Which IS the best Insiders ring to be 'on'?

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It's a fair cop. With a dozen Lumias spread around the AAWP office, we can afford to have phones on every possible OS variant/ring/branch. But what if you only have the one Windows-running phone? What should it be running? As you might expect, it depends on your preferences and situation, but I've tried to break down the relevant factors for you below...

Now, bear with me, because the table below includes the possibility that your Nokia or Microsoft Lumia might date back far enough that even Windows 10 Mobile isn't the best place for you to be, platform wise. See my table here if you want the full breakdown of which OS versions each specific model spans.

Some of the OS versions are forced, for example if your phone is too old to now have Windows 10 Mobile at all, or if you have a Lumia 735/830/930, in which case the only way forward is via the specific Release Preview ring, but for many of us there are still choices - hence this article!

OS branches, rings and suitability, as at September 2017
  Suitable for:
Windows Phone 8.1* Lumia 920, 1020 etc.
Windows 10 Mobile 'Anniversary Update'
Lumia 435, 535, 635 (1GB)
Windows 10 Mobile 'Creators Update'
(Redstone 2)
Lumia 550, 650, 640, 640 XL
Windows 10 Mobile 'Creators Update'
Release Preview ring
Lumia 735, 830, 930, 1520
Windows 10 Mobile 'Fall Creators Update'
(a.k.a. 'feature2' branch)
Slow ring
Alcatel IDOL 4 Pro/'4S with Windows 10'
HP Elite x3**
Windows 10 Mobile 'Fall Creators Update'
(a.k.a. 'feature2' branch)
Fast ring
Lumia 950, 950 XL


* Since the end of the original Windows 10 Mobile test period, non-approved phones like the Lumia 920 and 1020 have been unable to upgrade officially to W10M. But don't let that put you off if you're determined, technical and have an afternoon to spare

** Although the Alcatel and HP phones can equally well live on the Fast ring, we've seen a few glitches over the last year, not least the temporary crippling of the fingerprint sensor, so best let these non-first party flagships live one step behind the cutting edge!

There are some implied recommendations above, for example that the low end 550, 650 and 640 range be left on production software, since extra functions and application versions that come with the newer rings might just struggle on the lower end chipsets and reduced RAM.

There's also the continued oddity that Microsoft loves occasionally holding back updates from core applications for Slow and Fast ring Insiders - the idea is that the Release Preview Insiders get to test such apps (e.g. Maps with the transit stops and timings) before they hit production users, but why would it harm anyone if these applications were also available on the Slow and Fast rings?

Are these new features OS branch dependent, perhaps? That's my guess, especially as Maps has deep ties into the OS and Cortana. Anyway, availability of latest app versions turns out to be a factor in choosing an Insider ring - who'd have thought it?

Lumia 930 updating

With all of the above in mind, you've probably made a decision already as to where to aim your particular phone, but there's also - in theory - the traditional increasing risk factor of accelerating your smartphone onto the Insiders Release Preview ring, then (riskier) Slow and then (riskier still) Fast.

Though tradition isn't a good guide in this case, since (Maps version quirks aside) the Fast ring seems destined to stay on the 'feature2' branch of Windows 10 Mobile, i.e. it's heavily based on the 'Creators Update' and the vast majority of changes are actually bug fixes, no matter what Microsoft will insist on calling it next month and no matter what 'version'/branch number it's given. So it's more stable than you'd usually get for a 'Fast' ring set of builds and has vastly fewer bugs than the other rings - kind of a reversal of how Insiders ring risk is supposed to work!

My table above then incorporates a lot of this advice, but ultimately it's down to you. My daily Windows 10 Mobile phone (950 XL) is on the Fast ring, with a backup phone (the 950) on production software, though it's noticeably buggier than with the 'feature2' branch.

What about you? Comments welcome!