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Hands on with Windows 10 Technical Preview for phones: Subtle improvements make your phone more productive

Mark Hachman | Feb. 16, 2015
The technical preview of Windows 10 for phones seems like an aesthetic upgrade for the moment. But the integrated speech recognition is actually a powerful addition, and indicative of Microsoft's continued emphasis on productivity.

The one thing Windows Phones don't really do, however, is allow you to dictate text. (Yes, you can talk to Cortana, Microsoft's digital assistant, and even dictate SMS text messages. But that's about it; you can't dictate an email at this point.) If you want to take a note in OneNote, you must type it, or else record an audio snippet to be transcribed later. Windows 10's voice dictation works well, and adds another layer of productivity to Microsoft's message.

Google has offered speech input for some time, although it may be a feature you have to enable on your Android phone. But while Google's speech recognition requires you to dictate the word "period" to end a sentence, Microsoft intuits it from your voice and sentence structure. It's not perfect, but Windows 10 generally gets it right. Interestingly, it's also somewhat speaker-independent. My wife was able to use my phone to "type" a sentence with her voice, too. If this proves to be the case, letting Windows 10 phones transcribe a college lecture into OneNote would be a useful tool.

A redesigned Settings menu, an improved Action Center, and toast messages 

The current Windows Phone 8.1 Settings menu feels like a junk drawer of odds and ends. I have a vague feel for where current settings live, and how quickly I need to swipe down to find them. But a lack of alphabetical (or any) order, really, is confusing. 

Windows 10 solves that problem by organizing the Settings menu into a few neat subcategories, making it much easier and more intuitive to find what you're looking for.

An improved Action Center — the settings shortcuts that can be accessed by swiping down from the top of the screen — also means you won't have to access the menu, period, as frequently. In Windows Phone 8.1, you have about five to choose from: Wi-Fi settings, Bluetooth, airplane mode, rotation lock, and the brightness controls. With Windows 10, there are a dozen, including toggles for VPN and do-not-disturb Quiet Hours, location, the camera, and more. 

Many of the basic features of modern phones — and this includes Android and iOS as well — are designed to keep you from diving deep into apps and menus, or at least point you straight to what you want to do. Windows Phone 8.1's notifications provide a long list of email from various accounts, reminders, and app notifications as well. With Windows 10, you can begin to act on these, swiping an email to the right, for example, to archive it.

You can do the same, according to Microsoft, with new texts and other messages that appear as so-called "toast" notifications at the top of the screen. (I personally haven't tested this feature yet.) Microsoft says you'll be able to tap on the message and quickly respond to it, without leaving the app.


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