Apple iOS 10 review: iOS 10: What we like, and what needs to get better

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The Good iOS 10 introduces fun and convenient new features -- like an updated iMessages and raise-to-wake -- that make it worth the upgrade, especially if you have a HomeKit-compatible device or a Mac running MacOS Sierra software.

The Bad Some features are clunkier and take more steps than they should, and Apple fails to address fundamental issues in the Siri voice assistant and Touch ID.

The Bottom Line iOS 10 serves up plenty of useful quality of life improvements, but a few rough edges keep it from shining too brightly.

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Apple's iOS 10 has been available on most recent iPhone and iPad models since September 13. We've been using it since then,'s fine. It's perfectly good. It's better than iOS 9.

But it could be even better.

The software update -- and its most recent 10.1 upgrade -- brings a heap of glittering new software features to Apple's mobile devices: incredibly interactive messaging, a lock screen that acts more like a control hub, and some cool payment capabilities, like pressing your thumb on the phone to buy goods on your Mac. There's also that sweet Portrait mode that adds an artistically blurred bokeh effect for the iPhone 7 Plus. For the most part, the new iOS delivers. But as we've lived with iOS 10 over the past few weeks, we've found that some promising features aren't fully baked, and others we thought we'd love wind up as more fluff than substance.


iOS 10: New features, but some need refinement.

Patrick Holland/CNET

Several new additions are also cumbersome, like responding to texts from the lock screen, swiping through three Control Center pages to see all settings, and dismissing now-larger notifications (which hang around and are easy to accidentally open).

But the software's biggest problems are fundamental: Pressure-sensitive 3D Touch on compatible iPhones pops up for some apps but not others and menus open slowly. Plus Siri still falls behind Google Now (and the newer Google Assistant) in how well it gathers and displays most information -- and how well it understands you in the first place.

And for iPads, the new features are super-subtle. It's disappointing that Apple hasn't added any major iPad difference-makers this year, unlike last year's fantastic upgrades like Split View in iOS 9.


Voicemail now transcribes your messages.

Josh Miller/CNET

So should you upgrade to iOS 10? Short answer: yes, if you have a supported iPhone or iPad. Voicemail transcription -- if your carrier supports it -- and new Messages features are worth the upgrade. The raise-to-wake screen (available on 6S models and later) is also helpful for checking quick messages. You're also setting yourself up for more benefits down the road, provided more hooked-in, third-party Siri-compatible apps and iMessage apps arrive.

Meanwhile, if you have a Mac running the new MacOS Sierra software update, you'll be able to use iCloud to bridge both devices for things like copying and pasting text, and sharing documents and desktop files. But we do hope Apple smooths out iOS 10's rougher edges as the company keeps delivering updates -- from 10.2 and beyond.

What we like: The best new features in iOS 10

iMessage upgrades: The upgrade to Apple's built-in messaging app gives you a ton of fun new ways to express yourself with other iOS 10 users. Stickers and new flashy animations (lasers!) borrow liberally from Facebook Messenger -- they're fun but hardly necessary. They do get addictive, though, and the total sticker package avalanche gives Messages a more social-app feel. But the apps are the promising part: you can already make payments via Square Pay or add a ton of other features like restaurant reservations or movie showtimes.

The new Home app: If you have any HomeKit-compatible home products, iOS 10 finally offers the tools to access your products and create easy-access controls and settings -- from any screen. The only problem is, you need HomeKit-compatible products.

Raise-to-wake: On iPhone 6S and later models, lift the phone to jostle the screen to life long enough to see if what messages await. It's a natural gesture that gives your thumb a break, and makes the iPhone a more glanceable tool. It's just a shame that the widgets on the lock screen don't have 3D Touch or work more like mini-apps. Learn how to use the lock screen here.

Apple Pay on a Mac using your phone's TouchID: Now you can use your iPhone's TouchID home button to complete Apple Pay payments on a Mac if you have MacOS Sierra. (Of course, if you're planning on getting a new MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, that model's built-in Touch ID fingerprint sensor means you won't need your iPhone at all.) When you need it, it's pretty helpful. It doesn't work for the Mac App Store, though, weirdly enough. Here's how to use Apple Pay in Safari.

Collaborating on a note or a project, or working between devices: Collaborative tools in iWork and in Notes make sharing a whole lot easier, even with Mac users. Add into this the ability to copy and paste from iOS into MacOS Sierra directly from each machine, and there's a lot more seamlessness between devices in work situations.

Voicemail transcription: Visual voicemail has been around for a long time in Android, and it's welcome here too. Your Voicemail tab in the phone app now includes a full transcription when you tap a message, which means you may not have to give it a listen. Just note that it's not always 100 percent accurate, and it only works on compatible wireless carriers.

Hide unwanted stock apps, or other things: You won't delete them entirely, but you'll rid your screen of the cluttering icons of previously undeletable Apple apps. Here's how. (But keep in mind, you still can't remove some.)

Improvements to Photos include better library-scanning, and Memories: If you use Apple's iCloud Photo Library to sync and store your photos, the new Photos app adds some helpful tools. The whole collection gets scanned on-device and photos are better sorted by faces and places. There's also a "Memories" feature that creates automatic slideshows based on themes. It's a little random (why "On This Day: November 3, 2014," Apple?) but the results are great, although similar to what Google and Facebook do.

Portrait mode for iPhone 7 Plus is awesome, and better than Pixel's version: If you have one of Apple's newest iPhone 7 Plus models, you're obviously upgrading to the latest version of iOS 10.1 or later anyway. But that new Portrait mode, which creates a depth-of-field effect for photos, is so good that pictures end up looking like they were shot on a high-end camera. It's not perfect, and the effect has a lot of limitations (it uses a more zoomed-in telephoto lens, and requires certain lighting and distance from the subject), but when it works it's special.