Reviews of Windows 10’s Creators Update went live yesterday, and we’ve rounded up their thoughts and conclusions so you don’t have to. This is the third named release of Windows 10 — Threshold 2 (version 1511) debuted in November 2015, the Anniversary Update (version 1607) was available on August 2, 2016, and the Creators Update (version 1703) will be available for download on April 11.
For this roundup we’ve got our sister site PCMag, Ars Technica, PCWorld, and Windows Central on tap. There’s a lot to cover in the Creators Update, so we’re going to break our coverage down by how significantly things have changed from the Anniversary Update to the Creators Update (no apostrophe).
Significant changes, major new features (and one removal)
Privacy: Microsoft has deployed a new Privacy Dashboard within Windows 10 to give you a much better idea which settings are enabled and disabled, as well as finer-grained control over which data you wish to share. Telemetry collection remains mandatory, but there’s still a significant change. Users used to have three choices, between Basic, Enhanced, and Full. The Enhanced option has been removed, but several types of data collection that were previously gathered in the Basic setting, like application data, have been removed in the Creators Update.
Everyone agrees that the privacy setup page for Windows 10’s installation is much improved over the previous version, and there’s general consensus that collecting less data with the Windows 10 “Basic” telemetry option is a better option than what we had before.
Update controls: One of the major issues with Windows 10 was its tendency to reboot your system out from under you when applying updates. The “Active Hours” setting could reduce this activity, but only in twelve hour increments. In the CU, updates can be delayed for up to a week (Windows 10 Home) or up to 35 days (Windows 10 Pro, Education, or Enterprise), active hours can be set in 18-hour increments, and reboots can be scheduled as well. These changes are a definite step forward in terms of giving users more control of their PCs, even if updates are still mandatory. At the least, they give you some time to find out if an update has problems or isn’t compatible with your hardware.
Game Mode: I’m including this under major features because it ought to be… but honestly, right now, it isn’t. Ars Technica reports seeing no benefit to using Game Mode in multiple titles. The other sites talk about theoretical improvements to game performance, but don’t seem to have checked if said improvements exist. As far as I know, no games have yet been found to seriously benefit from Game Mode, and a few actually see performance regressions. Ars’ hopes the feature evolves into something genuinely useful, but it doesn’t seem to be there at the moment.
Cortana: Cortana has been updated in a number of ways. It’s now supported in the initial installer, allowing much of that process to be controlled by voice. PCWorld notes that the digital assistant can now schedule recurring monthly reminders and that Windows 10 will offer autocomplete suggestions highlighting her abilities as you type. Cortana can also read email to you if you want her to, and she interacts tightly with the Android and iOS versions of the same application. You can have a file open on your smartphone and seamlessly switch to editing it on your desktop. Cortana also has a new “Pick up where I left off” mode that allows you to restore documents and web pages you had open before a reboot and can stream music from Groove (with a subscription), TuneIn, and iHeartRadio. She can also identify what’s playing on a radio station, which PCWorld notes is handy.
Significantly smaller updates: Future updates for Windows 10 should be 35-65% smaller depending on how quickly you update the OS. This is likely the reason why Microsoft removed the feature below (and again, this feature is well-regarded by all reviewers).
Metered connections now download updates: This is a feature removal rather than a feature addition, but it’s important enough to mention. In previous editions of Windows, you could tell the OS that you were running on a metered connection and it wouldn’t download updates automatically. That’s no longer the case with the Creators Update, though you can always choose to shut Windows Update off if you’re willing to take that security risk.
Beam streaming: Microsoft has integrated support for its game broadcasting solution, Beam. Opinions on Beam are a bit mixed. Everyone acknowledges that it’s a much lower latency option than Twitch, and it’s been integrated into Windows 10; all you need is an Xbox ID and a Beam account to get started. Ars Technica’s Peter Bright notes that the service won’t stream if you have Skype, Skype for Business, Teams, or “certain other applications running.” Microsoft claims this is to prevent people from accidentally sharing personal or confidential information, but Ars thinks this limitation will hurt Beam’s adoption. Given how many people apparently use Skype to communicate with each other while gaming online, they may be right.
Edge updates: Edge has been updated to support ebooks and has a new “Set aside” option to stash tabs away as a group. But Ars Technica notes that Edge continues to have some feature disparities compared with other browsers. There’s no way to reopen set aside tabs while still keeping them permanently saved within the browser window. If you restore them but accidentally close the window, they’re gone. Edge remains unable to recover an entire lost browser window by using Ctrl-Shift-T the way Chrome can. Other sites like PCWorld were more positive on the browser, noting that it now includes native 4K playback support, support for the EPUB ebook format, and tab previews at the top of the browser.
There are an array of updates to the underlying operating system worth mentioning. Windows can now pair with Bluetooth devices and automatically log you out when it loses contact with whatever Bluetooth device you’ve linked it to. Windows Central writes: “It’s a great feature in theory, but it’s flawed by a lack of configurable options. For example, I find that with my Windows Phone, my PC will just lock itself when I’m using it because my phone dropped out of Bluetooth connectivity for reasons unknown. There’s also no way to adjust how long Windows will wait before it locks after the Bluetooth connection has dropped.”
There’s a new 3D Paint app for creating 3D images on 2D monitors, VR support is now baked into the OS (even if none of the $400 headsets Microsoft promised are available to buy just yet), and Windows Defender has been updated with a new UI and a new option called “Fresh Start.” Windows Central notes that Fresh Start is more “vigorous” than the Refresh Windows option already baked into the OS. Where the Refresh Windows commands keeps already installed programs, Fresh Start jettisons them, hopefully along with any infectious malware.
Windows Hello’s face recognition is faster now, there’s a security option that lets you only allow installations from the Windows Store (off by default), Windows Photos will now automatically tag your images and can search for previously tagged images via keywords, Themes are now supported, and the UI for both Groove and the Movies TV app have shifted and are more standardized. There’s even support for a new picture-in-picture mode (PiP) that lets you minimize an app window into a much smaller space while it remains on top of other applications. This functionality is available for app developers to tap rather than being limited to Microsoft’s own applications.
Finally, there’s Night Light, an f.lux-like feature that can dim your monitor to reduce blue light emissions. Multiple reviewers praised this feature conceptually, but noted that the mode kicks in quickly compared with f.lux, which allows you to set a very gradual transition. Configuration options for this feature are also rather bare. We’ve rounded up screenshots of certain features, both small and large, in the slideshow below. Each slide can be clicked to open in a new, larger window.
Every one of the reviews we read praised the Creators Update, but few praised it unilaterally. Windows Central declared it “absolutely” the best version of Windows 10, but was disappointed with the lack of updates for Tablet Mode, issues with Edge, and the name “Creators Update.”
Ars Technica’s review was a touch more negative in terms of its evaluation of the CU’s new capabilities and options and criticized the naming scheme and testing regimen, but again stated that “Windows 10 was the best Windows ever when it was launched, and updates like this one mean it’s getting better and better.”
What angers me, though, is how far removed the Creators Update is from the vision Microsoft presented in the fall, especially when it comes to 3D content. “If we truly want to make 3D for everyone, then we need to make 3D creation as simple as taking a photo or a video on your phone,” Microsoft’s Megan Saunders promised us then.
It’s not. It’s not even close to that. There are so many features that Microsoft pledged and has yet to deliver on: apps to capture objects as 3D images, the My People experience, 3D objects in Office apps, mixed-reality devices from its partners. Windows Holographic, renamed Windows Mixed Reality, is present, Microsoft says, though available only to developers.
PCWorld finishes, however, by stating that the Creators Update is “absolutely” worth your time, even though Microsoft ultimately failed to deliver on its promises in time for this refresh cycle. And that’s the consensus of every review we’ve seen. They vary on the particulars of their criticisms, and no one claims that the Creators Update is without flaws. But everyone agrees it’s a solid step forward for Microsoft and an improvement to the Anniversary Update from last summer.