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Hands-on: Windows 10 Mobile build 10136 shows polished Cortana, new Photo app

Mark Hachman | June 18, 2015
Microsoft claims the latest version of its Cortana digital assistant within build 10136 of Windows 10 Mobile is nearly complete, and it shows. It launches quickly, provides a comprehensive view of your day, and sparkles, fresh and clean.

Microsoft claims the latest version of its Cortana digital assistant within build 10136 of Windows 10 Mobile is nearly complete, and it shows. It launches quickly, provides a comprehensive view of your day, and sparkles, fresh and clean.

Unfortunately, I wasn't quite as impressed with the rest of it.

Microsoft released the latest build of Windows 10 Mobile on Wednesday, after warning that prospective testers would either have to downgrade their existing Windows 10 Mobile phones back to Windows Phone 8.1 or else upgrade a newer phone. I chose the latter, upgrading the massive Lumia 1520 phablet to the latest build.

That proved fortuitous, because build 10136 adds a one-handed mode for straphangers, covert texting, and other scenarios where you can't hold your phone with two hands. Microsoft also delivered a lovely update to the Photos app, organizing your photos thoroughly--and, even better, adding the Lumia Camera app to phones like the Nokia Icon. There's also a number of other random, minor UI improvements scattered throughout. But Cortana's the star attraction for Windows Phone, and the app looks and feels terrific.

What's not so terrific in this build: an inability to pin tiles to the home screen, multiple Search (Cortana) apps, Live Tiles that either wouldn't work or simply stopped working, and the like. I can certainly chalk these up to preview software, but let's hope Microsoft solves these problems soon.

First, the good news: Cortana looks great

Google Now, Apple's Siri, and Microsoft's Cortana continue to elbow each other aside as the three digital assistants compete to be the most prescient and helpful. Following Apple's unveiling of improvements to Siri with iOS 9, it's now Microsoft's turn to improve Cortana, and build 10136 does just that.

Each assistant has its own style: Siri works quietly behind the scenes. Google Now briskly doles out a series of cards. Cortana provides a one-page executive summary of what she believes you ought to see, and presents it to you when you trigger what's now called the Search app.

After a bit of introduction, Cortana gets down to work: She opened my page with the score of the Oakland A's game in progress, reminded me I had a water bill to pay, and finished off with the latest Microsoft news. Be sure and scroll down--there was actually a long list of items that includes local weather and nearby places to eat, arranged in a card-like fashion.

Cortana didn't find a note from Amazon announcing that a shipment was en route, as it promises to do. When I asked, "where is my package," it snapped up a list of search results lickety-split--not the answer I was looking for, though. You can ask her stock prices and other facts, and the results were swift in my experience.

 

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