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- Where the fun starts: Story Remix, Mixed Reality Viewer, and Paint 3D
- Video Playback stretches battery life
- OneDrive on Demand: All the files, none of the space
- Security improvements include a better PIN
- Edge evolves into an excellent PDF reader
- Inking, dictation, eye control and more
- Mixed reality: A very real question mark
- Conclusion: Windows 10 leaps ahead
Reaching out to Android, iOS and more
At one time, Microsoft had grand ambitions to tie mobile and desktop devices together with Windows as a common OS. Now that Microsoft has essentially declared Windows Mobile dead, its new mobile strategy extends Windows experiences to Android and iOS, using apps as connective tissue.
Within the Fall Creators Update's Settings menu there’s a new Phone section, which connects your PC to your phone via an app called Microsoft Apps.
Microsoft Apps enables Chrome or Safari to share a Web page to your PC, approximating the “pick up where you left off” functionality that was promised for the Fall Creators Update. Eventually, that piecemeal solution will be replaced by the Edge browser for iOS and Android, which will provide truer cross-platform connectivity. (How well do Windows PCs connect to phones? Read our separate evaluation to find out.)
Personally, I think the best thing about the new phone-PC integration within the FCU is a tiny feature: the new ability to reply to (only reply—not, sadly, to create) texts on my phone, right within Windows. Harman/Kardon’s Cortana-powered Invoke speaker will be able to place calls, using Skype. Cortana now also talks to smart-home devices, a feature Microsoft added at the last minute and that I didn’t have a chance to try.
Microsoft’s grade here? Incomplete. Microsoft is literally years behind Amazon in the smart-home space. Sharing a webpage between device is something I did just once or twice, as I would usually find the time to keep reading it on my phone. Microsoft’s services are going to have to exceed the capabilities of Amazon and Google's offerings, and I’m still skeptical.
Mixed reality: A very real question mark
Possibly the biggest bet Microsoft and its partners are making is with mixed reality, its umbrella term for augmented reality plus traditional virtual reality. Five mixed reality headsets from Acer, Dell, Samsung, and others are nearly here. But ignore all of the confusing language: The “mixed reality” devices Microsoft wants you to buy are tethered virtual-reality headsets and controllers, priced between $399 and $499, that run Windows. You’ll also need a PC (either a desktop or notebook) capable of running mixed reality.
We hope to dedicate a more exhaustive review to mixed reality. I’ve tried these partner mixed-reality headsets on four separate occasions, and came away impressed. But only Acer made its headset available just before the Fall Creators Update. That won’t cut it.
Microsoft’s mixed-reality environment is built around a "cliff house" environment, where users can move from virtual room to virtual room, interacting with apps and pinning them to walls, much like placing a window on your desktop. Users “point” with the controllers, which must be visible to the cameras on the mixed-reality headsets, then “teleport” by flicking the thumbstick. It’s certainly fun if you’ve never tried it before, but we have reservations about how well the hardware works.
Apps, though, will be where VR will succeed or fail, and it’s not clear what games Microsoft will make available in its store. (I’ve seen three: Superhot VR, Space Pirate Trainer, and Halo: Recruit.) All are shooting galleries, and the Halo game seemed disappointingly humdrum. Mixed reality will eventually be able to run SteamVR games, by far the largest bucket of content. But that capability won’t arrive until the holiday season, potentially leaving the VR enthusiasts who haven’t already bought a Vive or a Rift twiddling their virtual thumbs until then.
It’s unfortunate that Microsoft’s biggest question mark is also its most significant initiative. Fortunately, the rest of the Fall Creators Update is a more definite win.
Conclusion: Windows 10 leaps ahead
Time will be the final judge of the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update. Looking back, Windows 10 features like Cortana and Windows Hello have stood up over time, while the virtual desktops of Task View have not. Today, the just-under-the-wire debut of mixed reality deals it a tough hand.
Believe it or not, there's even more under the hood than we've had a chance to dig into: Windows' Game Mode, for example, devotes more resources to UWP games then before, helping to improve performance and hopefully resolve stuttering issues. Ubuntu is now part of Bash. A setting called Xbox Networking tests your gaming latency, and lets you know if Xbox Live services are online. PCWorld's guide to the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update's best new features rounds up those helpful little extras and more.
But within the Fall Creators Update, the Story Remix/Mixed Reality Viewer/Paint 3D trifecta is a solid, fun foundation for building a creative experience. Features like the improved pen navigation, eye tracking, and dictation ably serve niche audiences who depend on these features. Finally, it’s the little, useful conveniences—checking a text message that pops up on your screen, OneDrive placeholders, video playback optimizations—that feel like they’ll stick.
The Fall Creators Update feels like the most significant release since the debut of Windows 10. Its weight rests in part upon the number of new Windows devices you’ll be hearing about over the next few weeks, from the Surface Book 2 to the Invoke to the Xbox One X. All will involve Windows in some way.
If Microsoft cares about Windows, though, the company needs to start telling others about it. Many feel that services like Groove Music and the Zune died of neglect. Office 365 apps learned this lesson—each update to Word or Excel is accompanied by blurbs that trumpet their new features. Windows? Microsoft barely acknowledges when an update takes place.
The engineers behind the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update have delivered an update that’s worthy of praise. Now Microsoft needs to step up and make consumers care.
Microsoft Windows 10 Fall Creators Update
The Microsoft Windows 10 Fall Creators Update is the company's most ambitious upgrade to date, adding mixed reality and better iOS/Android integration to a solid suite of creative apps, including augmented reality.
- Trio of creative apps pushes into 3D, augmented reality
- Dictation, improved pen support improve ways to interact with PCs
- OneDrive Files on Demand, battery optimizations are useful upgrades
- Success of mixed reality is an enormous question mark
- Phone integration will be challenging in a post-Windows Phone world
- Microsoft's reluctance to promote features is a real concern
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