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  (Source: YouTube)
Highlights include new file explorer and Images universal app

Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) has at long last ponied up its promised public Technology Preview build of Windows 10 for smartphones.  From a revamped set of core apps -- some of which are new -- to a host of new gesture, there's a lot of meat in this very rough early release.

I. Limited Availability

To imagine what Windows 10 on a smartphone looks like, first imagine the Modern UI portion of the Start Menu found in Windows 10 PC test builds.  On a phone Windows 10's homepage is still all about the Modern UI.

Some Windows Phone owners may be unable to start testing quite yet as Microsoft has only announced support for a handful of Windows Phones thus far.  Microsoft states that the Tech Preview is available for the Lumia 630/635/636/638Lumia 730, and Lumia 830.

Lumia availability


Microsoft model choice is interesting here.  Two of the six devices it chose to initially support (the Lumia 636 and 638) are Chinese-exclusive TD-LTE devices.  It does make sense in a way -- Microsoft's mobile offerings have struggled in China and it wants all the time it can get to perfect Windows 10 for this crucial market.

Aside from the limited availability within the Lumia range, it should be noted that so far Microsoft has not opened the preview to any third party devices, i.e. HTC Corp.'s (TPE:2498) HTC One M8 for Windows (2014).

Assuming you're among those who can get it, you will first need to enroll in the "Windows Insider Program", a free beta test program.  A cool part with the smartphone Tech Preview is that you'll get builds directly from Microsoft as over-the-air updates.

Windows 10 Insider
Much like Google Inc.'s (GOOG) Android 5.0 Lollipop, Microsoft's Windows Phone 8.1 struggled to convince carriers to move ahead on a rollout.  Both Google and Microsoft are moving towards more direct forms of updates.  Microsoft writes:

Since it is a shared codebase, you should expect that builds for PCs, tablets and phones will be generally timed to come out at the same time, but they may not always be the same day or same build number, since sometimes a bug will affect one but not the other and we may take another build to fix it.

Will these direct-from-Microsoft OTA updates expand to all customers?  Maybe, maybe not, but it is an intriguing possibility.

II. Universal Apps Air

Taking a look at what's new, one of the most noticeable changes is the growing set of core universal apps (apps that share common UI, storage, settings across PC and smartphone).  A wide variety of these apps are onboard in the Tech Preview, albeit in crude form.  A couple -- namely Word 2016 and Powerpoint 2016 -- were not included in the rollout, but were demoed in a video from Microsoft.
  • Microsoft Office 2016
    • Word 2016 (full)
      • Note new ribbon packs in pretty much all the functionality of full office.
      • Easy scrollable layout
      • Didn't make it into first Tech Preview build, but was teased in demo video.
Windows 10 --Word 2016

Windows 10 -- Word
[Image Source: Microsoft]
  • Powerpoint 2016 (full)*

Windows 10 Universal Apps

Powerpoint
[Image Source: Microsoft]
 
  • Outlook Mail 2016
    • Fast triaging of email: swipe left to delete, swipe right to tag.
    • Full rich text editor, courtesy of built-in Word 2016.
       
Outlook Mail
[Image Source: Microsoft]

 
 
  • Outlook Calendar 2016
    • Syncs with your PC-side meetings, displays different meetings by color, based on category.

Mail 2016
[Image Source: Microsoft]
  • Music+Video
    • Synced/unified collection between your smartphone and PC.

Windows 10 universal
[Image Source: Microsoft]

  • Bing Maps
    • With image search and location bookmarking

Bing Maps
[Image Source: Microsoft]
  • Bing Search
    • Cross-device searching/profile

Bing Search
[Image Source: MIcrosoft]
  • Photos
    • Merged list of all OneDrive and local images.
    • Autoenhance of photos
    • Automatic sorting for easier photo finding
    • Automatic album creation
Photos universal apps
[Image Source: Microsoft]
  • File Explorer
    • Support for storage folders
    • Favorites ("Recent")
    • Sorting
    • File properties
Windows 10 on smartphone -- file client
The new Windows 10 smartphone File Explorer UI [Image Source: Peter Bright/ArsTechnica]

These apps are in somewhat rough form at present, but testing should help to rapidly whip them into shape.  The File Explorer is a particularly nice, as that's been a long requessted feature in Windows Phone.

III. Swipe Your Way to Success

The new touch-friend build of Windows 10 for select smartphones adds a number of new touch actions and gesture-driven events.  Among these:
  • Expanded Quick Actions are found by swiping down in the action center.  The expanded section features multiple rows of quick actions (e.g. Airport Mode, WiFi, etc.).
Windows 10 smartphones
The expanded notifications pane is opened with a swipe.
[Screenshot Source: Peter Bright/ArsTechnica; Animations: Jason Mick/DailyTech]
  • The ability to swipe notifications left to dismiss them.
Swipe to dismiss
[Image Microsoft Corp.]
  • The ability to respond to key events (e.g. text messages) via a small widget interface attached to the notification.
notification answering
[Image Source: Microsoft]

  • (Near) universal speech to text in text fields across the UI with better homophone process e.g. ("to be or not to be" won't be garbled as "2 be or not 2 be)"
text to speech
[Image Source: Microsoft]

Full size background image (w/ parallax scrolling) on the home screen

Windows 10 background
[Image Source: Microsoft]
 
 
  • A list of recently installed apps is compiled and placed above the full list of installed apps.  A similar to a strategy employed late in Windows 8.1's upgrade cycle.
Windows recent
[Image Source: Microsoft]
 

Microsoft has offered up an in depth preview of the changes narrated by VP Joe Belfiore.



Cortana is updated in the preview, with better natural language understanding onboard.  While she (or her app, more likely) looks like a hot mess with weird fonts and such, this is the first publicized step in the road to unifying the PC and smartphone voice assistants.

To give feedback on your device once you've updated, you can briefly push the down volume button and the lockscreen button at the same time and then release both.  Just be sure to release them, as holding this combination for ~10 seconds will cause your phone to reset/soft reboot.
 
Windows 10 insider

Don't rave too much about the stylistic inconsistencies, though, unless you spot some particularly egregious.  Microsoft makes it clear that this is a very rough public Preview build, writing:

This is the earliest publicly available preview we’ve ever done for Windows on phones. This preview is still very much under development and you’re going to see some rough edges. We’re sharing it with you so you can be with us at every step, and provide your feedback to help make this the best release ever—because it’s the one made for you. You will encounter bugs. You will see experiences that are clearly just not done yet, and UX that lacks polish at this point. DON’T WORRY! It will improve as we go and new features, stability and performance improvements, and more polished UX will come at each step.

You will likely feel like this first preview build for phones seems “less complete” or “earlier” than the PC. That’s true—it is.  Although Windows 10 is built on shared code that runs on both PCs and phones, keep in mind that Windows 8.1 for PC was finished months earlier than Windows Phone 8.1, so the PC build has had more bake time.  But we’re not worried about getting a great final product out or the progress we’re making.  Much of our work until this point has been on platform development rather than the completeness of the UI, so a lot isn’t immediately visible – like the fact that we have a common OS core and app platform across PC and phones. But those 'fundamentals' represent a ton of work and are going to enable a lot of cool things to come, like apps that work seamlessly across devices, consistent manageability of devices, and the ability to run a whole new generation of Office Universal Apps on all of your Windows 10 devices.

Hopefully the work by the earliest testers will help Microsoft tune and focus its offering before it hits the rest of the Lumia device line.

Windows Phone
[Image Source: Neowin]

On the PC side, a new build of Windows 10 rolled out to testers 3 weeks back.  The PC testing base recently hit a milestone with its 2 millionth enrollee in the Tech Preview/Insider program.  Microsoft is expected to offer a finished version of the OS in late summer or early fall.  Windows 10 will be a free upgrade to anyone with a valid Windows 7, 8 or 8.1 license.  It will also be available for most recent Lumia models, including 2014's Lumia 530/630/730/830/930 series.

Sources: Microsoft [blog], [YouTube], ArsTechnica





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