We last reviewed Windows 10 back in July of 2015 when it was first released to the public. That was the desktop version, and we didn’t get a “final” version of Windows 10 Mobile until December of 2015. Both received an “Anniversary update” that brought some fixes and minor changes. The big feature that we were looking forward to with the “Anniversary Update” was universal messaging where the messaging app on Windows Mobile would sync SMS/MMS messages and Skype messages with the messaging app on your Windows 10 desktop and tablet PCs. That feature was cancelled at the last minute, so for the past year we’ve been waiting for that to come back as part of the new Skype Universal App.
This year, the Xbox One gets this Creators Update as well and we’ll see some nice new ecosystem integration on the big living room screen as well as some universal windows platform app capabilities. We’ll also see a lot of minor tweaks, bug fixes, stability improvements, and UI issues in Windows 10 desktop & mobile. The focus for this update is on Creators, but really that focus only shows through in a small handful of areas. Even some areas that were demonstrated previously, are not available in the final build.
It’s a little difficult to review Windows 10 milestone updates these days since most of the apps included with the operating system are maintained and updated independently via the Windows Store. So lots of things may have changed already even without the official “Creators Update”.
Windows 10 Mobile
We’ll start with Windows 10 Mobile. The official release of the Creators Update for Windows 10 Mobile hasn’t been pushed out to the public devices just yet, but it’s really close, so we’re going to include the latest April build in this review anyway. While market share for the smartphone operating system hasn’t really made any positive progress since its launch 2 years ago, Microsoft is still working on it. In 2015, we said “Welcome to the beta test” and today, there are plenty of improvements, but also still plenty of bugs and inconsistencies. We’re still missing a lot of really awesome features that were in Windows Phone 8.1 and still haven’t made it to Windows 10. The good news is that Microsoft may have learned their lesson about trying to copy Android’s terrible mess of a UI as many parts are tending towards a smarter design. On a system level, there isn’t anything big to show off. There are no major changes to the start screen, lock screen, app list, or system settings. However the stability has been greatly improved and using a Windows 10 Mobile phone is approaching tolerability. I still wish it was as delightful and unique as Windows Phone 7.5 though. The real meat of the Windows 10 Mobile Creators Update is in the universal apps, and we’ll talk about those more below.
Windows 10 Desktop
First off, we’re talking about build 15063 which was released to the public on 4/11/2017. The x86/x64 desktop and tablet version of Windows 10 sees a lot more operating-system level updates than the mobile version. Most noticeable are the new start menu features. You can now hide the full programs listing and recent apps on the left (in desktop mode) if you want to. That will leave only the live tiles that you’ve pinned, along with the hamburger menu on the left edge and whatever mystery icons might be there.
A new “All apps” icon will be there as well, so you can still access the full list. Another nice change is that now the “Most used” grouping at the top lists the apps that you actually use often. Previously, this section would only list apps that were not already pinned to the start menu as live tiles.
There’s also a few nice new things in the settings. In the Personalization settings you can now create custom colors using RGB, HSV, and hexidecimal values. Recently used colors are grouped at the top too. There’s a new “Themes” section as well where you can save your custom themes or install others. This kind of theme selection was in most previous versions of Windows, but now it’s in the settings window with a new user interface design.
A lot of the Windows 10 Creators Update changes are actually in the Settings window. You’ll find the Windows Defender security options there along with all of the troubleshooting wizards, and the disk cleanup options for deleting temporary files. In the Sign-in options, you’ll also find a “Dynamic lock” option which will lock your PC when your phone, paired via Bluetooth, gets out of range.
Globally, the “Share” dialog has been changed as well. It’s no longer the Windows 8 style right-side panel where you can choose recently emailed contacts as well as apps that support sharing. Now it’s just a floating box in the center of the screen that lists apps that you can share to. The really useful “recently emailed” contacts list is gone, and that’s a huge disappointment. Outlook 2016 doesn’t show up here either, which is also a huge disappointment. So overall, that’s really kind of a downgrade.
There are also a lot of enhancements for playing games on Windows 10. There’s a whole new section of settings for gaming features in the Settings window. The Game Bar for recording content is there now, as are settings for Game DVR, and you can now broadcast gaming live using Beam. This option lets you include yourself and your comments via a connected camera and microphone. There’s also a new “Game Mode” that you can enable in the game bar for each game you might play on Windows 10. This mode prioritizes resources as much as possible to give the currently active game as much processing, GPU, and RAM power as possible.
Xbox One Creators Update
As part of the unifying of Windows and Universal Apps, Xbox One gets the Creators Update too. It actually got the build 15063 Creators Update earlier than Windows 10 on March 29, 2017. This comes as a whole new dashboard update. The Xbox One’s user interface is still a lot different from Windows 10 on desktop, tablets, and mobile and I’m not sure if that’s a good thing. Windows 10’s tablet UI would probably work just fine on Xbox One.
The new Xbox One Creators update removes a lot of what made the Xbox One special. The home screen no longer shows active games or videos in the large central window. Instead it just shows the icon, but now it can show background art based on your most-recent game or app. Yeah, not that exciting.
In fact, basically all of the Xbox One’s multitasking capabilities are now gone. You can no longer snap apps to the sides of the screen for multitasking while video calling, browsing websites, watching TV, etc. The ability to play background music is still there, but it’s difficult to use and doesn’t respond to voice commands. A new achievement tracker feature replaces the ability to snap achievements, but that’s not nearly as useful as the multi-tasking snap commands used to be.
Navigating with Kinect gestures is still gone, and that was one of the most futuristic aspects of the Xbox One. Voice navigation is still there and can be used by saying, “Hey Cortana, select” but a lot of apps have stupidly removed support for voice commands, so things like VUDU or Crackle can no longer be used without turning on a controller and that’s super disappointing. Groove Music’s voice command are frustratingly broken requiring me to repeat the command 2-3 times before it activates, plus “Shuffle all” doesn’t work at all. Even the dashboard buttons on the left on the home screen are no longer accessible via voice commands. An Xbox One with Kinect could have (and should have) been a contender as the smartphone for the home.
With the Windows 10 Creators Update, Cortana has become an even-more integral part of Microsoft’s ecosystem and it’s starting to get really good. She still doesn’t speak up about appointments, notifications, or reminders when they’re relevant like a proper speech interface should and like her name-sake character in the Halo games does (I’m sick of vague unintelligible sound effects), so that’s still a disappointing omission.
Cortana on Windows 10 desktop/tablet now supports voice commands for turning off, restarting, locking, and going to sleep mode. You can also control the PC’s volume. Those additions bring it on par with Cortana on Xbox One, which is great.
The Windows 10 version of Cortana also gains the ability to control 3rd party apps. Or, really 3rd party apps have gained the ability to add commands to Cortana. This is a lot like how Windows Phone has done it for many years. With Windows Phone apps, you could register a series of voice commands and their functions so that when they were activated via Cortana, the app would launch and carry out the command right away. For example, “Hey Cortana, Twitter, New Tweet” will now launch Twitter with a new tweet window active the same on Windows 10 as it has on Windows 10 Mobile. Unfortunately, it seems that Cortana is now unable to ask follow up questions in 3rd party apps like “What do you want to say?”
On Windows 10 Mobile you could ask Cortana to remind you of certain things and those reminders would show up on your other Windows 10 devices. With the Creators Update, those reminders now also show up as notifications on Xbox One. That’s a great new feature! If I’m in the living room, I can say, “Hey Cortana, remind me to check the spaghetti in 8 minutes” and that reminder will show up on the TV as well as my phone and PC or tablet.
On Xbox One, Cortana’s new ability to add reminders is really awesome, but as mentioned earlier with new “Universal Apps” coming to Xbox One, we’re seeing a huge lack of voice command support. Xbox app developers have become lazy in implementing it and that’s an annoying problem. If anything, all UWP apps should be required to support on-screen “Hey Cortana, select” voice commands. I mean not just on Xbox but on Windows 10 and Windows Mobile too! Being able to control any app by reading its button label out loud on any device would be such an excellent option. It’s time our electronic device user interfaces became hands-free in all form factors.
Microsoft’s completely rebuilt web browser was meant to distance itself from the old Internet Explorer. Unfortunately, Edge has seen its own problems. Oddly, Edge is probably the only Universal Windows Platform app that is not updated independently through the Windows Store. That applies to mobile, desktop, and Xbox. Furthermore, the browser is drastically different on the desktop version of Windows 10 vs. the mobile version.
The mobile version of Edge is missing support for extensions, OneNote integration, Cortana integration, and the new Tab Sweep (set aside tabs). There’s also a massive bug where the on screen keyboard doesn’t always appear when you select an input field. That means no logging into anything. It’s a completely different app, and not universal at all. Although it does resize to fill the screen when you connect a larger monitor via Continuum, it still doesn’t have the same features as the desktop version of Edge.
Edge on Mobile did get one new consumer-facing feature and that’s the ability to display eBooks bought from the Windows Store. Honestly, I think adding eBook reading capabilities to a web browser is a mistake. Microsoft was actually on the right track back in 2000 with their “Microsoft Reader” software which had dedicated, and really nicely made, eBook reading features. It even supported audio books from Audible.com.
Edge on Windows 10 desktop has a lot more new features than the mobile version. There are a lot more confusing unlabeled mystery meat icons in the user interface too. There are now two boxy little icons in the upper left corner next to the browser tabs. They’re unlabeled, so normal people will ignore them, but these allow you to “set aside tabs”. What that does is save all the open tabs you have into a sidebar. It really doesn’t make sense to add this feature to such a prominent place though especially since it does the same thing as the Favorites and Reading List sections. Really, they should make the Favorites panel more robust by allowing to add tab groups as favorites, restore multi-selected favorites/groups as tabs, and specify favorites as “available offline” (which would be the same as the Reading list). Adding a 3rd interface for saving web pages really doesn’t make sense. Furthermore, open tabs and set-aside tabs still don’t sync with my other Windows 10 devices like they did with Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8. Cortana’s new “Where you left off” feature is supposed to help that, but I haven’t gotten that to work.
Edge on desktop also has a little down-pointing triangle button on the right side of the tabs list. This opens up a row of thumbnails for all of the open web pages lined up beneath their tab names. It’s very similar to the Metro version of Internet Explorer 11 on Windows 8, except the thumbnails are at the top of the window instead of the bottom. It’s really useful on tablets since those don’t support the aero peek feature on normal Windows 10 where you can hold your mouse over an application icon listed in the taskbar to show thumbnails of that program’s open windows. In fact, Edge doesn’t support that interface like Internet Explorer did, so that can be confusing.
While typing text into form fields in Edge on the desktop does work most of the time, it has major problems with the comments fields in Facebook. Sometimes duplicate text will show up or your typing cursor will jump around. The Creators Update makes this bug less prominent, but it still happens sometimes. I kind of wish the Edge browser development team would focus on web browser functionality and rendering websites properly instead of adding things that don’t belong in a browser (like an eBook store.)
On Xbox One, the Edge browser is again totally different. The thumbnail tabs are at the bottom now, and hidden while viewing a web page. Of course the controls are completely different too since they require an Xbox Controller. Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if Edge on Xbox One is actually Internet Explorer 11 with a new icon & label. It really isn’t any different than the browser that has existed on Xbox One the whole time.
The ability to enter text on Windows 10, Windows 10 mobile, and Xbox One are all still drastically different. Windows 10 desktop can accept physical keyboards and also has 3 touch screen keyboards along with a handwriting input panel that you can switch between on the fly. None of those keyboards have a dictation mode. Windows 10 Mobile has 1 type of touch screen input panel and that does have a dictation mode. The same with Xbox One. I wish these were all way more consistent in their design and usability. Dictation mode obviously needs to come to Windows 10 as a microphone icon in the touch keyboard (and probably as a customizable keyboard shortcut for normal keyboards.) The handwriting input panel has seen some improvements over previous Windows 10 versions, but it’s still nowhere as capable as the Windows 7 or even Windows XP Tablet PC Edition handwriting input panels. There’s no way to edit inked text without crossing out the whole thing! Furthermore, inserting words often generates duplicates, which is extremely frustrating. The “Personalize handwriting recognition” control panel is still part of Windows 10, but it still doesn’t work. For a company that makes some great pen computers, removing the good handwriting recognition and replacing it with this is embarrassing.
Skype Universal Messaging
Back with the “Anniversary Update” last year, an awesome new feature called “Universal Messaging” was set to come to Windows 10 desktop & mobile devices. The Messaging app and interface for it was there since the beginning in 2015, and the ability to sync SMS/MMS messages along with Skype messages across all of your devices was working pretty nicely in many of the Insider builds. Unfortunately someone decided to cancel that feature at the last minute, and move it into a Skype Universal app instead.
Well, with the Creators Update, we now have the Skype Universal app and it does have the SMS/MMS messaging sync feature enabled now. The regular messaging app is still there though. First you have to set Skype as the app that handles SMS/MMS messaging on your phone. It will probably ask you if you want to do that when you launch it, so that’s easy.
Then you have to dig into the Settings (which would be found in the upper left corner hamburger button instead of the “more” ellipses button like you would expect), and find the SMS section which will list sync requests from your other Windows 10 devices. Go to the same settings section in the Skype UWP apps on your other devices, get the 4 digit code listed there, then go back to the phone and enter that code in order to authorize a SMS synchronization connection between the two devices.
Incidentally, the new Skype UWP app for Xbox One behaves the same way. Yes you can enable it for SMS sync which includes sending SMS too. Receiving text messages on your TV when Kinect has logged you into your Xbox account? Yes, please! The Xbox One version of the new Skype app also has some special Kinect enhancements. Thankfully, the automatic zoom feature is still there! This will zoom and pan on the person speaking during a Skype call. There are also manual zoom controls if you want to do the zoom/panning yourself with a controller. Unfortunately, Skype on Xbox One has lost all voice commands! Which is terrible. The “Hey Cortana, Select” command doesn’t even work anymore. Nor is there a voice command for answering calls! So in that respect, it’s a frustrating downgrade.
Using Skype on a Windows 10 Mobile phone device as your SMS app is okay, but it’s a lot worse than the old messaging app. The interface is more difficult to use with ellipses AND hamburger buttons. Skype doesn’t always match numbers with the correct contact, so your conversations are not always in the right place. Plus, it doesn’t use the text message sound effect specified for individual contacts in the People app and worst of all… the live tile doesn’t show message previews or even an unread count!
The only new app that goes along with the Creators theme on Windows 10 Mobile is the View 3D app. It’s pretty poorly designed from a usability perspective (no one’s going to understand the mystery meat icons, and the ones at the top of the screen are out of reach.) One icon allows you to open a 3D file, but none of those exist on my phone. Another icon opens the Remix3D website, where Microsoft showcases other 3D objects that you can use in Paint 3D on desktop Windows 10. Unfortunately, the website doesn’t work properly on Windows 10 Mobile’s version of Edge, and you won’t be able to download any 3D objects here.
The View 3D app maybe would have made sense if the 3D scanning software that Microsoft demonstrated as being part of the Creators Update in December actually existed. That software was supposed to allow you to move your camera around a 3D object and it would generate a 3D model with textures for that object which you could then use in Paint 3D or other 3D design programs. Unfortunately, that’s nowhere to be found at the moment.
On the desktop version of Windows 10, the View 3D app is a little more useful since it’s actually possible to find and open 3D files with it. You can also print 3D files from it, but still it’s kind of buggy and renders 3D objects with massive pixelation.
Paint 3D is supposed to be the new Windows 10 3D creation app for normal people. It doesn’t have anywhere near the number of features that a pro 3D modeler would expect. I mean, there aren’t even Boolean operators here. So we have to look at it from the perspective of a normal person trying to make some 3D art.
While I personally do have some experience with real high-end 3D graphics programs that have been around for decades, none of that translates to the Paint 3D interface. If I put on my “normal person” glasses, the Paint 3D user interface fails completely in that regard as well. There is nothing easy or remotely understandable when you open Paint 3D for the first time. There are a bunch of incomprehensible icons along the top and pressing each one loads a different pane on the right with more incomprehensible icons. The only people who will have any idea how to use this are the people that programmed the interface… and maybe the people who those people taught how to use it. It’s not even consistent with Microsoft’s own Windows 10 design guidelines. That said, there aren’t very many tools to learn at all compared to Maya 3D, so you could probably learn its full feature set in a couple YouTube tutorial videos. The developers would have been way better off if they copied the Office Ribbon style user interface of the regular Paint app that’s generally included with Windows. At least that UI has text labels that make sense and people can understand.
If you genuinely want to learn about 3D modeling, you’re probably better off downloading the free Blender 3D and watching YouTube tutorials for that.
Paint 3D only works on the x86/x64 version of Windows 10 right now, but it would probably be fun to try on Windows Mobile and Xbox One. If the Xbox One version had 3D gesture control Kinect support… THEN we’d have something to be impressed by! Seriously! Can you imagine being able to wave your hands around to sculpt and paint virtual objects? That’s what this app should have been made for!
Outlook Mail, Calendar & People
Outlook Mail, Calendar, People are arguably the most important programs to have on a Windows desktop, tablet, and phone. The whole reasons smartphones exist is so that we can keep our contacts, electronic communications, tasks and appointments organized and referable wherever we go. Oops, it turns out Microsoft removed task management support in Windows 10 Mobile, and that still has not returned. Some at Microsoft think that Wunderlist is a suitable replacement, but it isn’t… mainly because it doesn’t sync with Office 365 business accounts, Outlook 2016, or Outlook.com tasks. There are rumors that Microsoft is building a new tasks app that will sync with their Exchange server services, but that remains to be seen. (UPDATE: Microsoft just released a preview of “Microsoft ToDo”, but it doesn’t sync with Office 365, Exchange, or Outlook.com.) In the meantime, Windows 10 Mobile can’t really be used for serious business stuff and you need to install full Outlook 2016 on x86/x64 versions of full Windows 10.
Outlook Calendar on Windows 10 has actually seen some excellent improvements. The one that is most useful and that I’m most excited about is the ability to assign categories to appointments. The category names are synchronized from Exchange server along with their colors. The UI is a bit hidden though as you have to right click the appointment in the calendar view to choose its category. There’s no category field in the appointment details dialog. There is some silly stuff added though… Like emoji for the appointment name field. The Windows 10 desktop version now has location autocomplete, which is awesome except sometimes it doesn’t sync with Exchange Server, which is awful… and that feature is not on the Windows 10 Mobile version of the app, which is very annoying. In fact, the calendar categories sync & color coding capabilities are not on the Windows 10 Mobile version of Outlook Calendar either. WHY!!? Having categories on Outlook mobile would be so so useful!
Outlook Mail is starting to be useful now too. On Windows 10 desktop, Outlook Mail finally syncs Drafts folders with Exchange Server. Reply/Forward status indicators also sync with Exchange, but neither drafts nor reply/forward status flags sync with IMAP email servers still. What’s worse is that Outlook Mail on Windows 10 Mobile does NOT sync Draft folders on Exchange accounts! So much for universal apps, huh? Syncing drafts to a mobile device is probably the most important usage scenario too. I’ve been waiting for that to come back to Microsoft’s mobile operating systems since it was removed from Pocket PC in 2002.
Instead of getting genuinely useful features like drafts sync, categories, conditional formatting, etc., the newest feature in Outlook Mail is big bright randomly colored circles with letters on them. This design change was actually worse than useless since the distracting circles made it even more difficult to find the emails that you’re looking for. Thankfully an off switch was added to the settings shortly after it was released. The circles are actually supposed to be contact photos, but that only works if you’re looking at email that resides within the same account where the contacts are stored. It doesn’t use the photos specified in the People app. Many Outlook.com accounts are being enabled with a “Focused” inbox as well. This is a new feature that pretends to know how to sort your email for you by moving some messages into an “other” section. It’s a lot like the regular Junk filters and Clutter filters we already have, and doesn’t really do a good job of reading minds. You’ll probably want to turn it off right away as it generally doubles the number of places you have to look at email instead of making things more efficient.
Contact management hasn’t seen any improvements on Windows 10 or Windows 10 Mobile (and doesn’t exist on Xbox One). There is still a “What’s New” tab in the mobile version where the People app does appear to be set up to accept social networking integration, but after 3 years and some major updates, it still doesn’t work. There are no Facebook or Twitter feeds here, and even the social network that’s owned by Microsoft, LinkedIn, doesn’t work with the People app. Incidentally, Microsoft did the social network integration REALLY well on Wndows Phone 7, which was put together in like 9 months. The People app is still missing business critical features like categories, mailing list groups, and multiple sorting options (like sort by company name). And the it is still the home of largest number of negative feedback items in the Windows 10 feedback app; circular contact photos.
The Windows 10 Maps app feels like the best Universal Windows Platform app that’s actually universal. Except for the Windows Ink toolbar, everything the Maps app does on Windows 10, it can also do on Windows Mobile. It’s even got a properly responsive design that moves the toolbars to the bottom of the window when the width gets below a certain breakpoint! This is really well made!
For the Creators Update, the Maps app gets multiple waypoints when calculating directions, so you can create multiple stop overs for your trip. I only wish it was possible to sync the open tabs between Windows 10 desktop and mobile versions of the app so that the directions I generate on one device would be accessible on all of my devices.
In terms of guided GPS navigation, previous versions of the Maps app would often freeze or crash if you took a route that wasn’t what the app was suggesting. These days, the routing is much better and I’d say you could actually rely on it now. Plus, listening to Cortana’s voice from the Halo games is just so great.
Movies, Groove & Xbox
Of course the Windows 10 Creators Update includes the TV & Movies app, Groove Music app, and the Xbox app. These are all Universal apps that also get updated through the store very often, but to coincide with the Creators Update there are some nice additions (and some feature removals).
The TV & Movies app nicely boasts a redesigned home page. Instead of simply a list of cover art for the movies you’ve bought, there’s now a big hero graphic featuring sales or new releases. There are also subsection buttons for movie trailers, movies, TV shows… and there’s a special new section for 360 videos. Those are actually really cool because you can use your phone or tablet’s accelerometer to change the view of the video as it plays. The app supports playing 360 videos that you’ve recorded yourself as well, and that’s really awesome.
Groove Music has a slightly altered user interface. Some of the huge list of icons along the left side have been collapsed into subcategories, and the “Your Groove” section has been renamed. And while the current official release version of Groove Music doesn’t have this new feature just yet, it seems to be coming down the pipeline very soon… and that new feature is music videos! That’s right, the ability to stream music videos in playlists where they’re available is coming back. Zune on Windows Desktop used to have this as did Xbox Music on the Xbox, but now it should finally make its way to Windows 10 Mobile, Windows 10 Desktop, and Xbox One.
The Xbox app has barely seen any changes on Windows 10 and Windows 10 Mobile since the anniversary update. The Mobile UI is still pretty terrible with tiny unintelligible icons at the top of the screen. They even become impossible to use when you’re on a phone call since the active call notification covers them. There is one new thing about it though… the OneGuide, TV Remote, and volume control options are now gone. That’s a huge disappointment! Personally, I had to install the old Xbox One SmartGlass app in order to regain access to those features. Also, the Xbox app on Windows 10 Mobile doesn’t support Continuum so obviously it’s not designed to be a true universal app.
Microsoft’s new way of releasing and updating the Windows 10 operating system is a huge departure from the way they released operating systems in the past. With Windows 10, we get much more frequent updates with little features and little broken things here and there. It’s not something you can install once and use for 10 years like Windows XP or Windows 7 were. The good thing about this is that users are never going to be blindsided with a completely new operating system design that is so foreign to them that they’ll have no idea how to use it. That’s what happened with Windows 8 even though there were some very intelligent innovations there. On Windows 10, you’ll constantly see little changes every 6 months or so and those will be easy to learn. The bad thing about this is that Microsoft spends less time on getting things right. Instead of doing something really impressive, each Windows 10 feature update feels like many parts were done with an “Eh, good enough for now” attitude.
That “good enough for now” attitude is most prevalent in the UWP (Windows Store) apps… especially the ones made by Microsoft… they don’t have keyboard mnemonics, shortcuts, customizable toolbars, extensive feature sets, consistent GUI elements, etc. However, if you stick to the professional grade Win32 programs that have been in development since the turn of the century and combine those with the extremely stable and efficient core Windows 10 operating system, then you’re going to be really well off.
Are you enjoying the perpetual beta status of Windows 10 updates or would you rather see something really well polished released instead?