Microsoft celebrated the Windows 10 anniversary with an updated version that brings new built-in active pen apps, improvements to the Start Menu and Lock Screen, and much more.
This update is a good example of how Microsoft is going to handle new versions of Windows in the future. Rather than monumental releases like Win7 and Vista, the company is going to keep tweaking Windows 10. This is similar to Apple, which called its desktop operating system “OS X” for more 15 years before changing it to macOS, though it was periodically updated.
We tested the new features and changes in Windows 10 Anniversary Update on a Microsoft Surface Pro 2 to help other tablet users decide if they should move to this new version.
Windows Ink Workspace
Microsoft stepped up its support for on-screen inking with the original Windows 10, including the ability to easily mark up web pages in the new Edge browser. The company got serious with the Anniversary Update, adding the Windows Ink Workspace that includes Sticky Notes, a sketch pad, and screensketch. Tapping on an icon on the nav bar brings up a tool to select from these new features.
Creating a new sticky note just requires the tap of a + icon, and unneeded notes can be deleted just as easily. Notes can be resized until one takes up the whole screen, but the smallest they can be reduced is about 2 x 2 inches. They can be moved around the screen and layered on top of each other.
Handwritten notes require the tablet’s active pen — drawings can’t be made with a fingertip. The only ink color is black, there’s only one line width, and there’s no eraser tool.
Text can be typed onto a note, but a note can’t combine drawings and text. A useful feature called Insights examines the text on notes looking for linkable info. For example, an address will be automatically turned into a link to Microsoft’s Maps app.
The default background color is traditional yellow, but can be changed to green, blue, purple, pink, or white.
The Sticky Note app is definitely handy, especially for anyone using a tablet or a 2-in-1 to keep track of their life. But there’s no doubt this is the first iteration of a product, and it’s very bare bones.
The Sketchpad application in the Anniversary Edition is there when you want to make a quick drawing of something. Think of it like a digital cocktail napkin for getting down an idea or illustrating an idea to a co-worker. It’s not suitable for creating great art.
It includes pencil and marker tools, and the sizes of these can be adjusted. There are 30 different ink colors. The eraser removes whole objects–for more control switch to drawing with white. This software is really meant to be used with an active pen, but there is a mode for drawing with a fingertip or capacitive stylus.
One of Sketchpad’s best features is a straightedge, making it easy to draw angles and lines. This can be moved anywhere around the screen, and adjusted to any angle.
Only one drawing can be worked on at time, but they can be saved as PNG files, or shared through email, social networks, etc. Just keep in mind there’s no way to use Sketchpad to re-open an old drawing that’s been saved as a file.
The Edge browser makes it easy to draw on web pages, and Screen sketch extends this feature to every part of Windows. A screenshot from any application can be brought into this app with the touch of a button, and then marked up with the same drawing tools as the Sketchpad app.
There will surely be those who love this tool, but it’s not going to get as much use as the Sticky Notes and Sketchpad just because it doesn’t have as many uses.
Microsoft tweaked the Start Menu design in the Anniversary Update with some welcomed improvements. The full list of applications is now easier to see in both Tablet Mode and Laptop Mode, with the recently added and most used apps listed above it. In Tablet Mode, this fills the entire screen, making it easy to tap on an application’s name with a fingertip.
Live Tiles are still there, of course, and this page is the default full-screen Start Menu in Tablet Mode. But there’s a useful change: tapping on a now Chaseable Live Tile opens the app to the a spot relevant to the notification, like a new email message. Previously, tapping on the Live Tile just opened the app to its homescreen.
Good news, you can hide the Taskbar, giving apps access to the full screen! It can be hidden in Laptop Mode, Tablet Mode, or both. Dragging a fingertip up from the bottom of the display will bring up the Taskbar, and so will moving the cursor to the bottom of the screen.
The Windows 10 Anniversary Update also adds new features on the Lock Screen that are useful for tablet users. Controls for background music playback are now accessible without having to log in, so it’s possible to pause or cycle through a playlist.
Microsoft also added a link to access Cortana to the Lock Screen, so some of the functions of this digital assistant are available without unlocking the device. For example, saying “Hey Cortana, what’s the weather forecast?” will bring up a screen with current conditions plus rain predictions for the next for days.
Windows 10 brought a new way to display notifications: the Action Center. The updated version brings a raft of enhancements, and its icon is now prominently located on the right-most edge of the Taskbar. The icon also has a badge showing the number of alerts in the Action Center.
When Windows 10 debuted last summer Edge, which replaced the venerable Internet Explorer, felt like a beta. But it’s matured considerably in the past year. It’s now reached the point where the average person can use it as their primary browser.
The Anniversary Update took a big step forward with long overdue support for browser extensions. For many, this means ad blockers, and there are several already available on the Windows App store, including a version of the popular AdBlock. Microsoft promises that extensions created for Chrome can be ported to Edge with minimal work.
A nice addition for tablet owners is the ability to move back a web page by touching the screen and dragging to the right, or move forward by dragging to the left.
With mobile computers in mind, Microsoft worked hard to make Edge draw less power than rivals Chrome, Firefox, and Opera. And that’s not the only difference: with just the TabletPCReview.com homepage open on each browser, and AdBlock running in both, Edge uses less than half has much RAM as Chrome.
There’s still room for improvement, though: Scrolling down on a long web page should cause Edge’s controls to be hidden, rather than stubbornly staying on screen like they do now.
We extensively tested the Windows 10 Anniversary Update on our Surface Pro 2, and found it to be so stable we never experienced a crash of any kind. We also judge that the wide array of improvements make this a “must have” new version for anyone running Windows 10.
We’re already on record recommending that anyone with Windows 7 or 8.1 upgrade to Win10, and the Anniversary Update makes this an even better idea.