“Microsoft puts the most alarming aspects of Windows 11 front and center, while the best features are tucked away deeper within.” But what are those superior features that aren’t readily apparent?
Yes, you’ll have to hunt for a while. However, Microsoft has strewn some hidden gems throughout the new OS, and we’ll show you where they are. We still recommend waiting for Microsoft to iron out the bugs in Windows 11, but at least you’ll know that when you do upgrade, you’ll be getting some cool new Windows 11 features.
Some of these features were discussed in depth in our Windows 11 features review. Others, such as the new Snap View, could easily go unnoticed until you come across them. Instead of waiting for chance to reveal some of Windows 11’s best features, you can use this article as a guide.
For consumers, the TPM requirement may appear to be more of a challenge to overcome than a feature to be proud of. Nonetheless, Microsoft built the entire Windows 11 platform around the idea that securing your PC with hardware helps protect it from both known and unknown threats. Using a lock on your laptop, for example, adds another layer of protection against data theft.
TPM isn’t something you should be concerned about, aside from whether your PC uses supported or unsupported hardware. It is what it is. We’re still unsure how the enhanced security will be implemented in Windows 11 machines; for example, on Microsoft’s Surface devices, you can’t turn off Memory Integrity, a Windows Security feature that isolates certain parts of your computer to prevent them from being attacked.
Undocking your laptop preserves window states
Undocking your laptop from a Thunderbolt or a display cable in Windows 10 frequently causes things to go awry: All of your open windows tend to land in a jumble on your laptop’s screen when you’re disconnected. When you redock, they’re strewn about the available displays at random. (In the video below, Microsoft demonstrates this at 1:20.)
When you undock a laptop in Windows 11, all of your open windows minimize and appear in a logical order on your laptop’s display. When you redock your computer, all of the windows return to their original positions. (In Windows 11, this generally works as advertised, as it did just now when I tested it.) I had, however, undocked my laptop from one Thunderbolt port and then redocked it in the other Thunderbolt port on my PC just five minutes before. That threw Windows for a loop, and I had to clean up the mess.)
Tips / Get Started
The out-of-the-box experience (OOBE) in Windows 11—the setup process that you are guided through on a fresh installation—is truly outstanding. The two supplementary apps, Tips and Get Started, are easy to overlook. Both can be accessed at any time, despite the fact that there are no explicit signposts in Windows 11 directing you to them. (There may be one in the OOBE experience, but it’s possible you’ll miss it.)
Get Started is more than just a tutorial; it also directs you to some extremely useful features, such as downloading new apps to spice up Windows 11. It’s fairly basic, and if you’re already familiar with Windows (particularly Windows 11), you won’t notice anything particularly noteworthy.
It’s a little different with Tips. There are countless opportunities to learn something new in any operating system, and there’s no reason to believe Microsoft won’t continue to provide them. Take 30 seconds to open the Tips app and see what you can find. Even those who work with Windows 11 on a regular basis can learn new tricks.
Estimated ‘time to update’
If your device requires an update for any reason, Windows 11 will now attempt to estimate how long the update will take. (We haven’t done any testing to see if the estimates are correct.) As anyone who has tried to transfer files in Windows knows, Microsoft’s estimated time to completion can vary dramatically, even within the same file transfer! Even so, the new estimated times should give you a good idea of whether you’ll need another cup of coffee while you wait. (Don’t forget that you can schedule them for after hours as well.) The new estimated times can be found in the Windows Update section of the Settings menu in Windows 11.
Also keep in mind that Microsoft is decoupling more and more applications from the main operating system. In practice, this means that Microsoft can quietly download and apply updates to apps like the Windows Subsystem for Linux without having to reboot the system. Within Windows 11, apps will still require updates, and you may notice that they pause to download and apply updates after you’ve opened them. That’s inconvenient, but it’s unclear how widespread this will be.
This minor feature may not be very useful right now, but it has the potential to be useful in the future. For the past few months, as part of the initial setup process, Windows 10 has given you the option of “deciding” how you will use your PC: You can tell Windows that you’ll be using your PC for school, gaming, or business, for example. But that was pretty much it. Within Personalization > Settings in Windows 11, there’s a dedicated Windows 11 Settings menu that gives you more control over this feature.
Expect minor changes to your PC as a result of turning on “Gaming”: for example, turning on “Gaming” caused my PC to download some simple gaming apps that I’d previously downloaded, such as an HTML5 version of the exploration game Spelunky. (Microsoft has previously stated that you may be offered a Game Pass trial as well.) A link in Windows 11 supposedly explains this in more detail, but it’s a bug that takes you to this Azure page instead.) Nonetheless, this particular setting may be fleshed out further in the future. Why don’t you give it a shot and see what happens?
Related: How to speed up your laptop with Windows 11 power mode
It’s a little sad to write this, but Cortana is no longer a part of Windows, and hasn’t been for a long time. Cortana, Microsoft’s intelligent, personalized assistant, is now available as an app, as she has been for a few months. Cortana, on the other hand, is still there, and you can set her to always listen if you want. I’ve turned into a basic Cortana user, asking her to do simple math, set a reminder, or simply notify me when 20 minutes have passed so I can run a new benchmark. If you don’t want to spend money on an Alexa or Google-powered smart speaker, you already have one in your computer.
Focus mode within the Clock app
The humble Clock app in Windows 11 now includes a feature that allows you to schedule a period of focused activity followed by some relaxation. It’s also known as the Pomodoro Technique, and it’s a time-management technique. The Clock app expands on this theme of productivity by integrating with To-Do and Spotify. I can’t stand listening to music while I work, but there’s something smart and satisfying about making a to-do list, sitting down to complete it, and then crossing it off your list. You can do this with the help of Clock.
Linux GUI apps
By any measure, I’m not a skilled Linux user, but the Windows Subsystem for Linux has allowed me to learn more about the Linux operating system. The WSL is essentially a way to run Linux within the Windows Terminal shell, allowing you to get a taste of Linux without having to set up a virtual machine or a dedicated device. (Unlike Windows Sandbox, however, WSL has access to your PC’s file system, so if you don’t know what you’re doing, you could cause havoc.)
Last year, Microsoft upgraded WSL to WSL2, which included support for Linux graphical apps as well as GPU support. This means that you’ll be able to work in a command-line environment in Ubuntu, but you’ll also be able to run windowed apps. However, it doesn’t appear that you can use WSL2 to run a real Linux GUI desktop shell—possibly because Windows users would notice how similar Windows 11 is to Linux in some ways.
Your Phone’s Android apps
Unfortunately, native Android apps are currently a hidden feature—despite Microsoft’s assurances that they would be included in Windows 11, they have yet to be made available. However, if you have a Samsung Android phone that is supported, you can run mirrored Android apps from your phone on your computer. Your Phone is already a great way to keep track of your phone without having to physically handle it, and it also allows you to send texts and make phone calls from your PC.
You can also keep your existing mobile messaging apps (sorry, Teams Chat) and even pin them to your desktop on your phone. Yes, you can use your PC to run PC apps, but if you prefer the look and feel of an Android app, Your Phone has you covered.
Is this the complete list of Windows 11 features? Most likely not… and there will be even more as Microsoft adds new features!