Windows 10 Update: How to Upgrade Your Windows Phone

Microsoft's Lumia 950 is powered by Windows 10

Microsoft Lumia 950 powered by Windows 10 | Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Even though the future of the Windows Phone platform isn’t looking certain, Microsoft is finally getting around to rolling out Windows 10 Mobile to existing Windows 8.1 devices. There are two ways to get a Windows 10 phone: either buy a new phone that ships with Windows 10 Mobile out of the box — like the Lumia 950, Lumia 950 XL, Lumia 650, Lumia 550, Xiaomi Mi4, or Alcatel OneTouch Fierce XL — or upgrade your existing Windows phone to the latest version of the operating system.

If you’ve been waiting to update your Windows smartphone to Windows 10, you probably know that Microsoft has delayed the update multiple times. Originally, the idea was to begin updating Windows devices in December 2015. But as Emil Protalinski reports for VentureBeat, the company ended up delaying the process until the first quarter of 2016, shifting the timeline first to February and then to March. Finally, the updates are here.

As Microsoft explains on its website, the update will first be made available to the following 18 phones: the Lumia 1520, 930, 640, 640XL, 730, 735, 830, 532, 535, 540, 635 1GB, 636 1GB, 638 1GB, 430, 435, BLU Win HD w510u, BLU Win HD LTE x150q, and MCJ Madosma Q501. Microsoft isn’t rolling out Windows 10 Mobile to all exiting Windows Phone devices, since it doesn’t want older devices to run Windows 10 if the resulting experience would be worse than what’s offered by the existing operating system version.

To upgrade, you’ll need to download the Windows 10 Upgrade Advisor app, which is free in the Windows Store, to check for upgrade availability and to prepare your phone to install the update. If the upgrade is available for your device, you can select “Enable Windows 10 upgrade” and follow the instructions to update your phone.

On its website, Microsoft also recommends taking a few steps to prepare your phone for the update. You should plug your phone into a power source to make sure that it doesn’t run out of battery while installing the upgrade. A Wi-Fi connection is required to download and install the update, so you’ll need to connect to one in order to upgrade your phone. Additionally, it’s a good idea to back up your settings, apps, photos, and text messages before installing the update. If you haven’t done so already, go to the Start icon, swipe to the All Apps list, select Settings, and then Backup in order to set up backups.

It’s also important to free up enough storage space to download and install the update. The Upgrade Advisor app can recommend files that you can move to OneDrive or to an SD card if you have one installed. Alternatively, you can connect your phone to a PC and move your files there. After the upgrade, you can move files back to your phone if there’s enough space. If you remove apps from your phone to make room for the update, you can reinstall them from the Store if there’s enough space. However, you should keep in mind that deleting an app will erase any app data, like the saved progress you’ve made in a game.

When the Windows 10 update is available, swipe to the All Apps list from the Start icon, then select Settings, then Phone update, and install the update. You can choose to install it immediately or to postpone the update for a more convenient time. On Windows Phone 8.1 devices that are running version 8.10.14219.341 or higher, you can schedule to install downloaded software updates later. The upgrade can take an hour or more to complete; you won’t be able to use your phone during the installation, and your device will restart a few times.

After the upgrade is completed, your phone might take some extra time to migrate data and apps. If some app tiles don’t appear to be active or if you can’t open them, keep your phone plugged in to a power source and connected to Wi-Fi to wait for those apps to finish updating. If an app tile is missing from Start, you can check the App list for it and pin it to Start, or go to the Store to see if a new version of the app is available. Additional app updates may need to be installed from the Store in order for some features to work. To check for app updates, swipe to the All Apps list, select Store, tap Menu, choose Downloads and updates, and then select Check for updates. You should also download and install any updates that are available by navigating to the All Apps list, selecting Settings, choosing Update & security, tapping Phone update, and selecting Check for updates.

When you upgrade to Windows 10, you’ll gain access to features like a new Start screen, an improved Cortana personal assistant, better Live tiles, wider app support, Windows Hello, and Continuum. (Though some, like Windows Hello and Continuum, do require certain hardware, and therefore won’t necessarily be available on every phone that gets upgraded to Windows 10 Mobile.) Most of the biggest changes are related to Windows 1o’s universal apps, and Microsoft software like Outlook and Office have been significantly improved over the versions you’re used to with Windows Phone 8.1.

Protalinski notes that because this is Windows 10, upgrading should also mean that you’ll get more frequent updates — though based on how long it took Microsoft to get Windows 10 Mobile out to these phones, you probably shouldn’t hold your breath for them.

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