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Windows 10 October 2020 Update review: Subtle, but necessary

UI enhancements, a new browser, and more. Here's our review.

Windows 10 20h2 Start Hero
(Image: © Windows Central)

Microsoft's next big Windows 10 feature update is here, and it's packing several notable changes and enhancements. This release is known as the Windows 10 October 2020 Update, version 20H2, and is the second big Windows 10 update to hit in 2020, after version 2004 which released in May earlier this year. This release is very much a continuation of version 2004, adding a few final touches and subtle design tweaks, cleaning up the UI.

20H2 will be delivered as a free cumulative update that sits on top of version 2004, meaning the update will only be a few hundred megabytes and won't take long to install. If you're on version 1909 or below, version 20H2 will be delivered as a free full OS upgrade. In this review, we'll be looking at all the notable new changes and improvements, good or bad.

Windows 10 October 2020 Update: Availability

The Windows 10 October 2020 Update is available to all Windows 10 PCs as a free update. You can grab the update through Windows Update, and will be offered as an optional release until the version of Windows 10 you're using is out of support.

Windows 10 October 2020 Update: What's new

The October 2020 Update is a relatively minor one in the grand scheme of things, featuring small UI changes to the Start menu and Notification pop ups, and under the hood enhancements to keep things feeling fresh. It also includes Microsoft Edge out of the box! Check out our video walkthrough for a complete look at what's new.

Windows 10: Start menu and Notifications

Windows 10 Start menu 20h2

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

The Start menu on Windows 10 is the area that has seen the biggest changes, even if rather subtle. In fact, you may not notice anything has changed, unless pointed out. With version 20H2, Microsoft has started tidying up the Windows 10 UI, and the Start menu is our first port of call.

The live tile interface is now system theme aware, with tiles no longer following your chosen accent color. This introduces a minor change that's designed to keep the Start menu interface looking minimalist. Instead of following your accent color, the live tile interface now matches your system theme. So, if you're using Windows 10 in light mode, the tile interface will reflect that.

These UI improvements are a welcome change to Windows' stagnant design.

In addition to the tile color matching your system theme, the tiles themselves are now also slightly translucent, allowing your wallpaper or app content behind the Start menu to blur through the tile interface. Again, it's a subtle design change, but one that I think really makes the Start menu look modern.

Elsewhere in the Start menu, Microsoft has removed the accented squares behind app icons in the apps list. Now, the apps list just shows app icons without a square backing plate. This further adds to the minimalist setup Microsoft appears to be going for with this updated Start menu design. It makes the new colorful icons that were introduced earlier this year really pop.

I'm so happy that Microsoft is finally focusing on Windows' design starting with this release. It's only a small amount here, but I really hope this is a sign of things to come for Windows 10. Windows' UI has stagnated in the last few years, and with platforms like macOS delivering full-blown UI redesigns, Windows really needs a refresh. Hopefully we'll see more of this in 2021.

20h2 Notification

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Version 20H2 also shakes up popup notifications, which have received a very minor face lift to bring their design in-line with the notifications found on Microsoft's upcoming Windows 10X operating system. This isn't a huge change, but a few things have moved around a bit to provide a bit more of a clean design.

Elsewhere, Microsoft has adjusted the behavior of Focus Assist so that it'll no longer notify you of things you missed when Focus Assist is enabled. You can re-enable this function if you like it, but many will find it annoying, over checking the Action Center themselves upon disabling Focus Assist mode.

Windows 10: Settings

20h2 Alt Tab Settings

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

As is the case with every Windows 10 feature update, Microsoft has continued to bring over legacy Control Panel settings to the modern Windows 10 settings app. With version 20H2, Microsoft has ported over the ability to change your display's refresh rate inside the Settings app.

Elsewhere in the Settings app, Microsoft has added copy buttons to the System Properties area, which allows you to copy all device information to your clipboard in one-click, which is handy if you're trying to send a support rep your device details.

In this release, the ALT+TAB interface will now show your open Microsoft Edge tabs too. This can be configured in the Settings app, with choices of showing all open tabs, the last five tabs, the last three tabs, or no tabs. In previous versions of Windows 10, tabs open in Edge didn't show up in this interface at all.

Windows 10: Tablet Mode

Not Tablet Mode 20h

Not Tablet Mode 20h (Image credit: Windows Central)

Tablet Mode 20h2

Tablet Mode 20h2 (Image credit: Windows Central)

Windows 10 Tablet Posture (left) | Windows 10 Laptop Posture (right)

One big change that is shipping as part of this release is a change in the way Windows detects and responds to switching between laptop mode and tablet mode. In the past, a convertible Windows laptop would switch from normal desktop mode to Windows 10's "Tablet Mode" when detaching or flipping around the keyboard. With version 20H2, that's no longer the case.

In this release, when a user changes postures from laptop to tablet, Windows will instead adjust the desktop interface to be a little more touch friendly. The search bar on the taskbar will collapse, pinned and running apps will be more spaced out, the touch keyboard icon will appear in the system tray, and the File Explorer will adopt larger hitboxes.

Tablet Mode isn't "improved" with these changes.

The Start menu won't go full screen, and apps remain in app windows, and won't open full screen either. The old Tablet Mode would maximize the Start menu, turning it into a Start Screen, and force all apps to run in full screen like you would expect on a tablet. This behavior is no longer default with version 20H2.

It's unclear exactly why Microsoft has made this change. The new tablet experience is not an improvement over the old one. That's not the say the old Tablet Mode was any good, but the changes made here aren't any better. Microsoft still needs to deliver a truly new and innovative Tablet Mode experience to match iPad. Simply put, it's not there yet.

For those that don't like the new tablet posture changes, you can go into Settings and re-enable the old behavior that automatically put you into the dedicated Tablet Mode with fullscreen apps.

Windows 10: Microsoft Edge

Microsoft Edge Logo

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

This addition in version 20H2 might not be notable to some, as Microsoft has been slowly rolling out the new Edge via Windows Update to older versions of Windows 10 for a while. However, if you haven't yet manually downloaded or automatically received the new Microsoft Edge on your PC, this new version of Windows 10 now comes with it preinstalled.

The new Microsoft Edge is great. From a web browsing and performance standpoint, it's an improvement over the previous version of Edge in every way. It's missing some of old Edge's unique features, including Set Tabs Aside and inking directly onto webpages, but usage of those features was low to begin with.

The new Microsoft Edge is worth a try, even if you don't want it.

With the new version of Edge comes a new user interface and icon, which sits nicely in the taskbar alongside Microsoft's other new icons introduced throughout the year. If you'd like a deep dive into what's new with the latest Microsoft Edge, make sure to check our full review.

Those of you who don't use Edge, this will still be automatically installed when you update to version 20H2. That's because this new Edge outright replaces the old Edge with this release of Windows 10. And just like how you couldn't uninstall the old Microsoft Edge before, you can't uninstall the new Microsoft Edge, either. You can't uninstall Safari on macOS or Chrome on Android, and it's a similar case here. Edge is there as a backup if you don't want to use it as your primary.

I do think you should give the new Edge a try, however. It's based on Chromium, the same technology that powers Google Chrome and Opera. If you like Chrome, you'll likely feel the same with the new Edge.

Windows 10: Miscellaneous

Personalized Taskbar Newpc

Source: Microsoft (Image credit: Source: Microsoft)

For new PCs shipping with version 20H2 preinstalled, the taskbar will now be semi-customized to your account when you hit the desktop for the first time. Microsoft will analyse your Microsoft Account and determine whether to pin certain apps to your taskbar by default. For example, if you have an active Office subscription, it'll pin the Office app to your taskbar for you. If you have an Android phone linked to your account, it'll pin the Your Phone app for quick access.

It's a minor change, but one that I think some people will appreciate. You can easily unpin any additional apps it decides to pin, once you land on the desktop. This only applies to new PCs with version 20H2 preinstalled. This behavior won't happen just by updating your existing PC.

Windows 10 October 2020 Update: Should you wait?

The Windows 10 October 2020 Update has been out for almost a year, so at this point, it's pretty safe to install. In fact, Windows 10 May 2021 Update is already out, and has likely replaced it as the latest available feature update to install, although that release has no new features or changes worth noting.

Windows 10 October 2020 Update: The bottom line

Those are all the notable changes coming in the Windows 10 October 2020 Update. It's a minor one, for sure. The UI improvements are welcomed and hopefully a sign of things to come. Windows 10 is in dire need of a refresh, and perhaps we will see that happen in 2021.

The Windows 10 October 2020 Update begins a phased rollout today, and if you're running version 2004, it'll be a simple patch that won't take long to install. I recommend updating when possible, as it's really designed to make Windows look and feel better. The big changes to tablet mode can be reverted if you don't like them, so there's little reason to not update.

Zac Bowden
Zac Bowden

Zac Bowden is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. Bringing you exclusive coverage into the world of Windows 10 on PCs, tablets, phones, and more. Also an avid collector of rare Microsoft prototype devices! Keep in touch on Twitter: @zacbowden.

47 Comments
  • Great review! I think Tablet mode should ultimately run a 10x interface, but it's not ready yet. Not sure this will happen, but seems like it may be easier than revamping current tablet mode
  • I can understand the appeal if tablet mode would look like 10X's interface, at the same time I think that would be glaring inconsistent change when switching between desktop and tablet mode. Imagine working on your Surface Book/Pro and you want to deattach the screen to show something to a customer or colleague, and the whole interface completely changes. I can imagine especially more casual users just being confused more by it than helped.
  • Here are two "screenshots" ( https://imgur.com/a/AWYQx4M ) of what Pre and Post 20H2 Start Full Screen mode looks like and the Post one is an atrocity to look at and in dire need of fixing before it is being pushed to the public! Since 2004, it also appears that taking an <actual> screenshot of your Start Screen isn't possible anymore without the layer sitting between the Tiles and Desktop Background Image turning 100% opaque - Hence the need for me to take Photos of my TV like some uneducated pleb instead of just screenshotting it.
  • Well, the screenshot part works for me.
  • Strange comparison, the tiles pinned are not even the same.
  • I'm not seeing in tablet mode the start menu not going full screen in 20H2. Are you sure you switched to tablet mode? I'm seeing also the extra task bar spacing but I think that was there before just like the file explorer.
  • Tablet mode hasn't changed, what is new is some extra settings for touch behavior when detaching a keyboard from a 2-in-1 without enabling tablet mode. So the task bar spacing and File Explorer spacing without tablet mode are new.
  • Yeah, current Tablet Mode remain unchanged even with existing Start Screen bugs are still there (Live Tiles icon disappearing, glitch on dragging, etc). Its sad that they still refuse to make any significant improvements and changes to Tablet Mode. Though improving touch for Desktop Mode is still welcome for those who prefer it and useful for Touch-enabled All-in-Ones, since you don't need Tablet Mode on a desktop PC with touch screen.
  • The live tile icon dissappearing bug is annoying but you can avoid it by grouping tiles/apps.
  • Also I believe the Version of OpenSSH that ships with Windows will be updated in the October release. Can be updated separately via the GitHub, but the version that's installed through settings hasn't been updated in ages, and has a couple bugs that will be fixed.
  • Dear Microsoft, Subtle changes are what you do when you've made all the needed major changes. You're not there yet. Go see Avdan's WINDOWS 20 concept on YouTube to see where you should already be... as of a few years ago. Love and Kisses, Sheesh
  • I just installed 2004 today. I will - again - wait a few months before installing this.
  • win 10 2004 is a mess.
  • Win 10 is a mess.
  • So they haven't eliminated the Control Panel yet? This is one of my biggest fears. Hopefully they will move everything over before getting rid of it. I'm constantly going to the good ole control panel to do things instead of the settings app because of it's lack of functionality in a few areas. It's hard for me personally to move over and I'm trying but there are things I still need from the Control Panel. There's also GodMode, hopefully that will remain, at least there would still be a way to access legacy controls.
  • They know that power users / enterprise still rely on those functions, they will not remove them without having moved over the relevant ones so no need to worry. The modern Settings even links to the Control Panel still in some cases. MS is slow as heck with these things but they do value legacy more than other big tech companies (google, apple etc.).
  • Good review. I'm really pleased to see the Start Menu changes, they might be relatively small but they're a welcome change and restores a bit of confidence in the team's ability to make core UI changes and improvements as well as delivering features. Downsides for me are the new tablet mode, totally agree with the review that it's a sideways move. And notifications being back to an X instead of an arrow is another twist in a strange story. I'm in favour of the X icon, but want it to do the obvious thing and dismiss the notification straight away. If I'm quick enough to hit the X on the popup it means I don't care about the notification. Otherwise I'd either click it to view the content immediately, or let it timeout to the notification area for later - this is the only sensible way in my head anyway.
  • I've owned two PCs with tablet capabilities and I gotta say I almost never try to use them that way. I mean in tent mode, sure, I'll use my fingers. I'm saying (the very) idea I'd let my keyboard be the back of a tablet is a non-starter. The moment you bust a keyboard you've got some repairs coming your way. The ergonomics are too stressful for me. I'm actually surprised nobody has invented a magnetic back to protect the keyboard.
  • Old Yoga Thinkpad did withdraw the keys to protect them and so they could not be pressed anymore. Almost all 2-1 laptops also have a border around the keyboard to protect the keys, but you could always add some small rubbers at the sides to protect the keyboard deck itself too.
    For me the main issue is the weight of most 360hinge 2-1 laptops. A magnetic back attachment would be nice but probably be to heavy, considering the 2-1 is already on the heavy side.
  • Installed 20H2 update and noticed little change to looks or performance. Start menu looks the same, don't use (or need) Linux subsystem, refuse to use Edge browser. Where is the new look they've been touting was going to happen?
  • On 20H1 it's a registry change, maybe 20H2 also. It's not much of a change though, just fluent design live tiles now. The Windows 10X Start Menu isn't in Windows 10, yet.
  • It's beyond ridiculous that casting and streaming are still buried in hidden sub-menues on W10 and Edge.
  • Is it hidden, if you can find it?
  • I wouldn't call Right Click -> Cast hidden personally. Correction one submenu. Where do you want it as a toolbar button? Done it's Edge has it.
  • So nothing much of interest for me then, not that there have been since Windows 10 first came out. I do not use the windows start menu, I use a third party one. I have a tower, not a tablet, I have no interest in using Edge, copy buttons in the System Properties area is not really worth bothering to update for and i do not have a Ms account and i have no interest in Ms changing my taskbar for me thank you very much.
  • - Using a legacy styled Start Menu = Fail. The Windows XP era Start Menu was killed off nearly a decade ago and you still use it? Nothing is an improvement if you don't give it a shot. - Windows 10 is more designed for your tower than a tablet, what's your point? - Presumably you had no interest in Internet Explorer or legacy Edge? You just ignored them right? So do the same. - Makes perfect sense when you realise Control Panel is on life support - No Microsoft account... - Windows Taskbar isn't changing for you, or anyone. Put down that crackpipe. Seems like you should be using Windows 7. If you're not going to be open minded to anything Windows 10 offers why bother with it? You're refusing to use most of the improvements Windows 10 brings.
  • Why is using a legacy style start menu a fail? I find it better than the silly tile system the Windows 10 menu uses and yes I know you can get rid of the tile but then you lose the shortcuts.
    I installed the new versions of windows onto a laptop yesterday, I have been sorting out for someone and that start menu is worse than it was. My point is that any changes to Tablet mode will not affect me. Yes i can ignore the new edge, but I have heard that it can cause problems for other chroimum based browsers. But the control panel have been on life support since Windows 10 was launched and yet it is still there. Drivers and other software still it, so I can not see the control panel vanishing for a long
    time/ Ms is trying to push people more into their cloud, even new installations of Windows 10 home will force you to sign up, the only way to get out of it is to disconnect from the internet. You are right Taskbar will not change unless it is a new installation and then Ms seems to think they know what people want. I would love to be using Windows 7, or even Windows 8, with a decent start menu, but sadly they will not work on my computer, so I have to put up with spyware 10
  • I'm thinking about just wiping Pro and going LTSC. I don't need any of these useless features. I just want a desktop operating system like Windows 7, with only security updates.
  • Yep, i am lookking at doing that as well to be honest, I have found where I could get a licence legaly.
  • Does this update hides legacy Egde ? if yes then can I restore legacy Edge after installing this update on Win10 Pro 2004 machine ? I am currently using new Edge Dev build and have already added DoNotUpdateToEdgeWithChromium key in registry if that matters.
  • Yes and No, other than the Registry Key you've already put in place should block this. Why you'd still want to develop in legacy Edge is beyond me though. It's dead.
  • Actually I need it for development as EdgeHTML based Egde is official supported browser for our website. Anyway thank you for response.
  • "Microsoft still needs to deliver a truly new and innovative Tablet Mode experience to match iPad." No it isn't and No it doesn't. Microsoft hasn't considered Windows a direct competitor for iPad for several years now. The tablet changes to Desktop Mode are just to make it easier to use on 2-in-1s and Surface Pros. Even Surface Pros haven't been positioned as iPad competitors for years now. They're tablets with use sometimes touch functionality. They've not been considered outright tablets for many years now. Given that Windows on tablets has never taken off this entirely makes sense. Viewed in this prism the new tablet desktop mode changes make perfect sense. Expect Tablet Mode to eventually be killed (sadly).
  • Agreed but I think it is for the best that tablet mode will be replaced with a desktop friendly touch mode. Old tablet mode felt clunky at times (W10 just does not have so good animations which old tablet mode relied on). Forced fullscreen app also meant some programs which open extra windows (like Steam or 7zip) just acting strange / clunky. At the same time some form of tablet/touch mode is needed to show up the OSK reliably and for some basic gestures.
  • There are too many touch enabled Windows devices out there now, tablet-touch capability in Windows is here to stay. While not elegant touch in Windows 10 is quite functional with enough touch capable software to be useful. It's not nearly as clean as iOS but not much worse than Android on tablets while being more functional with desktop apps, many which work with touch.
  • the new start menu just look's horrible id rather have a windows that work's
  • Looks like you need a spell checker that “work’s”.
  • What's wrong with capitals at the start of sentences?
  • Pfft. I still haven't got 2004 on my Surface Pro 7.... apparently its still on the way :)
  • MS rolls out big updates slowly to prevent as much issues as possible. It is better this way, more stable W10 than if they would not do that.
  • Manually update it? https://www.windowscentral.com/how-get-windows-10-october-2020-update-yo...
  • Still no ability to upgrade to 2004 on my XPS 17 either. What a joke Microsoft's updates have become.
    Six months without a 2020 update on a BRAND NEW MACHINE.
  • Possibly blame Dell. Or, possibly just be thankful that your computer works as it should. If you installed the update straight away you'd SOON be complaining about it. Ms can't win either way.
  • Do the tablet gestures still work in the new tablet mode? Personally I like the sound of the new tablet mode, just hope gestures etc still work.
  • This update is working perfectly for me so far...
  • Very frustrating to see the search functionality and Timeline even more limited. If I have been working on a PowerPoint presentation for an hour, close it, then decide to open it again, why doesn't it show up in my Timeline? Why doesn't it show up in Search? Utterly frustrating. What's the point of Timeline if it can't even keep track of Office files?
  • Where can I get the wallpaper used in the video walkthrough above?