Xbox One Review – The Future Is Here!

Microsoft’s approach with its 3rd iteration gaming console is a very ambitious one, as it aspires to be the center of all of your living room entertainment and revolutionize gaming.  Xbox One offers a slick user interface that is easy to navigate through and consume content on.  It is designed to watch TV on, make Skype calls, consume media and as a gateway drug into Microsoft’s giant ecosystem of services.  It is built on the foundation of Windows and shares the same core as Windows 8, and Windows Phone.  Xbox one is built around Kinect this times around, and it is an integral part of overall the experience.  Kinect listens to your voice commands and guides you on a journey of discovering your favorite music, TV shows, movies and your digital library on OneDrive.  With a voice command Kinect powers on your Xbox and TV so you no longer need to use the controller when you don’t want to play games.

Design

WP_20140302_13_01_37_ProXbox One is big, chunky, and some say ugly, but its modern lines, heat dissipating edges, half matte and half glossy body giving it strong distinct look, it is designed to blend in  with other components of your home entertainment center , since it heavily resembles an audio receiver.  It is taller, wider, and longer than Sony’s PlayStation 4, it also comes with a massive power brick, while its competitor managed to not have one.  The Xbox one is designed to be always powered on, unlike its predecessor the Xbox 360 which suffered from overeating problems in its first few years after launch and cost Microsoft billions of dollars to repair under warranty.  They definitely do not want to repeat something like that again.   Because of the Xbox Ones large size, it has one giant cooling fan inside which doesn’t have to turn fast in order to cool the system, it also helps with reducing fan noise, keeping it near silent.

WP_20140302_13_00_51_ProOn the front of Xbox One, there is a bright white “Xbox Logo” button which serves as a capacitive on/off button, while to the far left of it, sits a slot loading Blu-ray drive.  On the left side of the Xbox one there is single USB 3.0 port, but when you focus on the back of the console, you will notice a plethora of ports.  All of the standard commonly used ports are here, HDMI out, HDMI input, power, S/PDIF for Optical audio output, dual USB 3.0 ports and an IR output, there is also a proprietary port used for plugging in the Kinect sensor.  The HDMI input is used for the systems televisions capabilities, you are also able to plug in your Xbox 360 or any other digital box to use with the Xbox One.  We tested plugging in the Xbox 360 which you can access by saying “Xbox go to TV” from there you can pick up the Xbox 360’s controller and dive back in to the previous generation.  However we did find a slight lag when playing games on the Xbox 360 when it passes through the Xbox One’s HDMI input port, I would no competitive multiplayer on the Xbox 360 this way, the lag would be too hindering to your performance.

Specs

Inside the Xbox one lies an eight-core x86 processor with an 853MHz GPU, it packs 8GB of DDR3 ram, with another 32MB of eSRAM.  It comes with a 500GB non removable HDD, it also provides wireless networking capability through a 802.11 wireless radio with built in Wi-Fi support.

Controller

WP_20140302_12_56_09_ProThe Xbox 360’s controller was touted as the best controller of the previous console generation, it was the gold standard for an optimal gaming experience and ergonomic feel, while having a dependable wireless connection.  The Xbox One’s controller very closely resembles its predecessor, but has a few extra innovations that are not obvious at first until you get some hands on with it.   It also improves on the Xbox 360’s controller’s only notable issue, the gimmicky D-pad.  It manages to feel more premium with its combination of gloss and matte finish, comfortable feeling texture, while the left and right triggers have a more distinct look.

WP_20140302_12_52_37_ProThe Xbox button is the most obvious visual change on the Xbox One’s slightly new design, it sits higher up, closer to the top of the controller rather than the middle.  The D-pad, which was the Xbox 360 controller’s only blunder, is much more responsive this time around and feels accurate.   The start and back buttons are replaced with a menu and view buttons The X,Y,B and A buttons do not protrude as much, giving them a shorter travel when pressed.  The thumb sticks have a slightly tighter, and a more precise feel, the new textured ridge around the pad offers extra grip, it is definitely a great addition for FPS games.  The Bumpers are much larger this time, the result is an even more ergonomic (natural) feel under the fingers.  The reason for the larger triggers is due to the inclusion of what Microsoft calls “Impulse trigger motors”, this will enable the triggers to now rumble and shudder under your fingers in certain parts of a game. With every trigger pull and explosion in “Call of Duty” or when pressing the accelerator and braking in Forza 5.  Developers will be able to adjust the rumble to be different depending on which gun you are shooting with in a game, making each weapon feel even more immersive.   The Xbox 360’s controller was known for having great battery life, the Xbox One’s takes that a good step further, and it works in coordination with Kinect.  The Kinect monitors its use, it gives it the ability to put the controller in a low power state mode when you are watching a movie and not using it.

Overall the Xbox Ones controller may not look very different than its predecessor, but it certainly feels different in a more immersive way, making a near perfect controller even better in ways no one expected.

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User Interface

Xbox One’s user interface is slightly different than that of its predecessor, the Xbox 360, as it shares the same design principles of Windows 8 and Windows Phone.   It is divided into 3 sections, the centre section being your home screen, this screen displays your most recent activities and shows and a giant tile of the last app or game you were using.  To the left is a section where your pinned apps sit, made for easy access, while to the right is the store, where you would find games, movies music and apps, there is also some featured content from the store in form of larger tiles.  The giant tile shows you where you left off in the game or app you were using, and it can also be a display of a game or even a TV program.  However, content is not as easy to find as it was on the Xbox 360, as many things are buried under the menu button of the Xbox One’s controller.  This may be partly because the user interface is very new or it may be because Microsoft wants you to use the voice commands on Kinect to find things more quickly.

Snap

A unique feature to the Xbox One is the ability to do something Microsoft calls “Snapping”, this is the ability to run two apps at once.  Snapping is achieved with the controller or by saying Xbox Snap”. Another app will then appear to the right of the one you are presently using, this feature allows a 3rd of the screen to be used by the snapped app.  To switch between the snapped app and the main app, you can say “Xbox switch” or use the controller.  However, not all apps can be snapped, Skype being the major one, playing a game and trying to snap Skype will not work, Microsoft says this feature will be available in a future update, but for now Skype is relegated to using the full screen for video chat. Skype is able in the background of another app if you chose to not use video chat and just want the audio chat experience.  When used in full screen, Skype will adjust the picture size automatically on how many people are in the room or where they are standing

Overall the UI is impressive, with its design and the ability to personalize it with your own apps and games, snapping can be a useful feature but with the snapped app using only a 3rd of the screen, it feels a little cramped sometimes, depending on what app you’ve snapped.  Some people love to listen to custom soundtracks while playing a game, this was a feature available on the Xbox 360, but in order to do so on the Xbox One, you will need to use Xbox music to achieve this.   However, you are forced to have it snapped to the side, leaving you with a smaller screen and distracting your gaming experience, since Xbox music will not run in the background.  Hopefully Microsoft addresses this problem in a future update, it is hard to imagine it not available when it worked so well on the Xbox 360.

Kinect

WP_20140302_13_02_44_ProKinect 2.0 is a revelation compared to the first generation Kinect on the Xbox 360, it does everything it is advertised to do this time around, and it does it surprisingly well, it actually feels like the start of a revolution.  Kinect not only sees you and hears you, but it also interacts with your TV and other appliances, it is also fantastic Skype tool and camera.  Kinect also has the capability to monitor your heart rate and muscle density with certain Kinect fitness apps and games. Up to four players can use Kinect this time around compared to two on the Xbox 360, and its facial recognition technology can differentiate between peoples flawlessly.

Signing into your profile when you turn on the Xbox One is a seamless experience this time around, no need to select your avatar and manually sign in, Kinect recognizes your face instantly and does it for you.  Kinect says hello and signs you in, it feels welcoming and adds a sense of ownership to the experience.

While navigating with the controller is easy, Kinect is the most efficient way to navigate through the menus, and find things.  You are able to use hand gestures or speech, by saying things such as “Xbox go to OneDrive”, will launch OneDrive, from there you can still use the app with voice commands or take over with the controller.  Say “Xbox, Bing”, and then saying “Batman” and it will pull all media associated with Batman such as movies, games and music.  You are also able tell Internet Explorer which website to browse to by saying “Xbox browse to…and then the website.”  There are so many commands you can say, and speaking them feels natural and sometimes mesmerizing when things Kinect works flawlessly.  Once you become used to it using voice commands for virtually everything, you might find yourself talking to other TV’s in the household without Xbox One’s connected to them, but you will be disappointed.  Kinect works about 9 out of 10 times when calibrated correctly, I recommend increasing the volume to ear decimating levels while calibrating.  You will be surprised when Kinect hears through a loud movie when saying “Xbox Pause” to pause the movie, even in a loud scene with explosions.  When you say Xbox, a green circle pops up in the top right corner, it notifies you that Kinect is listening for a voice command, from there you would say the command of your choice and it should work flawlessly, you may have to repeat yourself in some occasions, but even when the green circle is present and Kinect is listening, when saying the word “Xbox” again with the voice command following right after, Kinect is able to execute commands much more accurately.

Overall Kinect still needs updating, but for an out of the box experience, it is a very impressive device, the future of Kinect is very bright as Microsoft updates it frequently, for now Kinect only responds to the set commands that it is programmed with, it is not able to interpret the way people normally speak and know what you want it to do, if you do not say the given commands Kinect will not do any guessing, you would have to get used to saying the full name of the games as well.  Saying “Xbox resume Ryse” you’ll have to say Ryse: Son Of Rome, or Fifa 2014 instead of just saying Fifa.  With rumored plans of Microsoft working on an A.I. personal assistant which is set to work across its entire software ecosystem, there is not telling what the future of Kinect could bring to the living room and integration with Windows.

What’s it’s the Box

WP_20140302_13_11_34_ProThe Xbox One comes with pretty much the same things as the non-Xbox 360 arcade models came with.  An Xbox one Purchase gets you, the console and a Kinect, it comes with one controller with batteries, a headset and headset adapter, and a power brick.  Microsoft also includes a 14-day free trial of Xbox Live.

Xbox Live

Xbox Live became a gold standard for a complete gaming experience last generation.  Microsoft looks to go beyond the Xbox live experience the Xbox 360 provided, by including an integrated cloud experience, a social gaming network, and place to upload and share your recorded game content.  Microsoft says there are 300 000 servers  dedicated to computational assistance, supporting cloud based saves, offering dedicated server support for online matches and much more, with the embracing of the cloud.

If you are an existing Xbox live Gold subscriber, your membership will transition over to the Xbox One, while still retaining your Xbox 360 membership.

Xbox Live now supports up to 1000 friends, it has been raised from the previous limit of 100, the PS4 however allows for 2000 friends.  A great new feature of Xbox Live, is the ability to follow friends as they journey across their favorite games, apps and other media related capabilities of the Xbox, uploaded game clips are here as well.    This new feature of following a gamers profile feels like twitter, but for gaming related content.  It gives you a feeling of being more connected to other gamers and friends you care to follow.

Voice chat has been significantly improved with its higher bit rate, you are able to use Skype or regular Xbox live chat to communicate while gaming.

Smart match is a feature Microsoft says will improve the way matchmaking works on Xbox live.  With its new advanced algorithms smart match is able to pair players based on things like, reputation, skill, language, and even a specific gameplay style.  We noticed when our friends start an online match, and you happened to be in a party chat with them, an automatic game invite gets sent to you as well, it’s a welcome feature which be useful at times.

Parental Controls

Xbox One offers the ability to set up parental controls for your kids, it being the entertainment centre piece of your living room can make this feature feel important.  You are able to set limits to what your child can access, whether its websites they can view or material on the Xbox One Guide.  Settings this up will require your children to have a Microsoft Account, which is best to set up prior to the restricted accounts on the Xbox One.  The best way to use this feature is to enable the Kinect based sign in, kids enter the living room Kinect will automatically sign them in.  Using this option works better since it ensures that the child is signed in, otherwise they could skip that process and have full access to all of the content using someone else’s account.

Game DVR is a fantastic new addition which gives you the ability to save your favorite in game moments and upload to share with friends.  Saying “Xbox record that” records the last 30sec of your game play, which you can later edit in the Upload Studio app and add narration through Kinect,  For recording longer clips up to 5min long you would have to launch the Upload Studio app.

Once finished with editing you have the ability to share it with your friends and/or upload it to OneDrive, or manually upload to YouTube, Facebook and Twitter

Smartglass

Smartglass is Microsoft’s second screen experience of the Xbox One, this second screen experience is designed to further enhance the information displayed by the Xbox one and to provide control and navigation of through devices like a tablet, phone, Laptop, or a desktop PC.  The Xbox ones version of smartglass is a much better overall experience from the first version on the Xbox 360.  Singing in is instant, it is very responsive and provides the user with better controls and a much better UI.  Launching apps from Smartglass is easy while several games have companion apps for it as well.  The most useful function of smartglass is the ability to use the keyboard, which is much better experience than using the consoles keyboard and manually navigating letter by letter.  It is a great way to respond to messages and use the integrated Bing search.  Using Smartglass to operate the browser is efficient as well, its keyboard functionality and using it to navigate through the web page is a very useful tool.  This feature hold a lot of promise with the even more interactive abilities coming in the future, but for now, you are able to get a good glimpse into the future of how interacting with your Xbox will work from another device.

TV/Xbox One Guide

Microsoft’s intention is to make Xbox One be the centerpiece of your living room, With Kinect’s voice recognition technology and gesture support the Xbox One guide truly breathes new life into the television experience.  The Xbox one is the first system that truly make the TV experience feel smarter in almost every way.

By plugging in your existing set-top-box, into the HDMI input port in the back of the consoles, and completing the brief setup process, allows the service to work through the Xbox one.  Xbox One Guide is Microsoft’s version of a TV guide which not only shows you what is on TV but is able to save your favorite TV shows, Movies, channels and integrates with other apps  (e.g. OneDrive and Hulu plus).  Saying “Xbox watch TV” instantly takes you into the Xbox One guide

The Xbox One guide can be operated with voice via Kinect, by saying “Xbox watch CNN” instantly tunes into CNN, you can also say things such as “Xbox, what on HBO?” it will pull up the guide and show you what’s currently on HBO with whatever you were watching still running in a smaller screen and not being interrupted.  A feeling of awe first washes over you when you see the instant switching between channels, apps and games, through voice command, it feels like the TV has finally been done right.  Kinect is also supports universal remotes for those who prefer to use a remote thanks to its inclusion of an IR blaster.

Launch Titles

The Xbox One Launched with a decent amount of first party launch Titles, more than its competitor the Sony PS4. These titles include, Ryse: Son of Rome, Forza Motorsport 5, and Dead Rising 3, which are fun games but not AAA status games.  TitanFall is the game to get now on the Xbox One and I would say that this is the official start to the next generation of gaming.

Verdict

The Xbox One feels like a product from the future with its Kinect based voice recognition capabilities and powerful services.  Walking into the living room and saying “Xbox on” and having your TV and Xbox turn on automatically really feels like something from a sci-fi movie.  It makes you feel like everything should work this way, just saying “Xbox pause” or “Xbox play” while watching a movie gives you a sense of awe sometimes. This times around, Kinect makes using and navigating through the Xbox feel natural and an essential part of the overall experience.

Microsoft Services such as OneDrive (formerly known as SkyDrive) Bing, Xbox Music and Xbox Video are fantastic services that really make this console stand out and feel complete with high quality offerings.  There are many great apps like Netflix, YouTube and Twitch which also add to the experience.

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