Microsoft’s Windows 10 October 2018 Update differs from past Windows updates in an important way: This time around, the day-to-day improvements will impact you in more profound ways than the new features. So while we’ve reviewed the new Windows OS, we’ve also separated these new conveniences into their own story.
What’s a feature? What’s a convenience? Think of it this way: Not all of you have used Windows 10’s Paint 3D app. But probably every one of you has managed files within Windows and the cloud, used Windows’ search function, and adjusted the size of a font or text. We’re calling these the “conveniences” of the Windows 10 Oct. 2018 Update. They may just make your life easier. (Note: Our story is based on the final Windows 10 Insider Builds, which led up to the official October 2018 Update. Microsoft doesn’t appear to have added anything with the announcement, but we’ll check and update this story to reflect any last-minute changes.)
Bluetooth battery gauges offer peace of mind
Connecting a mouse to a PC via a USB charging cord isn’t the end of the world, but it’s always handy to know when a truly wireless device—such as the Surface Pen shown here in Microsoft’s example—is about to give up the ghost. (In part, that’s because the AAAA batteries it requires aren’t that easy to find.)
Assuming the connected device has the ability to report its charging data, you’ll now see a battery gauge attached to it within Settings > Bluetooth & Other Devices. Not every device supports battery polling, especially older peripherals. But it’s a handy way to check up on the battery status of say, a wireless mouse, before leaving on a business trip.
Independent text sizing
If you’ve wanted to make Windows easier to read for those with poor eyesight, the traditional answer has been to use the Settings > Ease of Access > Display setting to “zoom” Windows in—increasing the size of virtually every element on the page, including the navigation elements within a window, for example. That can lead to awkwardly sized pages and apps. Now, there’s a different way.
The same Settings menu now offers the ability to just “Make text bigger,” and allows you to adjust a slider to enlarge or shrink sample text. When you’ve settled on a size, click Apply—and, after a rather alarming BSOD-like screen, Windows will resize all the text on the current screen in Settings, UWP apps, and even some classic apps. It’s not perfect: While it resized text on the Edge browser on one of my screens, text within a set of Chrome tabs on another was left untouched. Notifications were awkwardly formatted, and the control didn’t appear to do anything to the search box. Other than those caveats, “Make text bigger” is an easy way to resize text without breaking out the bifocals.
Securing your PC from ransomware
A new ransomware protection mechanism, controlled folder access, can be found within Settings > Windows Security > Virus & Threat protection. Here, you have the option of locking down folders like your Documents folder to Windows and selected apps.Turning on controlled folders is like a folder firewall: Windows will block folder access to an app if it thinks it’s suspicious, preventing that ransomware from attacking your data or holding it hostage. Like a firewall, though, the setting allows you to give access to an app if you’re sure it’s okay.
Windows wants something from you, however: Within the Virus & Threat Protection menu, you’ll need to go all the way down to Ransomware protection, click the Windows Defender Antivirus options caret, and then allow Windows Defender to periodically scan your PC. (This may be buggy; I sometimes had problems enabling controlled folders without enabling real-time scanning of my PC by Windows Defender, which also necessitated turning off a third-party antivirus program.)
Auto-adjust video playback for outdoor lighting
Like your phone, your PC should adjust its backlight power when you go outside. Many do: if you go to Settings > System > Display, you may see an option to “Change brightness automatically when lighting changes.” But while this powers up the backlight high enough to allow you to say, type in a Word document, video will still probably look washed out.
In the October 2018 Update, Windows will adjust your video so it will look better while outdoors. Navigate to Settings > Apps > Video playback, and turn on Adjust video based on lighting. It doesn’t seem to boost your laptop’s backlight, but rather adjust brightness and contrast to make the video more visible. Perhaps naturally, this adjustment will look washed-out when viewed under normal conditions, like so:
Granted, you’ll need a laptop with a backlight that’s powerful enough to make this feature viable, and a sensor that can detect different lighting levels.
Storage Sense automatically sends unused files to the cloud
Though you may never use it, Microsoft’s Storage Sense (Settings > Systems > Storage) can be used to locate and erase unused temporary files, squeezing out a bit more space for your documents and other user files. Within the October 2018 Update, Storage Sense gains some new powers: a possibly controversial integration with OneDrive.
Within the October 2018 Update, you’ll have the option to send unused files to your OneDrive cloud, where they won’t take up local space. It’s the equivalent of automatically moving old boxes of stuff from your garage to an offsite storage unit. (Microsoft uses an odd name for this: dehydration.) In this case, the file won’t disappear; it will simply “dehydrate” into one stored within the cloud, which you’ll need to re-download if you want to access it.
You can turn this on for files that you haven’t touched in a given period (60 days, say), or if your PC’s available storage dips below a certain threshold. You can tag files as “always available,” which means that they’ll always be stored locally on your PC even if they are left alone for a long time. Storage Sense was toggled on for my PC, and it’s set to send unused files to the cloud every 30 days if needed.
As Microsoft's Aniket Naravanekar explained in a recent blog post about Storage Sense, the feature's purpose is to help Windows to run smoothly. But does that mean that your unused multi-gigabyte games library will be sent off to the cloud, requiring you to re-download it? Let’s hope not.
Search without needing to leave search
While the size of the Start menu within the October 2018 Update remains unchanged, entering a search query within the Cortana search box now opens a genuinely massive search box that swallows much of your screen. The benefit here is Windows will essentially open a browser right within your search window, eliminating the need to open a separate browser tab to search. (Windows uses Bing as its search engine, by default.)
You can see the larger search box within the April 2018 Update by entering a search query, then clicking the blue result "to see Web results". In the October 2018 Update, the large-format results box opens automatically, which also includes tabs for apps, documents, email messages, and more. There's one quirk: if you're used to typing a query and then hitting Enter, Windows will still open a browser window, as before. Training yourself not to do that, in order to see the in-window search result, is tricky.
Microsoft’s actually touting this improvement as a server-side update, so you may see it regardless of how quickly your PC receives the October 2018 Update. As part of the new search function, you should see blue download buttons that Microsoft sometimes injects when you search for a downloadable app. It’s worth noting, too, that Google is trying a similar strategy: tucking search results inside its Chrome 69 omnibox.
Focus assist turns on automatically when gaming
Focus Assist is Microsoft’s name for a feature that limits or turns off notifications depending upon your preferences. In the October 2018 Update, it turns on automatically when you’re playing a full-screen game.
A new generation of emoji: Emoji 11
The Windows 10 emoji keyboard can be launched by Win+; which makes sense when you think about it. With the October 2018 Update, Microsoft has incorporated the new Emoji 11 into the emoji keyboard, which includes characters like redheads, a lobster, and dynamite, as well as lesser-used languages such as Mtavruli and Hanifi Rohingya.
Dark theme in File Explorer
Members of the Windows Insider beta-testing group become obsessed with certain proposed features. One of these is a dark theme for File Explorer, which has finally arrived.
Wireless projection modes
If you typically project a PowerPoint presentation or OneNote notebook for a classroom, you probably mix and match text, video, and (occasionally) gaming.
A small convenience within Windows (and its Connect app) is that wireless projection connections will now have their dedicated toolbar, along with three modes: a low-latency game mode, a higher-latency video mode (to stream videos smoothly) and a “productivity” mode that’s somewhere in between. We didn’t have a chance to test this out, but it should help fine-tune wireless connections to sharpen the experience.
SwiftKey keyboard predictions arrive on Windows
Microsoft originally promised that its SwiftKey keyboard would arrive with the Windows 10 October 2018 Update, but only part of it apparently landed. You can turn on SwiftKey text prediction to better predict auto-completed words, but the other half—the ability to swipe from letter to letter—doesn’t appear in the build.
Task Manager reveals per-app power usage
We still don’t have a built-in Windows capability that reveals the power draw of various components. It would be nice, for example, to be able to tell how much power your laptop’s display consumes. Over time, though, the Task Manager has added more and more information about your system. The April Update displayed the GPU resources consumed, and now an additional column displays the relative power of each app within the Processes tab.
On paper, this sounds better than it actually is. “Power usage” and the related “power usage trend” is displayed with vague terms such as “very low. That may be useful in rooting out an app that’s inexplicably sucking down power, but it doesn't tell you much in terms of absolute values. Still, it’s a convenience.
Cortana Show Me works with... Cortana
We’ve previously dug through Cortana Show Me, a tips-like app that attempts to put tech media sites like PCWorld out of business with handcrafted walk-throughs of various features. No matter. It would be sort of silly if these Cortana-driven walk-throughs were available only from the app itself, and not via Cortana. Well, now they are.
If you or a family member need help with some basic tasks—try “Show me how to change my background”—they can just talk to Cortana to launch the tutorial.
The mystery surrounding smarter Windows updates
Everyone’s heard the horror stories of Windows spontaneously rebooting and updating a PC at an inopportune time—possibly leaving out the fact that they failed to configure Windows Update correctly. (Go to Settings > Update & Security > Windows Update > Advanced options and ensure the Update notifications checkbox is checked, and maybe Pause updates as well. Also make sure your Active Hours are configured.)
Putting the blame on the user, though, does no one any good. One of the more anticipated conveniences within the October 2018 Update was a sort of an “update AI.” Microsoft said it had trained a predictive model that could pick the right time to restart your PC and apply an update, and notify you before doing so.
The problem is that we’re not quite sure whether the Smart Updater or Update AI is actually in the Windows 10 October 2018 Update. Because we couldn’t actually test it, we asked Microsoft whether the feature was present. Microsoft told us that they had “nothing to share,” so we concluded that Microsoft left it out. But who knows?
While there are other, lesser conveniences floating around—Microsoft sure made a big deal of the ability to find and replace data within Notepad—we think we’ve found most of them you need to know about. Now it’s onto the snappily-named “19H1” track for Windows 10, the update of Windows that’s due next spring.