Tip o’ the Week 315 – Getting to know Windows 10 Mobile

clip_image001There was a time when the software “ship cycle” resulted in delivery of the final version, the “Gold” code (so called as it would have been written to a gold-coloured recordable CD), which was RTM’ed then sent off to get pressed onto CD or even copied onto magnetic disks.

Nowadays, there generally isn’t ever a “finished” version – there’s the initial release, then a whole stream of updates, patches, service releases, feature packs etc.

Windows 10 Mobile (the new moniker for Windows Phone) has been slated for release for a little while now, even though there are phones out there shipping with it ready installed, and there are more to come soon – maybe some news will follow at Mobile World Congress later in February. There’s now a page that will show details of updates to Windows 10 Mobile – there’s not a lot on it right now, but check out the Windows 10 version if you want to see what to expect. Commentators are suggesting that the fact the update page exists means the wide-scale rollout of Windows 10 Mobile to existing Windows Phone 8.x devices must be imminent.

Get it early

If you want to install Windows 10 Mobile on your existing phone, it’s very easy to do – just install the Windows Insider app on your device, sign in with your Microsoft Account, and when you run the app it will ask you what degree of pain excitement you’re prepared to tolerate enjoy. The Insiders Fast “ring” will give you the biggest thrill, but especially in early stages of the development cycle, might break things that worked previously. The Slow ring clip_image004will give you stuff that’s been run by the Fast people for a while, and is known to be in good shape. You can switch between the rings, so if you choose to go Slow but never get any updates, you can always step up the pace a bit. There’s a new “Release Preview” ring now too,

Read more about the Insider program here; get the app from here.

Latest release

Fast and Slow rings have been given the 10586.107 build (in fact, that’s also gone to any existing W10 Mobile user too), which is being reported as “Production Ready” and rumoured to be the build that will be rolled out to other devices, said to be coming any day now. If you’re running Windows Phone 8.x and fancy previewing Windows 10 Mobile, or if you’ve already got a 950 or 950XL and are looking to get the latest & greatest build, then make sure you grab this one. User reports say that devices are running noticeably faster and battery life is greatly improved.

Check out your current version by going to Settings -> About -> More Info on Windows Phone 8.x,
or Settings -> System -> About on Windows 10 Mobile.

What’s new in Windows 10 Mobile

clip_image006There’s a new UI, some changes that are obvious when compared to WP8.x, but some are more subtle. The Notifications area at the top of the phone, for example, can show all the common settings and includes shortcut features like a Flashlight, or quick jump to OneNote.

Find out more about what’s new, here.

If you have a new handset, there are some other obvious changes – like the 3 buttons at the bottom of the screen now being on-screen rather than below it (so the screen can be bigger). Those buttons will disappear in some apps that go full-screen (like games, or videos), so you may need to swipe up from the bottom of the screen to show them.

Also, if you’ve a new device, you’ll notice that it’s using USB-C – a further evolution of the USB standard with a reversible connector (hooray!) – hopefully no more damaging the connector by jamming it in the wrong way. You might not be able to bend the connector, but powering the device can still be something of a minefield.

USB-C cables are not all the same

If you got a Lumia 950 or 950XL, you may notice that the USB cable that comes with it looks like the kind of thing you’d find connecting an electric car to the charging stations in the car park. It turns out that good USB-C cables are quite differentiated from the generic junk you could buy for $1 on eBay or $15 from Best Buy.

Since you’ve probably got a house-full of Micro-USB cables & chargers cluttering the place up, you might wonder how to work USB-C into your life without too much friction. Well, Googley engineer Benson Leung has done a great job of putting lots of USB-C cables & adapters through their paces, and declaring which ones will set fire to your power supply, make your phone go into meltdown or which ones to get. Basically, if Benson gives it 2 stars, then don’t bother.

If you’re after the tl;dr version and you’re in the UK, just go and buy this £7 cable and these £5 Micro-USB->USB-C adapters (so you can plug your phone into your existing car charger without too much faffing and changing cable). Yes, £7 seems a lot for a USB doofer when you could find them on fleabay for a quid, but guff cables could do more harm than good. Benson Leung for President!

Some additional early-stage tips for getting to grips with your new Lumia 950/XL:

  • Make sure you run the Phone Update from Settings / Update & security / Phone update
  • When you plug the phone in and the battery icon shows the charging symbol, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s charging. You may find that it’s just plugged in, but not getting power (especially if it makes the bada-la-doop noise every 15 secs). Props to Nick Page for pointing this out.
  • There’s no way to turn on “Hey Cortana” from the All settings menu, and usingfind a setting” for “Cortana”, doesn’t (apparently). Instead, start Cortana (press/hold the magnifying glass), press the hamburger menu in the top left, and still, there’s no settings etc. Start Notebook from that Cortana menu, and you’ll see Settings from within, and you can switch on, Hey, Cortana. Bonzer.

Tip o’ the Week #262 – Windows Phone 8.1 Update

clip_image002Well, it’s been an exciting week. We might not have laser beams but we will get “HoloLens(though we’re not quite at the “Help me, Obi-Wan…” level of holo-projection). Augmented Reality may be about to get really powerful and mainstream, though one departed great was adding to reality at the height of Reaganomics, almost 30 years ago

Windows Phone as a name is reportedly going away, to be replaced with just “Windows 10”, but there’s still some innovation to come before the availability of the new phone version, later this year (preview here, maybe?).

The upgrade known as “Windows Phone 8.1 Update” is making its way in the world; some new phones already have it installed, while others are getting it as we speak. Lumia users will see a new package of updates that includes Windows Phone 8.1 Update, known as “Lumia Denim”: see here for an overview or look here for detailed rollout information.

Some highlights

clip_image006There are a few particularly cool additions; like the ability to group icons on your home screen into folders, where a tap on the group will expand it out into a sclip_image004ection with larger tiles so you can start the apps quickly. It’s one extra tap on the home screen but it means you can get quicker access to key apps without needing to scroll around on the usual list of apps.

There’s also a nice feature called Apps Corner, which lets you pick a few (like Maps, or a good Stopwatch) and allow them to be launched by anyone, without needing you to unlock the phone. It’s a bit like Kids Corner but for everyone else, and you do need to specifically activate it (either by navigating through the settings menu to enable it, or pinning a shortcut to the start screen) before handing the phone over.

clip_image008action center

Everyone who’s on Windows Phone 8.1 will no doubt like the action center, with its quick glance at battery life remaining, the easy jump straight to the phone’s settings or the 4 big tiles that take you to common settings like WiFi and Bluetooth… but did you know you can customise it? Go into settings > notifications + actions and you can replace the 4 default tiles with choices of your own.

Windows Phone 8.1 Update adds the ability to show mobile data on this list – so if you’re travelling and want quick access to be able to switch roaming data on and off, there’s no easier way.

Finally, internet sharing on the Update gets a tweak – you can set your phone as before to be a WiFi hotspot and share out its own data connection to other devices, but you can also now do internet sharing over Bluetooth.

For a full list of what’s new in the update, and for the OS version numbers, see here.