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Windows 10 review: It's familiar, it's powerful, but the Edge browser falls short

Mark Hachman | July 27, 2015
We may as well refer to Windows 10 as a date, or an hour, as much as an operating system. It's a moment in time. A month from now, it will have changed, evolved, improved. But right now? Microsoft has shipped an operating system that was meticulously planned and executed with panache, but whose coat of fresh paint hides some sticks and baling wire.

Windows 10 also introduces a Windows 95-era array of melodic alerts for various notifications. I've grown to like them.

Given that we haven't tested Windows 10 on a broad variety of hardware, it's difficult to gauge its stability. Patches and updates will be routine, of course. What I've found is an annoying tendency--still--for my Windows 10 HP Spectre x360 (supposedly co-designed by Microsoft itself) to lose connection to an external monitor, requiring a reboot. Both a Microsoft Wireless Mouse 3500 (connected via dongle) and Logitech's MX Anywhere 2 (connected via Bluetooth) have stuttered on a regular basis after prolonged use. A reboot has usually helped. These bugs will be fixed, I'm sure, but it's evidence that things aren't quite finished yet.

Next: Cortana, the queen of reminders and notifications

Meet Cortana, the digital assistant of the future

Possibly the most significant addition to Windows 10 is Cortana, the digital assistant that first debuted in Windows Phone. The first thing you should do is tap the "Ask me anything" search field in the lower left and set up Cortana. Yes, Cortana noses into all aspects of your digital life--your calendar, location, interests, email, and more--but it's worth it.

On Windows 10's lock screen, you can set up several apps to display minimal or detailed information. But tapping Cortana at the beginning of each day provides a terrific summary of what you need to know: the weather, relevant news, local interests.  Just make sure you manually connect to your Office 365 account, if you can, to surface relevant work-related information.

Oddly enough, my HP Spectre x360 lacked a microphone of sufficient quality (in Windows 10's view) to enable the "Hey Cortana" feature, which actively listens for that keyphrase as a summons. That didn't stop it from working, although Cortana still had a disconcerting tendency to trigger multiple devices within earshot.

Voice commands take some getting used to. But there's something so handy about telling Cortana to remind you to pick up eggs and milk at the store. Of course, you can also do this with your Windows Phone, which brings location into the equation--you can either remind yourself to buy eggs at the store, or, when you're at the store, your phone can remind you to buy eggs. Unfortunately, once a reminder is set, it's set--you can't adjust the time. I also had no luck trying to set a reminder with my Windows Phone 8.1 phone and having it talk to Windows 10 Cortana behind the scenes.

Cortana even takes dictation--such as an email to your boss, for example, while you're working on another screen.

One issue I do have with Cortana is that, like the early days of search engines, she sometimes requires specific phrasing. Saying "what can you do?" to Cortana helps establish her limitations. But commands that seem natural "Play some Rolling Stones" just aren't recognized. ("Play my music" seems a little vague.) In the email example above, I had to "Send an email to Melissa," then pick the correct "Melissa," then  dictate the email, and so on. Microsoft touts Cortana's natural language capabilities, but there's significant room for improvement.

 

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