User Interface and Navigation
The Xbox One’s interface is an amalgamation of the Xbox 360 and Windows 8. It utilizes a similar live tile design, while doing away with unwanted clutter of ads and promotions that littered the Xbox 360 landscape. In the center lies the homepage, a collection of recently used apps along with a few staple features like the friends list. The new UI also allows you to pin your favorite apps and programs for instant access, which can be quickly selected by paging to the left. Shifting to the right will take you the Xbox Live Store, which is still segmented by games, music, movies and apps.
The colorful tile design is informative and easy to grasp, but it’s not without fault. Unfortunately a large number the console’s options and features require you to navigate through a series of menus away from the home screen. Additionally, browsing the online store can be troublesome as selections are listed in long horizontal rows, which are hardly conducive to traditional console controls.
Luckily most control issues can be circumvented with the Kinect’s voice-command features, but that introduces its own set of challenges. At launch navigating with the Kinect is a mixed bag. The device isn’t flexible, meaning it requires commands to be issued verbatim. For example, stating “Xbox: Play Ryse” wouldn’t work. You would instead have to recite “Xbox: Go to Ryse: Son of Rome“. It’s easy to understand why Microsoft would do this, to help ensure that the device doesn’t mix up programs or commands; but it still adds a learning curve to the process.
That being said, it shouldn’t take you too long to get acclimated. After an hour with the machine Notebook Review was more than comfortable with the basic voice commands and was able to easily navigate between various apps and games within mere seconds. The Xbox One dedicates a portion of its memory to focus solely on juggling multiple tasks, making the device perfect for quickly switching from games to apps at a moment’s notice.
The Xbox One’s new Snap feature is also best with Kinect. Microsoft takes multi-tasking a step further with the ability to snap most apps to the right side of the screen in a mini-window. Snap works amazing well in short bursts allowing you to watch television during an in-game loading screen or quickly scan your friends list while viewing a Twitch live stream. Learning the ins and outs of Snap can be difficult though, as each application operates differently, and some apps like Skype aren’t even compatible.
Of course, the majority of these features can still be accessed with a traditional controller, but it’s hardly as seamless. To do so you will have to swap between multiple screens and options, while the Kinect allows you to take advantage of these features instantaneously.
The Kinect does fumble commands at times and these issues can be augmented by background ambient noise, but for the most part it works extremely well. Truthfully the device still struggles with particular controls like selecting specific television stations; but in terms of general UI navigation the Kinect is not only a viable option, it’s the best option.
Last generation Xbox Live was a major selling point for the Xbox 360. But since then Sony has bridged the gap considerably, and two competing services appear far more comparable at the start of this new generation.
The Xbox One’s friend list capacity has been significantly boosted to offer a total of 1,000 friends. While Microsoft didn’t match the insane 2,000 friend maximum that Sony enlisted on the PS4, it does introduce a completely new Followers feature. It’s a one-way connection similar to Twitter that allows you to keep up-to date with that user’s gaming activity. The actions of your friends and those you follow update in real-time showcasing what they are playing and when they complete achievements.
The added social elements are nice, but the biggest boon to Xbox Live is the impeccable voice quality. The Xbox One utilizes Skype’s audio codec in conjunction with a higher bitrate for vastly improved voice audio quality over the Xbox 360. Not to mention that you can fire up the actual Skype app at any time to chat with friends across multiple platforms.
Matching up with your friends is also easier this time around with the introduction of the new “Smart Match” system. Selecting the option in a game will automatically pair you in a friend’s lobby, instead of forcing you to fish for their profile through your friends list. Smart Match also issues out invites to your party members automatically when you enter a match. It’s not a drastic change, but Microsoft has made the already simple online party structure even more intuitive.
One noticeable letdown is the lack of Twitch live streaming support at launch. The Xbox One currently has a Twitch app that allows you to view streams, but unlike the PS4 players have no way of streaming their own content at the moment. Luckily Xbox One users will eventually be able to broadcast their gaming exploits to the world, but they will have to wait until 2014.
Not all is lost though, as you can still record and share gameplay clips. The Xbox One allows you to instantly capture the last 30 seconds of gameplay by saying “Xbox: record that”. Longer clips can also be captured through the game’s DVR app, but it will require you to leave the game. Once you have the desired clip in hand, you can edit it down in Upload Studios to share it with your Xbox Live account or publish it with SkyDrive.
Xbox Live places a big emphasis on the cloud with integrated cloud saves, which are synced directly to your account. So even when playing on a friend’s Xbox One you’ll still have access to all your save data. Best of all it’s available to all users, even those without an Xbox Live Gold subscription.
It’s great that the Xbox One offers cloud save functionality to all of its users, but it’s the exception to the rule. The majority of the system’s apps and features are gated behind a subscription gate. Anyone looking to get the most out of their Xbox One will need to opt into Xbox Live.
The Xbox One’s television integration is undoubtedly the console’s most ambitious undertaking. Microsoft has not been coy about its intentions to make the Xbox One the centerpiece of the home entertainment system. With the console’s ability to directly stream cable or satellite content in conjunction with other digital media and apps it may just be able to make that goal a reality.
Connecting the Xbox One to a cable/satellite box is a straightforward and painless process. In most cases the Kinect will recognize the device immediately (via its IR blasters), though you can also input the model manually if desired.
The console features its own television interface called the Xbox OneGuide. It works similarly to that of your standard cable overlay, providing detailed listing information along with a few caveats. The Xbox OneGuide works with Kinect, allowing you to change channels by saying things like “Xbox: Watch Showtime”. It works a majority of the time, but the device fails to recognize certain channel listings and has a difficult time discerning between similar listings like HBO Family and HBO Signature. Luckily you can also use the standard controller or a universal remote as well.
One weak point for the Xbox OneGuide is its inability to interact with DVR and third party recording devices. Services like Xfinity On Demand will still work while connected to the Xbox One, but you will need your cable remote in hand to operate them.
In addition to your standard listings the Xbox OneGuide also offers an App Channel feature that allows you browse content like Hulu Plus while watching live TV. The ability to instantly search across a wide collection of your media content in real-time is promising, but the lack of available content at launch keeps it from being a game changer. It’s up to the content providers to opt into the App channel program, and currently popular Xbox One apps like Netflix have yet to enable the feature.
With added functionality of the Xbox OneGuide and the ability to quickly jump in and out of other apps, watching television on the Xbox One is already a pleasure. But the success of the Xbox One as your living room command center will rely heavily on Microsoft’s ability to garner additional support from content providers going forward.
Despite all of its features the Xbox One is first and foremost a video game console, and like any other game console, the value of this system will ultimately be determined by the games it plays.
At launch the Xbox One boasts a solid lineup of games, matching the PS4 in third-party support while offering a relatively diverse collection of exclusive game titles; including Dead Rising 3, Zoo Tycoon and Ryse: Son of Rome.
Game performance was solid across the board, and the ability to suspend games while switching in and out of other apps works seamlessly. Notebook Review was particularly impressed by the graphical fidelity of Ryse: Son of Rome. The sharp and vibrant landscapes show a noticeable improvement over what’s currently possible on the Xbox 360.
More pressing for the system will be what it offers going forward. Microsoft looks like it will continue its strong focus on shooting games, as the highly-anticipated multiplayer shooter Titanfall will be first AAA exclusive to make its way onto the Xbox One post launch.
In the past Sony has held a strong advantage in first-party development, with studios like Naughty Dog offering high quality exclusives such as the Uncharted franchise and The Last of Us. Microsoft will be hopping to bride the divide though, as the company has opened five new studios and invested a total of $1 billion into games for the Xbox One. The company claims that it will be able to offer 15 exclusive self-published titles, including eight entirely new IPs within the first year of the console’s release.
Of course the impact of these titles will rely heavily on their quality, and many of them will be coming from either new studios or relatively unproven sources.
At launch the Xbox One offers a framework that shows a considerable amount of potential; but it’s not perfect. The television integration works great and the ability pool content from various apps via the Xbox OneGuide is brilliant However, Microsoft will have to get more content providers to opt in the App Channel feature to make it worth using.
The robust voice-controls and multi-tasking truly make the Xbox One feel like a cutting-edge device, but there are still too many instances where the Kinect mistakes or altogether fails to register commands. With a bit more consistency it could really revolutionize the way we think about set-top box UI navigation. Microsoft’s diverse array of exclusive launch titles and substantial investments in first-party development helps to solidify the Xbox One as a console with a strong gaming focus, but the company has still yet to find a meaningful way to utilize the bundled Kinect in gameplay.
The Xbox One is a promising start. As of right now the system is an impressive game console that affords an astounding number of features. But with some fine-tuning and continued support from content developers, the Xbox One could be the multi-media centerpiece that Microsoft envisioned.
- Kinect is a powerful UI Tool
- Multi-tasking is fast and easy
- Games showcase strong performance and increased graphical fidelity
- Lack of App Channel content
- $100 more than a PS4
- Kinect as a game instrument remains unproven
- Xbox Live is essential for most apps and functions