Before Windows 10, Microsoft offers Lumia 635 with more memory

In a somewhat surprising twist, Microsoft has added a new version of its Lumia 635 handset in some regions. Don’t get too excited though; it appears there’s only one change: A doubling of the phone’s system memory.

[company]Microsoft[/company]’s official Lumia 635 page confirms the change, which was spotted by the AllAboutWindowsPhone blog. The original model launched with 512MB of memory while 1GB is now available in select markets. The updated model, along with prior comments from the company suggests that Windows 10, Microsoft’s upcoming software for its phones, is best suited for devices that have 1GB of memory.

That doesn’t mean that phones with less RAM won’t see the Windows 10 upgrade. However, Microsoft’s Corporate VP, Operating Systems Group, Joe Belfiore has already said that the company is working to get Windows 10 on phones with 512MB of memory; they just may not have all of the new software features available to them. If you haven’t seen them yet, here’s an overview from the currently available early preview of Windows 10.

Windows 10 settings

As much as I’d like to see Windows 10 arrive for the complete line of Lumia handsets, I can understand the challenge Microsoft faces with limited memory on low-cost phones. Unfortunately, the best selling Lumias have been the ones with 512MB of memory so the company will be challenged to get these handset owners on its new software which unifies the experience across phones, tablets and computers.

Microsoft’s Rooms doesn’t make the cross-platform cut

As Microsoft readies a more universal Windows 10 for computers, tablets and phones, some pruning seems to be in order. One of the unique Windows Phone features getting dropped, according to All About Windows Phone, is Rooms, the app that gave families and friends a private place for chats, photo sharing and calendar coordination.

microsoft rooms

Microsoft’s support page for Rooms explains that the door will be shut once you upgrade your handset to Windows 10 and that official support for Rooms is ending March 15.

I can understand paring back on functions that probably didn’t have a high return; after all, Rooms doesn’t provide much value if one person the family uses a Windows Phone and everyone else uses an [company]Apple[/company] iPhone or an Android handset. Given Microsoft’s big push to get its apps and services on competing mobile platforms, though, I wish it had given Rooms a chance on iOS and Android.

Sure, there are plenty of other sharing and collaboration apps that replicate the core functions of Rooms. You could use SMS or any number of messaging apps, for example, for group texts and such. Shared calendars work well to coordinate schedules as well; everyone in my family has their own [company]Google[/company] calendar but we share access to keep track of who is going where, when. And the same goes for photos: [company]Facebook[/company], Instagram and other services work fine for those.

The thing is: All of these options are disparate and filled with information from so many other people. Rooms cut through all of that extraneous noise when you wanted to focus solely on what just a few very important people are doing by inviting them to a room.

Again, I see why Microsoft is letting Rooms go; I just wonder how much effort it would have taken to bring the unique, useful app to other platforms. Clearly, it was too much in Microsoft’s eyes.

First look at Windows 10 on phones: Clean, elegant and promising

Microsoft promised a preview version of Windows 10 for phones would arrive before the end of February and it delivered on that promise earlier this week. If you’ve signed up for the Windows Insider program and have a currently supported phone, you can install Windows 10 on your handset. I’m not sure I’d do that if I were you, though.

That’s not a knock against Microsoft at all. It’s more of a disclaimer — one that Microsoft makes as well — that the software is just a preview and the final release will certainly have improvements and features that aren’t here yet. If I used Windows Phone as my primary device, I’d heed the company’s warning. But I’m a risk taker and I have a loaner phone from Microsoft, so I installed Windows 10 on a Lumia 830 yesterday. I haven’t used the software for long but I like the direction Windows 10 is headed in so far.

Right off the bat, the biggest visual improvement, in my opinion, is the revamped Settings app. Gone is the relatively unorganized endless list of options. In its place is a well-designed interface with clear setting groupings and high-information density. Microsoft still needs to do some work, though: Some groupings use this new look while others are still pre-Windows 10.

Windows 10 settings

The one-touch settings in the pull-down notification shade are expandable as well. You still get Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, screen rotation and a button for the Settings app (or whatever Quick Actions you personally choose), but now you can tap an Expand dropdown button for additional settings buttons.

Windows 10 settings pull down

And while we’re on this screen, the notifications themselves are easier to work with. Instead of dismissing all of the notifications tied to a single app, you can dismiss individual notifications within an app. Here’s an example with email.

Windows 10 notification dismiss

I see that some notifications have expansion options, presumably for some additional actions — think replay and delete in email, for example — but such options aren’t there yet. Incoming text notifications now support inline responses as well, either by voice or keyboard. I believe that Microsoft will add similar interactions for other notifications so that you can take action or respond without leaving the app you’re currently using.

I noticed a new microphone icon on the software keyboard in Windows 10 as well; it sits above the keyboard, next to where word suggestions appear. Tap the microphone and Windows 10 will transcribe your spoken word, complete with punctuation if you add it; I said “comma” in the test below and it worked fine, even adding the period on its own. In hindsight, I probably should have said “semi-colon” though.

Windows 10 speech input

I’ve long thought that Microsoft’s native keyboard was one of the best by comparison to iOS and Android and the addition of the voice transcription will only make it better for some. An interesting addition to the keyboard is a little four-way software button at the bottom left: Press and hold to activate it. You can use it like a virtual directional pad for improved cursor movement.

Windows 10 phone d-pad

Also new to Windows 10 for phones is a native File Explorer application. It looks clean and I love that it works in landscape mode as well as portrait. You can create new folders, get the property information of an object, move files and more.

Windows 10 phone File Explorer

I don’t see any link here to Microsoft OneDrive and don’t know if there will ever be one, but I’d like to see it at some point. Yes, the OneDrive app comes with Windows on phones; it just seems like an obvious way to blend local and cloud files in one place to me.

Speaking of OneDrive, Microsoft Windows 10 brings a new Photos app that does what I want the File Explorer to do: Shows local and cloud-stored photos all in one place. The OneDrive photos don’t have to appear; I found a slider to disable that feature. The app will group pics into Collections, Albums and Folders automatically but in this preview version I’m using, the latter two functions aren’t yet working.

Windows 10 phone Photos

Microsoft says that many anticipated features and functions aren’t yet in the preview version. So I haven’t seen the new Mail and Calendar universal apps, for example, nor the changes to Office or integration between text messaging and Skype. And I have seen some glitchy behavior here and there. But that’s to be expected.

Windows 10 preview is clearly a work in progress. And it is progress: Building upon many of the Windows 8.1 aspects I like with a more modern, clean and universal take on mobile computing. Microsoft still has a bunch of work to do here, but I think it’s on the right track with Windows 10 on phones so far.

I expect the software to get frequent updates so I won’t be writing about all of them. However, I’ll revisit the software here with new posts when it makes sense do to so based on Microsoft’s progress. In the meantime, I’m happy to answer any questions about the software for those who don’t have a supported handset or don’t want to install the beta software.

You can try out a beta version of Windows 10 on your phone now

It’s here: Windows 10 for phones is ready for the public to preview. Microsoft announced that it was pushing the beta OS to intrepid testers through its Windows Insider program on Thursday.

To download the new technical preview, you’ll need to grab it through the Windows Insider app after signing up for the Windows Insider preview program. You’ll also need an eligible Windows Phone. Once you’re signed up, you’ll receive new builds as over-the-air updates. Here’s the full list from Microsoft:

  • Lumia 630
  • Lumia 635
  • Lumia 636
  • Lumia 638
  • Lumia 730
  • Lumia 830

You might notice that this list of devices does not include many of the high-end devices that run Windows Phone, including the 900 series and HTC’s One M8 with Windows Phone.

Update 2:30 ET: Good luck if you’re trying to install the update. Many power users and Microsoft journalists are furiously complaining on Twitter that even devices that are supported may not be able to pull down the update, as well as various other installation issues. If you’re having trouble getting the update to show up, try reinstalling the Windows Insider app. Our own Kevin Tofel has successfully installed the preview on a Lumia 830, but he reports that it’s a slow process.

However, a French language page briefly listed HTC’s Windows Phones as among the devices can grab the preview, so availability might differ by country in the future.

The Technical Preview is a close cousin to the version of Windows 10 for phones that Microsoft previewed at its big consumer-oriented summit last month. Bigger changes expected for Windows 10 on mobile devices include a revamped notification center that syncs with desktops running Windows 10, Skype integration with the its text messaging app and Microsoft’s new Spartan browser, although some of Microsoft’s promised features (like the new browser) might not be available in this build. There should also be a host of subtle interface tweaks that should improve the user experience. Here’s a Microsoft blog post about what to look for in the technical preview.

The Windows 10 technical preview for desktops has been available through Windows Insider since last fall.

Keep in mind that you probably shouldn’t install this on your main phone. It’s a very early beta version and there’s sure to be bugs. So get your spare Lumias out and charged — Microsoft appreciates your willingness to test its pre-release software:

Will your Windows Phone get Windows 10? It depends

When Microsoft introduced Windows 10 for phones last month, the on-stage message was that all Windows Phone 8.1 devices would get the upgrade. Now we may have to define the word “upgrade” because there’s a little bit of hedging going on — particularly for handsets with only 512 MB of RAM, which just happens to be the amount in the Lumia 520, the best-selling Windows Phone so far.

lumia 520

Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President, Operating Systems Group, Joe Belfiore shared some information on the situation over the weekend on Twitter, which The Verge highlighted on Monday:

I’m sure Belfiore’s tweet is genuine: [company]Microsoft[/company] certainly wants Windows 10 on all of the phones already running its software; that strategy is integral for a unified Windows platform across devices. And back in November, the word was that all Lumia handsets actually would run Windows 10. But ambition, hope and dreams are just those. It’s possible that Microsoft can’t meet the goal due to hardware constraints, or perhaps it could and won’t because running Windows 10 on certain hardware configurations might not provide an optimal experience.

When push comes to shove, I think Microsoft will end up dealing with older phones with limited memory in the same way it will deal with Windows RT devices: Provide an custom-tailored update that is called Windows 10 but does not include every feature.

That’s surely better than the Windows Phone 7.8 debacle, where phones were left behind and couldn’t be upgraded to Windows Phone 8. But it could leave some handset owners with a sour taste if they backed Microsoft’s mobile strategy only to end up missing some of the latest and greatest features. My Lumia 520 and I will be waiting to see how this shakes out.

Qualcomm confirms a Microsoft Lumia flagship phone is on the way

Qualcomm is feeling the heat regarding its latest flagship mobile chip, the Snapdragon 810. The chip reportedly has thermal issues, and Samsung is apparently dropping it for its own processors, which led to a bad week for Qualcomm’s stock price. The company put out a press release on Monday saying the chip remains in many manufacturers’ plans, and includes a confirmation that the Snapdragon 810 will be used in a Microsoft Lumia device, which would make it the flagship device that Windows Phone users have been clamoring for for nearly a year.

The press release includes a quote from Juha Kokkonen, whose LinkedIn profile says he’s the vice president in charge of high-end phones at Microsoft Devices. It reads:

We look forward to continuing this relationship to deliver best in class Lumia smartphones, powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 810 processors, and offer an unprecedented combination of processing power, rich multimedia, high-performance graphics and wireless connectivity for our customers.

The rest of the press release goes into the Snapdragon 810’s features on top of improved processing performance, including the new Adreno 430 GPU, high-definition audio support, and the ability to smoothly record 4K video.

At Microsoft’s consumer-focused Windows 10 summit in January, executives repeatedly mentioned that a “flagship” Windows Phone is on its way — after all, they’re the exact people who are dying for a fast and powerful Windows Phone as opposed to the less expensive Lumia devices for developing markets that Microsoft mainly released last year.

Since Windows Phones only run on Qualcomm processors, it’s not a huge surprise that the new flagship will be using Qualcomm’s most advanced chip. There’s still no time frame for the new flagship Lumia except that the device will come out around when Windows 10 is officially launched in late 2015. Still, if you’re holding onto a Lumia 1520 or a Lumia 930, it does look as if you’ll be able to upgrade to something faster and newer this year.

Windows 10 and Ubuntu prepare for IoT battle on Raspberry Pi 2

The Raspberry Pi 2, announced Monday, looks set to be a focal point for the internet-of-things (IoT) development efforts of both Microsoft and Canonical – both will be providing free operating systems for the low-cost device.

Because the $35 quad-core computer is based on the ARMv7 architecture, it is powerful enough to run the recently announced Ubuntu Core, a lightweight version of the popular Linux distribution that will work across drones, robots, smart devices and home hubs. That much was clear from the specs – earlier Raspberry Pis used unsuitable architecture – and the Ubuntu Core image for Raspberry Pi 2 is already available, but the news that a free version of Windows 10 will also run on the device is more of a surprise.

In a Monday blog post, Raspberry Pi founder Eben Upton wrote:

For the last six months we’ve been working closely with Microsoft to bring the forthcoming Windows 10 to Raspberry Pi 2. Microsoft will have much more to share over the coming months. The Raspberry Pi 2-compatible version of Windows 10 will be available free of charge to makers.

Microsoft’s internet of things efforts have so far generally been limited to the provision of a cloud back-end in the form of Azure, but in July last year the company rolled out an IoT developer program with a focus on Intel’s x86-based Galileo board.

The Raspberry Pi has a huge following in the maker community, though, which is doubtless why [company]Microsoft[/company] is making Windows 10 available for that device as well as for the Arduino-compatible Galileo.

Here’s what Microsoft had to say in its own Raspberry Pi 2 blog post:

Windows 10 is the first step to an era of more personal computing. This vision framed our work on Windows 10, where we are moving Windows to a world that is more mobile, natural and grounded in trust. With the Windows for IoT developer program we’re bringing our leading development tools, services and ecosystem to the Raspberry Pi community!

We see the Maker community as an amazing source of innovation for smart, connected devices that represent the very foundation for the next wave of computing, and we’re excited to be a part of this community.

The new Windows 10 preview is ready and free for intrepid testers

If you want to try out the slick new Windows 10 bits unveiled earlier this week, you’re in luck: Microsoft just pushed out the January version of its technical preview for desktops, complete with a few of the cool features Microsoft promised.

You can grab it by signing up for Windows Insider, a relatively new program for Windows beta testing, here. Windows Insider is free to sign up for, and when Windows 10 is officially launched, the consumer-friendly update will be free for the first year.

Beware — the technical preview isn’t for rookies. You shouldn’t install it on any machine you need to do work on. As Microsoft’s Windows Insider site puts it: “If, however, you think an ISO is some kind of yoga pose, this program may not be right for you.”

This build includes new Cortana integration into the start bar, as well as Continuum, a feature that improves the experience of switching from tablet mode to desktop mode on hybrid computers like Microsoft Surface. Not everything that will eventually end up in Windows 10 is included in this beta build. It lacks Microsoft’s new Spartan browser, for example. Although the build includes the new Xbox app, it doesn’t yet have the ability for an Xbox One to stream games directly to Windows 10 computers.

This build is only for desktops, and we still don’t know exactly when we’ll see the Windows 10 preview for phones. Microsoft promised it in February, so if you’re waiting on it you might as well sign up for Windows Insider now and download the Phone Insider app.

Microsoft post-announcement bump: 170,000 new Windows beta testers

Because no devices running Windows 10 went on sale after Microsoft announced its consumer-facing features on Wednesday, it’s hard to tell if it’s going to be a hit in stores. But Microsoft certainly generated some excitement with its unveiling: engineer Gabriel Aul tweeted Thursday night that more than 170,000 people had signed up for the Windows Insider beta testing program since the event.

Microsoft previously announced that it had seen 1.7 million people sign up for Windows Insider on Wednesday since the program launched last September.

Windows Insider is a important part of Microsoft’s strategy for Windows 10. It provides [company]Microsoft[/company] with feedback on which of its new features are winners and helps squash bugs. It also lets Microsoft engage directly with its most committed users.

As with a smartphone flash sale, it’s logical to assume that people who beta test new versions of Windows will feel more invested in the platform and be more likely to evangelize for it — which is key to CEO Satya Nadella’s stated mission of moving people from “needing Windows to choosing Windows to loving Windows.”

Screen Shot 2015-01-23 at 8.35.35 AM

The version of Windows 10 for desktops revealed on Wednesday — with new Cortana integration, a smartphone-style notifications pane, and the Xbox app  — hasn’t been pushed out to users in the Windows Insider program yet, but Microsoft promises to release the January preview “in the next week.” You can sign up here. If you’d like to try out Windows 10 for phones, you’ll need the Phone Insider app, and Microsoft promises you’ll get your shot in February.

Live blog: Microsoft previews Windows 10 in Redmond

Microsoft’s consumer-focused Windows 10 reveal kicks off at company headquarters in Redmond, Washington today and we’re live from the event to see what the next version of Windows has in store.

We’re expecting Microsoft to share new details about how the desktop version of Windows 10 works, but the bigger questions facing Microsoft surround its mobile strategy and the next version of Windows for tablets and smartphones. Will Microsoft merge its Windows Stores for mobile and the desktop into a single cross-platform app store? Microsoft is also to announce new improvements and features for Cortana, its voice-activated assistant, as well as possibly a new browser codenamed “Spartan.”

Windows 10 also marks Microsoft’s first major Windows release since CEO Satya Nadella took over last year. He’ll be speaking today, so make sure to tune in starting at 9:00am PT.

Here’s what’s been announced so far: