working on with Windows 10. Most of those have been poorly designed so far though. Be sure to read our full review of Windows 10 Mobile to learn more about the many changes before you decide if you want to proceed with the upgrade, but be forwarned… even on hardware that was made for Windows 10 Mobile (like the Lumia 950) things are still very buggy.

If you decide to hold off, go into Settings > Phone Update on Windows Phone 8.1 and turn off the “Automatically download updates if my data settings allow it.”  You should probably do that now anyway. It will still check for the availability of updates and notify you when one is available.

Upgrade Advisor


Microsoft is making an Upgrade Advisor app available that you can install on your phone in order to see if it is eligible for the Windows 10 Mobile upgrade, and also to help free up space needed to install the update. If you are considering upgrading to Windows 10 Mobile, you should definitely download the upgrade advisor app.

Do you have enough RAM?

While the Insider Preview for Windows 10 Mobile supported Windows Phone 8 devices with only 512Mb of RAM, today that story has changed for the official upgrade. Inexpensive devices with 512Mb of RAM as opposed to those with 1Gb or higher are no longer going to receive the official Windows 10 Mobile upgrade. The reasoning was that the Windows 10 Mobile experience doesn’t meet expectations on those lower end devices.

Actually, as it turns out, it looks like only the Lumia devices on the list will ever receive an official Windows 10 Mobile upgrade. Right now the current list of upgradable devices is: Lumia 1520, 930, 640, 640XL, 730, 735, 830, 532, 535, 540, 635 1GB, 636 1GB, 638 1GB, 430, and 435. A number of non-Lumia phones will also be upgradable: BLU Win HD w510u, BLU Win HD LTE x150q, and the MCJ Madosma Q501.



Your current Windows Phone probably already has some of the cloud backup options turned on. You can find them in Settings > Backup.   These will let you save things like app settings, which apps you have installed, text messages, and photos automatically. It also saves custom ringtones, but those won’t be restored to Windows 10 Mobile.

You’ll want to plug your phone into a PC using the USB cable to make sure you have an offline backup. Unfortunately, this method does not give you access to all of the content on your phone. It will only give you access to the Documents, Photos, Music, Videos, and Ringtones folders.  Copy all of those to your PC’s hard drive using File Explorer so that you have offline backups.

Storage space


The Windows 10 Mobile upgrade is going to need a lot of free space to download and install. If your Windows Phone 8 device’s storage is practically full, the upgrade will fail and you’ll have to delete some things. As mentioned above, for pictures, videos, documents, custom ringtones, and music, we recommend plugging the phone into a PC and copying everything that’s important to your computer’s hard drive even the stuff that’s also backed up to OneDrive on the cloud. After you confirm that they’re copied to a second location, then you can delete them from your phone using File Explorer and that will free up some space.

The Storage Sense app on Windows Phone also shows you what aspects of the phone are taking up what quantities of storage space. Many of these categories can be accessed and managed by tapping their titles. If removing all of your pictures, videos, and music doesn’t free up enough space, you’ll have to start uninstalling apps that you don’t use frequently. Again, “Storage Sense” will help you find which apps are taking up the most space.

Should I hard reset?

Normally a Windows Phone/Mobile upgrade will do everything automatically and spend a good amount of time restoring your apps and data to the new operating system so that when you log in everything is still there. Sometimes that can cause problems. For one it can take a really long time, and there is a chance that corruption can happen.  A cleaner way to upgrade is to hard reset your phone to a factory-released-state and then do the upgrade from there. This can reduce the amount of bugs and issues you might run into, but to be honest Windows 10 Mobile is still kind of buggy anyway.


If it turns out that you want to go back to Windows Phone 8.1, it should be possible using the Windows Device Recovery Tool as long as the tool hasn’t also been updated to restore your device to Windows 10 Mobile. This will involve plugging your phone into a PC via the USB cable and reinstalling a previous ROM. It will delete everything on your phone and bring it back to factory settings, so make sure you have all of your data backed up.


Be careful about upgrading to Windows 10 Mobile. Even though it may be available for your phone, it’s going to be a drastic change that may negatively affect your ability to use your phone and your enjoyment of the phone. If you’ve taken all of these points into consideration and you’re okay with it, than by all means, let the upgrades flow!



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