Welcome to the Next Generation.
It’s been over a month since the launch of the Xbox One and now it’s time to let you know how it is. Our next-gen console reviews will be as informative as possible, and we will not be giving the new consoles a score at the conclusion. I’ll simply let you know what the system does, how it performs and if I recommend buying it. I’ve had the Xbox One since launch day so I’ve had plenty of time to get familiar with the system and I am very excited to talk to you about it, so let’s get started.
The Xbox One has a simple aesthetic design compared to previous generations. Where the first Xbox was a black box with the shape of a big X on the system, and the 360 had a sleek curvy exterior with 360 degrees of flashing lights on the power switch, the Xbox One has a more basic style. It’s a black box with a little white Xbox light, a logo on the top and a simple touch eject button. To combat overheating issues that have plagued previous generations, the Xbox One has a generous amount of ventilation taking up around 40% of the console case. Don’t let that discourage you though as the system runs so quietly that you could hear a mouse fart at ten paces.
The Xbox One controller is very comfortable in the hands and the design is mostly unchanged from the 360 style. There are a few differences though, such as the thumbsticks being spaced a little farther apart, being a bit more sensitive and having a nice rubber that definitely beats the simple grips on previous controllers. The charge port on the front of the controller has been exchanged in favor of a micro USB port that fits plugs that come with most Android and Windows style smart phones, which is nice if you don’t have batteries readily available. The Xbox button has been moved up and its function changed to be a bit simpler. On the 360 the Xbox button brought up the menu and turned the console on and off. Now the Xbox button switches between apps and can be used to turn off the console.
The menu function is now handled by the menu button which has replaced the start button. In games it will still function as a start button, but on the Xbox home screen it opens menus based on whatever app or option you have selected. The back button has also been replaced with a view button, which functions pretty much the same as before aside that in a few select games it will bring up menus such as the battlelog in Battlefield 4 or community challenges in Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag. The triggers have been given a nice overhaul as well. For comfort they have been widened and given more range of motion so players will find themselves not putting as much pressure on them as in previous generations. They’ve also been given their own rumble function, independent of the main rumble function on the controller. This gives players more feedback when doing stuff like using brakes in racing games or firing weapons in first person shooters. This feature works very well and I still find myself surprised by how effective it is during intense gameplay sessions.
Some issues I have with the design of the Xbox One’s controller are the stiffness of the shoulder buttons. It took me a long time to get used to putting pressure on the shoulder buttons at a different angle and for a while I was worried that I might damage them from pressing too hard. After a month the shoulder buttons still don’t feel right. Another issue I have is that there is no indication of battery life. On the 360 pushing the Xbox button would reveal the battery status while on the Xbox One there is no status indicator of any kind. The light on the controller doesn’t even flash like on the 360 controller when your battery is almost dead. This has made for some nasty surprises at very bad times while playing games where my controller will just suddenly die.
The Kinect 2.0 has had a nice overhaul from the original design. The camera has been replaced with a nice high definition lens, and the equipment itself seems much sturdier, over the flimsy design of the original Kinect. The original Kinect relied on a small metal rod as its pivot point in order for it to track motion and balance on a small platform that – if dropped – could be disastrous. The new Kinect has lost the pivot point and balance platform in favor of resting on its own structure and relying on a lens that captures more with less space and tracks players digitally instead of by moving itself. The Kinect camera also picks up heat and has excellent night vision. If you own or have access to an Xbox One I recommend you go into the Kinect settings at night and turn off all your lights so you can see the night vision in action. It’s really cool and puts military night vision goggles to shame.
Naturally the Kinect means you’ll be able to navigate menus, apps and games using your voice or gestures. Voice control is very intuitive and very easy to use. Every command starts by players saying “Xbox” followed by commands such as “Xbox go to (game)” or “Xbox snap (app)”. Voice control can also be used to turn your console on and off, the latter putting it in a low power sleep mode that makes turning the system on quick and easy. The Kinect will also recognize every player that enters its field of view instantly. On several occasions while I was playing a game or using an app, my wife would walk in the room and the Kinect would instantly recognize her and sign her in the background with no disruption to my session aside from a notification saying “Hi Mandy.”
Motion controls are a bit less intuitive. On the Xbox 360 gestures were as simple as sweeping your hand across the screen to scroll through lists and menus and holding it over apps and games to select them. On the Xbox One players have to hold a hand up to get the Kinect’s attention, make a fist and drag to scroll, use two hands on either side of the screen to go in and out of the home screen and to open programs they must position their hands over the selection and press forward as though pushing a big invisible button. It’s a bit more complicated and it was a bit annoying that I had to take a tutorial for something that was previously so simple. However at the same time I can understand why this was done as the previous Kinect had a nasty habit of seeing players moving their hands or picking up household pets or children and mistaking them for commands that disrupted gameplay.
The Xbox One itself is both massively different from the 360 while at the same time being familiar. When the system boots up you’ll see a home screen that displays recently used games and apps. Scroll to the left and you’ll find any apps you’ve pinned and if you scroll to the right you’ll see the bing search bar as well as the game, music, video and app stores. Users who have used Windows 8 on PCs, tablets or smartphones will find a system scheme that is very familiar. This is due to Microsoft trying to make all their platforms run on one simple universal MUI (Metro User Interface).
Like the other Windows 8 platforms, the Xbox One is lightning fast and rarely shows any sign of slowing. The system is also capable of running multiple programs at the same time with the exception being that players cannot run two games with one snapped or in the background. The snap function means that if like me, you have a spouse that wants to watch her shows but doesn’t want to interrupt you game, you can command the Xbox to snap Netflix (or other apps) onto the rightmost third of your screen so you can continue your game uninterrupted. App switching has become an everyday use for me on the Xbox One as I frequently find myself switching between games and Internet Explorer or Upload Studio or snapping the DVR so I can record gameplay. It is also good for if I want to take a break from a game to watch a show on Netflix or via my cable box which is wired through my system and opened via a TV app. The best part of this is that when I switch back to my game after using another app, it picks up instantly from wherever I left off. As a side note I don’t recommend app switching during multiplayer games as you can’t pause people.
Let’s talk about the Xbox One’s apps. I am not going to go over every single app for a couple reasons. One reason being I haven’t used all of them and the second being that there are different apps depending on where you live, so I am going to stick to a few basics.
Internet Explorer – runs like you’d expect an internet browser to. Type in the address of the site you want to go to and off you go. It works very fast and it is smooth with few hiccups. The only issue I have with Internet Explorer isn’t so much the app as it is the lack of a keyboard. I highly recommend users download Xbox One Smartglass for their computer, tablet or phone (if available), as you can use your on screen (or physical) keyboard to type things on your Xbox One via Smartglass.
Game DVR – runs as a snap application. The DVR will only record gameplay so don’t expect it to record you messing about in Netflix or on the home screen. The DVR is one of my favorite features on the Xbox One, letting me record up to 5 minutes of footage from games. Players can record up to 5 minutes in advance or get the system to pick up the last 5 minutes of footage. By default you can say “Xbox record that,” and the system will record the last 30 seconds of gameplay. These can then be edited and uploaded to share with the public, friends or Microsoft Skydrive.
Which leads me to Upload Studio – this app works with anything you’ve recorded in the Game DVR. You have the option to put together up to 5 clips that are no more than 5 minutes collectively. Players can bookend 3 clips together, trim just one really good clip and record picture in picture using gameplay or footage from the Kinect camera. Themes can then be applied to make videos more presentable and give them a professional feel and voiceovers can be recorded using the chat headset or the Kinect microphone. I recommend the chat headset as the microphone is very clear and the Kinect recordings end up sounding like they are coming out of a tin can.
Bluray Player – when you first get your system set up don’t expect to just pop in a bluray and start movie watching. For some reason the bluray software is not preinstalled on the Xbox One. It’s an app that requires you to go to the app store, download and install. Once it’s up and running though it works as well as any other bluray player. It plays disks fast and navigating menus is just as easy as ever. I have one massive gripe though. Some may not agree with me on this but I find it very irritating that the bluray player cannot play 3D movies. I’ve spoken to Microsoft support about this and they’ve told me that 3D capability will happen in a future patch but for now if I want to watch my copy of the 50th anniversary Doctor Who in 3D I’ll have to use my PS3. Another technical issue with DVD and Bluray playback is audio syncing issues. Again, Microsoft is currently working on a patch to fix this, but it can be very annoying when you have to fully exit the movie and resume it to get the audio to sync.
Achievements – yes this runs as an app. The achievements app is kind of clunky compared to the previous generation. Instead of simply having a pop up menu that lists off your achievements, you get a program where you have to navigate menu after menu to get to the achievement you just unlocked. This includes when you freshly unlock an achievement and have to hold down the Home button to switch out of your game and into the achievements system. This is definitely not my favorite feature and I often do my best to avoid looking at my achievements now. As a player with a Gamerscore that is in the 6 digits, I am not happy with this revamped feature at all.
Friends – players can now have up to 1000 friends (yay!) and no longer have to worry about removing people from their list without them knowing. The friends system has been replaced by a twitter-like follow system. Instead of sending friends requests, players can now opt to follow each other. You’ll see when they log on and if you go to your friend’s feed you’ll be able to see what they’ve been up recently as well as any gameplay clips or community challenges that they might have shared.
Party Chat – to chat with players now you must invite them into a party. There’s no individual chat function anymore. Now if you want to chat with just one person you have to set the party privacy to invite only. An annoying feature about the new party chat system is that when you first start the party you must enable chat in order to hear each other. Why chat isn’t already turned on when you open a party is beyond my comprehension. Party chat is also used to invite friends into games. When you have friends in a party and you join a multiplayer lobby, they’ll get a notification asking if they want to join your game. This is both awesome and simple; while at the same time it can be a problem for games like Ryse that are two player max, where if you have 3 people in your party you’ll find that the Xbox will tell you your party is too big and won’t let you start up your match.
There are four stores, and each is their own app. The Video and Music stores are pretty much unchanged. The app store is pretty simple as it just gives you a list of apps and you pick the one you want. The games store can be a nightmare however, as it’s very clunky in design and not very well organized. There’s no sense of order to the game store at all in fact. There’s no alphabetical listing and there’s no listing by genre either. You just have to dig through a mess of games and pick out the one you want. This isn’t a huge problem right now as there aren’t that many games available on the system yet, but once the titles start rolling out, Microsoft had better have this organized or they’ll start hearing about it from their customers.
To conclude this review I can happily say that the Xbox One is a well-rounded and simple to use system. It does have its issues but those can be fixed with software updates and patches. There are some apps that don’t quite seem to work yet though. The friends list is well put together but the party system doesn’t really work as well as I’d like. Players also do not have the option to send voice messages to friends anymore. The game store is a nightmare to navigate but luckily you can find most of what you are looking for using voice search, and inviting friends to games can be a bit of a pain. Looking up your achievements can be rage inducing so I wouldn’t recommend checking them during multiplayer games. For the most part though, the system works and plays beautifully with barely a hiccup. Every now and then the system will crash out of games and once in a blue moon it will lock up, but these problems can easily be solved by power cycling the system. If you love gaming and want to keep up with the latest generation, then this is the console for you.