If you own an older Windows phone, you may finally be able upgrade it to Microsoft’s most recent operating system, Windows 10 Mobile—for free. Microsoft began offering Windows 10 updates to most Windows Phone 8.1 phone owners on Thursday. The process can be a bit quirky in spots, though, which is why we’re here to walk you through it.
Our Windows 10 Mobile review should introduce you to the high points of the new OS, such as Windows 10’s close ties to other devices in the Microsoft ecosystem, including the Xbox One. Your existing Windows Phone 8.1 apps should still work, with a framework for new, universal apps to gradually replace them.
An exclusive club of Windows 10 Mobile
Microsoft is restricting the Windows 10 Mobile upgrade to just a subset of some of the most popular Windows Phones: the Lumia 1520, 930, 640, 640XL, 730, 735, 830, 532, 535, 540, 635 1GB, 636 1GB, 638 1GB, 430, and 435; plus third-party phones such as the BLU Win HD w510u, BLU Win HD LTE x150q, and the MCJ Madosma Q501.
If you own a classic Windows Phone like the Lumia 1020 or the Lumia Icon, well, you’re out of luck. Microsoft may add additional devices to this list, but don’t hold your breath.
Plan on setting aside a bit more than an hour for the upgrade, though most of that time will be spent simply keeping a watchful eye on the phone as it updates itself.
Before you begin: Back up your data, just in case. Go to Settings > Backup, and send everything to the OneDrive cloud. You can also simply connect your phone to a PC via a USB cable and copy over data to an external hard drive, too.
Next, grab your older Windows Phone and make sure it’s charged. Install the Windows 10 Upgrade Advisor app, which serves as your digital concierge for upgrading your phone.
To obtain the app, you can visit Microsoft’s site, click the link, and try to negotiate Microsoft’s app store. When I tried it, though, Microsoft wouldn’t let me log in.
I found a somewhat clunky workaround: Either open Microsoft’s direct app link on your phone, or (if you’re reading this on a PC) email that link to yourself, and open it on your phone’s email client. Either way, if you open that link on your phone, it should launch the Store app and take you straight to the Upgrade Advisor page. Downloading the app should take just a minute, as it’s only about 4MB in size.
Checking for updates
Once installed, open Upgrade Advisor. The app will confirm that your phone is approved—or it should. I was a bit bummed to discover that my Lumia 635 was ineligible, perhaps because it had too little memory. In any event, tap the Next button, and the Advisor app will begin determining whether you can download Windows 10.
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