Are Cheap Android Phones Worth It?


Cheap Android phones are quickly becoming commonplace—for as low as $99, you can get a reliable, initially-impressive handset that you’re free to take to a bunch of different carriers. While these bargain-bin devices are definitely appealing, you have to ask yourself: is it really worth it?
What Makes a Cheap Phone a Cheap Phone?

Let’s start with the obvious: cheap phones are cheaper for a reason. There has to be something that separates a $99 phone from a $700 one, and–in most cases–it’s probably a few things. Here are a few areas the manufacturers tend to cut costs.

Most of the time, affordable phones have either current low-end hardware, or higher-end hardware from two or three years ago. This is one of the most effective ways to keep costs down, but that always means performance takes a hit. In addition, the cameras are usually of lower (but generally passable) quality, and the screens don’t commonly have the high pixel density, super-sharp displays of current-generation handsets.

Right out of the gate, you have to keep in mind that you’ll be dealing with either a lower-end processor—like something from Mediatek, for example—or possibly an older Snapdragon chip, probably from somewhere around the 400 range. This is noteworthy for those who think “I can just get something cheap and put a ROM on it,” because certain chip manufacturers are known for not releasing source code, thus making it impossible for developers to build ROMs for those devices. Essentially, count on sticking with the stock software throughout the lifetime of the device, thought a bit of research ahead of time wouldn’t be a bad idea either. That way you already know what you’re dealing with before it’s too late.

But there’s also another side to this story. Every year, processor manufacturers improve the technology they use to increase performance and battery life. This tech, naturally, trickles down, so just because a processor is “budget-friendly” doesn’t automatically make it bad. In recent years, some of Mediatek’s Octa-core processors (like the 6753, for example) have gotten quite powerful, making them excellent choices for budget devices. The price to performance ratio in these kinds of devices is generally fantastic—dramatically more than most modern flagship units. The performance isn’t comparable, but at least you’re really getting your $99 worth.

Display tech is also a point of concern with lower-end handsets. Generally speaking, the displays of most budget phones, while not quite as high resolution of modern flagships (1080p vs. 1440p), are pretty decent—Motorola puts nice-looking panels in its Moto G line, Blu devices typically have very nice displays despite their generally-low price points, and the Huawei Honor 5X sports a 1080p display that readily competes with the flagships of yesteryear.

If I had to pick one piece of the hardware puzzle that will almost certainly be sub-par in a budget phone, it’s the camera. The display may be decent and the performance acceptable, but cameras are almost always a disappointment. It makes sense, really—that’s one of the most important features to most users, so getting something simply outstanding is a big part of what jacks up the price on high-end modern devices. Most of the cameras on budget devices these days aren’t as bad as they once were, but I can tell you right now: if a good camera is a must-have for your next device, a budget phone simply won’t be for you.
Long-Term Reliability and Updates

Reliability is a bit harder to pinpoint, as it’s going to be different for every device. But the long and short of it is this: if a current-gen high-end handset gets you an easy two years of use, a more affordable one may only survive half of that. There’s a chance it could live a long, fruitful life, but there’s probably an equal chance it’ll kick the bucket in the first year one way or another—these phones aren’t designed to be nearly as robust as more expensive phone will be so they’re more fragile. You also have to keep in mind that they have to cut costs somewhere, so hardware failure isn’t something that’s totally uncommon. In my experience, the lifespan of a budget phone is a coin toss.

Updates are a bit of a coin flip, too. It’s questionable whether or not the $150 handset you’re thinking about buying will see the next version of Android—and if it does, it’ll likely be the last one it ever sees. Not to mention it will probably come much later than that of a flagship phone—sometimes even a full update cycle later. So when everyone else is getting Android 7.0 (or whatever the next major release is), the budget handset may just be getting 6.0. You never know, but the companies that build affordable Android phones just don’t have the manpower to continuously support these devices long-term, though many of them are at least making an effort to provide updates and continued support to their low-end catalog.

In short: if you go into this expecting to get a Galaxy S7 (or even S6)-equivalent phone, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. But if you keep your expectations in check, you can come away with about 80 percent of the premium Android experience for a fraction of the cost.
Know Your Carrier—Compatibility Is Key

For those that don’t already know, not all phones are compatible with all carriers. In the US, there are two main types of cellular service: CDMA and GSM. Sprint and Verizon are the primary CDMA carriers, while T-Mobile and AT&T are the two primary GSM carriers. The tech behind each type of service is very different, but that’s not what we’re really concerned with for the sake of this article—you really only need to know one thing when it comes to buying off-contract phones (not just cheapies, either): GSM is generally open; CDMA is not.

Basically, neither Sprint nor Verizon offer options for customers to bring their own phones. They have what they offer, and that’s that. There are a very few exceptions to this rule, however, like the Google Nexus 5X and 6P, but otherwise, you’ll have to stick with the phones Verizon and Sprint offer.

GSM carriers—like AT&T, T-Mobile, MetroPCS, and US Cellular, for example—are pretty “open.” You can take most modern GSM smartphones, drop a SIM card from one of the aforementioned carriers in it, and it should just work, no matter where you bought it from.

For most flagship phones, this isn’t as much of an issue, because they’re designed to “just work” with GSM carriers in the US. Budget phones, however, aren’t. You’ll need to look a little deeper at stuff like the “bands”–or specific data frequencies–the phone uses. Not every budget phone supports the right bands for every GSM network, and it can make things really confusing when you’re shopping around.

For example, let’s say you currently have an aging Samsung Galaxy SIII on AT&T, and you’re looking to replace it with a Motorola Moto E. There are two versions of the Moto E—one with support for 4G LTE, and one with 3G only. If you buy the wrong one, then you’re going to give up the high-speed LTE data that the Galaxy SIII has, replacing it with comparatively snail’s-paced 3G on the Moto E.

Fortunately, Motorola does a good job of differentiating between the two models, but not all manufacturers make it that clear, and certain carriers rely more heavily on certain mobile bands that not every cheap phone supports. For example, the phone in the above screenshot (Blu Vivo 5) uses LTE Bands 2, 4, and 7. A similar phone from Blu (the Vivo XL—seen below), uses LTE Bands 2, 4, 7, 12, and 17. Band 12 and 17 are particularly important for T-Mobile in certain parts of the country, and their omission on the Vivo 5 means some people may be left without LTE coverage.

Basically, just because a phone says that it’s ”4G LTE Compatible with T-Mobile“ doesn’t necessarily mean it will be compatible in all areas. It really takes some digging to figure out what bands are supported, then compare that to the bands that are used in your area. And if you’re trying to sort through the sea of cheap Android phones on Amazon, that can be a huge undertaking.

Budget Phones vs. Last-Generation Flagship Phones

Of course, budget Android phones aren’t the only way to save some money. You could also buy last year’s flagship phone, or even the year before’s, which would bring down the cost quite a bit. So which is better? Unfortunately, this isn’t such an easy answer, especially considering the rate that budget phones are progressing and bringing high-end features to low-end devices.

For example, two of the newest phones from budget phone maker Blu—the Vivo 5 and Vivo XL—both have USB Type C, a feature that’s otherwise only found on a small handful of top-tier devices. Similarly, the Huawei Honor 5X has a fingerprint reader that’s actually quite good; better than the flagships that introduced the feature, like the Samsung Galaxy S5. Again, usable fingerprint readers are just now becoming mainstream on top-end devices.

And all three of those phones cost less than $200 right now. High-end features in low-end phones…it’s a crazy world we live in.

Furthermore, an older flagship will probably not get any more updates, especially once it’s more than two years old. A cheap phone may not either, but it’s at least a little more likely to.
How do the Processors Compare?

Of course, you still have to consider the rest of the hardware. Is it better to have a two-generation-old processor, like the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800, or a modern budget model, like the aforementioned MediaTek 6753? In raw benchmark scores, the older processor still generally outscores the modern budget chip, but that doesn’t necessarily always translate into real-world usage—just because the Snapdragon 800 outscores the 6753 by 11,000 points in AnTuTu (38,298 vs. 49,389), does it really mean it offers 30 percent more power in a real-world scenario? Rarely. In most side-by-side comparisons, you’d have a hard time telling the difference between the two.

What About the Displays and Cameras?

We’ve already established that two-generation-old flagship processors are “faster” (on paper) than most current-generation budget chips, but what about the display tech and cameras? With the latter, the budget phone will more than likely have a better display than the older flagship model, simply because display tech is improving at a pace that allows much higher-quality panels to be produced at a lower cost. And while budget phones generally top out at around 1080p (for the time being, anyway), this generally translates to slightly better performance since there are fewer pixels for the CPU and GPU to push.

As mentioned earlier, the camera is one place where you might see an advantage of current-generation budget models. That one is very subjective, and it depends on the phone in question—for example, the S5 is going to have a better camera than something like the 2014 Moto X, despite being older. Unfortunately, it’s much harder to put a cut-and-dry rule on camera performance when comparing two phones, despite which price point they fall into. You’ll just have to look up reviews for the phones you’re interested in.

Overall, which is better? It depends a lot on the phone, and what’s important to you. An old flagship may look and feel a little better, and may come with a better camera–but it certainly won’t be getting any updates, where a newer device might.
The One Exception to All of This

With all that said, there is one general exception to most of the “rules” I’ve laid out here: Nexus phones. Google typically sells Nexus phones at more affordable prices in the first place, so they are more cost-effective than other high-end phones from the same generation when buying older models. At the time of writing, you can get the last-generation Nexus phone—the Motorola Nexus 6—for as little as $250 brand new. Aside from being arguably too big, the Nexus 6 is a great phone at that price, and will easily trump any other device at that price point. And best of all, since it’s a Nexus, it’s going to be supported by Google and get updates much longer than phones from other manufacturers.
So When Is a Budget Phone the Right Choice?

While I will admit that there’s never been a better time to buy into the budget scene–whether you’re getting a cheap current-gen phone or a last-gen flagship–there are times when it’s smarter than others.

If you aren’t a power user, or are looking to buy a phone for someone who isn’t, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to worry about updates, processor benchmarks, and the like. Ease of use and price are generally more important to those users, and Android’s newest budget handsets can often fit the bill perfectly. At the end of the day, if all you’re looking to do is text some friends, check Facebook, and play Candy Crush Saga, then there’s no need to waste a lot of money on a phone that has more than you need. Plus, you’ll probably need the cash you saved for in-app purchases to help get past that one level you’ve been stuck on for three weeks in Candy Crush. See? That’s me looking out for you.

But what if you are a power user? Here’s another scenario: you broke your main phone (I’m sorry), but you’re still paying on it. That’s a terrible situation to be in, as your carrier won’t allow you to finance another phone until the current one has been paid off. Instead of crying the sob of a broken man, you could just suck it up and drop a couple hundred on a budget model that will easily last until you’ve paid off your old phone and it’s time to grab the newest hotness. Alternatively, you can just take your kid’s phone and give him or her the cheaper phone—you won’t get any judgement from me.

That actually brings up another great argument for budget devices: kids. If you’ve got a pre-teen just dying for a phone, a more affordable model just makes sense. It’s their first (or second, third?) phone, and there’s a good chance they’ll break it anyway—kids are careless, uncoordinated, and just not as attentive as their adult counterparts, so these things happen. Why waste hundreds on a current flagship phone? There’s no point—at least not until they prove they can be responsible with the cheaper handset.

All that said: as much as I think the current budget market is in the best place it’s ever been, a cheap phone isn’t always the answer. The primary reason that you’d be looking at a budget model is, well, budget, so there’s no reason to even look down this path if your wallet can handle a current generation flagship. To put it clearly, a Galaxy S7 Edge, LG G5, or Nexus 6P is always going to outwork a cheaper handset—there’s just no question about it. Basically, if you can afford to spend more, do it. Looking at it from a long-term perspective, you’ll ultimately end up much better off.

But if you can’t, the budget market is strong, and getting stronger every day–so you’re in luck.

At the beginning of this article, I asked the question “are cheap Android phones worth it?” Two years ago, I would’ve laughed and said “absolutely not.” Today, however, we’re in a much better place technologically, and I feel like there is no place that is more clearly seen than the budget market. While current flagship phones are little more than iterative updates of their predecessors, the budget scene is growing by leaps and bounds. The performance and features that you can get for $200 in the current market is simply astounding on most counts, making this a much better time to buy a budget phone.

Of course, it’s not always the best choice, but that’s not for me to decide. Each situation is different and it’s ultimately up to you to decide what’s best for your usage.

Ubuntu 16.04 Makes Ubuntu Exciting Again

 Ubuntu hasn’t had the best reputation among Linux users over the past few years–with some even going so far as to call it “boring”. If you’ve been hesitant to try it out, then hold on to your seats–Ubuntu 16.04 “Xenial Xerus” is not only an exciting release, but one that has the potential to be a game changer for the Linux ecosystem.

Ubuntu first leaped into the Linux world in 2004 and with it, completely changing the face of Linux taking it from the days of “only usable by experienced geeks” to the era of “Linux for Human Beings”. Now, 12 years later, they just might be on the verge of repeating that lightning in a bottle that took it from a brand new small project to becoming the most popular distribution of Linux. Ubuntu 16.04 was released today, and with it comes a ton of improvements throughout the distro. There are many changes that improve the usability and experience for the end user as well as potential landmark changes that might pique the interest of even the most skeptical of developers.
The Unity Launcher Can Be Moved to the Bottom of Your Screen

Thanks to the Ubuntu Kylin team, users can now attach the Unity Launcher to the bottom of their screen instead of having to be forced to always have it on the left side. Believe it or not, it’s taken almost 6 years to get this basic feature.

There are a couple of ways to accomplish this, but the easiest way is through one command in the Terminal (though admittedly a fairly long command). Open up your terminal with Ctrl+Alt+T or from the Dash and run the following:gsettings set com.canonical.Unity.Launcher launcher-position Bottom

You can also revert back to the Left side if you decide later that you don’t like it by running:gsettings set com.canonical.Unity.Launcher launcher-position Left

That’s all it takes.
Online Dash Results Are Off by Default, and Updates to the “apt” Command

There has been quite a bit of controversy for a couple of years over the online search results in Ubuntu’s Dash. Some people even went so far as to (inaccurately) call them “spyware”. Ubuntu 16.04 puts an end to that controversy by disabling the results by default.
GNOME Software Replaces Ubuntu Software Center

The Ubuntu Software Center was another blemish on Ubuntu’s name. It was slow, unreliable, and the overall user experience was lacking. Ubuntu 16.04 address this issue by replacing the Ubuntu Software Center with GNOME’s Software solution. Ubuntu adopting GNOME Software is a great sign of more community involvement from Canonical, and that they’re willing to include an alternative piece of software if it’s better overall.

Similarly, Canonical adopted a new Calendar app in Ubuntu 16.04–just another way they’re adopting better software from the GNOME project.

If you’re more of a terminal junkie, 16.04 also adds new features to the “apt” command so you can simplify your command-line package management even further than before. Ubuntu 16.04 sees the addition of apt autoremove which replaces apt-get autoremove and apt purge package(s) which replaces apt-get purge package(s).
Unity 7.4 Is the Smoothest Unity Experience Yet

I’ve been testing Ubuntu 16.04 and Unity 7.4 for quite some time now and I have to say, Unity 7.4 is by far the smoothest and best Unity experience I’ve had. I was a hold out for the days of 12.04’s Qt-based Unity, but I’m glad to see that Ubuntu 16.04 has adopted its best features. Here are the most notable changes arriving in Unity 7.4:
  • Shortcuts for Session Management such as restart, shutdown, etc from the Unity Dash
  • Icons appear in launcher while loading applications
  • Ability to move the Unity launcher to the bottom of the screen
  • Online Dash Results are disabled by default
  • App Menus can now be set to ‘Always Show’
  • New scroll bars in Unity Dash
  • External storage/Trash now display number of windows open
  • Quicklist (Jumplist) added to Workspace Switcher
  • Ability to Format a drive within a Unity Quicklist (great time saver but be careful)
  • Alt+{num} can now be used to open External storage items similar to Logo+{num} for opening applications
  • Ubuntu themes have improved Client Side Decorations support.

That’s a lot of good stuff.
ZFS Is Supported by Default in Ubuntu 16.04

ZFS is a very popular filesystem due to its reliability with large data sets, and it has been a very hot topic for the Linux community for years. Canonical has decided that ZFS support is necessary, so Ubuntu 16.04 has added support for ZFS by default. ZFS is not enabled by default, however, which is intentional. Since ZFS is not necessary for the majority of users, it fits best in large scale deployments. So while this is very cool, it’s not going to affect most people.
Ubuntu Snappy Has Potential to Change the Landscape of Linux

Finally, Ubuntu 16.04 introduces Ubuntu Snappy to the desktop, a brand new package management solution that has potential to change the landscape of Linux.

Linux-based operating systems come with many different types of release structures, but the two most common are Fixed Releases (aka stable releases) and Rolling Releases. Both of these common structures have pros and cons: Fixed Releases give you rock solid base system, but often with outdated applications that have to be supplemented with something like PPAs. Rolling Releases get you the software updated as soon as possible, whenever a new version is released–along with all of the latest bugs. Ubuntu Snappy is a new release structure that has all of the benefits of both systems combined into one.

Think of Snappy as an alternative to .deb files and PPAs. It’s a new form of app distribution that lets developers send you the latest version of their apps–in the form of “snaps”–as soon as they’re ready. They’re much easier and quicker for developers to push out, and you–the user–don’t have to go hunting for a PPA if the app isn’t included with Ubuntu’s default repository packages. And, if one release is buggy, it’s very easy to roll back to the last stable version.

In addition, snaps install differently than the traditional .deb files you’re used to. Snaps install as “read-only” mountable image based applications, which means you don’t have to worry about whether an app was packaged for Ubuntu 16.04, 16.10, or any other version–that Snap will work on any version of Ubuntu that supports Snaps.

Snappy on the Desktop is still in the early stages, so you won’t be switching to snaps entirely with Ubuntu 16.04. But the groundwork has been laid, and snaps should start to become more common over time. In fact, Ubuntu will be releasing a “Snap Store” of sorts in the future, likely using GNOME Software, making it easier to discover and install apps using Snappy.
Oh Snap! Excitement Is in the Air

I don’t think I’ve been more excited for a new release of Ubuntu since I first started using Linux, many years ago. The potential of Ubuntu Snappy alone has me smiling as I write this very paragraph, but add that to the rest of the changes coming in Ubuntu 16.04 and I’d say Ubuntu has become anything but boring. What do you think of this new release? Is my excitement contagious? Will you be giving Ubuntu 16.04 a try? Let me know in the comments thread.

What is Alphabet, Google's new company?

Google just announced a major overhaul of its corporate structure.

As part of the change, the company that used to be called Google going to become a new holding company called Alphabet.

Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin are recognized for their efforts at the conclusion of the Clinton Global Initiative in New York, September 22, 2006. Former US President Bill Clinton's annual event brings together world leaders from business, government and philanthropy to try to solve world issues.

Shareholders will get one Alphabet share for every Google share they previously owned. The executives in charge of Alphabet will be the same execs in charge of Google today -- CEO Larry Page, President Sergey Brin, Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, CFO Ruth Porat, and chief counsel David Drummond.

Alphabet includes the following entities:

A smaller company called Google, headed by CEO Sundar Pichai, that includes the company's core businesses. Those businesses: "search, ads, maps, apps, YouTube and Android and the related technical infrastructure."

Other businesses, "such as Calico, Nest, and Fiber, as well as its investing arms, such as Google Ventures and Google Capital, and incubator projects, such as Google X," which "will be managed separately from the Google business."

G is for Google.

As Sergey and I wrote in the original founders letter 11 years ago, "Google is not a conventional company. We do not intend to become one." As part of that, we also said that you could expect us to make "smaller bets in areas that might seem very speculative or even strange when compared to our current businesses." From the start, we've always strived to do more, and to do important and meaningful things with the resources we have.

We did a lot of things that seemed crazy at the time. Many of those crazy things now have over a billion users, like Google Maps, YouTube, Chrome, and Android. And we haven't stopped there. We are still trying to do things other people think are crazy but we are super excited about.

We've long believed that over time companies tend to get comfortable doing the same thing, just making incremental changes. But in the technology industry, where revolutionary ideas drive the next big growth areas, you need to be a bit uncomfortable to stay relevant.

Our company is operating well today, but we think we can make it cleaner and more accountable. So we are creating a new company, called Alphabet. I am really excited to be running Alphabet as CEO with help from my capable partner, Sergey, as President.

What is Alphabet? Alphabet is mostly a collection of companies. The largest of which, of course, is Google. This newer Google is a bit slimmed down, with the companies that are pretty far afield of our main internet products contained in Alphabet instead. What do we mean by far afield? Good examples are our health efforts: Life Sciences (that works on the glucose-sensing contact lens), and Calico (focused on longevity). Fundamentally, we believe this allows us more management scale, as we can run things independently that aren't very related.

Alphabet is about businesses prospering through strong leaders and independence. In general, our model is to have a strong CEO who runs each business, with Sergey and me in service to them as needed. We will rigorously handle capital allocation and work to make sure each business is executing well. We'll also make sure we have a great CEO for each business, and we'll determine their compensation. In addition, with this new structure we plan to implement segment reporting for our Q4 results, where Google financials will be provided separately than those for the rest of Alphabet businesses as a whole.

Here's how the transition will happen:

Later this year, Google intends to implement a holding company reorganization (the "Alphabet Merger"), which will result in Alphabet owning all of the capital stock of Google. Alphabet will initially be a direct, wholly owned subsidiary of Google. Pursuant to the Alphabet Merger, a newly formed entity ("Merger Sub"), a direct, wholly owned subsidiary of Alphabet and an indirect, wholly owned subsidiary of Google, will merge with and into Google, with Google surviving as a direct, wholly owned subsidiary of Alphabet. Each share of each class of Google stock issued and outstanding immediately prior to the Alphabet Merger will automatically convert into an equivalent corresponding share of Alphabet stock, having the same designations, rights, powers and preferences and the qualifications, limitations and restrictions as the corresponding share of Google stock being converted.

If you have any queries/feedback, please write it in comments section below OR mail me here : Snehal[at]Techproceed[dot]com

Happy Googling... Ooops  Alphabetting  :-)

Windows 10 tour: The good, the bad, and the missing

For Microsoft it is arguably the most important Windows release of all time. After 30 years, the company wants to change the game: new business model, new release strategy, new controls over updates. Everything changes.

All of which asks the question: should you upgrade to Windows 10?

Given the biggest headline about Windows 10 is it is FREE logic suggests this should be an easy answer. But it isn’t. I have used Windows 10 since the first beta back in October 2014 and I received an advanced press copy of the finished product and the costs come elsewhere.

Furthermore choosing whether to upgrade will prove a deeply personal question based on your own needs and concerns. So here is a breakdown of everything which has impressed me and everything that has left me with reservations. I’ll give you my own conclusion after that.

Let’s go!

The Good Stuff

It’s Free

Yes, you read that correctly. Windows 10 is free. Microsoft waited until July 17th to clear this up, but its lifecycle support page now states users Mainstream Support (adding new features) will continue until October 13, 2020 and Extended Support (security updates) will last until October 14, 2025.

This is great news. These time spans fall in line with previous paid editions of Windows and whatever Microsoft has planned for ‘Windows as a service’ in future (subscriptions perhaps?), users can sit on Windows 10 until the end of Extended Support in 2025 without any worries.

The caveat: you can only upgrade to Windows 10 free if you do so within 12 months of release (that’s July 29th 2016). Upgrade outside this period and you will have to pay the standard retail costs: $119.99 for ‘Windows 10 Home’ and $199.99 for ‘Windows 10 Pro’.

One Windows To Rule Them All

Apple famously bragged about building iOS on the core of OS X, but Microsoft has now taken this one step further: Windows 10 is what runs on all desktops, laptops, tablets and phones. Yes, the user interfaces may vary, but it’s the same codebase.

Windows 10 is the single operating system working across all Microsoft desktops, laptops, tablets and phones

This brings a lot of advantages, perhaps the best of which is ‘Continuum’ – Microsoft’s equivalent of Apple’s ‘Handoff’. This lets you pick up from exactly where you left off on one device and continue it on another.

In truth Microsoft is catching up here as Handoff and many of Google’s Cloud-based products like Docs, Sheets and Maps let you do something similar but Continuum also takes it one step further: a Windows 10 designed apps can run on any device. There’s no such thing as phone apps or PC apps, they are the same thing.

Obviously legacy programs are excluded from this. You won’t be running Office 2007 on your phone, but Office for Windows 10 can do this.


Moving onto specific Windows 10 tentpoles, the biggest is arguably Cortana.

Microsoft’s Windows Phone voice assistant and Siri rival is now baked into Windows 10 so you can ask whatever you like and have the answers returned to you in seconds. Cortana also handles core commands like opening a browser, creating a new email, setting reminders or calendar appointments, etc.

Cortana brings Microsoft’s Siri rival to the desktop for the first time

Like all voice assistants Cortana is far from flawless, but – for those not too embarrassed to talk to their computer – she’s a great addition and is only going to get better.

Read more – When ‘Free’ Windows 10 Becomes Expensive, You Must Know This

Virtual Desktops

Technically Linux was the first platform to offer Virtual Desktops, but they have been popularised in OS X (Apple calls them ‘Spaces’) and now Microsoft is finally aboard as well. Windows 10 allows users to create multiple virtual desktops: this could mean one for work, one for leisure, one for holiday planning, however you wish to set them up you can. And it’s about time.

Windows 10 Virtual Desktops

DirectX 12 and Xbox Integration

For gamers DirectX 12 is perhaps the single biggest reason to upgrade to Windows 10. While initial reports that it brought a 30-40% performance gain over DirectX 11 have actually proved to be closer to 10-20%, switching to it long term is a no brainer. Along with the usual clever visual enhancements of each new DirectX launch, DX12 is simply the future of PC gaming.

Windows 10 is also perhaps the future for Xbox One owners because it can stream Xbox One games directly to PCs and laptops. At this stage (and depending on the performance on your home WiFi connection) there is some slight lag, but it largely works very well. It is also a doddle to setup.

For Windows 10 owners this may even be enough to tempt them away from the PS4 to the Xbox One (though let’s not get into that debate here).

Windows 10 can stream games from the Xbox One

Low Specs

Despite launching six years after Windows 7, the demands for Windows 10 are not significantly greater:
Processor: 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster processor or SoC
RAM: 1 gigabyte (GB) for 32-bit or 2 GB for 64-bit
Hard disk space: 16 GB for 32-bit OS 20 GB for 64-bit OS
Graphics card: DirectX 9 or later with WDDM 1.0 driver
Display: 1024×600

In short: if you have an computer which is eligible for a free upgrade (more later on exceptions), there’s every chance it will happily run Windows 10. That’s no mean feat and it’s no doubt a byproduct of Windows 10 needing to be able to run on such a wide range of devices.

It’s Good!

I have been highly critical of Microsoft’s veil of silence surrounding Windows 10 (some key questions remain unanswered – more next) but the core operating system is excellent.

Windows 10 looks and works like a hybrid of Windows 7 and Windows 8 and is arguably what the latter should’ve been in the first place. It is fast, has great security and the Start menu is back which should be appreciated by Windows 7 users in particular who stayed away from Windows 8.

Windows 10 is a smart mix of the new and the familiar

While I’ve name dropped some of the biggest new features already there are also plenty of smart tweaks:

‘Snap’ has been enhanced so it lets you resize multiple windows around your screen in just a few clicks, file transfers are smarter so moving around a lot of heavy files doesn’t slow your computer to a crawl, there’s an attractive new media player with greater codec support, a notification center to group together alerts from both Microsoft and third party programs all in one place, and much more.

I’m also a fan of the updated styling. Microsoft has recovered from some truly horrible icon choices in the early betas, and it now looks every bit like Windows but with a subtle and stylish modern twist.

The Bad Stuff

It’s Not Free For Everyone

Given the Windows upgrade market is just a tiny slice of the company’s revenues (the vast majority comes from purchases of new PCs) it irks me that Windows 10 has a number of restrictions.

Firstly Windows Vista and Windows XP owners are excluded. Combined Vista and XP remain over 13% of the global PC market and anyone still running a Vista or XP machine is likely to have upgraded it during this time so it may be in a position to run Windows 10. If the PCs can’t then there’s no hit for Microsoft, but the good PR remains because the offer was made.

Meanwhile Windows 7 Enterprise, Windows 8/8.1 Enterprise and Windows RT/RT 8.1 users are excluded, as are pirates (more later).

Read more – ‘Free’ Windows 10 Is A Nice But Stupid Microsoft Idea

Forced Updates

Easily the most controversial factor about Windows 10 is what you give up for the free update: Control.

Windows Update’s Nvidia driver update clashes with Nvidia’s own GeForce Experience update software leading to system instability and these contradictory notifications – Image credit Paul Monckton

For owners of Windows 10 Home (most consumers) and Windows 10 Pro (most enthusiasts and businesses) you accept to receive, download and install any and every update Microsoft sends your way with any advance notice. This could be an important security update, a new feature (even if you don’t want it) or a driver (the version number and changelog of which you can’t see).

Delays are possible (Home users can stall up to one month, Pro users up to eight months) but after this they override and are installed automatically. It is actually part of the Windows 10 EULA (end user licence agreement) which you agree to and the consequences of this are troubling.

In just the last week a bad graphics driver and a buggy security update were automatically installed on millions of Windows 10 beta testers computers and caused repeated crashes on many machines without warning. If the troublesome updates were removed, Windows 10 automatically reinstalled them again.

Worryingly historically Microsoft has a poor record with updates and there have been some epic Windows patch meltdowns and “40 or so” problematic patches have been released by Windows Update in 2015 alone.

Confusingly and contradictorally Microsoft has released a tool which canuninstall updates on Windows 10 and keep them uninstalled but only after they have been installed in the first place (which isn’t much good if one stops your computer booting up) but the tool isn’t part of Windows Update and seemingly contravenes the company’s own EULA.

Microsoft has released Update KB3073930 which removes Windows updates, but leaves many unanswered questions – Image credit Microsoft

I asked for a Microsoft response about this, but was told it did not wish to comment at this time so the mystery continues.

Home Users Are Guinea Pigs

The direct result of forced updates is home users become guinea pigs as they cannot delay updates for as long as Pro versions and Windows 10 Enterprise is the only version which can stop them altogether.

Microsoft actually admits as much, promoting this feature to business customers in a blog post:

“By the time Current branch for Business machines are updated, the changes will have been validated by millions of Insiders, consumers and customers’ internal test processes for several months, allowing updates to be deployed with this increased assurance of validation,” explained Microsoft director of program management Jim Alkove in a little read Windows blog post in January.

Yes that’s a pretty blunt admission of Microsoft’s Windows 10 priorities: consumers can be testers for businesses. Which shows Windows 10 may be free, but it comes with a different kind of cost to the end users.

On the flip side current Windows pirates can sign up to be ongoing Windows 10 beta testers, which gets them a free, legitimate version of Windows but they then have no delay options at all. This means they (perhaps deservedly) become the first victims of any bad Microsoft updates.

Official Windows 10 upgrade details are still verbose and unclear – Image credit Microsoft

Unclear Enforcement Policies

Unsurprisingly the policy of automatic updates has led to a lot of reader outcry. Personally I understand Microsoft’s general aim: forcing updates on users keeps their PCs up to date, which makes them more secure and reliable in general. The problem is forced anything meets resistance.

To this end users have already talked about hacks to stop updates installing, but in April senior Microsoft product marketing manager Helen Harmetz said users who forcibly stopped any Windows 10 updates would eventually have their security updates cut off.

I have been unable to get a straight answer from Microsoft to confirm or deny this. The company’s latest statement to me was this morning: “Customers can expect us to take a similar approach with Windows 10 as we did with the Windows 8.1 Update.”

Taken literally, the upgrade from Windows 8 to Windows 8.1 cut-off security updates within 30 days for consumers who did not upgrade (this was expanded to 120 days for businesses), but Windows 8.1 was a major update. If Microsoft is now adopting this 30 day countdown policy for every patch it issues there will be a lot of angry users.

Read more – Windows 10 Automatic Updates Start Causing Problems

Games like Spider Solitaire on Windows 7 (above) are removed from Windows 10

Lost Features

While these will only likely to affect a small number of users, Microsoft will cull a number of features in Windows 10 that were featured in Windows 8 and Windows 10.

Most prominent is the death of Windows Media Center which some users are wedded too and have already expressed their frustration in forums. That said the rest are less alarming and include native DVD playback (third party media players and codecs are widely available), desktop gadgets, USB floppy drive support.

Sadly natively installed games Solitaire, Minesweeper and Hearts will also disappear, though these should be available to download separately for those who love wasting time at work.

It’s Not Ready Yet

This will be a matter of personal opinion, but for me Windows 10 – good as the core experience is – feels rushed out the door. It isn’t so much a case of numerous BSODs (Blue Screens of Death), though I’ve had a few, it is about smaller glitches.

Right now on two PCs I find icons in the taskbar disappear, the Start menu occasionally refuses to open and there are several driver incompatibilities while third parties still ready Windows 10 support. Microsoft’s own new Edge browser is also mostly a shell at this point with no extension support and limited tab functionality.

Meanwhile Microsoft has already promised to release a major Windows 10 update in October (these are no longer called Service Packs, so expect it to be ‘Windows 10.1’) and the company has pushed out numerous updates over the last 48 hours in advance of tonight’s big launch.

Windows 10 will be great, but it needs more time – Image credit Microsoft

Windows 10 Upgrade Verdict: Wait

Historically the rule of thumb for new Windows releases is to wait. This lets Microsoft fix any major bugs that appear early on. In my opinion Windows 7 was the exception to this rule and was rock solid even in early betas, but the rule is back in force with Windows 10.

In some ways this verdict disappoints the tech geek inside of me. Long term I believe Windows 10 will be the best version of Windows ever made, it is certainly the most exciting and ambitious since Windows 95 – and it’s free. But it simply isn’t ready.

Furthermore, despite all the good stuff (and there’s a lot), there are numerous bugs at present and key questions remain over its automatic update and enforcement policies – especially when recent updates have causedserious problems. This is where the real cost lies.

So wait. I know the biggest Microsoft fans and those on the cutting edge will ignore me and that makes sense: they are prepared to accept flaws to experience the latest things. But for everyone else remember that eligible users get a whole year to upgrade and there’s no need to rush in with so many rough edges still on show.

Mark my words: Windows 10 is going to be great and you should eventually upgrade, but with a major update coming in October that’s the month I’d circle in my calendar.

If you have any queries/feedback, please write it in comments section below OR mail me here : Snehal[at]Techproceed[dot]com

Happy Upgrading :-)