Xbox One Review: A Solid Start With Strong Potential
- - User Interface is top notch, especially Snap.
- - Controller design is a step up from Xbox 360.
- - Home theater integration is impressive.
- - Exclusive games are plentiful, SmartGlass rocks.
- - Voice commands are occasionally inaccurate.
- - No DVR, antenna support in One Guide
- - No Twitch streaming support. (Coming in 2014)
Just one week after the launch of the PlayStation 4, Microsoft has sold over one million Xbox Ones in the first 24 hours, and gamers are digging into exclusive games like Dead Rising 3 and Forza Motorsport 5. We’ve had a chance to put the new console through some extensive testing and are fairly pleased with the results.
Xbox One Hardware
Everything you loved about VCR product design during the late ’80s!
At first glance, the Xbox One looks more like the original Xbox than the Xbox 360. The boxy, large casing definitely sticks out in a home theater setup. In addition, the large power brick returns, although smaller and lighter than the Xbox 360 version. The new Kinect also has a similar boxy design, but fits comfortably at the base of most television stands.
However, the upside to the large case is that the case (and likely the parts inside) remain cool during use, thus avoiding the high heat, red ring scenario of the previous generation. This can also be attributed to the vents on the left and right side of the system as well as the top. Of course, you will find the white Xbox One logo on the front of the console, the Kinect and the controller to indicate that all devices are on. There’s also a single USB 3.0 port on the left side for charging a controller.
On the back of the Xbox One, you will find an array of digital-only ports. Identical to the PlayStation 4, you will need HDMI to enjoy this console. The ports on the back include the power connection, HDMI IN and HDMI OUT, S/PDIF optical out, two more USB 3.0 ports, the Kinect port, a gigabit Ethernet port (also supports 5GHz wireless networks) and an IR Out port.
The Xbox One’s power usage is relatively low when in standby mode, ideal for quick boot ups. In fact, you can boot up from standby mode and resume playing your most recent game within about 15 to 20 seconds. Also, the Xbox One is just as quiet as the PlayStation 4. I had a hard time picking up on any noise, beyond the disc spinning when watching a movie.
If you currently use Windows 8 or a Windows Phone device, you will be familiar with the design of the Xbox One menus and general user interface. On the main screen, you will find the content window, your gamertag account information, recently used applications and a features section to advertise new content. If you slide the menu to the left, you will locate pinned applications. To the right, you will find the Xbox Store for purchasing new games or media. Navigation is very simple with the controller and even the most advanced settings are easy to locate. It’s significantly less convoluted than the old Xbox 360 menu system.
Much like a traditional computer, the Xbox One can multitask two video functions at a time using a feature called Snap. For instance, you can play Dead Rising 3 while watching an episode of the Walking Dead on Netflix. In order to accomplish this, the second application plays in a window on the right side of the screen.
To be exact, the window takes up 25 percent of the television screen (480 by 1080 on a 1080p television) while the primary application fills up the other 75 percent (1440 by 1080). The performance of Snap is extremely slick and fluid, although I’d imagine there will be bandwidth issues with video stability when attempting to watch an HD stream on Netflix while playing an online multiplayer game at the same time.
Ultimately, Snap is incredibly useful when searching for tutorial videos on YouTube. Basically, you are able to sync up a walkthrough video on how to solve a particularly tough section of a game while playing through the game yourself. I tested this out with an early Dead Rising 3 video and it worked perfectly. It also works well for written walkthroughs using a snapped version of Internet Explorer. Besides video, Snap is useful if you want a real-time feed of what your friends are doing on Xbox Live, especially if you are attempting to keep an eye out for a close friend.
One aspect of the interface that certainly feels next generation is the speedy responsiveness. There are very few times where the Xbox One lags when navigating the menu or using applications. The load times seem much quicker than the Xbox 360, especially when pulling up information about friends. I also love the extremely visual achievement interface. Providing achievements that expire after a specific time period is also a fun addition, likely to spur on competition among the Xbox Live community.
Xbox One Controller
Development paid for by the disposable battery industry.
Microsoft’s hardware development team has done an excellent job fixing all the issues that gamers had with the Xbox 360 controller. All the buttons seem more responsive, especially the D-pad. The mushy D-pad on the Xbox 360 is no more. Instead, you can double or triple tap to your heart’s content in fighting games.
In addition, there’s a new textured feel around the top of the thumbsticks, the shoulder buttons are larger as well as easier to hold down, there are two independent rumble devices for directional effects and the size of the controller is less spread out than the Xbox 360 controller. All of these small improvements add up to an excellent design.
That being said, a couple downsides to the new controller include the proprietary connection for Xbox Live headsets as well as the inclusion of two AA batteries instead of a rechargeable version. That’s one area where Sony beats out Microsoft, since users can plug any microphone into the Dualshock 4 and it includes an internal rechargeable battery. It seems a bit cheap that Microsoft still makes users buy the Play-and-Charge kit, but I’d imagine the profit margin on that accessory is huge for Microsoft.
However, Microsoft has beaten out Sony significantly when it comes to the length of battery life. While the Dualshock 4 is about 6 to 8 hours on a single charge, many reviewers are reporting that it’s been a week or two of heavy use (20 hours) and the included AA batteries are still going strong. This is partly due to a neat power-saving feature that’s tied to the Kinect. If the Kinect camera sees the logged-in player put down the controller, a low-power mode is activated. This allows the controller to remain active when the user needs it, but dormant when the user is playing a motion-control game or watching a television show on Netflix.
Kinect / Voice Commands
Xbox, do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?
This was actually my first experience with using Kinect technology as I never picked up the accessory with my 360. The experience has been overwhelming so far, mostly because Microsoft does a poor job of explaining how voice commands work. I feel like I need a cheat sheet next to me in order to access all the commands. For instance, you have to say the full name of a game in order to launch it. You also need to say a specific phrase in order to launch apps or execute functions like turning the console off. If you need a cheat sheet, try these commands out.
Regarding accuracy, the Kinect performed significantly better than the PlayStation Camera, but it’s still not perfect. For example, I’ve had trouble getting the Kinect to launch Netflix (no issue with Hulu). Rather than Netflix launching, the Kinect will push me into another application or attempt a function related to the music player.
Overall, my accuracy on general “Xbox” commands has been around 80 percent so far, definitely enough to give me pause when I have the option of the controller or voice. The Bing and Snap commands seem to work particularly well though. My accuracy was around 90 to 95 percent on those commands.
Outside of voice commands, I absolutely love the Kinect camera. Sitting down in front of the console and having the Kinect recognize me automatically is fantastic. It’s vastly superior to the Xbox 360 login process. The quality of the camera is also top notch. Everyone whom I Skype video-chatted with commented on the clarity, both audio and video. Regarding gameplay, the Kinect works just as well as the Xbox 360 version for motion-controlled games. I also love the little touches in the launch games like yelling at a psychopath in Dead Rising 3 or making faces at animals to get them to react in Zoo Tycoon.
On an added note, I can’t tell you how amazing it is to scan QR codes to activate purchases like an Xbox Live subscription or DLC. Rather than typing out those ridiculous 25-digit codes, you can simply hold up the image of the QR code to the Kinect camera in order to activate a product. It’s incredibly fast and vastly superior to the old system.
Replaces Xbox SmartGas, smell-o-vision fumes that shot out from the controller.
Available for iOS, Android, Windows Phone and Windows 8 devices, the app connects to the Xbox One through your home’s Wi-Fi rather than through Xbox Live. This provides an incredibly responsive experience that’s pretty much identical to any remote control.
Within the app, users can launch games / video / apps, check out profiles / achievements and use the virtual controller for specific Xbox One functions. There’s also some interactivity with games, but similar to the PlayStation 4, it’s limited at launch.
The most interesting implementation I’ve seen so far are updates from Dead Rising as if the virtual smartphone in the game was your phone in real life. It will be interesting to see how developers include second screen support in games in the future, especially since all three new consoles support the technology.
Home Theater Functionality
Wait until you have to explain to your girlfriend / wife that the Xbox has to be turned on to watch TV. Just wait…
As a next generation set-top box, the Xbox One is both delightful and disappointing at the moment. Setting up the Xbox One to interact with your television and cable box is a breeze, assuming both are fairly popular brands. In just a few minutes, I was up and running controlling functions on my Vizio HDTV as well as my TiVo box. Opposite from the PS4, the Xbox One does support universal remotes, definitely ideal for homes where some members of the family are more comfortable with a standard remote control over a gaming controller. The Kinect can also send out remote control commands, assuming you would prefer to use your voice instead of a remote control.
The beauty of integrating television content into your gaming console is that you are essentially always available for Skype video chatting or a quick game with friends. In addition, the Snap function feels like an evolution of picture-in-picture technology. If you are watching something live on network television, it’s extremely easy to pop back into a game for a few minutes while the commercial break is playing. With the snapped window in the top right corner, you can immediately see when the programming resumes.
However, there are some downsides. If you have a DVR, like a TiVo, there’s no option for recording shows through the Xbox One Guide interface. I often find myself defaulting to the TiVo user interface over One Guide, simply because I can schedule and navigate to my recordings.
In addition, One Guide pulls channel listings from a Web database rather than the cable box. If you are a cord cutter, this means all the HD channels being pumped into your cable box or DVR from an indoor or outdoor antenna won’t show up in the One Guide. There’s also no way to directly connect a coaxial cable connection into the Xbox One, thus an external box with HDMI output is a requirement.
Regarding video streaming applications, the usual suspects are all there with the exception of HBO GO (coming next month). Each are very easy to install and, as a cool addition, you aren’t required to enter in your login information for each app (like Netflix or Hulu Plus), assuming you had it installed on your Xbox 360. All the applications work smoothly, but I should mention the new layout Netflix recently rolled out on the PS4, PS3 and Xbox 360 feels superior to the custom Xbox One version.
When it comes to DLNA support, users can stream video from Windows 7 and Windows 8 PCs to the Xbox One, but it’s a one-way street that has to be initiated from the PC. However, that’s still a step up from the PS4 which doesn’t have any DLNA support. Interestingly, you can upload content to your SkyDrive account and view it on your Xbox One. However, you cannot connect a USB flash drive or portable hard drive to the Xbox One in order to access media.
After downloading the Blu-ray player application, I had no issues playing multiple discs in the Xbox One. Every disc loaded quickly and the menus were all responsive.
The zombie death toll has never been higher.
Interestingly, Microsoft has more exclusive titles out for the Xbox One than Sony does for the PlayStation 4 right now. It’s odd that Sony pitched themselves primarily as a platform for gaming and launched with such a limited lineup of exclusives. A couple of Microsoft’s exclusives seem to be fairing slightly better with the critics than PS4’s top tier titles, but there are still a handful of stinkers in the mix. Take a look at the early Metacritic averages (at the time of this post):
Similar to Sony’s current predicament with the PS4, Microsoft will have to rely on multi-console titles available for the Xbox 360 / PS3 for the next 6 to 9 months while developers get a better handle on the Xbox One’s capabilities. There’s also vastly more money in creating multi-console titles at this point, thus exclusives will be limited. Assuming the title doesn’t get pushed back, March 2014’s Titanfall could be the first true exclusive that will push Xbox One systems out the door. However, both Dead Rising 3 and Forza Motorsport 5 are strong launch titles.
One pet peeve I have with the Xbox One games is the ridiculous amount of time it takes to install new games. On the PlayStation 4, you are up and running in a few minutes. It took me about 15 minutes to install Dead Rising 3 from the disc, an aspect of the previous generation that has stuck around on the Xbox One. While I do like background downloading of games and being able to start before the entire installation is complete, it’s significantly slower than the PS4.
It’s like Twitter now, but with real people. And games. And profanity-laden messages from 13-year-old idiots.
One of the most interesting tweaks to Xbox Live on the Xbox One is the adoption of a Twitter-like follower system. Users will be able to follow an infinite amount of Xbox One owners and view their daily activity. If the person being followed decides to follow back, that relationship becomes a friendship. Microsoft has also upped the total friends list to a new cap of 1,000 friends. That’s a 10x bump from the Xbox 360’s 100-friend cap.
Similar to the PlayStation 4, Microsoft has included video recording and uploading on the Xbox One. Using a voice command on the Kinect, the Xbox One will record the last 30 seconds of video and upload that clip to the player’s SkyDrive account.
You can also use the Xbox One’s Game DVR app to record longer clips, then edit those clips within the Upload Studio. Upload Studio (a separate app) is very easy to use and allows players to add commentary, multi-angle PIP views and video effects to spice up video.
Those 720p MP4 clips can be shared with Xbox Live friends and followers as well as uploaded manually to YouTube. It’s a bit odd that Microsoft didn’t include more direct access to social sharing within the video applications, but I’d bet that’s on the roadmap for the console if that feature becomes very successful on the PlayStation 4. Identical to the previous generation, many features are locked behind Microsoft’s Xbox Live gold subscription. Look for deals on Black Friday to drive the cost of Xbox Live down to $30 to $40 for a one year subscription.
Should You Buy the Xbox One?
If you already own an Xbox 360, you already have access to the majority of 2013’s best games. Purchasing the Xbox One for multi-console games like Assassin’s Creed 4 or Need for Speed would be unwise. Any level of improvement between the Xbox 360 and Xbox One versions of these games is nominal at best.
Going head-to-head with Sony, there’s definitely a stronger argument for purchasing an Xbox One over the PS4 this holiday season. The exclusives are more plentiful on the Xbox One at the moment. The user interface has significantly more depth and features—for instance, Xbox Snap. Kinect 2 integration is more impressive than the PS4 camera. The impact on the home theater is vastly superior on the Xbox One, mostly due to the TV integration.
That being said, Remote Play is a big deal if you own a PlayStation Vita, a feature that Microsoft currently can’t match. In addition, the PS4 is the only console that streams video on Twitch / UStream, a feature that won’t hit the Xbox One until early 2014.
If you currently don’t own a gaming console, investing in the Xbox One now over the Xbox 360 will pay off significantly down the line. Microsoft has developed an impressive platform that will only become more useful with each software update. It will definitely be interesting to see how Microsoft continues to develop the Xbox One over the next several years.
Final Rating: Success Kid