Hands-on with Windows 10

By now you’re probably aware that Windows 10 has launched, but what you might not know is how good it is. So, how good is it?

Does it return Windows to its former glory days with the strength of Windows 7 and Windows XP, or is it an exercise in confusion and problematic design like Windows 8, or worse, a dismal hardware burning failure like Windows Vista?

There have been so many versions of Windows, and we’ve spent so much time with them all, so it’s time to see how Windows 10 really stacks up.

This isn’t a review

So we need to get this out of the way quickly: this isn’t a review.

At GadgetGuy, reviews are generally qualified by spending more than a few hours with the product, and while that’s a view that isn’t totally shared in this industry, it’s one we like to keep close (as a note, we also don’t agree with the term “hands-on review” used by some other publications, and when we see that, we have to ask exactly what a “hands-off review” would be in comparison).

So this isn’t a review.

What this is, however, is an extended hands-on, to give you a solid amount of information with a final build of Windows 10, which we received very late in the game (which is exactly why this isn’t a review).

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s get stuck into Windows 10.

Goodbye Windows 8 (left), hello Windows 10 (right)
Goodbye Windows 8 (left), hello Windows 10 (right)

Touch is there, but only if you need it

So the first and obvious point we need to address with Windows 10 is one Windows 8 users have been hounding Microsoft to fix since the beginning, since Windows 8 first arrived and tried to shake it into people’s heads that touch was necessary, even if it didn’t make any sense.

In Windows 8, touch wasn’t a requirement, but it felt like it was since the Start menu we were all familiar with was no longer a button-based dialog box, but a full on screen, and one that worked best if you could prod it.

Technically, you could use a mouse to get around it, but it didn’t really work well without a touchscreen, and you could clearly see that this tile-based screen was Microsoft’s attempt to bring the modern desktop into the 21st century.

Except it didn’t work.

Rather than pulling people together and making them feel like Microsoft had designed a modern interpretation of its staple operating system, it pushed them apart, and right into the arms of Apple’s Mac OS X, the iPad’s iOS, and Google’s Android operating system, with Mac OS X feeling more like a desktop operating system that didn’t need touch, while the latter two were better engineered for touch than Windows 8 could ever help to achieve.

Fortunately, Windows 10 is fixing that.

windows-10-desktop-windows-10-tablet

In Windows 10, there are two specific modes, and depending on the computer you’re using, the modes will be switched into them by default, though usually with a little warning box.

The modes are “desktop mode” and “tablet mode”.

Desktop mode will be the primary choice for desktop users, as well as laptops without touchscreens because this is a delightful merging of Windows 7 and 8, with the desktop with shortcut icons, and Start button with, yes, a Start menu.

windows-10-desktop

All of that sounds like Windows 7 at this point, but for the Start menu, you’ll find Microsoft has merged the live tile system from Windows 8 with that menu. That means you’ll find a cleaner app menu with what is most used, what is recently added, a quick link to the file explorer and settings, and a separate live tile menu system that you can move around showing you live information about the apps they reflect.

From that start menu, you’ll find calendar information in the calendar tile, your new emails in the email app, the current weather forecast in the weather app, and so on and so on.

And if you want to click any of those tiles, they will open the apps.

Windows 10’s desktop mode is what Windows 8 was supposed to be, with a good and proper merging of the usefulness of the live tiles in a layout that makes more sense if you do not have a touchscreen.

It is Windows when you don’t want to touch.

When you do want to touch, you have the “tablet mode”.

windows-10-tablet

In tablet mode, the desktop dims and you’ll find a more compressed and vertically friendly edition of Windows 8’s live tile menu.

Instead of showing you groups of live tiles horizontally, this is programs shown in two groups down the page, fitting more on your screen, and allowing you to quickly check your life, emails, and more.

The full list of apps can be found on the left side, which is much more convenient than the swipe to the bottom Windows 8 forced you to do, while the most used, recently added, file explorer, and settings can be found by clicking the menu icon in the top left.

At the bottom of the screen, the taskbar becomes almost like a Microsoft interpretation of the soft button bar used on Android tablets, with the Start button taking you back to the Start menu, the back button going back, the search button being visible when Cortana isn’t available (more on that later), and a button for multitasking. That’s very similar to the icons you get used to seeing on Android, so it’s nice to see the learning curve between the two is slightly adaptable.

But while the layouts between desktop and tablet mode are different, what you need to know is they’re still very close, and it’s really how the apps load that show the difference.

In desktop mode, your apps load in windows. You can resize them like you’re used to, drag them around and change position, and generally recreate the experience of using Windows XP, Vista, or 7 with a different look.

However in tablet mode, the apps go fullscreen automatically, so whether you’re running Windows 8-styled “Metro” apps or the regular desktop apps — say Photoshop or Windows Media Player — it goes full screen.

Apps -- like the mapping app -- can load in fullscreen for tablets, or windowed like this for desktop mode. It's your choice.
Apps — like the mapping app — can load in fullscreen for tablets, or windowed like this for desktop mode. It’s your choice.

That’s a fairly easy point of difference to get your head across, and that helps to make Windows 10 that much easier to understand, which can only be a positive thing.

This is improved by allowing you — the user — to decide when you’re using the modes.

By default, a computer without a touchscreen will show the desktop mode while a computer with a touchscreen will show the tablet mode, but thanks to the setting screen that you can get at either by clicking the notification icon next to the date or swiping in from the right side, you’ll find the “tablet mode” setting can be clicked on and off giving you the control.

That last point is pertinent with Windows 10, because in Windows 8, that control was taken away. With Windows 10, it’s back.

windows-10-tablet-choice

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