Windows 10 Fall Creators Update Review: Great for Work and Home

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Fall Creators UpdateThe wait is over for the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update. We put it to the test so everyone will know whether everyone should install it immediately or start looking ahead to the next update.

Microsoft took the name “Creators Update” seriously. While there are definitely features in the Win10FCU that business professionals will like, especially OneDrive Files On-Demand, many of the changes benefit consumers who want to have fun with their Windows computer, including Story Remix and the Magic Select Tool. There’s also some enhancements for PCs with touchscreens and active pens.

We’ve extensively used Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, and tried out all the new features, so we can share our experiences.

Fall Creators Update: OneDrive Files On-Demand

Those who used Windows 8 should remember placeholders: links to files stored on OneDrive. These enabled a PC to show everything held on its cloud-storage service, without the files actually taking up space on the PC. Microsoft initially left this feature out of Windows 10, but the resulting howls of protest have brought it back in the Win10FCU, and it’s been re-named OneDrive Files On-Demand.

Fall Creators Update

Files on Demand

We consider this the best change for business professionals, and possibly consumers too. Previously, users had a choice between their files taking up space on both their local hard drive and the cloud, or not having easy access to them. But no more.

Just be careful: by its very nature, OneDrive Files On-Demand assumes that one has perpetual access to the internet. Fortunately, specific files can be manually set so that they are available offline.

Win10FCU: Active Pen Improvements

Increasing numbers of computers of all types have touchscreens and support active pens. This is driven, of course, by the move to 2-in-1 tablet/notebooks. Microsoft is at the forefront with the Surface Pro and Surface Book, so it’s hardly surprising that the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update includes some enhancements for active pen users.

One of the options for text input is the new Handwriting Panel, which pops up when the display is tapped with a pen.  Words that are printed or written in cursive into into this area are converted to regular text and can be inserted into an email, Word document, etc.

Our experience with this feature was mixed. The Panel did a brilliant job of converting our messy handwriting into text, making remarkably few mistakes.  However, palm rejection was a real problem, so that the OK/Insert button would be inadvertently pressed in the middle of a word, or the cursor would be moved while we were trying to write.

Fall Creators Update

Handwriting Panel

A quirky feature of Win10FCU is “Where’s My Pen?”, which tries to help users find their misplaced active pens. Unfortunately, even Microsoft can’t perform miracles, so the functionality  of this feature is tremendously limited by the fact that there’s no way to actually track the location of this accessory. Instead, all “Where’s My Pen?” does is remind the user where they were the last time their pen touched their PC’s screen. While it’s possible this might be helpful, it’s not likely.

Check out the PDF Markup Tools section below for more active pen capabilities.

Months ago, Microsoft talked about “Smart Ink”, an AI feature which will automatically clean up drawings, turning boxes into squares, for example. This doesn’t seem made to have  it into the version of Win10CU rolling out now. Either that or it’s a complete bust, as we couldn’t see any sign of it in our testing.

Fall Creators Update: PDF Markup Tools

Win10FCU

PDF Markup Tools

We seem doomed to be stuck with PDFs forever. Rival web browsers are serious about working with these files, so Microsoft Edge also stepped up its PDF game in Windows 10 Fall Creators Update. There are new tools to resize them on screen, and ebook users should be happy to hear they can view two pages side-by-side, or display all pages in one long stream.

Even better, Edge now supports fillable fields in PDFs. Users can even save a document with the fields filled in, which will leave them editable. The “Print to PDF” is needed to make these additions permanent.

And there’s additional good news for people with an active pen: thanks to the Win10FCU, Edge supports drawing on PDFs. Plus text can be highlighted, and sticky notes can be added.

None of this is going to take the place of dedicated PDF apps, but these tools will save people who just need to fill in the occasional form from having to get a special app.

Windows Defender: Controlled Folder Access

Fall Creators Update

Controlled Folder Access

Security is always going to be a serious concern with Windows, but Microsoft’s Fall Creators Update sticks a another finger in the dike.

With Controlled Folder Access, the user can specify which apps can read and modify the contents of the Desktop, Documents, Music, Pictures, and Videos folders. All others will be blocked. The goal is to prevent ransomware from grabbing these files and sequestering them until a payment is made.

Fall Creators Update: Power Throttling

Any notebook or 2-in-1 user appreciates longer battery life,  and the Win10FCU handles background applications more efficiently. Microsoft promises the CPU can up to 11% less power in this version. It might be the placebo effect, but we did feel our test device lasted a bit longer on a single charge.

Fall Creators Update

Battery Slider

Of course, battery life is also strongly affected by another new feature: the Power Slider. Click/Tap the Battery Icon to bring up a flyout with this slider on it. There are four possible settings: battery saver, better battery, better performance, best performance. We found that using “better battery” while doing word processing did lengthen the battery life without noticeably slowing down performance.   The slider is also available when plugged in, when all but the “battery saver” option are available.

Fall Creators Update: Story Remix

As discussed, not everything in this update is about productivity. The most fun new feature is Story Remix, which has been added to the Photos app. It lets users assemble their pictures and videos into a slideshow or short movie. There are plenty of built-in editing tools: video clips can be trimmed for length, for example, and images can be set to pan so they don’t look static. Background music can be added

Fall Creators Update

Story Remix

There’s nothing groundbreaking here, but we found that creating videos with Story Remix and posting them to social networks is more fun than just sharing those same pictures.

Fall Creators Update: My People

The Win10FCU adds a feature called My People that allows users to pin up to three of their contacts to the Taskbar. Clicking on one of these can bring up a window with either all the emails exchanged with that contact, the contact’s details with a timeline, or Skype messaging/calling. Those who have more than three friends can add additional icons to a “People” window that’s also pinned to the Taskbar. Small numbers are added to people’s icons to indicate new emails, messages, etc.

We found this very convenient, as it simplifies exchanging emails with a spouse and/or boss. The only downside is that it’s another set of icons in the already crowded Taskbar.

Fall Creators Update: Paint 3D and Mixed Reality Viewer

Fall Creators Update

Mixed Reality Viewer

One of the top ways Windows 10 Fall Creators Update lives up to its name is the combination of Paint 3D and the Mixed Reality Viewer.

The new version of Paint lets users create 3D objects in the same way the original version of Paint allows us to create 2D ones. The tools are fairly rudimentary, but usable. Again, like the original version of Paint.

The Mixed Reality Viewer takes the 3D objects people have created and virtually inserts them into the real world. This requires a tablet with a rear camera, as it’s where the virtual object will appear integrated into a live view of the area.

This is all kind of fun, but at this point we see no real use for any of these 3D tools.  Even Story Mix is more useful. The best spin we can give is that augmented reality is likely to go into wide use in the coming years, and playing around with it now helps will help getting accustomed to it.

Paint 3D’s Magic Select Tool

Fall Creators Update

Magic Eraser Ghost Image

In addition to its 3D capabilities, Paint 3D can also edit plain old 2D  images. More importantly, built into it is a feature many people might be interested in when tinkering with their pictures. Professional graphics applications have a tool that allows the user to pull an item out of an image an automatically fill in the background. With the Win10FCU, this has been added to Paint 3D as the Magic Select Tool.

Artists who use this tool are accustomed to it being a bit unreliable, and it’s no different here. It works best when the object being selected is on a very irregular background. Otherwise, the software can struggle to figure out what to fill in, often resulting in a “ghost” image being left behind.

Fall Creators Update: Link Your Phone

Even Microsoft has finally admitted it’s not going to make Windows-based phones a success, and has switched strategies to making Windows PCs cooperate well with Android and iOS. The Win10FCU makes great strides in this direction.

Win10FCU

iOS Continue on PC

iPhone or Android users can download an app called “Continue on PC”, which will let them send webpages from their mobile to their Windows device. The app asks which Windows device to send the link to, and gives the option to open the webpage immediately or put a reminder in the Action Center. We tested the iOS version, and  it worked perfectly. And we can even see advantages to this method over the way iPhone/iPad handle to same task.

In addition, Android and iPhone users can install a “Cortana” app. On Android, this can send notifications to the PC that the phone is getting phone call, has received a text, or the battery is getting low. The user can use their voice to create reminders on the mobile that also show up on the PC. The iPhone version is vastly more limited, just enabling the reminders. Both the iPhone and Android versions of Cortana can do more than this, but these are the only functions related to the Win10FCU.

To be clear, the cross-device functionality of both these apps requires the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update to be running on the PC.

Fall Creators Update: Other Enhancements

Some changes are simple but important. The addition of a full-screen mode to Microsoft Edge is one example. Just press F11 to activate/deactivate.

Fall Creators Update

Emoji Menu

Thanks to the Win10FCU, dictation is now easily available from anywhere: just press the Windows and H keys, and a pop-up will appear. In our tests, this works moderately well. We give it a roughly a 70% accuracy rating. That’s why we recommend only using it as an alternative for typing, not as tool to completely replace a keyboard and mouse; it’s not ready for that.

A new feature surely welcome to  a wide swath of users is the new emoji keyboard. Press the Windows and semicolon key combination to bring up a floating window with hundreds of those little characters that have become so ubiquitous.

The Action Center has been given a facelift. Not a big change, but it does look a bit better.

Window 10 Fall Creators Update Final Thoughts

A few years ago, an update this big might have been called Windows 11. And don’t let its actual name fool you; the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update has a lot to offer a wide variety of users, not just creative types. Business professionals especially will appreciate OneDrive Files On-Demand, but almost everyone will like longer battery lives, My People, and better protection from ransomeware.  The new active pen tools are welcome at a time strong sales of 2-in-1s.

All that said, there are certainly features for creative people. The Story Remix is the best offering in this category, while the augmented reality features are interesting, if not useful.

Anyone who hasn’t been offered an update to the Win10FCU yet and wants it make the move now should read our “How To Get the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update Now” article.

Didn’t find what you want in the Win10FCU? Don’t be sad, because Microsoft is already working on the next update scheduled for 2018.


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