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A closer look at the Windows 10 Technical Preview for phones

The first Windows 10 release specifically targeted at phones is finally available. Here's what you'll find inside.
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Windows 10 preview for phones, installed

The first preview release of Windows 10 for phones is now available. It takes a bit of effort (and a compatible Windows Phone device) to make the code available for download.

If you successfully clear all the hurdles, you'll see this version information on the About screen.

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Using the Insider app to upgrade

To update a supported Windows phone to Windows 10, you need to install the Windows Insider app, sign in, and authorize your phone for preview builds.

As with the desktop preview, you can specify that you want to be on the Fast track, getting new builds as they're released. More conservative testers can opt for the Slow track and let others work out the bugs first.

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Better organization for apps and settings

Two of the biggest complaints about Windows Phone through the years have involved navigating through long lists of apps and settings.

For apps, one welcome change is the addition of a Recently Installed group at the top of the Apps menu, which obviates the need to hunt for a new app.

The change is even more dramatic in Settings, where the endless scrolling list has been replaced with a neat set of categories. The iconography is familiar too, matching its counterpart on the Windows 10 PC editions.

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File Explorer and OneDrive

For the first time ever, the Windows phone OS includes a capable file manager to browse through local files.

The OneDrive client is essentially the same as the one in Windows Phone 8.1, offering support for both OneDrive (personal) and OneDrive for Business accounts in a single app.

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Lock screen and Start improvements

These changes in the settings for lock screens and the Start screen, respectively, are good ideas.

The full-screen background image for Start, though, takes some careful planning. In my experience, it just adds confusion and make tiles harder to read. You'll need to experiment to find an image that works well.

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A new, universal Photos app

If you've run the Windows 10 preview on a desktop or notebook PC, the new Photos app on the phone should be familiar. It's the same code, packaged as a universal app and modified to fit the smaller display.

Editing tools allow you to crop images quickly, with preset sizes that conveniently include a setting for turning a photo into a lock screen image.

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Unchanged Office and a new virtual pointer

The Office Mobile hub in Windows 10 is largely unchanged from the one in older Windows Phone versions. Future builds should see the universal Word, Excel, and PowerPoint apps move in.

More interesting in this preview is a new addition to the onscreen keyboard. Press and drag the the small nub just below the shift key (on the left side of the keyboard) to move the insertion point left, right, up, or down.

It's a particularly useful tool when editing long documents.

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Notifications and Cortana

Two signature features from Windows Phone 8.1 are front and center in Windows 10 as well.

The Notifications Center has a slightly cleaner look and feel and adds the option for more than four Action buttons when you tap Expand.

Cortana should look familiar if you've already used this feature. Eventually, you'll be able to summon her assistance with a simple "Hey Cortana."

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