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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(Groove) Music: let’s jazz it up a bit

While Microsoft now shies away from using the term “Xbox” in conjunction with its Music application, the Music app remains virtually unchanged from Windows 8. It first asks you to sign in, if you haven’t already, then loads your existing music catalog in a snap—far quicker than it did on Windows 8, incidentally. If you’ve uploaded any music into the Music folder in OneDrive it will add those songs, too, complete with metadata and album art that it can cull from the Internet. Ideally, of course, you’ll already own an Xbox (sorry, Groove) Music pass, and can stream as much as you’d like.

windows 10 groove music album screen Mark Hachman

This is probably the liveliest page within Groove Music, previously known as Music. Xbox Music for Windows 8 was far more interesting.

Unfortunately, Music suffers from the same plain aesthetic noted elsewhere in this review: while the Artist and Songs index pages includes artist snapshots, the actual page where the song lives includes just two pieces of art. For music! Geez, Microsoft, my tastes are boring enough. This app badly needs biographical information, lyrics, a link to Bing Video—something. At least hero art is buried inside the “Now Playing” portion of the app. But Windows 8 did Music far better.

In addition to playing tunes, the Xbox Music app sells songs.

The old way of doing things.

Oh, and why in the world isn’t the music equalizer linked within the app? Can I rip a CD using Windows 10? Music offers just the basics. Microsoft can do better.

Maps: so close to great

Some of Microsoft’s offerings, such as Music, arguably work best as dedicated apps. Others, such as Maps, should probably be passed over in favor of a website, at least on a Windows 10 PC.

Maps is a Universal app that spans both desktop PCs and phones, and is downright elegant to boot. The black motif of the app presents the maps and Streetside street-view images to best effect. 

windows 10 maps 3d view Mark Hachman

Several cities in Windows 10 Maps, such as San Francisco, are rendered in 3D. It’s a gimmick, but an attractive one.

But the app lacks depth. You can view a map in either an aerial or live traffic view, and chart directions from place to place. But directions aren’t sent to your phone, as if it were OK for you to consult your laptop as you drive.

Other aspects of the Maps feel a little flimsy. There’s no context given for locations, such as hours of operation, phone number, or nearby attractions. Once you’re viewing a 3D city, there’s no obvious way of backing out into a 2D view again. Unless you type in a given address, it’s seemingly impossible to figure out how to trigger the Streetside view option. (My son loves to pick a random country and just roam from street to street, soaking up what life is like in, say, Belgium.) Finally, I would like the option of clicking a restaurant on the map and pulling up a sidebar with contextual information.

windows 10 maps space needle Mark Hachman

Maps allows you to search for a location, but only surfaces the barest amount of contextual information. But you can drill down deeper.

Microsoft offers all this—on its Bing Maps Web site (or Google Maps, if you’re so inclined). You may as well visit there first.

Movies & TV: Microsoft mails it in

The Movies & TV app was spare to the point of unbelievability, but it’s now a bit better. At first launch, there’s very little beyond four words on the left-hand rail: Movies, TV, Videos, and Downloads. The latter is populated only if something is being downloaded in the background. Otherwise, both TV and video are populated only by content you’ve purchased from Microsoft, or from ripped videos you own (right?). 

windows 10 movies tv Mark Hachman

The Movies & TV app is rather lifeless in Windows 10.

Even more disappointingly, there’s no way to organize your videos. The app doesn’t allow you to edit metadata, nor can you create any new folders. That’s simply basic functionality that should have been in there since the beginning.

At least the app supports a number of modern streaming codecs. Which ones? Well, Microsoft doesn’t actually tell you.

windows 10 video store

Fortunately, Microsoft’s Movies & TV store makes up for the app’s boring design.

The lone bright spot is Microsoft’s actual Movies & TV store—once you get there. There’s a wealth of content to buy and rent, at reasonable prices. Just enter your password (or your PIN) and, provided you have a credit card on file, it’s yours. There are a number of caveats, though, which are worth reviewing. 

Mail and Calendar: a very capable free app

Until recently, accessing your Exchange-hosted email and calendar on a smartphone was a bit of a trick. On Windows, where you can either browse via a website or a native app like Outlook, reading email is rather basic. And so is the Mail app, as it turns out.

windows 10 mail inbox edited Mark Hachman

Nothing fancy, but Windows 10 Mail gets the job done. And you can even specify a custom background to liven things up.

Mail follows Microsoft’s free productivity app strategy—it does nearly everything you want: reading email, browsing attachments, even modern conveniences like Microsoft’s Clutter, which filters out the less-important email that doesn’t quite qualify as spam. About the only real deficiency I noted was Microsoft Edge’s inability to open a PDF file that had been emailed to me, as well as the lack of out-of-office notifications. Well, that and the lack of a standard signature file and out-of-office notifications. For that, you’ll need Outlook.

Mail has definitely improved. When I tried to hunt down an old email a week or so back, Mail couldn’t find it. Now it can, across Exchange and Outlook and more.

windows 10 calendar Mark Hachman

Windows 10 Calendar shows I don’t have much scheduled for September, but recurring meetings and birthdays are already filled in.

As you might expect, Mail doesn’t maintain the tabs that Gmail does (Promotions, Social, Updates, and the like), instead dumping them all out into one giant stream. The related Calendar app can also a bit crowded once you let in all the stuff you sort of have to tolerate: the inevitable birthdays of Facebook friends, U.S. holidays, plus your personal and work calendars. There aren’t any quick to-do lists, though—in Microsoft’s world, that’s OneNote’s domain.

Next: Even more Windows 10 apps: Xbox, People, Calculate, Solitaire

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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