Microsoft may lead the way in PCs but it’s struggled to stand out when it comes to smartphones.
The company bought out Nokia’s smartphone business back in 2014, allowing it to take full control over the Lumia smartphone range.
Microsoft has since dropped the Nokia name and is now preparing to shed Windows Phone for Windows 10 mobile.
New handsets, the Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL, are the first to get the new operating system, while older devices will be offered a free update.
But what’s Windows 10 mobile all about? Using the latest Lumia 950 XL, we detail what’s new since Windows Phone 8.1 , and you can see some of the features in action by watching the video above.
A consistent interface
One of Microsoft’s biggest missions is making Windows 10 universal – this means that whether you use Windows 10 on a PC, a tablet or a smartphone there will be a very similar look, navigation and apps.
If you’re already using a Windows 10 computer or laptop, it should be much easier for you to adapt to a smartphone using Windows 10 mobile.
The Cortana digital assistant does more
Cortana has already been around on Windows Phone and made the move to Windows 10 on PC earlier this year.
The digital assistant is a great way to stay organised, which allows you to verbally issue reminders and ask some questions.
Now Cortana helps you stay even more organised on mobile, with the ability to give you a reminder based on your location. For example, you can ask Cortana to remind you to pick up some bread and milk as soon as you leave the house.
With Windows 10 mobile, the drop-down Action Center now shows up to three rows of setting options, unlike the limited one row before.
When you swipe across to the full app list, you’ll also see the most recently added apps at the top, making them easier to find.
Everything’s synced and connected
Cloud technology is a big part of the plan for Windows 10, so photos and videos are automatically backed up on OneDrive.
On the new web browser, Edge, you can share your favourites between PC and mobile, meaning you never have to have two sets of favourites again.
More security from Windows Hello
Newer Windows 10 mobile handsets will come with Windows Hello, an alternative form of security which uses your face to log on.
This feature requires specific technology built-in, so it won’t be available on existing Windows Phones upgrading.
It’s currently in beta status for the moment, which means it’s still being tested. From our experience, Windows Hello worked in some cases, but in darker settings it struggled – you can still choose to enter a normal password as well, so there are no worries if Windows Hello doesn’t recognise you.
The Messaging app keeps your texts and Skype conversations in one place
If you use Skype and text, you can now keep messages in one place with the new Messaging app. This cuts out the need to open separate apps each time but sadly, doesn’t include other instant messaging apps such as WhatsApp.
New faster Edge browser
Microsoft has scrapped Internet Explorer for a new web browser called Edge. The on-screen navigation has been decluttered giving you more space to see web pages and the app runs noticeably smoother than its predecessor on mobile.
The Reading List feature is pretty useful when you’re without internet or data, as it allows you to save an article or page to read later.
Updated and new apps: Groove Music, Maps and Voice Recorder
There are some other developments on the app scene too.
Microsoft has renamed Xbox Music as Groove Music and added new features such as the ability to read album reviews within the app and remove tracks from the Recent Plays list.
An all new Maps app is also on offer, taking the best of Bing Maps and Nokia’s HERE maps with the usual street navigation options, but also details about businesses and local suggestions when you go on holiday and an offline mode so you don’t need to use data.
A dedicated Voice Recorder is also included, saving you the need to download a third-party one from the Windows App Store.
Extras with Continuum
Another new feature that will only be available to new Lumia smartphones like the 950 XL is Continuum, which makes it possible to use your smartphone like a PC. To do this, you need to buy a Microsoft Display Dock and connect it with a screen, mouse and keyboard. Read more about Continuum here.
When will I be able to upgrade to Windows 10 mobile?
Microsoft says that it will begin rolling out the update to existing smartphones sometime in December.
Which Windows Phone devices will be able to upgrade?
Microsoft first announced in March that devices currently running Windows 8.1 will be able to upgrade to Windows 10 mobile, but it has only confirmed the following handsets for December so far: Lumia 430, 435, 532, 535, 540, 640, 640 XL, 735, 830 and 930.
However, this doesn’t mean that other devices such as the Lumia 520, 530, 625, 630, 635, 925, 1020, 1320 and 1520 will be excluded – it may mean that their upgrades will come later.
Do I have to upgrade to Windows 10 mobile?
You should be able to ignore the update prompt if you wish, but this may cause you problems – eventually Microsoft will stop fixing any bugs for the old Windows Phone and apps may not work properly.
Verdict: Is it worth upgrading to Windows 10 mobile?
It’s great that Windows 10 mobile replicates the Windows 10 desktop experience; it makes it easier to remember where everything is. But at the same time, the changes from Windows Phone 8.1 are not too radical that you’d be unable to find your way around.
The small changes to navigation make a big difference too, so you should be able to get around much quicker.
There is still a shortage in apps compared to rivals, unfortunately. But you still have the main apps such as Facebook, Netflix and others. Microsoft is also hoping developers will produce more apps for its mobiles with the new universal app technology, but the outcome of that will need some time…
Will you upgrade to Windows 10 mobile? What features do you like? Let us know in the Comments section below.