Microsoft's Windows 10 Build 10080 for phones finally feels more like a phone, rather than a development platform.
Unlike Build 10051, Windows 10 feels much snappier. Once you download the apps you want (Office! Xbox! Music!) from the Windows Store, the experience actually feels rather welcoming. Not all of your apps carry over, and there are some rather alarming bugs. But otherwise, Build 10080 reassures you that Windows 10 for phones--sorry, Windows 10 Mobile!--just might work after all.
As Microsoft said earlier on Thursday, the build supports the new universal Office apps: Excel, PowerPoint, and Word. Microsoft promised PowerPoint Preview as well, but I couldn't find it.
After work, you can relax with the Music Preview and Video Preview apps, then connect with your Xbox Live friends via the Xbox app. Microsoft has also added a new Camera app, using the Lumia Camera overlay that can be found in some Lumia phones. You can download them all from a new beta app of the Microsoft Store.
We downloaded the new build onto a Lumia 830. As always, be wary of using your primary phone: One of the known bugs involves losing text messages if your cellular data is turned off.
The new app store: Somewhat lacking
Microsoft's new build adds a new app store, known as Store (Beta). It's a universal app, meaning Microsoft designed it to flow across the available space of phones and PCs.
I'm not a fan. The store positions a spotlight app on top and then provides several sliding menus that allow you to scroll through various app categories, personalized picks, and top apps. While the app's design rewards exploration (you can slide across and down to reveal more content) there's very little to guide the eye toward the most important features. There's also no context given to what the spotlighted app, Monument Valley, is: a game? A travel app?
The store offers so little explanation, you're left to wander through a magic-square puzzle of sliding app icon tiles, without even the barest indication of what they are. At this point, Microsoft's old Store app does a significantly better job of promoting app discovery.
The new Office Preview apps: Useful, but awkward
With limitations on how you could open and edit documents, Microsoft's Office Mobile apps are a bit of a pain. The new Office Preview apps show the potential, but there's a ways to go.
The Office preview apps launch after a short series of introductory swipe screens, demonstrating, for example, how to adjust an embedded image on the page. Pay attention: I rushed through them, and as a consequence I struggled with adjusting the images. While the preview apps ask for an Office 365 subscription, they'll allow you to create and edit documents without one, seamlessly connecting to your OneDrive to pull up recent documents.
Having used Office for the iPad (or Android), I still prefer that experience. On the Lumia 830, basic editing worked well. But when I tried to readjust an image on the page, I either ended up distorting it or misaligning it in such a way that I simply gave up after a few tries. And like the iPad app, text editing can feel clunky: To replace a word, for example takes six steps: Highlight it, pull up a bottom "ellipsis" menu, click Find, go up to the top of the screen, click the gear icon (the settings menu), then match the word (or case, or even homonyms). Whew!
If you don't want to type a passage, you can always dictate it using the speech recognition that was baked into an earlier version of the Windows 10 OS. It seemed to work better in Build 10054, though.
Would I want to use the Preview apps to make a last-minute change in a presentation? Only if it involved text, I'm afraid.
Xbox app: Quite polished
If you've used the Xbox app in the desktop version of Windows 10, you'll feel right at home. The app defaults to a list of clips, posts, and achievements posted by your friends, although you can also dig through your recent list of Xbox Live Achievements. About the only thing I had trouble doing was connecting to the Xbox One itself, sitting a few feet away on the same wireless network.
The Camera app: Lumia Camera, repurposed
With the various camera apps that Microsoft and Nokia have thrown at consumers over the years, you'd be forgiven if they blurred together. But the new Camera app you can download is the quick-launching code that's in the new Denim/Lumia Camera combination, with that overlay as well. Clicking the wand icon shifts the camera into HDR mode.
Music Preview shows fewer seams than Video Preview
Most streaming media aficionados already have their favorite services and have stuck with them for a year or two. The same goes for downloadable movie services like Amazon Prime. With its two Preview apps, however, Microsoft does a credible job of luring customers back.
Music Preview allows you to upload your own music into a dedicated Music folder in OneDrive. That content seamlessly meshes with songs you bought via the Xbox Music service or downloaded for free. Once you open the app, your music begins syncing. I noticed the app wouldn't respond to button presses on occasion, especially when it was syncing music in the background.
The only major bug I encountered in this build was the Lumia 830's flat refusal to play back any audio with the phone's built-in speakers. When headphones were connected, audio played back as expected. I don't recall trying to play back music with previous builds, so I can't say for certain whether the new build introduced a bug.
What I saw of Video Preview didn't feel as seamless and flexible as Music Preview. One feature I'd like to see, for instance, is the ability to pull down videos I've personally recorded and stored in OneDrive. The app also gently prods you to visit the online Xbox Video store, whose blah layout still feels like an uncaring 16-year-old is manning the till. Still, at least it feels a bit more directed than the build's beta app store.
Build 10080 is a beta, sure, but the differences in look and feel across its parts make it feel even more patchworked. Three color schemes wend their way through Windows 10 Mobile: the vibrant, tiled approach of the Start screen; the generally minimalist, dark default settings of the app screens, and the stark plainness of the app store. My advice is to go into the settings menu and change the "dark" scheme to the "light" background. The phone feels a bit more cheery afterward, and there's a visual bridge to the app store layout. But we still need greater consistency between the Start screen and the rest of the phone. Microsoft should at least consider using the Start screen's background image across the settings and apps menus--or failing that, at least allow colored backgrounds.
Nevertheless, the most recent build felt more enjoyable to use than any previous version. With build 10080, you can begin to see Microsoft pushing Windows 10 Mobile closer to the launch pad.