Xbox One: Two Weeks In
We are two weeks in with Microsoft’s next generation console, the Xbox One, and it has been some experience so far. From the first reveal earlier this year, you can tell Microsoft had a clear vision with their new console being as they advertise it, “the all-in-one entertainment system.” Sure, there has been many speed bumps along the way to last month’s launch such as the 180 turns on DRM policies, always online, shakeups within the Xbox team, and more, but they were still able to have a successful one with a million units sold within the first week. While the games will be talked about in reviews and other means, let’s go over how the Xbox One’s UI and other features are shaping up so far.
First of all, the current Xbox One package comes with a 500GB hard drive, the new and improved Kinect, which I’ll talk more in a bit, wireless controller, headset, HDMI cable, a new power brick reminiscent of the 360 one, and a 2-week Xbox Live trial. The $500 price still may be asking too much for now, but the new Kinect and its uses with the UI are enough of a selling point to be worth the extra $100 along with some games to take full advantage of it. Initial setting up the console was pretty simple and did not take too long even with the day one update on launch day. While there are display settings for the system to accommodate your television setup, the TV I have the console hooked to still has an aspect ratio issue similar to the Wii U where the whole screen doesn't fit. Hopefully, you can manually adjust the screen to fit your TV in a future update.
If you’re familiar with Windows 8’s metro-like UI, you’ll be right at home with the Xbox One’s UI because it is pretty much the same thing. Navigating around the menus with the controller feel fine, but it is much faster with Kinect voice commands. Even though it has recognize a set of phrases, the voice commands do work most of the time from my experience so far. Sometimes, it will pull up the wrong thing when asked to do so, but it has not that much issue personally for me. The more Kinect recognizes the same commands, it gets used to it every time you say them such as launching a game or turning the system off. Now, some might say the menus are pretty cluttered as all your apps/games are in one area since the console will recognize your recently used things on the main home screen, but this is also where voice commands come in to make things easier. There is a pins section on the left of the home screen where you can access your favorite or more frequently used apps/games easier with the controller, but Kinect basically makes those useless.
The store section of the UI is pretty straightforward with sub-sections for new game releases, DLC, movies, music, and more. Search for certain things can be done normally or by voice thanks to Bing. While the 25-digit code system made the transition to the new console, QR codes are also available to noticed by the Kinect sensor. I hope more companies besides Microsoft takes advantage of QR codes for their games and/or DLC because it is way simpler method than inputting the long code we’re used on 360, PS3, and PS4. The whole launch lineup is available for digital purchase if you don’t feel like buying them at retailers with discs anymore, so hopefully every game in the future is out at the same time digitally than at retail on the Xbox One since the last couple years of the 360 did not have that.
Besides the Kinect voice commands, my favorite and most used feature on the Xbox One are the multitasking functionalities. I had a feeling multitasking between games and apps is gonna be one of big things we’ll see in this next generation as Microsoft have done a great job making this one of the system’s big selling points. Switching from a game to an app, live TV, etc. on the fly feels pretty satisfying. One game (doesn't matter if it is running from the disc or digitally) can only be run while multitasking between other things and that is fine. The more important multitasking feature I frequently use is the Snap feature (pictured below). You can snap an app or live TV while playing a game as your TV screen goes picture-in-picture. A personal example for me since day one is grinding out Forza
races while having a football or basketball game on the Snap side. I also snap the Twitch app a lot on the side as well and luckily it does not compromise online play, so I’ll be playing a Killer Instinct
online match and the Twitch stream on the side is running smoothly as well. My main gripe with the Snap feature, however, is switching control between a game and whatever is snapped constantly by voice, specifically Twitch streams where they stop for no reason. It becomes a hassle to say “Xbox Switch” numerous times to bring back the stream you want to watch.
Besides that issue, the Snap feature on the Xbox One works beautifully even though not all the apps out now have it integrated. While live TV, NFL, Netflix, movies, music, Internet Explorer, and more can be snapped in, other key apps such as YouTube and Skype don’t have that integrated in yet even though it can be included in a future update. Skype not having snap integration at launch is pretty disappointing considering it is the premier video chat app on Microsoft’s new console. Perhaps Microsoft’s purchase of them is not paying off so far? Keep in mind also that I haven’t messed around every app out on the system so far as of the publishing of this, but it is safe to assume these are functional for the most part. One thing I’ll say about the NFL app is that better have NFL Network on your cable box because that app is disappointingly useless without it along with the lack of more fantasy football options for those into that.
One of the big elements of the Xbox One Microsoft is banking big for the next few years is the television experience. Live TV is a big component of the console’s entertainment experience besides watching movies and listening to music. The extra HDMI in slot on the back of the box is the key to all of this to work on one input and so far it indeed works as advertised. After setting up your TV to the console such as which cable service you’re providing and testing voice commands, watching live TV on the Xbox One feels great. You can change channels with your voice thanks to Kinect, but it has recognize the exact channel name than the channel number. Plus, the common cable channels are pretty much noticed easily by voice, but the uncommon ones will vary by experience. The Xbox OneGuide is also available to check what’s on as well. Much like the UI commands, changing channels via voice feels great, but it can sometimes recognize the whole channel if you don’t say it right. If you plan taking advantage of the live TV stuff, then that is one more reason the Xbox One is worth getting.
I have been mentioning how the Kinect voice commands have been great with my Xbox One setup so far, but how’s the actual Kinect sensor itself? This is arguably why the Xbox One costs $100 more than the Playstation 4 and I do think the Kinect is indeed worth it. Microsoft made the right call including it on all consoles at launch because it is indeed night and day how useful it is controlling menus than navigating them with the controller. Just saying “Xbox On” and the console turns on along with your TV is pretty cool and shows great signs of the future. Of course, the Kinect doesn't work 100% of the time as mentioned earlier, so hopefully you won’t get embarrassed in front of family and friends trying to demo the console in front of them as some have admitted on social networks.
Another feature I tinkered around a bit since launch is the game DVR system. Saying “Xbox record that” records the last 30 seconds of your game in action and you edit them in the Upload Studio app. What is convoluted about this whole system is the fact there’s two separate apps for this. There’s Upload you can see your saved clips that can be uploaded to the cloud (SkyDrive in other words) and your friends’ clips as well and then the Upload Studio is where you edit your clips. Sometimes the console automatically records clips if you perform certain achievements as well. I wish these apps can just combine into one in the future because two apps for it can make things a bit confusing for some.
As many positive things I can say about my experience with the Xbox One so far, especially with all the entertainment and multitasking features, the most flawed aspect of Microsoft’s new console has been it’s friends, party, and invite systems. It seems like with all the focus to making the features I just mentioned work well, what worked on the Xbox 360 in terms of notifications, inviting friends to play games, and the party system took a big back seat to everything else. The recurring term “180” can also apply to these systems which is a major disappointment. Inviting friends to play games such as Killer Instinct
and Forza 5
are a pain to deal with because you invite them into the party first. It is not as simple back on the 360 where accepting a game invite from a friend goes straight into the assigned lobby. Now with the Xbox One at it’s current state, more steps to have to be made just to play games with friends making things way more complicated than it should. All of this should not have been changed in the first place since it worked so well the first time around.
Adding along to the friend/party/invite system issues, pressing the Xbox button goes back to the home screen instead of some blades like the 360 had. If there was something I wish Microsoft can bring back in a future firmware update, it would to be to bring back something similar to that to instantly access your friends, requests, and invites. Sure, the friends limit has been expanded to 1,000 now, but the whole “followers” addition along with your regular friends like Twitter seems like another pointless thing. You can all check of these friends and invites on the Xbox One SmartGlass app as well, but I haven’t gotten the app to work on my end yet.
There are two other major flaws I wanted to mention regarding the Xbox One that are big no-nos. Firstly, there is no hard drive management at all in the console settings. In other words, you can’t check how much space you have left on the 500GB HDD. Otherwise, the console automatically deletes whatever you used to least to accommodate whatever you need installing. I don’t know why Microsoft would miss such a thing like this on launch day, but strangely they did. Secondly, you can’t really tell how much battery you have on your wireless controller remaining. So far, the only tell that it is low on battery is when the controller is not vibrating at all. Seriously, there should conventional ways to check on your Xbox One controller’s battery besides this. A low battery warning on the TV screen like how Nintendo does with their Wii/Wii U games is one solution, but this omission from launch is another one of many strange decisions by Microsoft. Of course, all of this can fixed easily by firmware updates, but who knows when the next one is coming out and they should come out fast than just on a seasonal basis like how they release them on 360.
Two weeks in, it is not surprising that the Xbox One has shining features that functionally work and also aspects that feel unfinished. As the “all-in-one entertainment system” they advertised in their marketing and promotions, the console has been living up to that motto especially with all the entertainment integration such as live TV and movies. The multitasking, specifically snapping apps on the side while playing games, has been my favorite feature with the system so far. The Kinect has been working fine personally for me with the voice commands making the console experience much easier when starting up apps and games. However, what Microsoft backpedaled on big time is the friends, party, and invite systems. It should not take minutes to set up game invites and parties, but it is indeed the case at it’s current state. There are also other major flaws that are big no-nos for a launch and plenty of features I haven’t gone over yet. If you’re going to take full advantage of all the entertainment, Kinect, and multitasking features, then the Xbox One is worth the $500 right now. If you’re just in it for the games, it is still worth it out depending on what you’re looking forward to. There is still lots of improvement for the Xbox One as we head into 2014, but once firmware updates improve it’s flaws and more apps get Snap integration, then Microsoft’s vision for the next generation of video games is definitely worth experiencing.