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Windows 10 Creators Update: The 10 best new features

Microsoft wants to make you love your computer again. Our regularly updated list shows you the best Windows 10 features launching with the new update.

On April 11, Microsoft released the next major update to Windows 10. Dubbed Creators Update, the free download includes new 3D apps, VR capabilities and 4K game streaming among its flashier features. (But it's going to a staggered rollout and not everyone will be able to download it immediately, especially if you're using Windows' automatic update feature. If you want to get started right away, here's how to get to the front of the line.)

But you don't need to be a graphics professional or VR-headset owner to appreciate what the Creators Update has in store. I've now spent months using a preview build of Microsoft's operating system and pouring over Microsoft's change logs, and found that the next version of Windows contains dozens of tweaks and enhancements for everyday users as well.

So I believe these are the true top 10 features coming to Windows 10 -- not the snazziest, but the ones that might actually make Windows work better when you're trying to get work done. As neither a visual artist nor a VR early adopter, these are the changes I'm most excited about.

If you like our picks -- or even if you dislike them! -- bookmark this page and check back. We'll be updating this post as Microsoft announces new features and new versions of Windows, so this article can become a living guide to how your computing life might improve.

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1. Smarter Settings layout

If you head to the Bluetooth page in Windows 10's Settings page right now, you won't find a button to Add a Device, which I find maddening. Instead, you must tab over to "Connected Devices" to perform the simple, common task of adding a Bluetooth peripheral to your computer. There's also no easy way to disconnect from a Bluetooth device without removing it entirely.

Creators Update addresses this mess by combining the separate "Bluetooth" and "Connected devices" pages into one "Bluetooth & other devices" page in Settings where you you can add, remove, connect and disconnect devices at will.

Matt Elliott/CNET

Elsewhere in Settings, you'll find new categories for "Apps," "Gaming" and "Mixed Reality".

2. Free up disk space without lifting a finger

Hard drive nearing capacity? Mine always seems to be. Creators Update can help keep your drive from filling up with crap. Head to Settings > System > Storage and turn on Storage sense.

With this setting enabled, Windows will automatically delete unused temporary files, as well as files that have been in the Recycle Bin for more than 30 days. I'm pretty good with emptying the Recycle Bin on something approaching a regular schedule, but I'm also very happy to have Windows track down and eradicate needless temp files.

Matt Elliott/CNET

3. Action Center sliders

Right now, when you swipe in from the right edge of your screen to call up the Action Center, there's a control to adjust display brightness -- but tapping it only bumps up display brightness in huge, 25 percent blocks. Usually, I'm looking for finer control. But Creators Update offers handy sliders for both brightness and volume.

Microsoft is also testing a slider that could help you fine-tune the balance between your computer's battery life and performance. You can see a picture of that below.

Microsoft

4. Easier to change screen resolution

One of the more puzzling things about Windows 10 is how difficult it is to change the resolution of your display. (Currently, you must right-click on the desktop, select Display Settings, scroll to the bottom and click "Advanced display settings" to find it.)

I'd argue that the display resolution isn't exactly an "advanced" setting, and Microsoft finally agrees; Creators Update places the screen resolution drop-down in its rightful place on the main Display settings page.


Matt Elliott/CNET

5. Hit the snooze button on updates

Windows pushes out updates at a fairly regular clip, which can be painful if you are in the middle of something and Windows decides to spend an hour or more installing updates while keeping you locked out of your PC. Thankfully and mercifully, Microsoft will stop shoving updates down your throat. With the Creators Update, you will be given greater control of when updates install.

When an update is ready to install, Windows will display a large notification with three options: Restart now, Pick a time or Snooze. The notification won't go away until you pick one. Hitting the snooze button lets you pause the update for three days, and you can hit this snooze button as many times as you want. If you have managed to snooze an update for 35 days, Microsoft still won't push the update to you without you agreeing first, but it will change the Snooze button to a Remind Me Tomorrow button, upping the frequency with which you'll need to continue snoozing the update.

windows-10-snooze-updates.jpg
Microsoft

6. Metered Ethernet connection

Originally designed to give you control over your data usage if you're using, say, a mobile hotspot or a satellite connection that has a data cap, a metered connection also has the added benefit of keeping Windows Updates at bay. Windows won't download the update until you tell it to, or set your connection as unmetered.

But what if your computer is connected with a physical Ethernet cable? Creators' Update adds that as well. To set your Ethernet connection as metered, head to Settings > Network & Internet > Ethernet and then click your Ethernet network. Next, toggle Set as metered connection.

Update: We've heard that Microsoft may start pushing updates over metered connections, too, though Microsoft says it'll probably only be used for critical bug fixes.


Matt Elliott/CNET

7. High DPI support

It's a bummer to upgrade to a 4K display only to find some of your apps look blurry, because the developer has yet to update them to run on a screen with so many pixels. Creators Update adds a way for you to override DPI settings so individual apps can scale properly (read: crisply) on high-resolution displays. Here's how:

Right-click on the app and choose Properties. Click on the Compatibility tab and check the box for Override high DPI scaling behavior and then choose System (Enhanced) from the pull-down menu.

Matt Elliott/CNET

8. New Reminders recurrence options

Forget to pay your cable bill or buy flowers for your wedding anniversary? Hopefully, never again: Creators Update adds two new options for Cortana Reminders, so you can now ask Cortana to remind you to do something "Every Month" or "Every Year."

Matt Elliott/CNET

9. App installation tolerance level

Microsoft borrowed a page out of Apple's book with the addition of a setting that lets you control which types of apps are allowed to be installed on your PC. Similar to telling your Mac to install apps only from the Mac App Store or also from outside it, you'll soon find similar options on your PC. Go to Settings > Apps > Apps & features and you can choose from where you can install apps -- from anywhere, only from the Windows Store, or from anywhere but get a warning if they are from outside the Store.

Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

10. Night light for less blue light

Staring at an unnaturally blue screen at night can shift your body's natural clock and make it difficult to get a good night's sleep. Your phone likely has a way to switch to warmer colors at night, and Windows soon will, too. In Creators Update, there's a setting to lower the blue light of your PC. Head to Settings > System > Display > Night light settings. You can schedule it to come on at sunset or manually set hours. You'll also find a new Night light button in the Action Center to toggle the setting on and off.


Matt Elliott/CNET

Features that didn't make the cut:

  • Paint 3D: Microsoft bills it as a simple way anyone can become a 3D artist -- and that could be true -- but the tool's not terribly sophisticated and seems to have a hefty learning curve to make anything but the most rudimentary 3D models. We're curious to see if it takes off.
  • Dynamic Lock: Getting up for a meeting or in search of a donut? Windows can automatically lock your PC as soon as a paired Bluetooth phone is out of range. Unfortunately, Microsoft still has some kinks to work out, like the substantial delay before it activates, and the fact it won't lock if someone else hops onto your laptop before you leave the area. Dynamic Lock could rank among our top 10 features, but we want to see if Microsoft improves it in the final Creators Update.
  • Compact Overlay: Windows 10 will soon give some apps a picture-in-picture mode it is calling Compact Overlay. In this mode, you can continue watching a video or chatting on Skype in a small window that stays on top of your other windows. The first apps to get Compact Overlay will be Windows 10's Movies & TV and Skype Preview apps.
  • Game Mode: This new setting forces your PC to put more GPU and CPU resources toward the game you are playing, and fewer to any other apps that you might have running -- that way you get higher, more consistent frame rates. We need more time to test its effectiveness before deciding on its ranking.
  • Built-in Beam streaming: Also added in the latest build, gamers can call up the Game Bar with the Windows key + G keyboard shortcut and begin streaming their gaming exploits to a live audience. Besides the fact it's built into Windows, Beam streaming also promises less than a one-second delay.
  • Start menu folders: Microsoft still hasn't given up on the idea that you'll use Start menu tiles instead of desktop shortcuts and the taskbar to launch apps. To lure you to the tiled Start menu, it lets you drag a tile on top of another tile to create a folder of like-minded tiles. It'll feel very familiar to iPhone owners who pride themselves on their neat and orderly collection of app folders, though there's no jiggling involved when creating Start tile folders.
  • Custom color picker for Windows themes: You can select a custom color from a picker rather than being forced to choose from the limited selection Windows offers to personalize your Windows theme. Hooray for individuality!
  • Throttled status for apps: Microsoft is experimenting with a new "throttled" status in an effort to improve battery life. Despite regularly checking the Task Manager, I have yet to see any of my apps achieve this status.
  • Download progress bar in Action Center: You can keep an eye on any downloads in progress by simply swiping to reveal the Action Center, the perfect spot for such information.
  • New Share menu location: Currently, when you hit the share button in an app, the sharing options slide in from the right edge of the screen -- usually not the spot where your eyes are focused. Soon, the share window will instead pop up right in the center of the app you are using and from which you are attempting to share something. The new Share menu in Windows 10 Creators Update offers the usual suspects -- Cortana Reminder, Facebook, Mail, OneNote and Twitter -- and also features suggestions to install the Box, Dropbox and Line apps.
  • Microsoft Edge tab preview bar: Microsoft's Edge browser offers an expandable bar that shows a thumbnail for all of your open tabs. Sounds useful in concept, but in practice I find the favicons on each of my open tabs are better indicators of what I've got open.
  • Park unused tabs in Edge: Have too many tabs open? Me, too. With Edge, you can click a button to set aside your current tabs, which keeps them within an arm's reach but stops them from running in the background and making your computer crawl. I'd like the ability to park only some of my tabs, however, instead of the current all-or-nothing approach.
  • e-books and Edge: You'll soon be able to buy e-books from the Windows Store and read them in Edge. There's a new hub in Edge in between your Reading list and History for e-books. When reading an e-book in Edge, you can press a button to have Edge read aloud to you.

Editors' note: This story was originally published on February 1, 2016, and has since been updated to include new information. This version is based on Windows 10 Insider Preview Build 15058, which was released on March 14. The final version of the Creators Update is rolling out to consumers now, but some users may not get it as an automatic update for weeks or months.