We’re getting to the end now – Windows 10 is now less than a week away from its staggered launch to Windows 10 Insiders and anyone who took up the upgrade offer. So far, in our five-part series, we’ve looked at various changes to the user interface, to the bundled applications, and also to the way in which it changes your multi-tasking habits thanks to the multiple virtual desktop feature. We’ve got a couple of apps to go through before moving on tomorrow to the final part of our mini-series, so lets get started.
Here’s the new Xbox app, and it looks pretty good. There’s so much to delve into with this that it probably deserves its own article. If you own a Xbox One, you can stream games to your PC and you can play using a XBox 360 or Xbox One controller. You can interact with friends, send messages over chat, browse the games on the Windows Store and catch up with the latest news and announcements. Unfortunately, the interface isn’t navigable using a controller, so you need either a mouse or a touch screen for this one.
The app also has the ability to record gameplay, and streaming is apparently on the table for integrating into the app later down the line. You can start recording in a game with Win+G, but the Xbox app has to be open in the background to make this work. I’ll be testing this at some point to see how effective it is against some of the first-party software from GPU vendors like AMD and Nvidia.
I decided that Phone Companion needed its own section because of how awesome it is that Microsoft’s even supporting other mobile platforms with this. The app starts up by asking which phone you want to use with the application – Windows Phone, Android, or iOS. You’re then taken to a new window which shows you all of the Microsoft apps and services you can configure on the device.
Selecting one of the options brings up some of the Microsoft applications that you can set up on the device itself, as well as bringing up some basic stats about your device with a click on the “Expand” button at the bottom.
Of course, Microsoft’s own platform is immediately better suited to pairing up with Windows 10 than any other mobile platform, and with the launch of Windows Phone 10 this year, a lot of things are going to change for the struggling mobile platform, even though many of the new features need to be implemented in hardware, like Continuum for phones.
If I’m right about Microsoft’s ambitions for mobile (and this is helped by CEO Satya Nadella’s talk about convergence over and over again), the launch of Windows Phone 10 will bring the platforms even closer together, and I suspect they’re going to mimic Apple by being able to completely control certain functions on your Windows Phone from your desktop or notebook, without having to pick it up.
Mail, Maps, Calendar, and People
Here’s the new people app. Aside from the design, nothing is realy new, although now it hooks into the Mail app properly and will eventually also integrate into Outlook 2016. If your contact has a e-mail address, you can click it and launch the Mail app. If you have Skype installed and they have Skype details saved, you should be able to dial them through Skype. I’m not really a fan of the people app on Windows 8.1, so this may see some use from me, but I doubt it’ll become a thing, given that old habits die hard.
You can add other accounts to the People app to get your contact lists from places like Yahoo, GMail, Facebook and even Skype. Microsoft’s reaching pretty far with this one, so I do wonder if future changes to the APIs for these services might break compatibility in the future. Google in particular would be open to doing such a thing.
The calendar app is much the same. You can add in your GMail calendar here if you want, and it works properly. The customisation options are limited, and you can’t choose a dark theme, which is odd. Clicking on the mail icon will either launch Mail or whichever other e-mail application you’ve chosen to be the default.
Here’s the mail app in the reading pane, enlarged to full-screen. Mail has some issues left over from earlier builds as well, in particular not being able to show some images embedded into e-mails, which include a few signatures that I’ve seen so far. Its not a deal-breaker, but it is annoying, and I hope that its solved eventually.
Because the Mail app also allows for using multiple accounts, you can also add in any other mail account here, and switching between them is done through the menu on the left. One feature that I’d love to see in the future is a unified inbox, and Microsoft is well on their way to making that happen with future promised changes to Mail on the desktop and phone.
Composing e-mails is just as simple as it was in Windows 8 and 8.1 with their respective Mail apps. Pictures, attachments, HTML tables and links can all be added into the body of the e-mail, but photos get added into the mail at their default size – you’ll need to use the resize option or the drag handles to scale them down somewhat.
The Maps app looked good already on Windows 8.1, and it looks good here too. You have the option to search for local restaurants and other features, as well as bring up driving directions and a favourites menu. My hunch is that the latter two plug into the Here suite on Windows Phone, so that you can push driving directions to your phone for use later when making your way to your destination, but we’ll probably only see that with the launch of Windows Phone 10.
Searching for local features and places works just fine, even though I don’t have Cortana or online search enabled. In the future, just searching for a place through the Start menu should also show a suggestion to use Maps to find out more details about it.
Maps also have the unique ability, just like Here maps, to download offline maps for use when you’re on the road, away from an internet connection but within reach of a GPS signal. The map for South Africa is just 238MB in size. Offline maps are available for 54 countries in Africa, 25 countries in Asia, three countries in Australia/Oceania, 48 countries in Europe, 21 countries in North and Central America, and 12 countries in South America.
The map pack (hehehe) for all 50 US States is the largest of the bunch at 4.22GB, and China ranks in second at 2.87GB, while Canada comes in at a close third with 1.62GB. Of the notable countries missing, Japan does not appear in the Asian groups, and Russia’s map database is run by GLONASS, which does not supply the Here Maps database with its data. If you set your region and language to Russian, though, that may give you the option to use maps with GLONASS data. I wouldn’t be surprised if it doesn’t, though.
That’s all for now! We’ll have our last installment on Windows 10 in beta tomorrow. Windows 10 launches on 29 July 2015 for Windows Insiders and those of you who’ve reserved their upgrade copy, and a fully packaged product launch is expected around the end of August 2015.