Windows 11 hands-on tested

MyBroadband has been test-running the first Windows 11 Preview Build released on Monday and found the early version of Microsoft’s new OS to be a more refined iteration of its predecessor.

Over the last two days, we’ve been getting to grips with its new design, features, and performance in typical remote working usage.

The entire download and installation process took less than an hour, with two restarts included.

There was no need to go through the whole out-of-box experience, as the update seamlessly migrated all the previous files, apps, and settings we had on the Windows 10 system over to Windows 11.

Here is what we found after 24 hours of working on the official Windows 11 Preview Build.

Best new features and improvements

Right at the outset, this version differs significantly from the leaked version, which we tested two weeks ago.

  • Settings app boasts an improved design which makes it easier to find the settings you want to configure.
  • Search app and searching in File Explorer is faster and better at finding files and apps.
  • Centred taskbar provides quicker access to the start menu and running apps when moving your mouse pointer from different places across the screen.
  • Context menus are simpler and more convenient, with icons replacing Cut, Copy, Paste, and Delete, making it faster to perform these actions.
  • Command bar in File Explorer has been streamlined with similar icons to the context menus and a simpler layout.
  • Windows Store – New, modernised design, with much faster navigation and searching.
  • New font, icons, animations, and sounds provide a modern feel and make for a pleasant user experience over many hours of use.

The bad

  • Snap Layout randomly stops functioning, requiring a restart to work again.
  • Random PIN login bug closed Windows Hello automatically and made it impossible to type in a PIN.
  • Improved multi-monitor support worked but was a bit buggy.
  • Default bigger spacing between files and folders in File Explorer might lead to much longer scrolling when looking for files. It can be changed with Compact Mode in the command bar.

Below is a more in-depth look at our experience with the new design and features of the Windows 11 Preview Build.

Performance

Navigating the OS and using apps felt just as fast as on Windows 10.

It took around 19 seconds to get to the login screen from booting up and another 7 seconds to land on the desktop with a Windows Hello login. This was with the OS installed on an M.2 SSD.

At startup, our high-end compact laptop’s fans whirl as CPU and RAM usage surges. It takes a few seconds for the system to calm down after all the startup apps are initiated.

The resource usage would then go down to what one would expect from Windows 10.

The Task Manager revealed that apps used around the same amount of resources as on a Windows 10 machine we had sitting right next to it.

The preview build had no compatibility issues and ran all of the productivity apps and games we threw at it.

This included Microsoft’s Office Suite, Adobe Photoshop, the Chrome browser, WhatsApp for Desktop, Slack, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and Rocket League.

It is not too surprising that Windows 10 apps and drivers are compatible with Windows 11. Principal analyst at Forrester, JP Gownder, said that Windows 11 is built on the same core codebase as Windows 10.

“That’s good news; it means that the application and driver ‘breakage” that famously plagued OS releases like Windows Vista is unlikely to occur. And Win32 apps will still be able to run natively on Windows 11,” Gownder said.

Taskbar and Start menu

Across the user interface (UI), the font, icons, general styling, and animations have been overhauled.

One of the most obvious changes is that the taskbar is now centred by default, although it can be moved back to the left.

We found the centred alignment to be more convenient than having it on the left, as the new position allowed for quicker access when moving your mouse from various areas around the screen.

As with the leaked build, there were new icons for Start, Search, File Explorer, Settings, and Task View, while a new Widgets app has also been added.

The new Start app now flies out of the taskbar and presents the user with a grid of icons for pinned apps and recommended apps and files.

There is also an option to expand to All Apps, which will bring up a full list of the system’s applications in alphabetical order.

New Windows 11 desktop with one of the default wallpapers.
Windows 11 Start, Search, Task View, Widgets, File Explorer, and Settings app icons.
New Start menu. We pinned our own apps to the taskbar at this point.
Start Menu – All Apps option

The new Search app and search in File Explorer were perhaps the areas where we saw the most tangible performance improvements over Windows 10.

The current version of the OS can sometimes take a long time to find files, even those you used just moments ago.

On this preview build, we were quickly provided with results for exactly the apps and files we were looking for, regardless of how long ago they were previously accessed.

Navigation and searching in the redesigned Windows Store were also much quicker.

While there is a new look to the store, it does not yet offer built-in support for Android apps, as punted by Microsoft during the Windows 11 announcement last week.

The new Widgets app is a fairly basic panel on which you can choose to receive updates on various topics, including the Weather, News, and eSports, and add overviews of your Calendar, To-Do List, and Photos.

Searching for templates
Other categories to refine your search
New Windows Store home page
Searching for games in the new Windows Store

The other noticeable visual change is that corners on apps and File Explorer windows are now rounded until you maximise them.

Context menus, which are invoked when right-clicking, also have rounded corners.

In addition, the context menu lists have been simplified without losing any of their functionality.

Microsoft has achieved this by converting common commands like Cut, Copy, Paste, and Delete into icons horizontally aligned in the context menu.

Depending on where you click on the screen, the icons will appear at the top or bottom of the context menu, always at the closest point to your cursor.

If you prefer the old context menu, there is a “Show more options” item at the bottom of the context menu.

Context menu on desktop right-click
Examples of new context menus

This simplification has been carried over to the command bar in File Explorer.

The ribbon menu has been dropped for a new command bar at the top of the File Explorer window.

This single horizontal bar consists of a button for creating new folders or items, icons for cut, copy, paste, rename, share, delete, and sorting and viewing options.

The default Documents, Downloads, Music, Pictures, and Videos folders also have new, colourful icons.

This PC in New File Explorer
Closer look at the File Explorer Command bar
Icons for Quick Access folders and storage drives
Folder icons in the navigation pane

The Action Centre has been split into two separate elements.

Clicking on your Internet connection, sound icon, or power status (in the case of a laptop) will now invoke the quick setting tab similar to what you would see on an Android smartphone.

By default, the tab allows you to switch between Internet connections, turn Bluetooth or Airplane Mode on or off, switch on Battery Saver, jump between Focus Assist modes, and turn various Accessibility features on or off.

There are also two sliding bars – one for adjusting brightness and another for changing volume.

You can also pin quick access to other settings, including Keyboard Layout, Mobile Hotspot, and Nearby Sharing.

To access your notification centre and calendar, you can click on the date and time or the notification prompt if you have any unread notifications.

Quick Settings
Notification pane and calendar

Possibly one of the biggest ease of access improvements we found was in the new Settings app menu.

As shown in previous leaks, the sub-categories of each main section of Settings are now shown on the right, making it easier to find the settings you need to adjust.

The legacy Control Panel is still available if, for whatever reason, the modern Settings app doesn’t serve your needs.

There also appears to be more advanced configuration options within the Settings app itself.

System settings
Bluetooth and devices settings
Network and Internet settings
Sound properties in the new Settings app

Another key advancement that Microsoft has punted for Windows 11 is its enhanced multitasking capabilities.

For the most part, the new Snap Layouts feature worked as showcased but did stop functioning at one point.

After a quick restart, however, it has not stopped working again.

Microsoft should consider adding a shortcut to summon the pop-up window for this feature, as you currently have to hover your mouse above the maximise/restore button to bring it up.

This takes more time than simply using one of the existing shortcuts to snap it to a particular side.

The other new feature which is aimed at helping with multi-tasking is better multi-monitor support.

We found this was a bit of a hit-and-miss.

If our window arrangement on the external display was a bit complicated, unplugging would appear to confuse the laptop’s display, minimizing some apps while resizing and rearranging others.

When we reconnected, the windows always went back to the external monitor, but at times would not be arranged back to the way they were.

Windows arranged with snapping tools
Snap Layout feature

Verdict

The modern elements and small finishing touches make the overall Windows experience more coherent across the board.

The OS is definitely more touch-friendly, but it does not come at the cost of functionality for conventional mouse and keyboard use.

Despite this being an early build, we encountered only a few small issues, and with Microsoft set to make improvements, we’re excited to see what comes next.

The two major features not included in the build are the built-in Teams integration and direct support for Android apps.

Now read: Windows 11 Preview now available — How to download it

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Windows 11 hands-on tested