Windows Central Verdict
Windows 11 version 22H2 enhances the strong vision set out by the first version last year, with more productivity features, design updates, and the return of some missing Taskbar functionality. But an online account is now required on both Home and Pro.
New productivity enhancements
Taskbar functionality updates
Common complaints have been addressed
Lingering legacy UIs still need updating
Dark mode still inconsistent
Online account now required
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It's been almost a year since Windows 11 launched to the world, and Microsoft has been hard at work on "polishing" the vision it has for this era of Windows. Last year was the big bang new release with a brand-new design, sounds, animations, and features. This year is all about refining those experiences to ensure this release is the best version of Windows yet.
With Windows 11 version 22H2, Microsoft has focused on completing Windows 11 by adding back some missing functionality, introducing new productivity features with snapping layouts and tabs in File Explorer, as well as improving already existing features such as the new Start menu, focus assist, and the Taskbar.
I've been using the Windows 11 2022 update since it was finalized a handful of months ago, and this is my review. Also be sure to check out our roundup of best Windows laptops that come with Windows 11!
Windows 11 version 22H2: Availability
Windows 11 version 22H2 is available as a free OS update for existing Windows 11 now. The update began rolling out on September 20 for all eligible Windows 11 PCs, and is also being offered on Windows 10 PCs that meet Windows 11's minimum system requirements.
Windows 11 version 22H2: What's new?
Here's a quick rundown of the most notable new changes and enhancements shipping with Windows 11 version 22H2:
- App folders in Start menu
- Resizable pinned area in Start menu
- Drag and Drop on the Taskbar
- Focus Assist integration with Notification Center
- New "spotlight" wallpaper feature
- New Voice Access accessibility feature
- New Live Captions accessibility feature
- New gestures and animations for touch users
- New snap layouts bar when moving app windows
- New Task Manager app
- New "Suggested Actions" feature when copying dates/numbers
- Tabs in File Explorer
- Better OneDrive integration with File Explorer
- Numerous UI improvements and consistency updates
Windows 11 version 22H2: Start menu
With the first version of Windows 11, Microsoft introduced a brand-new design for the Start menu that had been rebuilt from the ground up with simplicity in mind. With Windows 11 version 22H2, Microsoft has added a couple of notable updates to it that improves the customizability of the pinned apps area. Now, users can create app folders, and resize the pinned apps to show one more or one fewer row.
Creating app folders is as easy as dragging one app icon over the other, waiting a bit, then letting go to create the folder. From there, users can rename the folder, reorganize apps within a folder, and move the folder around in the pinned area of the Start menu. It's a simple, clean experience that does the job, and goes a long way toward helping make your Start menu feel less cluttered.
Being able to resize the pinned area itself is also a nice addition, though we do wish it was a little more fluid. As of right now, resizing the pinned area in Start requires the user to head into Settings, then picking between showing one more row of pinned icons, or one fewer row. Choosing either will subsequently decrease or increase the Recommended feed that sits below the pinned area, too.
This means that the Start menu itself isn't being resized, just the elements within it. Additionally, users still cannot simply drag the edges of the Start menu to resize it like they could on Windows 10, which is a little annoying.
Windows 11 version 22H2: Taskbar & Action Center
The biggest criticism I had about the Taskbar in the first version of Windows 11 has finally been addressed with version 22H2; the ability to drag and drop files between apps using the Taskbar is back! This makes multitasking with the Taskbar far easier and restores functionality that was previously part of the Taskbar in older versions of Windows.
Outside of that notable improvement, the Taskbar hasn't changed much since version 21H2. It's still a more simplistic take on the Taskbar UX, which I've grown to like and even prefer over the more complex Taskbars of previous versions of Windows. You still can't move the Taskbar to the right or top of your display, and the right-click menu is still empty.
The Action Center has received a handful of notable updates and changes too, starting with the "focus assist" button, which has moved from Quick Settings into the Notification panel where it makes more sense, and renamed to "do not disturb." Microsoft has also added a new "focus" timer under the calendar flyout.
The focus timer is paired with the Windows 11 Clock app, which can also sync with your Microsoft To-Do lists and Spotify. It's nice to have the ability to kickstart a focus session straight from the notification center, streamlining the process of getting the timer started. In version 21H2, users were required to launch the Clock app to get a focus session started, but that's no longer the case.
Lastly, Microsoft has enhanced the Bluetooth action in the Quick Settings panel with the ability to view and manage Bluetooth devices without having to launch the Settings app first, which is great and brings its behavior in line with other Quick Setting actions such as Wi-Fi and accessibility.
Overall, the changes and improvements to the Taskbar and Action Center areas of Windows 11 are nice quality-of-life improvements that you would expect from an update coming a year after the first one. Some may be disappointed that things like the ability to move the Taskbar hasn't returned, but I personally don't even find myself missing older functionality like that anymore.
At this point, the lack of classic functionality on the Taskbar appears to be a deliberate design choice rather than an oversight, and if I'm honest, I prefer it this way. I like the simplicity of Windows 11, and I don't want the Taskbar to become a cluttered mess like it was in previous releases of Windows.
Windows 11 version 22H2: Snap Assist
Version 22H2 also introduces a third way of initiating snap assist on Windows 11. In addition to the drop-down snapping menu that appears when you hover over window controls and the ability to drag app windows to the far left or right of your screen, version 22H2 adds a new "snap bar" menu that drops down from the top middle of your display whenever you grab an app window to move it.
The snap bar will "peek" out at the top of your screen when you begin to move an app window towards the top portion of your display before fully revealing itself and allowing you to drag your app window into any of the snapping layouts available. The larger your display, the more snapping grids will be offered too.
The other methods of snapping apps are still here with the 2022 update; you can drag an app window to any edge of your display to initiate side-by-side snapping, or you can hover your cursor over an app windows' maximize button to see your available snap layouts too.
Windows 11 version 22H2: File Explorer
There's lots of new goodies coming to File Explorer with Windows 11 version 22H2, starting with the new "Home" page that's now default when you open the File Explorer app. The layout is slightly different, with a new "favorites" and "recents" area below your usual quick-access folders.
Interestingly, Microsoft has moved your user folders from the "This PC" page, which now only shows storage drives. So, if you want to access your user folders, you are required to use the new Home page or the sidebar. This change took me a bit of time to get used to, but now I'm fully accustomed to the new Home page.
Within the Home page is the ability to pin files to the favorites area, which will keep them front and center for you to access later. The recents area works similarly to the Recommended feed in the Start menu, just without shortcuts to recently installed apps. So any files you open will appear here.
Luckily, you can turn off the recents feed in File Explorer if you find that it's cluttering things up, which I often find it does as it shows all files you've opened, including ones you probably don't need to open ever again.
The sidebar UI has also been updated with a slightly new layout, positioning the Home page and OneDrive folders at the very top, followed by your pinned and most used folders, bookended by "This PC" and "Network" drives. The new layout makes things look cleaner and is a little easier to navigate as a result.
Additionally, there are a handful of OneDrive improvements to the File Explorer as well. You can now set your OneDrive directory as the default home page for File Explorer if that's something you find yourself using more than local storage, and there's also a new sync activity indicator in the top right which shows available cloud storage and files that are syncing or were recently synced. This works in conjunction with the OneDrive flyout in the System Tray.
There's also a new "open with" dialog design, which fits right in line with the rest of the Windows 11 design language. It has a subtle blur effect, rounded corners, and just looks great. Functionally, it's identical to the old one; it's just prettier now, and that's a good thing.
Finally, Microsoft is also adding tabs to the File Explorer app, something that power users have been asking for since the dawn of time. It's finally happening with version 22H2, and it works just as you'd expect. Along the top of the app is a row where you can open new tabs and switch between them.
The actual tab functionality is a little barebones right now. For example, you can't drag tabs between File Explorer windows like you can on most web browsers, and you also can't group tabs like you can in Edge. But the basic functionality is here and works as expected.
It's worth noting that tabs in File Explorer will be begin rolling out to users on version 22H2 shortly after launch, so expect to see it show up on your PC sometime in October or November.
Windows 11 version 22H2: Touch improvements
Microsoft has also made inroads with improving Windows 11 for those using it on touch-first devices. Windows 11 removed the dedicated "tablet mode" interface that touch users were accustomed to on Windows 10 last year, and instead added small enhancements to the desktop interface to make it easier to use with touch.
With the 2022 update, Microsoft further improves this experience for touch users with the introduction of gestures that enable access to common system areas such as the Start menu and Control Center with the swipe of a finger. These are all the new gestures available with version 22H2:
- Swipe up from the bottom middle of the screen to access Start.
- Swipe right in the Start menu to access the All Apps list.
- Swipe up from the bottom right of the screen to access Control Center.
- Three finger swipe left or right in the middle of the screen to switch between open apps.
- Three finger swipe up in the middle of the screen to access Task View.
- Three finger swipe down in the middle of the screen to minimize all running apps.
Additionally, all the gestures mentioned above are now "fluid," which means Microsoft has put in the work to make it so those gestures and UI elements involved actually follow your finger on the screen, instead of playing a preset animation. It's a small change, but one that really helps make Windows 11 feel more responsive when using it with touch.
Windows 11 version 22H2: Settings
As is the case with all new versions of Windows, there are also new Settings to play with. The most notable new setting is the introduction of a new "Spotlight Wallpaper" feature, which will pull in a fresh new wallpaper on the daily and set it as your desktop background. It's a nice addition and works similarly to the daily Bing wallpaper you get on your lock screen.
The other notable new setting can be found under Clipboard. It's called suggested actions, and when enabled, will present you with a small menu whenever you copy a date or phone number, and offer quick actions to deal with that data. For example, if you copy a date, a suggested action will appear with buttons that will allow you to add said date to your calendar.
Unfortunately, the feature is only available in the United States and Canada at this time. Microsoft says it will roll out the feature to more areas and languages in the future. Additionally, the feature itself won't be rolling out to anyone on day one. It's coming in a future update for version 22H2.
Windows 11 version 22H2: Apps
Microsoft has updated and added a number of in-box app experiences with the 2022 update for Windows 11, starting with Task Manager, which has finally been updated with a brand-new design that brings it in line with the rest of the Windows 11 design language. The last time the UI in Task Manager was updated was back in Windows 8, over 10 years ago!
The new interface introduces a sidebar along the left which house all the different tabs that Task Manager has always featured. You can access your processes, performance, app history, startup apps, users, details, and services tabs straight from the hamburger menu.
Actions such as "end task" and "run new task" have been moved to the top right corner, just below the window controls. Microsoft has also made it so the graphs in the performance tab match your system accent color, which is a nice touch.
Microsoft is also bundling a couple of new apps with the 2022 update, called Clipchamp and Family Safety. Clipchamp is a new video editor that Microsoft acquired last year, and is fully web based. The app works well, good enough for basic video editing of beginners looking to create online videos. There's a paid tier and a free tier, with the paid option offering more stock footage and effects, and cloud storage.
The new Family Safety app is also a web app, which simply points to the online Microsoft Family Safety website where you can add family members, track their location, approve purchase requests, share Office subscriptions, and more.
Windows 11 version 22H2: Accessibility
Microsoft prides itself on its advancements in accessible design throughout its products over the last handful of years, and that trend certainly continues with Windows 11 version 22H2. With this release, Microsoft has added a new "voice access" feature that enables full control of your PC using just your voice. Microsoft has had similar features in previous versions of Windows, but nothing this advanced.
When voice access is enabled, a narration bar will appear along the top of your screen, and then you're free to begin using your voice to navigate Windows. Common commands such as "open Start" or "scroll Edge" work like you'd expect. You can even use your voice to move the cursor to specific points on the screen, and type sentences into text boxes.
The other new accessibility feature being added to Windows is one we've seen before on iOS and Android, and that's live captions. With live captions, users can enable captioning on any content, which appears and works system-wide in any app. What's more, the captioning AI is all offline, so you don't even need an internet connection for it to work.
Windows 11 version 22H2: Negatives
There are a handful of interesting changes shipping as part of version 22H2, not all of which I'm particularly happy about. To begin, Microsoft is now enforcing the use of an online account when you set up a new Windows 11 PC for the first time on both Windows 11 Home and Windows 11 Pro. This requirement was limited to the Home version with version 21H2, but with this update, the Pro version requires it too.
This means that there is no version of Windows 11 that consumers can buy that by default allows them to set up their PC with an offline account. If you don't have an internet connection, you're just out of luck and you won't be able to progress through setting up your PC. At least, that's what Microsoft wants you to think.
There is a workaround that requires opening the Command Prompt and typing a special command, which will then give you the option to bypass the internet connection page and allow you to setup with an offline account. But, it's just annoying that you even need to do that to begin with.
I'm a huge fan of the Microsoft Account, and I use a Microsoft Account on all my PCs running Windows. I'm not here to tell you online accounts are bad; in fact, I even recommend using one on your Windows PC. But the fact that Microsoft is trying to take away the ability to set up a new PC without an internet connection is absurd to me.
No other platform out there forces you to use an online account. Chrome OS doesn't even require you to sign-in with a Google account; it has a special guest mode if you wish to use it. Apple doesn't force online accounts on macOS, iPadOS, or iOS, and Google doesn't force it on Android either. Microsoft is the only one doing this with Windows.
Elsewhere, another issue that's still present with this release is the inconsistent dark mode experience when navigating file explorer. Many legacy parts of the OS are still using light designs, even with dark mode set. If you want to view the properties of a file, or access a legacy control panel applet, you're going to be blinded by a white window every time.
I know Microsoft was working on fixing this issue well over a year ago. I'm not sure what happened to that, but I wish they'd hurry up. This is one of those things that keeps Windows from feeling "complete." On that subject, Taskbar thumbnail previews for running apps are missing animations like they had on previous versions of Windows.
There's also a completely broken animation that appears when you swipe between virtual desktops using a trackpad or touch screen. UI elements pop in and out right in front of the user, and it looks absolutely terrible and incomplete. I'm honestly shocked that Microsoft is even shipping this animation given how obviously unfinished it is.
It's ultimately small things like this that keeps Windows from achieving a perfect score. When you look at macOS or ChromeOS, you rarely, if ever, find outright incomplete user interfaces or animations in the shipping version that comes preloaded on hardware. What the public gets is something that feels like a complete product, but the same can't be said for Windows.
The bottom line
Windows 11 version 2022 is a more complete version of the Windows 11 we got last year. It's well rounded, more consistent, and feels more stable. The additional productivity enhancements are welcome, and Microsoft plans to continue updating this release with new features throughout 2023, so it's only going to get better.
That said, Microsoft forcing online accounts even on Windows 11 Pro doesn't sit right with me, especially considering none of the competition is forcing it on their respective platforms. Luckily, there are workarounds, but this is the sort of thing that shouldn't require a workaround if you really don't want to use an online account.
I'm also disappointed that Microsoft didn't get around to fixing the animations mentioned above, and it's almost criminal that this release still doesn't have a complete dark mode.
The Windows 11 2022 update is expected to roll out in the next few weeks, with more new features rolling out over the coming months and throughout 2023.
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