Windows 11 features already in preview: Everything you can try right now
After a few months of testing with Windows Insiders, the first version of Windows 11 finally began rolling out to the public on October 5th, and it’s now available on most laptops you can buy today. The lead-up to the launch was an exciting time, and we believe Windows 11 is a worthwhile upgrade for most users. In fact, we said as much in our Windows 11 review. But nothing ever stops moving in the tech world, and we’re already looking ahead at what’s next. Windows Insiders in the Dev channel are already testing what will be future updates for Windows 11, and there will be features available in preview for those users before anyone else.
Among those features, there’s support for Android apps in Windows 11. Indeed, this feature was announced alongside Windows 11, and we initially believed it would be launched at the same time. However, those plans have been delayed, but if you’re a Windows Insider, you can try them now. But that’s not the only feature that’s exclusive to Windows Insiders right now. As there have been more and more builds released in the Dev channel, more new features have rolled out exclusively to those users. To help you out, we’ve rounded them up so you can see what’s available to try right now.
Navigate this article:
- Android apps on Windows 11
- Windows 11 shell
- Windows 11 Settings
- Windows 11 apps & features
- Miscellaneous changes
Android apps on Windows 11
As we’ve already mentioned, the biggest feature you can currently ry out if you’re a Windows Insider is support for Android apps through the Windows Subsystem for Android. This isn’t just one of the biggest Windows 11 features in preview, it’s one of the biggest features in general. Android apps on Windows 11 comes from a partnership with the Amazon Appstore, but you can also sideload Android apps manually using ADB. This gives you access to pretty much any Android app, as long as it doesn’t require Google services to function.
Android apps on Windows run using emulation, so not every PC that runs Windows 11 can support them, and they won’t be as fast as a native app. But if you have certain Android apps you need on your PC, this is still great to have. And thankfully, a lot of fan development has already happened around this, with an app called WSATools making it easier to install Android apps on Windows 11. Plus, while there are some limitations out of the box, we have guides on how to install Google services on the Windows Subsystem for Android. This feature is officially only available for Windows Insiders in the Dev and Beta channels, but we have a guide showing you how to use Android apps even if you’re not an Insider.
Windows 11 shell features in preview
A big subset of features being added in preview are part of the Windows 11 shell, which includes things like the taskbar, Start menu, and other UI elements that are part of the OS itself.
The new Windows 11 Start menu isn’t perfect, and because of that, Microsoft has already made a couple of tweaks that are being tested with Windows Insiders. The most notable was added with build 22509, and it lets you adjust the layout of the items in Start. Now, you can choose whether you want to see more pinned items or more recommended items in the Start menu, so instead of having three rows for each section, one of them will have four rows and the other will be reduced.
While it’s still a ways off from the degree of customization many probably want, this is at least a step in the right direction. The Start menu also recently added the ability to right-click the Recommended header (or the More button next to it) to force a refresh of the items on the list.
Another small new feature in Windows 11 previews is that clicking the power button in the Start menu will now show you an option called Sign-in options. This takes you to the Settings app where you can change your PIN, set up Windows Hello, and so on.
Another change Microsoft is testing with a subset of Windows Insiders in the Dev channel is a new mute icon for Microsoft Teams built into the taskbar. When using the work or school version of Microsoft Teams – which isn’t the version built into Windows 11 (that’s called Chat with Microsoft Teams) – you’ll now see a microphone icon on the taskbar, which you can click to easily mute or unmute your microphone, even if you don’t have the Teams window open at that time. You can also press Windows + Alt + K to toggle the mute icon using the keyboard.
On that note, Microsoft is also making it easier to share content from a window during Teams meetings. Starting with the work or school version of Teams, when you hover your mouse over one of the apps on your taskbar during a meeting, you’ll now see a button that says Share this window. This lets you quickly start sharing content without using the Teams interface specifically.
Microsoft is also making a welcome change to the way the Widgets button works. Now, if you choose to display the Widgets access point on the taskbar, you’ll see the whether shown directly on the taskbar, instead of just seeing the generic Widgets icon. If you have the taskbar icons centered, the weather will show in the left corner of the screen, along with text showing the current temperature and weather conditions. If you have aligned your taskbar icons to the left, you’ll only see an icon representing the current weather conditions with no text.
Another change in the taskbar is that when you connect additional monitors to your PC, you’ll now be able to see the current time and date on the taskbar of the secondary monitors, not just your primary one.
Volume, brightness, and other indicators
After fans requested it for years, Microsoft has finally redesigned the flyouts that appear when you change your volume and brightness using hardware buttons on your PC. The previous design has been used since Windows 8, so this change was long overdue. The new flyouts also respect your Windows theme (light or dark), instead of always being black.
These new indicators also appear when you toggle features like airplane mode.
For users that type in multiple different languages and using different input methods, Microsoft says it’s improved the reliability of the input switcher (Windows key + Spacebar). The input switcher flyout also now has an acrylic background so your desktop background shines through, instead of having a flat color.
A change has been made to notification popups so that if you get multiple notifications marked as high priority, you’ll now see up to three of them at the same time, instead of each one popping up individually.
Microsoft is redesigning the task switcher that appears when you press Alt + Tab so that it no longer takes up the entire screen. This new look is actually similar to how the task switcher looked back in Windows 7, but now with an overall look more fitting of Windows 11.
Additionally, Snap Groups will now be visible in the task switcher when pressing Alt + Tab. Currently, Snap groups are only visible when you hover your mouse over one of the apps that’s part of a snap group on the taskbar, but this makes them easier to return to for keyboard users.
For example, the new File Explorer context menus have been updated to include an option to pin an item to Quick Access. Before, you’d have to go through the Show more options button to see this. Additionally, this new menu design is now available when you right-click the Recycle Bin on your desktop.
File Explorer has a handful of new options available directly in the modern context menu, too, so you don’t need to go into “Show more options” as often. These new options include:
- “Install” when right-clicking on font files and .inf files.
- “Install certificate” when right-clicking on .cer files.
- “Map network drive” and “Disconnect network drive” when right-clicking on This PC.
- “Disconnect” when right-clicking on network drives.
On that note, File Explorer also has a new option to add or remove a media server via the ellipsis icon in the command bar.
Additionally, when you click Show more options or in context menus in places like Task Manager, the highlight for the currently-selected options now matches your Windows theme (light or dark) instead of being blue.
With Windows 11 build 22504, Microsoft has made it so that apps open in full screen by default if you’re using a device with an 11-inch screen or smaller without a keyboard or mouse attached.
Windows 11 Settings features in preview
A big part of Windows 11 is the Settings app, and Microsoft is continuing to make changes and improvements to it over time. More pages and options are being added over time, and some tweaks are made to make it more understandable.
That starts with a new Your Microsoft account page under the Accounts section. This lets you see information regarding Microsoft subscriptions like Microsoft 365, Microsoft Rewards, payment options linked to your account, and so on.
In the Apps section, Microsoft has split the Apps & Features page into two separate pages – Installed apps and Advanced app settings. The former is just a list of your installed apps, while the latter includes settings such as where you can install apps from, how you can share app experiences across devices, or archive apps to save space. The list of installed apps can now be displayed in a tile or grid format, plus the sorting options have been renamed, and it’s now possible to sort by size from smallest to largest and by name from Z to A.
Microsoft has also made it possible to launch the Installed apps page by using a new URI: ms-settings:installed-apps. Additionally, the “Apps & features” link that appears in the Windows key + X has been renamed to Installed apps to match this change.
Another change is that if you go into the Default apps page and try to search for a file extension, you’ll now see search result suggestions without having to press Enter.
For PCs with HDR-capable displays, the display calibration feature is now available directly in System -> Display -> HDR in the Settings app. Previously, HDR calibration had its own page in the Settings app.
Network & Internet
Microsoft is also continuing its work to bring more settings and options over from the Control Panel into the Settings app. Now, many advanced network settings, such as file and printer sharing, network discovery, and more, are available in the Settings app in a new page in Advanced network settings -> Advanced sharing settings. Additionally, more links in the Control Panel will now take you to the respective pages in the Settings app.
Windows 11 now remembers if you choose to enable Wi-Fi or Bluetooth in airplane mode, so when you turn on airplane mode next time, the respective settings will be turned on based on the last time you used it. This way, you can keep listening to music over Bluetooth if you’re on a flight, for example.
In this section, Microsoft is expanding the touch keyboard themes, which debuted with Windows 11, to other input methods. You’ll be able to see the theme you choose applied to the emoji panel, voice typing window, and IMEs. Microsoft has also made it so that the updated touch keyboard, emoji panel, and other input methods are now displayed on the lock screen.
On the topic of emoji, Microsoft is making it possible to customize emoji that have two or more people by choosing the skin color for each person, making it more representative of each user.
Still on the topic of personalization, Microsoft is adding a new way to customize your desktop wallpapers in Windows 11 with a new feature called Spotlight Collection. Windows Spotlight has been a feature in Windows since early in the Windows 10 days, and it’s the reason why you might see different images on your lock screen every day. Now, that functionality is also available on the Windows desktop.
When you enable the Spotlight Collection option for your desktop backgrounds, you’ll see a new icon on your desktop, which allows you to view the image online, skip to the next image, or tell Microsoft whether you like the picture. You’ll get a new picture every day, too.
In its continued effort to bring as many options as possible from the classic Control Panel into the new Settings app, Microsoft also has moved the option to uninstall updates into Settings. You can find this in the Update History page under the Windows Update section.
Other changes in Settings
As part of its move from Control Panel to the Settings app, any links to the Programs & Features page in Control Panel will now direct you to the Installed Apps page in the Settings app.
Windows 11 apps & features
Microsoft is also adding new apps to Windows 11 or replacing existing ones. The initial release included things like a new Snipping Tool, Paint, and more. However, we’re not done yet.
The big new app so far is the new Media Player, which is a successor to both Groove Music and Movies & TV. This app is meant to be your audio and video player, and it includes all the basic features you’d expect. You can create playlists, see your entire library, choose where the app can search for media and so on. Of course, it has a new UI to align with Windows 11, and it’s arguably more beautiful than both of its predecessors.
The app includes an equalizer if you want to tune the sound of your music, subtitle support for videos, and more. Beyond that, you can put the app in mini window mode, which lets you control music and video playback at any time, while also letting you watch videos while doing something else.
The Your Phone app in Windows 11 has also received a big update for Windows Insiders, and it brings a whole new UI, which Microsoft had already announced a while ago. This includes a tab-based interface with quicker access to notifications. This is only available to a subset of Windows Insiders right now, so even if ou’re in the Dev channel, you may not see it.
Another app getting a big facelift in Windows 11 is Notepad. This app has been mostly unchanged for years, but Windows Insiders can test a new look for it now. It uses Fluent Design elements like the new Mica translucent material, so your desktop background shines through, and more importantly, it finally supports dark mode.
On top of that, this new notepad has a new find and replace experience. Now, the dialog is shown at the top of the window as an overlay, instead of being its own separate window. This allows you to scroll through the file or select text while the overlay is open.
Other app updates
The Paint app for Windows 11 was still missing some of the features when it launched officially, but Insiders can test some of them now. Right now, that includes more menus redesigned to match Windows 11, like the color picker and the Resize and skew window. However, dark mode still isn’t supported.
Microsoft has also rebranded the Connect app, which lets you use your PC as a wireless display for your phone or other PC with Miracast support. The app is now called Wireless Display, which aligns more closely with its purpose. Meanwhile, it’s now possible to uninstall the preinstalled Clock app.
Windows 11 Accessibility features
With the latest Windows Insider builds, it’s possible to try a new feature called Voice Access. This allows you to control your entire PC using your voice, so you can use it to open apps, click a specific option on the screen, scroll, and just about any basic navigation feature you might need. The list of things you can do is very extensive, so you might want to check out the full list of Voice Access actions here. Microsoft also bundles in a new Voice Access app that lets you train using the feature so you can learn the ropes more easily.
In addition to navigation, voice access can also be used for typing, though if you want to dictate text, using the dictation feature (yes, it’s a separate thing) might be easier. As a reminder, you can use dictation by pressing the Windows key + H.
Microsoft has made it easier to use Narrator with Microsoft Edge. There are a few changes here, including the ability to start typing faster in text fields, including the address bar. Narrator will also now tell you the position of the cursor after deleting a character, and it gives you more contextual information about the page you’re reading, such as informing the user when a radio button or edit field is marked as required. Lists of items are now clearer, with Narrator pointing out list levels. Heading and scan navigation has also been improved.
Beyond some of the bigger features, there are some new changes and capabilities available in preview that don’t really fit in a specific category, so we’re bundling them all here. These include:
- Microsoft has changed the animation that plays during startup, so instead of dots rotating in a circle, it looks like the loading animation in other parts of Windows 11.
- Starting with build 22526, Windows 11 now supports wideband speech for Apple’s AirPods family of products so audio quality should be enhanced if you own one of these devices.
- In order to improve performance for file search in File Explorer, Microsoft is experimenting with indexing more locations out of the box.
- Hyper-V Generation 2 VMs now support HTTPS boot and have this feature enabled by default.
- Microsoft has also changed the behavior for SMB compression, so that the compression algorithm always tries to reduce the file size as much as possible before transferring it over the network.
- Another change is that Windows 11 now supports Discovery of Designated Resolvers (DDR), so Windows can discover encrypted DNS templates using only the given IP address for a DNS resolver.
- Windows Sandbox, a feature that allows you to essentially create a virtual machine based on your current Windows installation, is now available on ARM64 PCs. This allows you to safely test apps and other potentially risky things without setting up a typical virtual machine. Windows Sandbox also now supports rebooting within its own environment, meaning you can restart the sandbox as you would a regular PC.
That’s about it in terms of new Windows 11 features available in preview, but of course, we’re just getting started. Windows 11 will get major feature updates once a year, so we have plenty of time to see more features get added before the next update arrives in the fall of 2022. Keep in mind that some of these features may be rolled out as cumulative updates, so you shouldn’t have to wait a year before they’re rolled out. We’ll be keeping this article up to date as new features are available.
If you want to test these features out yourself, you can download the latest Windows Insider ISO from Microsoft’s website, or join the Windows Insider Program on your PC to get preview builds. If you haven’t installed the public version of Windows 11 yet, check out our guide on how to download and install Windows 11. If you’re worried about having issues with your PC, we also have a guide for installing Windows 11 in a VM.