An honest & comprehensive Windows 10 review

About two months ago Microsoft brought to us their brand new (and somewhat controversial) operating system. Read more to have a closer look into Windows 10, the upgrade procedure and any problems that you might find.

Introduction

Windows 10 is a new chapter for Microsoft and Windows. And the version number skipping is perhaps more evident of that. The Microsoft that was behind Windows 8 is seemingly different than the Microsoft of Windows 10 with new management and a new way of doing things. Will Windows 10 be any good? Or does it bring along with it more troubles than anything else? Let’s take a deeper look at Windows 10.

More than just another Windows 10 review I’ll also be sharing my upgrade experience as well as any issues that I came across. If you didn’t see any other Windows 10 review then I’ll be covering that too. I’ll also be sharing any other problems or issues you might want to be aware of before you decide to upgrade. The final released version on Windows 10 home was used for this review (and not the technical preview). I’ll try and be as in-depth as possible, so have a mug of coffee or juice, sit back and relax as we walk through Windows 10.

For those who don’t fancy reading the entire article, here’s the ups and the downs of Windows 10 in a nutshell:

At a glance:

Pro’s

  • Free upgrade for all Windows 7 and 8x users (with legal licenses)
  • Windows 10 is the new Windows 7
  • Desktop users are given some love with some new tricks
  • Smooth and easy upgrade procedure
  • Start Menu is back
  • Charms are gone!
  • Universal Apps improved quality
  • More unified interface.
  • Minimum requirements are similar to Windows 8
  • Search is good and finds everything you need
  • Windows 10 is generally fast and snappy
  • The settings app is actually useful.
  • The Edge browser is a super-fast worthy replacement of internet explorer.
  • Keyboard friendly
  • Accommodating for both touch and non-touch users.
  • Windows 10 brings a host of new features and improved apps

Cons

  • Windows 8 lovers will notice a few features missing
  • Expensive (if you don’t qualify for free upgrade)
  • No way of disabling the usage data collection
  • Upgrades are forced upon home users with no way of scheduling themselves
  • Live tiles cannot be switched off.
  • Edge lacks the extra functionality that other browsers have.

 

Upgrading

The upgrade procedure to Windows 10 was quite straight forward. A copy of Windows 10 was reserved via the small icon that appeared on the taskbar. After updating the previous Windows version to the latest update ( Windows 8.1), a small pop-up appeared informing me that the upgrade was ready. Windows 10 then started to quietly download itself in the background. It also downloaded quite fast which is rather surprising since on a normal day Windows Update usually makes me feel like I’m using dial-up again (those slow modems of 1995 that made funny sounds every time you connected to the internet).

I manually backed up all my data on an external hard drive just in case. Once Windows 10 finished downloaded, I restarted my laptop and the upgrade process began immediately.

Initial impression

In less than an hour, Windows 10 had been installed on my laptop. My first impressions of Microsoft’s new OS wasn’t so great. The performance was horrible and everything could be best described as “laggy”. and to make it all worse my battery life was suddenly half of what it used to be. There was a number of other issues which I’ve covered further on in the issues section of this review. So at this point my laptop felt slow and outdated and absolutely horrible.

After reconnecting to the internet, Windows 10 automatically downloaded a few updates as well as plenty of drivers. Once all the drivers had been downloaded and updated Windows 10 became fast and smooth. You may find this hard to believe, but the battery life of the laptop actually increased by an hour. (I’ve covered more about this in the issues section).

In addition to the new drivers, software and updates, Windows automatically downloaded and installed the Candy Crush game. This was not present in the Windows 8 installation before and I don’t like the idea of apps being installed that I never wanted in the first place. Nevertheless, Candy Crush lead me to a few happy unfortunate hours of unproductive playtime. Despite it’s childish charms that is a surprisingly addictive game. This also leads me to explore what else is on the Windows App store… well played Microsoft, well played. (click on the images below to enlarge)

Existing apps, shortcuts and data

All files, folders and desktop apps were preserved during the upgrade. Some things like the context menu options (options you get when you right-click) only appeared after Windows finished downloading all it’s updates after the initial upgrade.

It is worth noting that the anti-virus installed (AVG) asked to be re-downloaded and installed.

Overall Performance

After updating all the drivers and software, Windows 10 was fast and smooth. Resource usage was about the same as the previous Windows version (Windows 8.1). All the peripherals worked fine including the graphics card, network printers, mouse pad, phones, scanners and cameras.

As mentioned earlier the laptop’s actually had a very noticeable increase to its battery life (especially after the Graphics drivers for the Nvidia card was updated (version 355.60). It should be noted that this battery life was measured on with Power-saver on and no connections active. The Laptop was in constant use (writing this very review).

Universal apps also seemed to open a lot quicker in Windows 10. The settings app still takes a few seconds longer to open up than control panel. This is minor but I’m one of those people who like things to be snappy on not so snappy hardware.

A nice addition is that Windows also remembered the Wifi passwords and user accounts.

Issues encountered

Upgrade issues

The upgrade process itself was rather smooth and no issues were encountered.

Initial driver issues

Before Windows 10 got a chance to download the necessary drivers Windows performance was slow and best described as laggy. Battery life was also half of what it used to be. Windows automatically fixed this by downloaded all the latest drivers.

Windows automatically pulled the necessary drivers for the graphics card. However the very latest Nvidia Geforce drivers (at the time version 355.6) failed to download and install automatically. However, it was easily downloaded from the Nvidia website.

Inherited issues

Windows 10 seemed to inherit a few problems from my previous version of Windows (8.1). I assumed that Windows 10 would fix the issue I had with being unable to create new user accounts. This I had to fix manually. You can see how I fixed the user account issue here. Inherited issues can also be removed via a clean install (an option which is available after the initial upgrade).

Search

The search function tends to be a bit slow during the first minute of start-up (and occasionally not responding to search queries). Usually, hard-drive usage will be at 100% in task manager during this period. However, I do not think this is unnatural or anything to be concerned about since the search function works fine 5-10 minutes after starting up the laptop.

Visual glitches

Occasionally the start menu would appear completely transparent and have some menu items missing. However, the occurrence is rather rare and infrequent. On re-opening the start menu the glitch disappears.

Occasionally the battery indicator opens in full screen in desktop mode. Like the start menu, closing and re-opening the battery level indicator causes the glitch to disappear.

Mouse-pad

This could be driver dependent, but scrolling with a touchpad does not seem consistent across the operating system with its default apps installed. Within the photo app, scrolling seems inverted compared to how scrolling feels in the file explorer.

Start Menu

The all programs list is now strictly managed my the operating system (direct customization is no longer possible like it was in Windows 7). While not a serious issue it does limit organization.

I noticed that opening up the start menu as well as scrolling through the live tiles of the start menu caused a spike in CPU usage. This was significantly reduced after an update.

According to ARSTECH the new start menu is also limited to 500 entries. This list is apparently the same list used to search for apps and programs. While most people won’t reach the 500 limit, it is something you should consider if you have a large number of apps installed on your system.

Privacy

Windows 10 by default shares quite a bit in information about it’s users with Microsoft. Windows usage data is automatically shared with Microsoft and there is no built-in way of disabling this.

In order for Cortana to work, she needs to get to know you and collect a fair amount of information about you and your preferences. This information is sent to Microsoft servers where it can be processed to improve your experience. This practice is not new and has been implemented with Siri (iPhone) and Google now (Android).

The default installation settings also share contacts, calendars, account info and information about app usage and the type of apps installed with Microsoft. Depending on the app and your settings some data is also shared with apps and advertising partners in order to give feed you personalized adverts. Fortunately, most of these can be limited or turned off within the privacy settings. We’ll be covering Windows 10 privacy in a future post.

It is highly recommended you review the privacy settings in Windows 10 in order to make sure you are not sharing anything you may feel uncomfortable with. Microsoft has however included plenty of settings to help you control what you share. Ultimately you have more control over your privacy in Windows 10 than you do over most Mobile Phone operating systems.

Some things to note should you wish to upgrade

It should be noted that in order to receive your Windows upgrade, you have to upgrade first (I.e keep all your old files, apps and settings). Only after the initial upgrade can you opt for a clean Windows install.

What’s new in Windows 10

Updated Desktop Interface

Windows 10 comes with a new updated interface that aims to please both it’s touch and non-touch users. Microsoft has brought back the start menu with a few design changes. It’s now a blend of both the classic Windows 7 start menu with the live tiles found in the start screen of Windows 8. Tiles can still be grouped and named, however your previously grouped and named icons are not carried over in the upgrade. Next to your start menu icon, the Cortana search icon as well as a task view icon can be found (more on these later).

Universal apps (previously known as metro apps) no longer opens in full screen, can be re-sized and has the standard window controls for minimizing, maximizing and close. Both desktop and universal apps now feel part of the same operating system while helps creates a more unified experience.

There’s also a few other cosmetic changes, the calendar has gotten an improved redesign and sports a dark theme with a slight transparency (something similar to the aero effect Windows 7 brought). The taskbar, start menu and notifications center sports the same theme. There is also a new set of icons which features a more flat design. Personally it took me a while to get used to them (the recycle bin icon also reminds me of Windows 98.

Normally I do not really care for the subtle and minimal animations, but the Windows 10 animations did make the whole experience somewhat more pleasant for me and I find myself opening up the task view to switch apps instead of the faster way (alt+f4).

The charms bar of Windows 8 is gone. I suspect desktop users will “miss” charms just as much as they “missed” Clippy, the Microsoft Office assistant.

The snap function introduced in Windows 7 has been improved and allows for 4 way snapping. If you have a larger screen you may find this particularly useful.

The smart snapping will also list your open apps after you’ve snapped your first window, from here you may select from you open apps to snap to the vacant space. Snapping will also automatically adjust even if you re-sized your open apps.

There is also new shortcuts for keyboard ninjas. Pressing the Windows key and an arrow key will allow you to snap windows left right, in corners, minimize or maximize apps. I really do like this feature as it means I don’t need to touch the mouse that often.

Software Journey Windows 10 Start menu

 

Action Center

Software Journey WIndows 10 Action CenterThe action Center replaces the charms menu and also serves as a general notifications area. This is quite familiar since Mobiles OS’s has had them for some time. The action center also has an area for quick settings such as toggling WiFi or switching to tablet mode (more on that later). There is also a quiet options toggle for those times where you do not want to be disturbed. The quick settings can also be changed.

 

Improved Search

Cortana; Microsoft’s voice assistant has made her way from Windows Phone to the PC as well. I was unable to spend any time with her since the service is not available in South Africa just yet.

The search bar has been moved from the start menu to the taskbar, however, you can still search by typing what you searching for while the start menu is open. However typing a search item while the start menu is open will also open the search.

Despite that, the general search function can still be used by either typing in the search bar on te

The search function is a noticeable improvement from Windows 8 even with Cortana switched off. Settings and files were all found very easily.

Virtual desktops and task switching

Windows 10 introduces the Task View which is basically where you can see all your open apps as well as switch to or create new virtual desktops.

The task view can be accessed by pressing the task view icon on the taskbar or via a keyboard shortcut (Win+Tab). The task view seems to be keyboard friendly as well, as I was easily able to navigate my way without having to touch my mouse.

While virtual desktops have been around for years on Mac (OSx) and Linux systems it is still a welcome addition to Windows. Essentially this is an additional tool to help organize your open apps such as keeping your open work and leisure apps in separate desktops.

I can imagine how this can be used by everyday folk to quick switch to their “work desktop” and simultaneously hide their non-work related browsing from their managers (if you one of these here’s a list of keyboard shortcuts you might find handy).

Software Journey Windows 10 Task Switcher

 

Tablet Mode

With Windows 8, Microsoft tried catering for multiple devices by completely redesigning windows to be more touch friendly. However, with that they also forced desktop users to adopt the new touch-friendly interface (which turned out to be not so mouse and keyboard friendly). This didn’t go well and Microsoft seems to have learned from their mistakes.

Windows 10 approaches things differently with its smarter start menu. Non-touch devices receive the more traditional desktop experience with a start menu and windowed apps. However when Windows runs on a tablet (or when a keyboard is detached from a device) Windows will automatically switch to tablet mode.

In tablet mode Windows adapts itself accordingly: The start menu becomes a full start screen once again (similar to Windows 8) and the start, task view and search icons become more spaced out. A back button appears right next to the start icon for convenience. Both desktop and universal apps open in full screen and the snapping function changes to a more touch suitable side by side view (the same way universal apps snapped in Windows 8).

The transition from desktop mode to tablet mode takes only a second and you are then left with a proper touch-screen operating system that’s also much more refined than Windows 8 ever was.

Windows 10 also brings with it an improved settings app, not only touch friendly but now genuinely useful as you can change all your every-day settings without needing to go into the control panel.

I’ve actually become quite fond of tablet mode when working (on my non-touch device) and I’ve been using it as a distraction-free mode. (click onto the images to enlarge)

Less obvious stuff

There’s built-in support for biometric security such as fingerprint scanners and unlocking your device with facial recognition. There’s also improved snipping tool and command prompt

Bitlocker drive encryption is now offered for Windows 10 home users (encryption keys will have to be installed on Microsoft cloud servers).

The rest of Windows feels more or less the same, the taskbar is generally the same, with a line underneath each app or window indicating that it’s open.

Windows as a service

On Windows 10 home edition, automatic updates are compulsory and there is no way of turning them off. This isn’t a bad thing since your Windows will always be up to date with the latest security patches. This is bad if you on a limited data connection.

New features will also be added as they are ready and no longer after every major release. In addition, Microsoft does require allot more information about you than it did with it’s previous versions of Windows.

Apps

There are quite a number of apps that has been improved (or is new) with Windows 10.

Windows Store now houses useful apps

The store has now improved with a new design and now includes desktop apps in addition to it’s universal apps. Apps installed from the store are sandboxed from the rest of the operating system which increases security.

Microsoft Edge: Internet Explorer’s successor

What Microsoft did, is take the rendering engine (or the core) of Internet Explorer, rip out thousands of lines of old code that was used for compatibility and then rebuild that into a universal app with modern web standards.

The result is a fast browser which can stand head to head with other top browsers (and even beats them in some tests). It’s also nice and simple to use.

If you are in a country or region that supports Cortana you’ll appreciate that Cortana is well integrated into the web browser.

A few other extras such as a Reader mode for distraction free browsing and the ability to save pages for later reading. Web pages may also be annotated and text can be highlighted much the same way as you would do for a book which I imagine makes allot of sense for students.

Add-ons or extensions currently aren’t available. Microsoft has promised that this will be added at a later stage.

Software Journey Microsoft Edge

Photo’s app

The photo’s app now includes a useful editing function which covers everything from basic edits to filters and effects. Browsing through photos is usually smooth and fast.

Mail app

The default app does a decent job of handling email from all well-known email providers. While it may not be as powerful as Outlook it does do a decent job at catering for everyone who does not need all the advanced features outlook has.

Groove Music

Groove music is Microsofts new name for its music app. The app is well optimized for touch screen users. For desktop users there isn’t much to say: it isn’t a big improvement in any way nor is it as fully featured as other media players. The old Windows media player feels allot more feature rich.

People

If you are using Windows 10 on a tablet or touch screen device then this is where you’ll store all your contacts.

For desktop users, this app isn’t particularly useful and is possibly the most underwhelming app that comes standard with Windows 10.

Xbox

The Xbox app is now an interface for your Xbox gaming account, it can also record your gameplay and allows you to stream games from your Xbox to your PC. Since I do not own a Xbox One I was unable to really test it out.

Calculator App

Windows default calculator has been replaced with the calculator app, with an improved interface and includes a converter for various things, including volume, length, weight, mass, temperature, energy, area, speed, time, power, data, pressure, angel

Other apps

There are quite a few other apps installed by default such as Sports, news, Money and weather apps. They do a decent job at what they intended to do but are not particularly noteworthy. The weather app live tile is rather useful in the start menu to provide a quick view of the weather forecast.

The Phone companion app looks decent and promises to play nice even if you use an iPhone or Android phone.

 

What others have to say?

On the whole Windows 10 has received positive reviews. However, the privacy issues did cause great concern.

The bottom line

Windows 10 feels like a progressive step forward and adapts to best suit the device. Because of that, it gives non-touch devices like Laptops and PC’s the traditional desktop experience and tablets the touch-friendly experience first introduced with Windows 8.

Windows 10 provides many compelling reasons to upgrade for it’s users and Microsoft has done well to make the upgrade procedure easy and painless.

In the end, Microsoft has taken everything that worked with it’s previous versions, added some cool features and then left us a modern operating system that feels like a progressive step forward.

Whether you disagree or agree with anything, or perhaps you even have a correct or an idea for a future article your comments are always most welcome below.

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