Microsoft is finally ready to share test versions of its Windows 10 for Phones software with the public. Earlier today Microsoft rolled out the updated Windows Insider Program, letting users download Windows 10 for Phones to their own devices for the very first time free of charge.
Microsoft announced the Windows 10 Technical Preview for phones in a post on Blogging Windows earlier today. Windows 10 for Phones is the first big update coming to Windows Phone 8 devices since the Windows 8.1 update in April of 2014. It includes universal apps and tons of new features and design flourishes to put it in line with the Windows 10 operating system that’ll arrive as a free upgrade for notebooks, desktops and tablets later this year.
Microsoft says that this version of Windows 10 for Phones already includes an upgraded Action Center settings area, a new full-size background, upgraded notifications, an improved Photos app and better text to speech translation.
To be clear, there are definitely reasons to not download this update to your personal Windows Phone. Plenty of the features Microsoft showed off at its Windows 10 Media Briefing aren’t present here. Outlook Mail and Outlook Calendar are missing. So are the refreshed Microsoft Office apps. Microsoft says that the Cortana personal assistant is being rebuilt for Windows 10 and lacks some of the features available in Windows Phone 8.1. There are tons of upgrade bugs too. For example, after the update users need to check the Alarms app and recreate any alarms that they are missing.
To get the update Windows Phone owners need to join the same Windows Insider Program that Microsoft offers for other test versions of the operating system. They’ll also need to download and sign into the Windows Insider Program Windows Store app. Those are all pretty standard requirements, but it gets more interesting. At this time the company is requiring users to have one of the phones they’ve already tested the update against. That makes sense as Microsoft doesn’t want to be responsible for breaking anyone’s phones. Unfortunately, the list of devices is pretty slim. Only owners of the Lumia 630, Lumia 635, Lumia 636, Lumia 638, Lumia 730 and Lumia 830 can download the operating system today.
In effect, not a single high-end Windows Phone is capable of being updated to Windows 10 for Phones today. Again, that’ll change as Microsoft pushes out more updates. Microsoft says that’ll release new versions of Windows 10 for Phones around the same time as updates to Windows 10 on notebooks and tablets. Newer versions will support more devices.
All told, it’s an exciting time to be a Windows Phone user. With Windows 10, Microsoft is combining many of the consumer operating systems it already offers. In theory, this’ll make Windows Phones more like a true Windows companions than past versions of Windows Phone. Apps created for one platform will work on the other. All of this will be powered by a single store.
Windows 10 for Phones will arrive as an update to most devices that have Windows Phone 8.1 installed today. Microsoft hasn’t shared a lot about why having Windows Phone 8.1 is a requirement, but it appears it’s directly related to some device maker’s decision to update or not update their hardware.
Participating in the Windows Insider Program is absolutely free to anyone, but Microsoft is hoping that those who do download the update are developers, testers and enthusiasts who want to provide feedback about what they like and don’t like. It’s a very, very bad idea to install this Windows 10 for Phones preview on your only smartphone. The company does offer a restore utility on the Insider Program website in case something goes horribly wrong with the update.