Xbox One – Reviewed
“Xbox on.” A soft white light emanates from a long rectangular box dominating the space in my television cabinet. A flash of blue comes up on my TV with the words ‘Hi Will!’ as the Xbox One greets me while I sit down for a session. The Xbox One’s new interface comes onto the screen to greet you. This system with so many technological features is one that could be sitting in our living room for the next decade – but does it deliver on the promises of value, or will it simply be taking up more space in the entertainment centre than anything else you own?
The Xbox One’s two-toned gloss and matte black casing features a thin gunmetal grey line that marks the disc opening. The new Xbox One is much more massive that the Xbox 360 slim, and notably larger than the PlayStation 4. While aesthetically pleasing, one complaint is that the USB ports have been relocated to the back of the device, which makes accessing them inconvenient when stashed inside of an entertainment centre. The Kinect sensor is slightly more compact, but much heavier than its predecessor, and its lack of tilt functions is compensated by a wider viewing camera that’s capable of maintaining a larger viewing area at the same distance as the Kinect 1.0. The microphone array is more prominent in the new design and appears to have been improved upon greatly as we didn’t have nearly the issues with setting up the device in a room with high acoustics as we did when we first set up the previous gen in our new location. Low light facial recognition works exceptionally well too, recognizing both my wife and I as we sat down on the couch, and even seemed to recognize who had the controller.
The controller, too, has received some tender loving care, as its slightly more compact design features a less prominent battery pack, along with bumpers and triggers that are more easily accessed from a natural resting position. The D-pad has received a lot of attention with lower action buttons for quicker reactions, and sits inside of a cross instead of the round-button setup like the prior design had. Sony will definitely have more competition in the fighting arena with this new controller, as it seems to handle very nicely with games like Killer Instinct.
This tiled layout of the interface is different than the one you find on the Xbox 360; it features the more refined look of the Windows 8 UI, but with a lot more black and a bit more customizability than its predecessor. Configuring my account once the console was brought online was fairly easy, taking only about ten minutes to fully configure all of my features. One thing that I really enjoyed about the profile setup was the ability to synchronize my video purchases and have them available on the new console within minutes. The new console also has the ability to set your avatar into specific poses, which makes getting those goofy gamer pictures easier than the old system. Strangely absent are the themed backgrounds of the old system. While you can change the color of the tile, you can’t seem to add in themed backgrounds to the console like the 360 days, which makes the Xbox One experience a bit less personal.
The menus have been reduced to just three headings: Pins, Home, and Store. Pins is where you can customize your experience by pinning apps and games to it. Unfortunately, the ability to pin specific TV shows, movies, or music is currently unavailable. You can pin at least 15 apps to your pins area, but after that I became bored with pinning, so I gave up on trying to find a limit. The Home menu, however, is where you’ll be spending the bulk of your time. This central area keeps your most commonly used apps and games, along with your profile and whatever application you have open in a single place for you to access. Finally, the Store is where you can hit the Xbox Live Marketplace for all your games, movies, TV shows, music, and applications. In the upper left corner of your screen is your notification area and what users are logged into the device.
Voice command via Kinect 2.0 is much more refined, featuring many additions that gamers wanted to see in the previous iteration such as the ability to turn the Xbox on and off with only your voice. A myriad of additional commands allow for snapping applications into your window, starting and stopping the DVR along with the standard navigation command set that you had previously. Snap, which is a cool feature much like its Windows 8 counterpart, heavily relies on Kinect 2.0, but using it is somewhat sloppy in execution as you find yourself constantly switching back and forth with some apps like the Game DVR.
Another welcome (albeit basic) feature is Game DVR, which gives gamers the ability to record their video game conquests out of the box without additional hardware, but its five-minute time limit is problematic. At least with PS4’s 15-minute capture functionality, you can get a full race in on GT6 when it comes out. Furthermore, PS4’s game cap function is always on, so you never have to remember to turn it on, or wind up missing out on an epic kill because you forgot. Also, videos appear limited to resolutions of 720P. Not very forward-thinking on technology if your console is going to last for a decade and 4K resolution is already on the market.
Yet, compared to the PlayStation 4’s offering of applications, there appears to be a massive number of apps available for download on the Xbox One at launch. Netflix, YouTube, Skype, NFL grace the app stations for you to download. On closer examination, however, you’ll find the app marketplace also includes things like Blu-ray Player and Audio CD Player. Even apps that pop up by default in your pins menu such as Skype or Xbox Music aren’t actually installed, so while there is a lot in the marketplace to choose from, a lot of it is filler for functions that should be installed out-of-the-box. Canadians might not be happy to see that there is no NHL app or Hockey Night in Canada, meaning that we’ll be getting our hockey fix on the PS4.
Overall, the Microsoft’s third-gen baby has a lot to offer out-of-the-box in its launch cycle, but there are plenty of improvements to be made. From the perspective of a core gaming console, the Xbox One lives up to, and exceeds, expectations. But if dominating every device in the living room is their end goal, they’ve still got a long way to go.
***EDITOR’S NOTE*** – This is part responsible disclosure and part shout out. Our first console was actually failed out of the box with the ‘green screen of death’. I would like to thank the manager of our EB Games just north of Yonge and Eglinton in Toronto for calling and waking up their district manager, who personally went to the warehouse and hand delivered a unit back to the store for us to exchange. I’m not even entirely sure that they’ve ever read our website, but I’d like to think that this level of service excellence is something that they strive for with every paying customer.
We’d also like to thank Xbox Support for staying on the phone literally for hours troubleshooting the device until we finally had to call it as DOA. Your service and dedication are appreciated by us gamers.
And finally, I’d like to thank Xbox Canada’s PR handler, Evan, who followed up with us to make sure that we had everything that we needed to be operational.
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