10 New Windows 11 Features You Need Right Now

Windows 11 is (nearly) here, so join us for a look at the 10 best features that will define the upcoming OS update.

Windows 11
Photo: Microsoft

Microsoft’s official Windows 11 showcase wasn’t exactly the most exciting live stream event of the season, but at least it finally confirmed the core features we can look forward to in the upcoming (and for most users, free) Windows update.

While you can pretty much bet on early versions of a Windows update being at least a bit of a mess, most of them (except for you, Windows 8) typically offer enough new features to justify the growing pains. So far as that goes, you’re probably going to want to give Windows 11 a shot as soon as it’s formally released sometime during the 2021 holiday season.

In the meantime, let’s take a look at the 10 Windows 11 features you’d probably love to have right now. Why not 11? Because taking it to 11 is actually wildly impractical and would probably destroy your eardrums, thank you for asking.

Auto HDR for Xbox Series X Quality Visuals

This might not sound like the most exciting addition, but Windows 11’s Auto HDR support will likely be the first gaming-centric feature you’ll notice when you boot up the new OS.

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Essentially the PC version of the same feature previously released for Xbox Series X/S, Auto HDR will recognize if you’re using an HDR-compatible monitor and update your image quality appropriately. If the Windows 11 version of Auto HDR works as well as the Xbox Series X/S version, gamers with compatible monitors will enjoy immediate lighting and fidelity improvements that don’t even require you to dive into the settings.

Direct Storage for Enhanced Game Performance (and Possibly Quick Resume)

Here’s another gaming friendly feature that Windows 11 intelligently borrows from the Xbox Series X/S.

Basically, Direct Storage will allow Windows 11 machines to load programs via the GPU and SSD while leaving the CPU out of the process pretty much altogether. In other words, Direct Storage is what drives the Xbox Series X/S game-changing (literally) Quick Resume features. We’ll just have to wait and see whether Windows 11will similar functionality and what kind of hardware you’ll need to properly power this feature.

Snap Layouts For Workplace Multitasking and Hopefully Something More Interesting

Windows 10 allowed you to view multiple desktop programs at once via a “snap” feature, but its limited functionality meant that you often had to manually resize each program window or rely on a much less useful two-program view.

Windows 11 should address that shortcoming by allowing you to use a series of pre-determined layouts that make snapping and managing more than two programs at once easier than ever. Microsoft says this feature should help you with workplace multitasking, but we’re holding out hope it will also be useful for things we actually want to do. 

The New Start Button and Taskbar

Microsoft has tried to do a lot of different things with the Windows Start button over the years (including getting rid of it), and Windows 11 continues that tradition of messing with a pretty good thing by moving the Start button to the center of Windows 11’s new taskbar.

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The idea is that this new layout will make Windows 11’s overall user interface a bit cleaner (and honestly much more “Apple-like”). While you can always move the Start button back to its bottom left position if you prefer, this new design does look like it will make managing multiple taskbar applications far easier and significantly less “clunky.”

Faster Windows Updates (Because Everyone Hates Windows Updates)

There are actually a few new Windows 11 features designed to make Windows faster than ever, but the one you really need to know about is Microsoft’s promise that Windows 11 will make Windows updates 40% faster than ever.

While “40% faster” is a bit of a vague metric, the very idea that we’ll all spend less of our lives waiting out Windows updates is more than enough to be happy about at the moment. 

Surprising Support for Android Apps

Microsoft surprised quite a few people by revealing that Windows 11 will support all Android apps available via Amazon’s Appstore. 

Not only does this mean that you no longer have to emulate certain Android apps to get them to run on Windows, but those apps will even properly support Windows 11’s new taskbar, snap features, and other UI improvements. Now we just need to see how smoothly the whole thing runs.

A Version of Teams You Might Want to Use

You’re forgiven if you see Microsoft Teams as the new Mixer (i.e. the alternative to a popular product that few people really asked for), but it’s pretty clear that Microsoft is committed to pushing the Teams communication platform harder than ever with the release of Windows 11.

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It remains to be seen if their efforts will convince you to abandon your current communication platform of choice, but the fact that Teams will be integrated into the Windows 11 taskbar is still a pretty smart design decision. Ideally, the Windows 11 version of Teams will allow you to easily communicate with users of various other platforms at the touch of a button.

The New Microsoft Store Wants You to Forget You Don’t Like the Microsoft Store

The Microsoft Store has long been one of Microsoft’s toughest sells. It was bad enough that old versions of the Microsoft Store featured some truly outdated UI designs, but the way Microsoft would sometimes force you to use it made it that much easier to despise.

The Windows 11 version of the Microsoft Store certainly looks better than ever, but what’s really interesting is the freedom Microsoft is affording developers who choose to upload their apps to the marketplace. The new Microsoft Store will allow developers to update their apps outside of the Store as well as utilize third-party commerce platforms without having to pay Microsoft a royalty cut. That last point could prove to be a big one as it directly attacks one of Apple’s most controversial policies

You’ve Got the Touch, You’ve Got The Taskbar Power

While Windows 10 made Windows much more accessible for touchscreen users, it’s always been clear that there is still a lot of work to be done in that department.

By updating the Windows touch keyboard and making it significantly easier to access complicated Windows features (like the “snap” system) without hitting the wrong zones, Windows 11 might just make the already appealing Microsoft Surface systems more functional than ever. 

Improved Light and Dark Modes

This isn’t technically a new feature, but since Windows 10’s light and dark modes were kind of an afterthought, Windows 11’s version of those concepts certainly feels new.

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Windows 11’s dark mode setting now makes sweeping changes to your UI (including reimagined versions of the default Windows wallpapers). With more and more users relying on dark mode, this could soon become the best way to use Windows 11.