Update

Windows 10 review: It's familiar, it's powerful, but the Edge browser falls short

Microsoft has listened, and Windows 10 debuts with compelling new features—Cortana, Task View, a familiar Start menu—well worth the upgrade.

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The Xbox app: Where you’ll go to relax

Windows 10’s Xbox app is made for gamers, and it’s the portal to Microsoft’s entertainment offerings—or most of them, anyway.

Surprisingly, the Xbox app supports both Windows 8 and Windows 10 PC games that were connected to Microsoft’s Live services, as well as games you might have owned and played on either the Xbox 360 or Microsoft’s latest console, the Xbox One. If you own or have played games on any of these platforms, chances are you’ll see a list of those games when you first log in, as well as any achievements you may have completed.

windows 10 xbox app home Mark Hachman

The Xbox app is part social network, part Mission Control for your gaming life.

Unlike the similar home screen under your account on Xbox.com, the Xbox app is more like a traditional social network, with a social timeline that dominates the app. Here you can chat with your friends, share game clips, and track your achievements—both what you’ve already accomplished and what you hope to achieve. You can also “follow” games and gamers.

The Xbox app could eventually morph into something like Twitch, the existing game streaming service owned by Amazon.  But the real selling point of the Xbox app is its ability to stream games from the Xbox One to the Windows 10 PC.

Microsoft’s thinking is that if a teen’s parents are downstairs watching Dancing with the Stars, that’s fine. The teen can log in to the Xbox One from upstairs and play anyway.

windows 10 xbox app connect to xbox one Mark Hachman

You can connect to your Xbox One if the WIndows 10 PC and the Xbox One are on the same network.

Streaming a game requires both the Xbox One and the Windows 10 PC to be set up to allow game streaming. Within the app, you simply navigate down the lefthand nav bar until you reach the Connect button, then find the Xbox One on the network. You can then either hand-select a game that you already own to play from the app itself, or stream the Xbox One interface itself. Note that you’ll also need to own an Xbox One or Xbox 360 controller to play; neither mouse nor keyboard are allowed.

Setting up game streaming for the first time is a bit tricky. I found I had the best results when the Windows 10 PC was connected wirelessly, and the Xbox One was powered on. Once connected, though, I found I could power up the Xbox One remotely and play from a PC connected via ethernet.

windows 10 xbox play from console Mark Hachman

If you click on a game within the Xbox app, it might take a few seconds for this screen to load. Click on “Play from console” to begin streaming.

“Your mileage may vary” is a good rule of thumb for the Xbox game streaming experience. Latency determines whether your trigger will fire the game’s blaster at the right time. The farther you’re away from the router, the more chance the game video will start smearing. (You can also use a wired ethernet connection.) The app therefore requires you to be on the same network as the Xbox. In general, though, I found the video quality to be pretty close to the One’s native 1080p resolution, with little latency, even when streaming Forza Horizon 2, a racing game. It definitely works.

Eventually I suspect Microsoft may tuck the TV & Video app inside the Xbox app. Yes, I’m aware that gamers want the Xbox One to focus on games first. But if you’re going to watch video, you may as well watch it on the TV, which an Xbox is typically connected to.

Other apps: Some old favorites remain 

Some of the best apps in Windows 10 remain essentially unchanged from Windows 8, including Sports, Weather, News, and Money. They’re excellent sources of information. Sure, your broker may have more concrete insights than the Money app, and ESPN might deliver a more comprehensive view of the July baseball trade market. But for the casual fan (are there casual fans of weather?), the topical Windows 10 apps fit the bill. (Microsoft has decided that some of its other apps, such as the Travel app, will eventually be relegated to Web sites.)

windows 10 people app Mark Hachman

Microsoft’s People app is of limited use, since most contact information is used in the app in which it is needed, like Outlook.

One exception to these is Microsoft’s People app, which I’ve never quite understood. People filters information like a traditional Rolodex: name, phone number, email, et cetera. I’m just not sure how many people use People as their jumping-off point for reaching out. If I want to email someone, I open Mail or Outlook and enter my contact’s name. Ditto for my phone, Facebook, or Twitter. People’s sort of the appendix of Windows past, and I probably wouldn’t miss it if Microsoft’s engineers removed it.

Microsoft also includes some other somewhat insignificant apps within Windows 10: Alarms & Clock, for example, does nothing that your watch or phone (or Outlook) doesn’t already do—although it can pop up a visual alert at a given time, too. In the case of the Calculator app, the drab appearance hides several useful calculators and converters. For basic arithmetic, however, remember that you can also ask Cortana.

The Windows Accessories folder also hides some of the older apps, including WordPad, Paint, and the Clipping Tool. None of these seems to have been updated, and the Math Input Panel seems as useless as ever.

windows 10 calculator Mark Hachman

Windows 10’s Calculator app: vanilla in appearance, but robust in features.

I probably should have listed Microsoft’s Solitaire Collection among the best apps Windows 10 offers. Just look at it (below): It’s gorgeous, with design elements I would have loved to see influence other apps within Windows 10.  And it’s not just one game—it’s a bunch. Minesweeper’s there, for example—not only is a version of the classic game included, but so is a new derivative, Treasure Hunt. There are several Solitaire variations, Mahjong, Sudoku, slots, and bingo. Eventually, there will be leaderboards, Microsoft promises. (Note that the app can still kick you out to the Microsoft Store to download apps, however. One question: why does a game like Mahjong take almost 250 megabytes?

windows 10 solitaire and other games

Microsoft’s Solitaire app has a vibrancy about it that makes other aspects of Windows 8 pale by comparison.

Microsoft doesn’t actually include a Skype app in Windows 10. Weirdly, there’s a Get Skype app that’s simply a “hey, click this link to get Skype” Web page. Finally, for those who wish to use Windows 10 to connect to a 3D printer, there’s the 3D Builder app, which we didn’t test.

There’s even some apps, like Movie Maker, which emerge from the hidden underworld of Windows Essentials 2012 and appear in Windows 10.

Finally: Our review verdict, and what’s next for Windows 10

At a Glance
  • Windows 10 drives the PC platform forward with its mix of powerful, productive features. Only a few bugs and design issues mar its shine.

    Pros

    • Free upgrade for Windows 7, Windows 8.1 PC owners
    • Cortana digital assistant is potentially powerful
    • Start menu takes best of Windows 7, Windows 8

    Cons

    • Still some obvious bugs at time of review
    • Thematically, some apps are just plain dull
    • Microsoft Edge browser underperforms competition
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