Things are looking up for Windows Phone, at least on the software side. Revamped Office applications will come to Microsoft’s tenacious smartphone OS soon, and Android app compatibility may very well be on the way. But dovetailing with those developments is the inarguably more exciting Windows Phone 10 Technical Preview, Microsoft’s very first beta for mobile. The program, which launched in February, has seen new firmware release at a steady clip, but the version released today is a step above. As detailed on the official Windows blog, Build 10051 includes Project Spartan and a bevy of refreshed apps, among them Mail, Calendar, Phone, Messaging, and People.
Project Spartan, for the uninitiated, is Microsoft’s ambitious reimagining of the default Windows browser. Positioned as a definitive replacement for Internet Explorer, it trades the company’s legacy skins and rendering engines with a modernized framework that will eventually support extensions, Microsoft’s digital assistant Cortana, and a paired-down “reading mode” interface. This is the first we’ve seen of Project Spartan on mobile, and it seems a lot like its desktop counterpart — the streamlined UI carries over, as does the bookmarking Reading List feature. It isn’t replacing IE11 just yet — it’ll exist alongside the older browser for now — but Microsoft suggests pinning it to your Start Screen from the All Apps list for faster access.
Beyond Project Spartan, there’s the panoply of new apps to consider. The universal Outlook Mail and Outlook Calendar applications that rolled out to Windows 10 earlier this month are present, sporting fresh UIs and usability enhancements. There’s now a toggle between Mail and Calendar within each app, and customizable swipe gestures for Mail. Mail’s also gained formatting capabilities — you can insert tables, add pictures, and use bullets.
Messaging has gained a fresh coat of paint or two, as has People, Phone, and Maps. You can now switch easily to a phone conversation with your texting partner, and Maps has been upgraded to the universal app found on PC.
Another change to note is the App Switcher. Pressing and holding the back button will invoke a list of recently used apps, and it now has support for a new grid layout and landscape orientation for large phones like the Lumia 1520. Plus, for multitasking pros, the number of recently used apps has been increased to 15.
Interested in trying out the update for yourself? Be warned: It has a long list of known issues. Unless you can put up with more than a few rough edges, it’s probably best to hold off for now.
For those who missed the first Technical Preview release, Windows Phone 10 introduces a ton of improvements over the departing 8.1. Speech recognition is substantially better, you can customize your Start Screen background, Action Center has new toggles for hardware and actionable notifications, and the apps and settings panel is much simpler. You’ll find all of these present in the newest firmware, of course.
If you’re brave enough to forge ahead, you’ll be pleased to know the list of compatible handsets has grown. Devices with smaller storage were left out of earlier updates because of the partition size required for installation, but the Windows team implemented a “partition stitching” fix that works around that limitation. Check out our Windows Phone 10 compilation post for a handy step-by-step guide to get up and running with the newest release.