Windows 10 is chock-full of handy, hidden new features worth exploring. Check out the best tips and tricks here.
Windows 10’s constantly evolving nature means fresh features arrive twice per year, most recently via the big May 2020 Update. With all the new goodies come a legion of new tweaks and tricks—some of which unlock powerful functionality hidden to everyday users. Others simply let you mold the Windows 10 experience into the shape you see fit. Here are some of the most useful tweaks, tricks, and tips we’ve found over Windows 10’s many iterations.
Be warned: Some of these may break as the operating system evolves given Microsoft’s new “Windows as a service” mentality. The Cortana digital assistant served as a cornerstone for the operating system since Windows 10’s inception, for example, but relegated to lowly app status in the May 2020 Update. We’ve updated this article over time to reflect the OS’s current status.
The leveled-up Game Bar
If you’re into playing around on your PC, Windows 10’s Game Bar—summoned by pressing Windows + G in-game—holds all sorts of nifty extras. It’s always been able to take screenshots or videos of gameplay clips, but it also offers easy-peasy Beam game streaming and the intriguing Game Mode. Better yet, the May 2019 Update transformed it into a full blown overlay that does stuff no rivals offer. The now-customizable interface packs a performance widget, an audio widget with system-wide and per-app controls, a Discord-like interface for Xbox Live friends, a photo gallery, and even full Spotify integration. It’s great, and the May 2020 Update added more helpful features in the form of a frame rate counter and GPU temperature monitoring.
The Game Bar’s handy even if you don’t actually play, as it can be used to record video of any app—not just games. Windows 10 also has a dedicated Gaming section in its Start menu Settings to let you tinker with options, including Xbox networking and parental controls.
Timeline helps you pick up where you left off. Clicking the Task View button in the taskbar or pressing Windows Key + Tab summons the feature, which displays a—you guessed it—time line of your activity in supported apps, stretching back over the past. Even more handily, Microsoft lets you group related apps together into “Activities” in Timeline, so that when you open that week-old budget document, for example, the presentations and websites you referenced at the time can be easily summoned as well. This even syncs across devices, so it could be especially useful if you use multiple PCs.
The fly in the ointment: Only a limited number of apps work with Timeline currently, though Microsoft offers tools for developers to bake in support. That includes Office, Adobe’s Creative Cloud, and native Windows 10 apps like News and Maps, but Microsoft Edge is the only compatible browser. Bummer. You can deactivate Timeline by heading to Settings > Privacy > Activity History.
Tie your phone to Windows
Want to tie your phone and PC closer together? With the right combination of phone and PC, the Your Phone app on Windows can now show recent photos shot with the phone, view and send SMS messages, be alerted with the phone’s notifications, see the phone’s battery life, view and interact with the phone screen and apps, and even make calls.
Windows 10’s copy and paste functionality has been hit and miss for years, but now you can deploy that bugginess across multiple PCs with cloud clipboard—a genuinely useful feature introduced in the October 2018 Update. Head to Start > Settings > System > Clipboard and enable “Sync across devices” to start copying data on one PC and pasting it on another PC.
While you’re in this menu, enabling “Clipboard history” lets you save multiple items to the clipboard so you can use them again later. Nifty stuff.
Linux in Windows
It started with the simple Bash shell, but over the years, Microsoft’s built up its Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) into a surprisingly robust feature for developers. The latest iteration, dubbed WSL2, now runs Linux on its own kernel in what’s essentially a virtual machine, improving performance. You can even store files within the Linux root file system, then access them via Windows File Explorer inside the Linux virtual hard disk. You’ll need to enable the optional Linux compatibility and download a Linux distro from the Microsoft Store to use it, though. Several distros are available, including Ubuntu, Debian, OpenSUSE, and Kali.
You can hack a graphical interface into existence, but WSL2’s intended as a command line-style interface, and it pairs very well with Microsoft’s awesome Terminal text editor, pictured above, which lets you manage Linux, PowerShell, and command line tools simultaneously.
Introduced in the Windows 10 May 2019 Update, Windows Sandbox makes it easy to test unknown software and websites in a safe environment. The feature basically creates a virtualized second copy of Windows within Windows where you can run untrusted tasks, firewalled from your main installation. If things go pear-shaped, just nuke the virtual PC and start anew. Easy-peasy! And if a file checks out, you can move it out of quarantine and copy it over to Windows 10 proper. The May 2020 Update adds the ability to enable networking and your PC’s GPU within Sandbox, and even a shared folder between Sandbox and your PC’s desktop, if you don’t mind the increased threat risk.
The one downside to Windows Sandbox: It’s only available in Windows 10 Pro. Our Windows Sandbox guide explains everything you need to know.
Emoji and Kaomoji Keyboard
You may not know it, but Windows 10 matches the capabilities of mobile operating systems via a handy-dandy integrated virtual emoji keyboard, and one-ups phones by including support of ASCII-made kaomoji, too! (⌐■_■)
To summon it, simply press the Windows key and ; simultaneously on your keyboard while you’re inputting text. The selection is only getting better too, as Microsoft has been adding more emoji and kaomoji with each major Windows 10 feature update.
Snip and Sketch
The firmly entrenched Snipping Tool within Windows is finally getting replaced and upgraded. The October 2018 Update added Snip & Sketch, a new tool that lets you select a portion of the screen to copy when you press Windows + Shift + S. After doing so, the selected screenshot will be copied to your clipboard, so you can paste it into any image editing software—including the standalone Snip & Sketch app, which lets you annotate and share your marked-up images.
Near Share makes it easy to share files and URLs with local PCs over the air, negating the need for flash drives or chat apps to pass something along. If you open the Share interface in Microsoft Edge or File Explorer, you’ll see PCs with Nearby Sharing enabled appear as an option if you have the April 2018 Update installed. Recipients receive a pop-up notification when something is sent. Think of it as an alternative to Apple’s Airdrop, albeit one without any mobile support.
To use Near Share, your computer needs both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi working, and you’ll have to enable the Nearby Sharing option in Settings before you can start using it. Transfer speeds were pretty slow and Bluetooth-like in our tests, so you may still want to resort to alternative means to pass especially large files around. Microsoft says the feature automatically chooses to use Wi-Fi or Bluetooth depending on what’s available, and what’s faster.
Ransomware is a growing (and damned nasty) problem. It infects PCs, encrypts your files, and holds everything hostage until you pay a ransom—hence the name. The best defense against ransomware is frequent backups and strong security software, but Windows 10 now includes basic protection right in your operating system.
Controlled Folder Access “protects your files and folders from unauthorized changes by unfriendly applications.” Your Documents, Pictures, Movies, and Desktop folders are protected by default, though you can block other folders manually or whitelist trusted software to access your locked-down info. You can tweak Controlled Folder Access by opening the Windows Security app (formerly Windows Defender), heading to the Virus & threat protection tab, and clicking the “Manage ransomware protection” link at the bottom.
If you love dark themes, you love dark themes. Light themes sear your eyeballs. Fortunately, Windows 10 now supports a dark theme. Head to Start > Settings > Personalization > Color and select the “dark” option under “Choose your default app mode.” The Windows 10 October 2018 Update extended the dark theme to include File Explorer, too. Enjoy!