Testing: Windows 10 Anniversary Update for Xbox One and Phones

By Daniel Falconer

Here's what Microsoft's Windows Anniversary Update brings to Xbox One and Windows Phones.

Computers of course aren't the only devices running Windows these days. The Xbox One's core was updated to Windows 10 last November. The already released Anniversary Update makes adjustments to the new UI and adds some new features. And let's not forget about Mobile, which benefits primarily from recent updates to the many apps of Windows.

Xbox One Updates

Similar to PCs, the Anniversary Update for the Xbox One brings a combination of new features, UI tweaks, and software improvements. The most noteworthy change in my opinion is the UI for My Games & Apps. These lists finally scroll vertically and you can fit as many as 30 tiles on screen at once. They can be sorted alphabetically in one pile, by letter like on a phone, last used, last updated, or by size. You have three options for the size of the tiles too. The headache of getting to your ready to install games and apps is nonexistent now with a dedicated tab added to the left column. It's baffling as to why it took so long for this to be updated, but it's finally here. Honestly, the only adjustment I'd like to see made is a separate list for Xbox 360 games.

Cortana is also on Xbox now, taking over the old voice commands if you so choose. Microsoft has leveraged their digital assistant here to enable users to use more natural language with voice commands. For example, you no longer have to say the full length of a game title in order to launch it, so instead of saying "Xbox go to Halo 5 Guardians" you can now say "Hey Cortana play Halo 5". And even if you don't have a Kinect, the new voice commands work through a headset as well.

The Cortana voice commands started working well only with the last major Preview release, so it's hard to compare using voice commands for a couple of days to a couple of years. But so far they seem to work about as well as the old ones for me, or in other words, most of the time. This Cortana has the same functionality as any other device running Windows 10, so she can do everything from checking the weather, to doing a web search, and even singing songs. That added functionality can potentially result in more problems however.

Having used Cortana for years now, I was fairly certain I could get it to fail. While watching tv, Cortana can change the channel to stations such as ESPN and CNN without issue. However, when I said "Hey Cortana watch HGTV," just as I had suspected, Cortana did a web search for "watch hgtv" instead of going to the channel. I even went into the OneGuide to favorite the channel, which on the old voice commands was supposed to help with similar failings, but I still got the same result. Thankfully, I haven't had any issues yet with Cortana responding while I'm playing a game to do things like recording game clips. If you decide you don't like using Cortana, there is an option in Settings to turn them off and go back to the old Kinect only Xbox voice commands.

And background music is back! It's only taken three years, but the secret best feature of the Xbox 360 is now on the Xbox One. The feature wasn't live at the time of this writing, but a new Groove Music app will soon be updated with this long requested feature. It's also open to third parties, with Pandora and the podcast app Cast available at launch. Playback controls will actually be found in the Guide, so no need to snap the app, or of course music can also be controlled via Cortana.

Xbox isn't just a box under your tv though. Microsoft has always considered it a platform. The Anniversary Update has merged the Windows Store and Xbox Store. You can already get apps like Baconit, a popular Reddit app, on your Xbox One. More importantly though are the improvements made to Windows PCs for Xbox games. Starting this fall all of Microsoft's first party games will be on both Xbox One and PC. These Play Anywhere titles can be purchased once and played on any device. Save files will follow you and some titles will even support cross-play with Xbox One and PC gamers.

Microsoft also updated the Xbox app, including Game bar. In case you didn't know, Windows 10 has baked in keyboard commands for recording game clips and taking screenshots while in games. Before now this feature working was hit and miss for games that weren't from the Windows Store. I don't think it ever worked for games running in full screen. I recently built a gaming PC and can only sometimes get it to work with Overwatch in borderless window mode. Microsoft recommends running PC games in windowed mode for Game bar to work, but I'm not particularly a fan of doing that.

Microsoft is attempting to alleviate these issues by officially supporting games with Game bar. League of Legends, World of Warcraft, DOTA 2, Battlefield 4, Counterstrike: Global Offensive, and Diablo III are being added to the list of supported games. Microsoft doesn't make it easy to find a complete list, but I don't think it's very long. There is certainly better PC game recording software out there. But as someone that primarily plays Xbox games and with friends on Xbox, I would like to be able to save and share my game clips to there.

Mobile and Apps

If you didn't read my Lumia 950 review, Windows 10 Mobile launched in a state that essentially felt like it was still in beta. That's no longer the case for the most part. During my testing I noticed far fewer bugs. One of the worst was the Messaging app crashes, which doesn't happen anymore.

The camera app has been updated with a built in panorama option. The wallet app once again supports debit and credit cards for NFC tap to pay. And a firmware update is slowly rolling out for the Lumia 950 and 950 XL that adds double tap to wake.

However, one aspect that seems to have gotten worse is the iris scanner and Windows Hello. The animation for the smiley face plays out in its entirety before the phone unlocks. Sure it looks nicer and the animation of the screen unlocking is smoother, but I'm perceiving this to take longer than it did before.

One app that was inexcusably terrible at launch was Maps. Since then, the new owners of the HERE apps also pulled support for Windows phones. Thankfully the Maps app has been updated with a new driving mode that is significantly better. I still prefer the oversized text of HERE, but the UI now is at least on par with Google Maps. And Cortana is the voice for turn-by-turn directions, which is pretty cool. My only remaining major complaint is that the app doesn't show traffic while receiving directions.

Groove Music got a fantastic new feature called Your Groove. This section creates evolving playlists with music in your collection. I like to think of them as radio stations. I listen to a lot of classic rock, so unsurprisingly many of the playlists generated for me are based around that music. It also made playlists for songs I've been listening to a lot recently, and another for songs I used to listen to a lot but haven't much lately. I tend to add full albums to my collection, but will listen to some songs more than others. So, it made a playlist of artists I listen to a lot, but made up of songs I don't listen to as often as others. There are some duds, but overall I really like Your Groove.

One last app I'll mention here is the new Skype experience. Currently in preview, this universal app has been rewritten from the ground up with the intention of replacing the current desktop app. The settings are limited compared to the old win32 client, but the UI and functionality is leagues better than any previous version of the Store app. Right now Skype Preview benefits from group calling of up to 25 people, and of course being a UWP app it's able to tie into Cortana and the Action Center.

It seems Microsoft finally landed on this app being the way Messaging Everywhere is handled. Later this summer Windows 10 Mobile users can choose to have Skype handle SMS text messages. Doing this will enable users to text from their PC via the new Skype app, which would be preferable to the old barebones Messaging app or going through Cortana and using the Action Center, assuming it works well. Many of you are probably thinking you don't care because you don't have a Windows phone. Well here's the really cool part; Microsoft has hinted that Messaging Everywhere could be supported on other platforms when the new app rolls out to them. Given the openness of Android I think it's highly likely this will work there too.

Closing Thoughts

Windows 10 is an operating system that's capable of running on everything from the 80-inch screen Surface Hub, all the way down to a Raspberry Pi. The Anniversary Update didn't necessarily concentrate on those and everything in between, but the Xbox One and phone did see some love. The Xbox One's primary job is playing games, so with digital purchases becoming commonplace and Xbox 360 backwards compatible games thrown into the mix, the updated Games Collection app was overdue and very welcome. It's nice to have background audio playback once again. And while the addition of Cortana makes sense, it may not be for everyone, at least until some more bugs get worked out.

Phones right now are benefiting primarily from the fact they simply run Windows 10. Without any new hardware from Microsoft until 2017, the Anniversary Update didn't add anything groundbreaking. Still, Microsoft did update their latest Lumias with double tap to wake and camera improvements, which are meaningful updates for the company's biggest enthusiasts. The next big Windows 10 update, expected Spring of next year, is rumored to focus heavily on phones though.