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Windows 10 Mobile review - the future's bright but be wary

Katharine Byrne
16 Dec 2015
Windows 10 Mobile press shot
Our Rating 
(Free)

Continuum is fantastic, and the overall interface is now much cleaner to use, but performance is a problem for now

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Windows 10 has finally arrived on mobile phones. We had an early glimpse of Microsoft's new smartphone OS earlier in the year during its Insider Preview program, but now we've had a chance to test the full and final software thanks to the release of the Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL, including some brand-new features such as Windows 10 Continuum and Microsoft's new iris-scanning security system, Windows Hello. Here's everything you need to know about Windows 10 Mobile and how to get started.

When will my phone get Windows 10?

It's not just new Microsoft phones which will run Windows 10, as a wide selection of Windows Phone 8 and 8.1 handsets released over the last two years will be eligible for a free upgrade to Windows 10 over the coming months. You'll be notified when an update is available for your phone, but in the meantime there are a few things you can do to make sure your handset's ready. Firstly, your phone needs to be running the latest Lumia Denim update available for Windows Phone 8.1 (OS version 8.10.14219.341 or higher). Secondly, you'll need at least 8GB of internal storage available to download the update.

Unfortunately, there's no set time scale on when which phones will receive the update, but so far Microsoft has confirmed that the following handsets will be eligible for Windows 10 when it does finally arrive: the Microsoft Lumia 435, the Microsoft Lumia 535, the Nokia Lumia 635, the Microsoft Lumia 640 and 640 XL, the Nokia Lumia 735, the Nokia Lumia 830, and the Nokia Lumia 930. However, bear in mind that not all Windows phones will support every last feature of Windows 10, as most of the big ones like Continuum are limited to the Lumia 950 and 950 XL.

How does it run?

At the moment, I've only had a chance to test Windows 10 Mobile on the Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL. However, in both cases, I ran into some quite major performance issues, as the operating system felt very sluggish in day-to-day use. It was a particular concern on the Lumia 950, as it didn't feel anywhere near as slick and responsive as I was expecting.

This is a shame, as one of Windows Phone 8.1's main selling points was its ability to run smoothly on almost any type of hardware specification, from Lumias with only 512MB of RAM right up to its top-end flagships. I'll be very interested to see how it runs on the entry-level Lumia 550 when it eventually arrives in the UK, but for now Windows 10 Mobile feels rather bloated by comparison. 

Continuum

In theory, though, it has the potential to Microsoft's best mobile OS yet, as one of its biggest and most interesting new features is Continuum. You'll need to buy Microsoft's £80 Display Dock connector to take advantage of it (or nothing at all if you buy a Lumia 950 XL direct from Microsoft), but this clever little box is a gateway to greatness, as it essentially turns your smartphone into a portable PC, allowing you to run full-screen Windows apps such as Office and Outlook on an external monitor straight from your phone.

Microsoft Lumia 950 XL with Microsoft Display Dock

It requires a bit of initial setup, as you'll need a monitor with an HDMI or DisplayPort output as well as a spare keyboard and mouse (it supports both wired and Bluetooth devices). As such, it's unlikely you'll be using this feature at home, but it does have potential to revolutionise mobile working, as it effectively negates the need to carry round a bulky laptop with you all day if you're hot-desking around the office.

Once your phone is connected to the Display Dock via its bundled USB Type-C cable, which in turn is plugged into your monitor over HDMI or DisplayPort, Continuum automatically kicks in. It works brilliantly, providing fast, fluid feedback that's nigh on identical to using an ordinary PC. You can even use it to play 1080p video straight from your phone, too, but the best thing about Continuum is that you can still use your Lumia as a phone at the same time, so if a call comes in or you need to reply to a text message, you don't have to unplug your handset and lose your work in order to do so.

If you're short of a mouse, you can always use the phone's display as a makeshift touchpad as well, which works surprisingly well when scrolling and panning round the page. It's not particularly practical for fine editing work, but it's perfectly serviceable for browsing the web and navigating Outlook, for instance.

Windows 10 Mobile Continuum

^ To control your monitor with your smartphone, tap the Control banner at the top of the screen and your phone will become a touchpad

Alternatively, you can connect your phone wirelessly to an external display over Miracast. You'll need a Miracast adaptor if your TV doesn't support it, but it works in exactly the same way and doesn't require you to carry a cable and dock around either, which is even better news for mobile workers.

Windows Hello

Instead of using a PIN code or swipe pattern to unlock your phone, Windows 10 can recognise your eyeballs as an extra measure of security. Right now, only the Lumia 950 and 950 XL support Windows Hello, but Microsoft has said that more devices with iris-recognition will be coming soon.

Windows 10 Mobile - Windows Hello

^ It doesn't take long for Windows Hello to recognise your eyes - in total, it takes just a couple of seconds

You'll still need use a PIN code as back-up, but the iris-recognition is surprisingly quick and effective. When you turn on your phone, a red light will flash in the top right corner of the phone to scan your eye, and will automatically unlock once it recognises you. For the most part it worked brilliantly, but I found it was less successful when I was trying to unlock it while walking, as I either wasn't holding the phone close enough to my face, or the bounce of my steps disrupted the scan. It was then a little frustrating having to type in my PIN on the move, but other times it worked perfectly well, so it was a fairly minor annoyance overall.