Xbox One is finally here, and that means that the next gen console wars are now in full force. But the Xbox One is so much more than just a next gen console. Microsoft wants the Xbox One to be your one- stop-shop in the living room. But can it really be? Are the days of multiple boxes cluttering up your media center over? Read on to find out.
Unlike the software and hardware powering the Xbox One, the physical rectangular block design of the Xbox One is kind of drab, but because it’s black, it will blend in nicely in most living room environments. Unfortunately, it also comes with a massive power brick. And as far as the controller is concerned, Microsoft hasn’t reinvented the wheel here, but they have carried over the basic design of the controller from the Xbox 360. They have packed in 40 improvements which help to make the controller more comfortable and also more precise. Xbox 360 gamers should immediately notice that the Xbox One controller offers an improved and more ergonomic grip. But perhaps, one of the coolest new aspects of the controller are the new impulse triggers that provide you with haptic feedback. When playing a game like Forza, the impulse triggers help immerse you further into the experience by letting you feel the hit, crash and jolts of the car you’re racing.
The first time we experienced the impulse triggers, we were actually a bit startled, but in a good way. It’s a feature like this one that helps make the gaming experience that much more life-like. But aside from tweaks and refinements, the Xbox Controller also sports a dedicated View button which is used to pull up shortcuts and landing pages for apps. There is also a Menu button which brings up options in your current activity, and also lets you switch profiles on the fly. It does take a bit of time getting used to these new controls, but once you do, you’ll find them very handy.
Unfortunately we are disappointed with the fact that Microsoft chose to power the wireless controller with two AA batteries. Imagine being in the middle of a gaming session and your controller dies, and you have to go scrambling for AA batteries… that isn’t very pleasant! Sure, you can continue playing by connecting the controller to a microUSB cable which is connected to the console, but this is still a downer. That said, Microsoft is offering an optional Play and Charge Kit for $24.99 that includes a charging cable and rechargeable battery pack for the controller. We just wish that they had opted to include a rechargeable battery right off the bat.
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Turning on a console has never been this exciting. Seriously. Just by saying “Xbox On” the Xbox one will not only power on itself, but also your TV and cable box. And when it comes to live TV, the Kinect is basically functioning as a universal remote control. The OneGuide merges your live TV listings with your apps so that you can access all of your movie and TV entertainment options at once. We were able to set up Live TV on our system pretty easily. Our Live TV set up includes a Samsung Smart TV and a Time Warner Cable digital DVR box. Just keep in mind that you will have to connect your cable box’s HDMI cable directly into the Xbox One to get things up and running. We’re also looking forward to the Xbox Smartglass app update coming on November 22nd, that will allow your smartphone or tablet to work as an all-in-one remote for the Xbox One.
Unfortunately the one thing that may prevent some users from making the Xbox One their main entertainment hub for Live TV, is the fact that it doesn’t offer direct support for our your cable providers DVR system. We really hope that Microsoft will offer direct DVR support in a future update. However, we imagine that this will be very challenging, due to the overwhelming amount of different types of DVRs and cable providers out there. Fortunately, you can still continue accessing your TV Provider’s DVR system, from within the Live TV feed, by using the DVR’s actual remote.
Circling back to powering up the Xbox One, there are two power options for Xbox one. The first mode is “energy-saving” which is the traditional model, this means powering the Xbox on and off with the power button. The second, is the “Instant-on”, which means your Xbox One can start up almost instantly by saying “Xbox On”. Instant On mode also allows updates to download automatically when the Xbox One isn’t in use.
Microsoft has carried the Windows 8 look and feel over to the Xbox One and the result is a very modern and very powerful user interface, the likes of which has never been available on a console before. That said, while general navigation of the user interface is pretty intuitive, it will take some time to adjust to all of the options and features that the user interface has to offer. It’s because there is so much more going on with the Xbox One than just being a gaming console, that there is somewhat of a significant learning curve required to get acquainted with all of the Xbox Ones features. For example, there are multitude of voice commands and gestures that can be used to navigate it’s U.I. Most of the voice commands feel natural to say, but they do take a bit of time to learn and memorize. The gestures on the other hand take even more time to get used too, and really, outside of actual gaming, they don’t feel as necessary for operation of the Xbox One.
Multitaskers rejoice! Thanks to the Snap feature, which is a carry over from Windows 8, you can run two apps side by side, with one taking up about a 1/4th of the screen. For example, you can play a game while watching Live TV on the right, or you can make a Skype call while simultaneously keeping an eye on your activity feed. Sound complicated? Well it isn’t. It’s easy to control the Snap experience with voice commands, or with the controller. And being that most people are playing Xbox One on a large TV display, they can easily sacrifice some display real estate to take advantage of this feature.
“Show me movies with Brad Pitt”. Bing is unsurprisingly a focal point of Xbox One too. It’s used to help you search for TV, movies, apps, games, and music on your Xbox one, all on-demand. But to take advantage of the search results, you’ll need a subscription to the appropriate on demand services – so if you want a music related search result, you’ll need a subscription to Xbox Music.
The included Kinect 2.0 enables motion and voice control. It’s able to accommodate smaller spaces and environments than the first gen Kinect did. Finally, New Yorkers can play Kinect without having to relocate their futon! Kinect 2.0 also feels more accurate and responsive than its predecessor. Kinect is used to interact in certain games, and it’s also used to interact with the console’s interface. Again, the gesture commands take some getting used too, but the truth is that they are really optional. You can get around the system easily enough by using the controller and voice commands, which actually feels like less effort. Still, the gesture controls are there and they are cool to have. But we find that the gesture control is the most fun when it’s integrated in an actual game.
The Kinect’s camera has been vastly improved. It many ways it’s leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessor. To that effect, the quality of the camera has been increased to 1080p with a wider field of view. That means, not only will you look clearer on Skype calls, but the whole family can sit in with you for a call. Furthermore, the Xbox One Skype’s auto-zoom feature will automatically focus on the person who is speaking during a call. The system is smart enough to jump from person to person, even if multiple people are on the video call. And if someone leaves the room, the Kinect is aware of that too. If someone lays down on the couch while they are talking – the camera will follow their face. This feature is quite trippy to experience, but also very practical and it certainly feels like a vision of the future.
The Xbox One is smart enough to recognize each user by their voice and face, so all you have to do is say a command and the Kinect recognizes and loads the user’s own personal content. As a matter of fact, it’s smart enough to recognize several users using the system at once. It can simultaneously recognize up to 6 Xbox Live members and a guest. In practice, the system recognized us correctly, just about every time, but we did have a few instances where the Xbox One confused one of us with another user.
Visiting your friend’s house to play Xbox One? You can also log in with your profile from there and gain access to your own custom homescreen, digital games, music, video content, pins, and games saves.
Speaking of users and access, it’s important to understand what Xbox Live Gold membership brings to the table. For starters, all Xbox One users can be apart of Xbox Live. This will give them access to profile roaming, saving games to the cloud, Live TV, and access to the Xbox Video app. Unfortunately, many other apps and features won’t work without Xbox Gold membership, which costs $59.95 a year. Some of these features include access to the One Guide for Live TV, Internet Explorer, Skype, Xbox Music, and access to most other apps require Gold. On the plus side, Gold membership does have some perks – such as 2 free downloadable games each month.
The list of exclusive launch titles for Xbox One include Forza Motorsport 5, Titanfall, Dead Rising 3, Ryse: Son of Rome, Killer Instinct, Quantum Break, Sunset Overdrive, Project Spark, Kinect Sports and Zoo Tycoon. Of course, there are the shared third party titles on their way, which include the highly anticipated Watch Dogs, Battlefield 4, Madden 25 and more. We’ll have more reviews up soon, as well as a guide to the Xbox One launch titles. But in the meantime, lets just say that some of the games we have been testing are crazy life-like, to the point where we had to do a double take at some points in the gaming experience.
Aside from the bigger launch titles like Forza and Ryse, Microsoft is launching with plenty of digital launch titles. Some of these games include Killer Instinct, Loco Cycle, Crimson Dragon, and Powerstar Golf. So far, Microsoft’s selection of digital tiles don’t have the same indie-style flare the likes of which the PS4 is offering, but they are quite fun and there is already a diverse selection available to choose from. So far these exclusive digital download titles don’t really take advantage of the Xbox One’s graphics prowess to its fullest potential, and instead they look more like Xbox 360 titles – but they are still pretty entertaining.
When it comes to apps, the following apps are available at launch - Netflix, NFL, ESPN, Amazon Instant Video, Machinima, Hulu Plus, FOX NOW, FXNOW, Vudu, Crackle, Redbox Instant by Verizon, TED, Xbox Video, Xbox Music, and SkyDrive. This is quite a healthy selection and there is surely a lot more to come.
And sometimes it’s the little things that impress the most, and the use of QR codes on the Xbox One is a perfect example of just that. To that effect, you can hold a QR code in front of the Kinect and that will have you instantly activating a download for a game, credit, or subscription.
Staying social is easy on Xbox One too. The Friends tile is where you can access your social activities hub. You can also bring up your friends activities at any time with a voice command. Your profile is able to show off reputation, achievements, recent activity stats, game DVR clips, and Friends lists. Speaking of friends, each user can now have up to 1,000 friends and an unlimited number of followers. Furthermore, the Party app makes it easy to invite a circle of friends to play in new and private gaming sessions.
The ability to show off your gaming skills is now apart of the Xbox One experience. A simple voice command allows you to record your gameplay to the Game DVR. Afterwards you can take that clip and edit it in the Upload Studio app. Upload Studio offers quite a robust selection of options for you to choose from for editing and adding effects to your clip – you can add a voice over, a skin, and even a picture in picture effect. Afterwards you can share your newly edited clip directly to SkyDrive, and from SkyDrive, you can share that clip on your social media accounts.
Xbox Fitness is another cool and unique feature coming to Xbox One. Xbox Fitness is intense, and that is a good thing. It’s the closest experience you’ll get to having a personal trainer in your living room – outside of actually having a person trainer in your living room. We haven’t had much time to test it Xbox Fitness out yet but we have been impressed with how accurately the Kinect tracks your movements and progress. This is another stand out feature of the Xbox One that demonstrates just how many things the Xbox One can do – and do well. Xbox Fitness will be free with Xbox Live Gold Membership through December 2014.
After spending time with the Xbox One, it’s clear why Microsoft named it Xbox “One”. This console is so much more than a next gen gaming console, it really can become the single main entertainment box in your living room. The Xbox One offers a truly next gen experience – heck, it’s practically a futuristic experience. The Xbox One interface and user experience is pretty much like nothing we have every experienced. So while you might not think that you need features like voice commands, once you have it, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it. To that effect, the voice commands on the Xbox One work quite well. Overall, Microsoft has done a really great job with the Xbox One’s U.I.
We’re also pretty much in love with the Skype experience on the Xbox One. It’s not that anyone is buying the Xbox One for the primary purpose of making Skype calls from their couch, but once you experience how neat the auto zoom feature is, you’ll find yourself Skyping from your sofa a lot more often.
That said, there are a few things bugging us – for instance, we don’t get why Microsoft opted to make the wireless controller dependent on AA batteries, it seems like an oxymoron considering that the system is so futuristic and forward thinking. We also aren’t crazy about the fact that essential apps like Skype and Internet Explorer can only be unlocked with Xbox Gold membership.
In any case, we are confident that Microsoft will continue refining the Xbox One experience and that they will keep bringing more features to the Xbox One, just like how they did with the Xbox 360. After all, if you look at the user interface that the 360 shipped with on launch day, and compare it to the one it’s running now, it’s a completely transformed and more modern experience. Besides, Microsoft is very committed to making the Xbox One the center of your living room, a system that you use every day.
On launch day, Microsoft will be delivering a powerhouse of a machine that will continue to evolve over time – but will the Xbox One become your goto machine for everything? Only time will tell. Either way, from what we have seen so far – we are all in for quite a ride.
Xbox One retails for $499.
The Good: Offers an experience that is practically futuristic – and definitely future proof. Launch titles show off next gen potential and can be breathtaking. Downloadable game selection is quirky and entertaining. Voice commands are robust and generally work well. Live TV with OneGuide is super convenient. Snap feature is great for those who like to multitask. Skype calls have neat auto zoom feature. Built-in blu-ray player. Xbox Fitness is on its way. This is a system that can really be the single entertainment box in your living room.
The Bad: Most apps require Xbox Live Gold membership. Between voice and gesture commands – there is a lot to learn. No direct support for your cable’s DVR system. Controllers require AA batteries. System heats up in use. You can record gameplay, but only as video – there is no option for taking a simple image screenshot. Software still needs some improvements – but it is still impressive for a just launched product.
Update 11/24/2013: The YouTube App is also now available