Windows 11 File Explorer: An Honest Review

Windows 11 has brought quite a few changes. While the underlying functionality remains identical to Windows 10, the new version of Windows looks and works slightly differently than before.

The main focus of the new Windows update is the user interface (UI). Microsoft has learned from the Windows 8 debacle and has worked to simplify and streamline the interface, making it easier to navigate than ever before.

Nowhere is this new design philosophy more apparent than in the revamped Windows 11 File Explorer. One of the most used apps for any user, the default Windows File Explorer has had a complete overhaul. But do the changes improve or diminish the original? Let’s see.

A brand new look

The first thing you notice when opening the File Explorer is a brand new look. all the icons have been redone, giving the entire window a cleaner, sharper look.

The top ribbon has been drastically reduced in size and become more complex, retaining just a handful of icons instead of a ton of text on a line. This house cleaning was a long time ago and helps to keep the interface uncluttered.

You can of course still access the rest of the options by pulling down the three-dot menu.

Dynamic layout

You will also notice variable views in different panes. Previously, the default view was Details and you could select other views from the top ribbon. While it worked, it was annoying to juggle between views for different types of folders.

However, the default layout changes automatically for different types of folders. For example, opening Downloads gives you the good old Details view.

But switch to Images and the layout will change to better reflect the visual nature of the map.

This may not seem like much (because you can still change the views from the top), but it makes the presentation more intuitive by default.

Simplified context menu

Another major change you’ll notice is the reworked context menu. In Windows 10 and earlier, right-clicking anywhere in File Explorer created a laundry list of options. Now you get a much more streamlined menu, with fewer, more useful options displayed.

Note the small row of icons at the top of the context menu. Common options such as Cut, Copy, Rename, and Delete are displayed as icons to save space and reduce visual clutter. The other options also get similar icons, making it easier to find each option at a glance. And for those confused with no labels, hovering over an icon displays its name and hotkey.

That’s not all. If you copy a file and then right-click on the empty space in a folder, you will get another context menu with the paste option. In the Windows 11 File Explorer, the Paste icon is moved closer to where you clicked, leaving the context menu itself in the center of the screen.

For example, right-clicking at the top of the screen will bring up a menu like the one in the image below.

As you can see, the Paste icon is at the top. But if we right click to the bottom, the icon also shifts.

teething problems

For the most part, the new Windows 11 File Explorer works like a dream. Everything is much more streamlined, making it easier to recognize the options you need. But the emphasis on removing text labels and replacing everything with icons can be confusing at first.

The context-sensitive Paste icon, for example, will put off experienced Windows users by its unexpected location. Many other options have been removed from the menus and can only be accessed by selecting Show more options.

However, to be fair, these are just minor issues that will go away with time. The interface is certainly more intuitive than before and handily manages the growing list of customization options that clutter the interface.

Is the new Windows 11 File Explorer worth the upgrade?

A new version of the Windows operating system is released every few years. When things change too much, it’s tedious to relearn everything. In fact, if it changes too little, there’s little reason to upgrade.

Windows 11 hits a sweet spot. The new features tend to focus on aesthetics and performance rather than creating a new wholesale experience. From the new start menu to the taskbar, everything looks much better. There are obvious influences from Apple, with the color scheme and rounded corners making it look a lot like Mac, but no one is complaining.

The file explorer in particular has come out better. Gone are the cluttered menus that are hard to understand, in favor of consolidated options. Gone are a ton of text menu items, replaced by easier-to-read graphical icons. The new icons are also simpler and cleaner, in keeping with the general paradigm of keeping things organized.

The essential app has been improved in all the ways that matter and a few that aren’t immediately obvious. Getting used to some of the new changes can be jarring at first, but not much of a challenge. Overall, if nothing else, we highly recommend upgrading to Windows 11 for the new File Explorer.

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