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Hands on: Windows 10 Build 10051 brings impressive new features to phones, but slowly

Mark Hachman | April 14, 2015
You can see the improvements, but we're a little surprised Microsoft released alpha code this balky.

Email is minimally presented. Your inbox is presented as a list of tiles: Swipe left to delete, swipe right to flag. By default, your emails are saved in conversation view, which you can expand by tapping on a tile.  Once you open an email, all the options you'd want are listed in a row of icons at the top.   

You can quickly jump to the calendar by digging through the menu at the upper left. Once in calendar mode, Outlook presents a rather nifty weekly view at the top, and an endless column of your appointments at the bottom. Hardly any tapping's needed to navigate through your calendar; instead, it's largely predicated on swiping right and left and down and up.

Phone and Messaging apps: Simple, uncomplicated 

We spent just a few minutes with the Phone and Messaging apps, which look quite like what Microsoft showed off in Redmond in January. The user interface is almost too minimal, with a gray-on-black motif that's a bit dull and difficult to read. Ditto for the Messaging interface as well.

Maps: Vibrant and useful

I'm also a fan of the new Maps app, one of the "universal" apps that bridge Windows 10 devices. At its core, the Maps app favors the simple look of Bing Maps. But start searching for nearby places of interest, and Bing suddenly shows you local restaurants with large illustrations and even a "streetsider" view.  

Even with all this, Maps is fairly responsive, and a feature I'd like to see in my current Windows Phones, now. 

People: Awfully drab

Microsoft crafted the new People app using the same look and feel as the Phone and Messaging app, and it's an awfully somber backdrop for the most important people in your life. There's also no apparent way to change the monochromatic background color. I think Microsoft could at least offer a setting to change the theme. 

Camera: Well, that was unexpected

Nokia and Microsoft seemingly have dozens of camera and camera-related apps. Windows 10 Build 10051 takes a small subset of the recent Lumia Camera update and imports them into the generic Camera app. (Note that if you're upgrading from a previous build, you'll have to manually launch the Camera app, not the Nokia Camera app. And yes, Nokia Camera is different than Lumia Camera, which is also different than the Camera app.)

But if you've used the Lumia Camera app, you'll notice that the new Camera app uses the same interface, complete with the "wand" icon that normally launches the Rich Capture feature. Now, however, the wand icon simply turns on the HDR function.

In all, I came away from the new build with three impressions: First, some of Microsoft's universal apps, including Maps and the new Outlook apps, are outstanding and should be considered among the selling points of the new Windows 10 for phones. Second, some of the color schemes need to be rethought. Microsoft may be quietly designing the UI for a Surface phone; if so, that needs to be better communicated. Finally, Microsoft needs to do some tweaking to improve performance--but its engineers undoubtedly know this.

As third fiddle in the OS space, however, I just wished for Microsoft's sake that the company had pushed out the build earlier. Some elements need work, and some features are terrific, but they have yet to reach a mainstream audience. 

 

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