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Dissecting Windows 10 Mobile: Start screen (video)

One of the most well-executed and unique aspects of Windows 10 Mobile is its customizable start screen. Customizing the live tile grid is simple. Press and hold on any of the tiles, and you can drag the position of any given tile, or adjust the size of each tile into one of three discrete sizes. You can also cram each tile into tile groups by dragging one tile over another.

Windows 10 Mobile allows you to go further by customizing the theme of the start screen. This can be done by going into Personalization in the settings menu.

Full control of the theme is divided between the Start and Color menu, which I don’t really like because it requires a lot of jumping back and forth just to preview changes.

In the Start section, you’ll find settings for three distinct flavors of thematic arrangement.

One is Windows Phone’s signature flat look, which can be achieved by setting the background to None.

Every app developer can opt to give their apps’ live tile a unique and opaque picture, but more ethically responsible developers will often leave their tiles as “transparent”. This allows the themes color or background picture to shine through the tile, which gives Windows Phone its beautiful, uniform aesthetic.

The Tile Picture flavor is achieved by hitting the Tile picture toggle, and basically makes every transparent, fair trade live tile as part of a collage that schemes so show the full background. The dividing regions of the grid are still visible, making it look as though you’re staring out a window. One really cool aspect of this flavor is if your start screen is particularly long, the background gives a parallax view that pans itself independent of the moving foreground.

The final full screen picture flavor basically combines the above two. The background is now literally a background, and the setting grants you a transparency slider to control how intense the tile color theme shines through. This is a new setting for Windows 10 Mobile, and it’s addition is an extremely important milestone in Windows Phone development because it exponentially expands customizability. For instance, you can turn the tile colors completely transparent to create this neat, minimalist hovering icon look that is just gorgeous if executed properly.

The Color section of the personalization settings menu allows you to choose from a carefully curated list of theme colors, an option to apply your selected theme color to the navigation bar if your filthy, new-age buttonless phone needs one. And the ability to select the dark and light themes for your overall system.

There’s one major limitation to theme customization that I’m surprised Microsoft still hasn’t addressed. As far as I know, no matter what theme or color combination you select, the start screen’s live tile icons and text will always be pure white. There’s no way to make them black or contrast with your selected them.

What I mean by this is if you select a really bright background, Windows 10 Mobile compensates for the white-on-bright disparity by darkening the background, so that the white text can still be seen. It doesn’t change the labels to black to counteract this. Even though you can see the white labels, it’s still hard to see, and moreover, the darkening background ruins the impact of the original image.

And the thing is, in the light theme, if you swipe to the app list, the theme ends up forcing the text to be black anyway. Even the heads up display is black as well, so I don’t see a plausible reason to enforce this restriction.

I really hope Microsoft eventually offers a way to customize how we want our labels to be colored, how much we want our backgrounds to be contrasted against the labels, or even better, have a way to automatically detect the most appropriate color scheme for the labels.

Ultimately, Windows 10 Mobile, despite some of its peculiar faults I’ve discussed in many previous dissections, the start screen continues to be one of its most defining and lauded features. So have fun with making the start screen your own, and I’ll see you guys next time.

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