Update

Windows 10 Fall Creators Update review: This could be Microsoft's biggest Windows yet

We'll explain why Windows 10's Fall Creators Update is worth your time in our review. Here's what's different this time around: There's new hardware, too.

At a Glance

Update 10/18/2017: The Windows 10 Fall Creators Update is available, and you can download it now. Otherwise, Microsoft will automatically push the FCU to all PCs in a series of waves that should last for a few weeks. 

Microsoft’s Windows 10 Fall Creators Update is what every sequel shoots for: bigger, better, more ambitious than the original. As it rolls out in phases starting Tuesday (see Microsoft's blog post for details), our review focuses on Windows' big, risky bet on mixed reality, plus smarter investments in the pen, creative 3D apps, Edge, and even speech. A ton of practical, everyday additions won us over, including OneDrive placeholders and much longer battery life while watching movies.

Taking a page from Apple’s playbook, Microsoft has also chosen to synchronize the Fall Creators Update with new hardware introductions. The upcoming Surface Book 2, mixed-reality devices from a handful of partners, the Harman/Kardon Invoke, and the Xbox One X populate a hardware/software ecosystem that’s a cohesive whole.

If Microsoft wins its big bet on mixed reality, the Fall Creators Update could be a nearly five-star release. For now, we think there’s enough here to merit our four-star review score. Feel free to explore it all using the table-of-contents links to the left. Many key features of the Fall Creators Update also merited deeper dives, so in addition to our briefer assessments here we’ve created separate stories, listed below.

cortana expands Windows 10 Fall Creators Update Mark Hachman / IDG

Cortana doesn’t have as many new tricks as in years past, but she will bring up a window of search results, rather than call on Edge to reply. You can use Cortana to lock or even turn off your PC. You can also train her to listen only for your voice, to ward off pranksters.

Where the fun starts: Story Remix, Mixed Reality Viewer, and Paint 3D

We could begin with Microsoft’s massive bets on new platforms, like mixed reality—but those are also its biggest question marks. Let’s talk instead about three successes within the Fall Creators Update: Photos (Story Remix), Mixed Reality Viewer, and Paint 3D’s new Magic Select tool. 

Think of the trio as a wealth of fun possibilities. The Photos app remains an excellent basic photo editor, but from there, you choose: Should that photo be part of a photo and video slideshow with Story Remix, with music, transitions, and even 3D objects? Would it work better as a texture for a 3D object within Paint 3D? Wouldn’t that 3D object look great superimposed on a real-life scene within Mixed Reality Viewer...that you could record as a photo? 

Story Remix: How to turn your photos into slideshows

As soon as a Microsoft presenter transformed a soccer ball into an exploding meteor, Story Remix became the most anticipated app of the Fall Creators Update. But it’s not an app; instead, Story Remix is sort of an alternate path within Photos. Story Remix can take a selection of photos and videos and create an album, or turn them into an algorithmically generated movie, or let you take total control and add fun 3D effects.

layout page Mark Hachman / IDG

The main slideshow editing page of Story Remix.

Some differences between Photos and Photos (Story Remix) feel forced. Your Photos are now stored in a searchable Collection tab that needs to be indexed when you first open it. Once there, you can select photos to create an album, or tap Story Remix to make a Video Remix, automatically trimming them and adding music and transitions. Microsoft may be overzealous in its curation, slicing minutes’ worth of video down to just a few seconds in some cases. If you don’t like the results, you can click the big Remix button and let it try again.

Video Project is where you take over, rearranging things as you like and adding transitions, music, and those 3D animations. While the animations aren’t as complex as what Microsoft showed off previously, effects like lightning, laser lights, and portals are still fun, especially for kids. Before, effects anchored to surfaces or objects in the video. Now, you can anchor the effect to a point on the screen. Story Remix will figure out what it is and act accordingly. 

3d explosion story remix Mark Hachman / IDG

Adding 3D animated effects is the best part of Photos (Story Remix).

There’s definitely room for improvement, but Story Remix remains one of the highlights of the Fall Creators Update. (Read our deeper dive into Story Remix.) Unfortunately, there’s one enormous catch: Microsoft may hold back many of its new 3D effects for Office 365 subscribers, which if true is simply ridiculous. 

Paint 3D’s Magic Select tool is what we were waiting for

Paint 3D has one significant change in the Fall Creators Update: Magic Select, a tool  that, like the Photoshop Magic Wand it resembles, can edit out chunks of a photo as if they were never there. 

laser tag magic select Windows 10 Fall Creators Update Mark Hachman / IDG

It won’t replace a professional tool like Photoshop, but you can easily cut out and remove unwanted elements from a scene with the Magic Select tool.

Magic Select pulls objects out of a scene by intelligently tracing their outline and cutting them out. Then it fills in the background based on the rest of the surrounding image.

owl capture Paint 3D Magic Select Mark Hachman / IDG

With other backgrounds, Magic Select has more problems, leaving “ghosts”.

The performance varies. Sometimes removed sections left a “ghost’ outline, or the attempt to fill in the background left an odd alteration. The cut-out images tend to be of better quality, and you can insert them into another photo, or apply them as a texture map to another 3D object within Paint 3D. You can use Magic Select as a supplementary tool for photo editing within Paint, or as another creative element within Paint 3D. Our updated Paint 3D tutorial will tell you more. 

3d in powerpoint screenshot Microsoft

Soon, you'll be able to take 3D objects and add them to PowerPoint.

Mixed Reality Viewer is Windows augmented reality

Whether it’s Snapchat’s augmented bitmoji or Instagram’s animated face filters, augmented reality is very much of the moment. Mixed Reality Viewer is Microsoft’s attempt to jump right in, leveraging its amazing array of 3D objects within Paint 3D’s Remix 3D. Unfortunately, Mixed Reality Viewer isn’t a mobile app. Instead, it requires a Windows tablet or laptop with a rear-facing camera, so that you can superimpose (just one) 3D object over the real world.

Mixed Reality Viewer Windows 10 Mark Hachman / IDG

3D objects can be “dropped” on surfaces, which are scanned, HoloLens-style, by the tablet camera.

Though it feels more natural to describe Mixed Reality Viewer last in this section of the review, it’s really a starting hub for the other apps.  Mixed Reality Viewer actually opens with Model View, which simply plops a slowly-rotating model for you to stare at blankly as you figure out what to do. Through experimentation, you’ll discover that you can alter the model in Paint 3D, or replace it entirely with another Remix 3D model, via the links at the top of the screen.

Clicking the Mixed Reality tab launches the external camera, where you can rotate, enlarge, and then place the model within the scene. The app intelligently aligns the model with a real-world surface like a floor, giving a bit more verisimilitude to the giant cowboy taco you just added.

Paint 3D Mixed Reality Viewer Windows 10 Mark Hachman / IDG

Even a banal photo looks better with a giant taco! Unfortunately, you’re stuck with the tablet camera, which usually offers inferior quality compared to smartphone cameras.

Microsoft rarely bothers to promote and explain new apps, and the Fall Creators Update desperately needs to lead users to these apps and show what they can do. Story Remix at least enjoyed some stage time at Microsoft’s Build developer conference. App experiences like Story Remix and Mixed Reality Viewer need to wave at the user when Windows launches, and they don’t.

My People adds a social element to Windows 10

Some extroverts seem rarely able to go a day without checking in on friends and family. For those who like to stay in touch, there’s My People. 

Windows 10 My People primary 4Mark Hachman / IDG

My People keeps your friends close via icons on your taskbar. Opening them allows you to resume ongoing conversations.

My People places icons for up to three people in your taskbar. Clicking them brings up two ways of contacting them—Skype and Mail—as well as their People contact card. Setup can be a pain, and the payoff—fun, engaging emoji that pop up on your taskbar when your friends send them—seems limited. (My People also opens a version of Skype and Mail which presents only your interactions with your friend.)

I personally find My People too distracting, but some people may absolutely love it. Eventually, I’d love to see it extended to WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and more—basically, as a universal communicator for friends on disparate social networks. See our “How to use My People” tutorial and evaluation for all the details.

Finally, an emoji keyboard within Windows

While My People adds a social element to Windows, the addition of the long-awaited emoji keyboard helps transition this review into the more useful additions to Windows. Why do Windows web apps like Twitter and Facebook have dedicated emoji buttons? Because Microsoft never got around to adding them to Windows, that’s why. 

Windows 10 Fall Creators Update - new emoji Microsoft

The Windows 10 Fall Creators Update feeds emoji fever: Press the Windows key plus a semicolon, and this emoji input screen appears.

Using just one Windows shortcut—I use WIN + ; (including the semi-colon), otherwise known as the “winky”—you can bring up the standard Windows emoji, plus Microsoft’s own “ninjacats.” Emoji used to be restricted to mobile phones or Windows tablets in tablet mode. This is a great addition, but why did it take so long?

Next page: Battery-boosting video playback, OneDrive Files on Demand, and more.

At a Glance
  • 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.

    Pros

    • 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

    Cons

    • 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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