Microsoft released the Xbox One Friday, exactly one week after Sony’s PlayStation 4 launch.
We’ve been playing the next-gen console for more than a week.
It’s definitely not a perfect console, but boy is there a lot to do, and when it works, it’s fantastic.
However, is it worth the $US499 price tag?
With the holidays around the corner, and Sony’s slightly cheaper PS4 ($399) on the market, here are the big takeaways from the Xbox One to consider when deciding which system to buy this holiday season.
Love: The three different ways in which you can turn on the console.
In addition to using the Xbox logo on the controller to turn on the system, the Xbox One is voice activated (simply say “Xbox On”) or can be turned on by swiping your finger over a motion sensor on the console.
Note: You need to have the Xbox set to “instant-on” mode to turn on the console with your voice.
The downside: We’ve wasted a lot of breath trying the voice activation feature to turn on the One.
We’d stick with the controller. It’s easier.
Indifferent: The new Xbox Dashboard
Microsoft says the Xbox One home is “designed to be simple and uncluttered … to easily find … what you want.”
That’s definitely true. Unlike the eight screens available to scroll through on the Xbox 360, now there are just three — the home, store, and pins.
However, the whole look and feel of the dashboard screams Windows 8. If you’re not an adopter of the operating system, you may feel like it’s being forced on you.
The biggest addition here are pins which are available to use on the Xbox 360, but weren’t mandatory. They’re not necessary here either, but they’re quick shortcuts to apps, games, and activities. You can pin up to 25 different items.
While cool, the biggest downside is that you can’t freely rearrange your pins in whatever order you want. If you wish to move the pins, you can do so in a tedious shuffling manner which sends one after another to the front slot.
Love: The exclusive game selection
This is a no-brainer. The Xbox One clearly has the upper hand when it comes to better, exclusive launch titles.
“Lococycle” may not be anything to brag about from collective reviews, and “Ryse: Son of Rome” is your generic, gladiator combat, but zombie and racing games “Dead Rising 3” and “Forza Motorsport 5” show off the full range of the 40 new improvements to the controllers.
The new view button let’s you change views in Forza, while the triggers let you experience every crash hands on.
Hate: No backwards compatibility
Madden NFL 25
Need for Speed Rivals
Call of Duty: Ghosts
Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag
If you recently purchased “Grand Theft Auto: V” or Batman game “Arkham Origins,” you need to stick with the 360.
Love: Watching cable on the Xbox One
Arguably one of the best features of the Xbox is the ability to live stream your cable through the console.
It’s a pretty simple process as illustrated in the handbook / manual that comes with the One. In addition to the set up for the Xbox One, you just run the HDMI cable that (hopefully*) runs from your TV to your cable box and run it from the cable box to the Xbox console.
The transition is very smooth. We had the television on in the living room the other night and I had no clue whether or not we were streaming through the console. It didn’t help that both our Xbox 360 and One were turned on (remember, we can’t play 360 games on the One).
I had to say “Xbox” to test it out and see if Kinect commands would come up on the screen. (Turns out we were watching AMC through the console.)
Why would I want this?
Why wouldn’t you? But seriously. For any gamer, it makes transitioning from television to video game play — and vice versa — so much easier. Before the Xbox One, we needed to switch the input on our television to go back and forth between games and TV. In our case, for the Xbox 360, this is going from HDMI 1 to HDMI 2.
With the Xbox One, there’s no switching. You can just tell the console “Xbox Watch” and tell it to head to whatever channel you want to watch.
Want the volume higher? Say “Xbox volume up.” The same goes for volume down and mute.
Want to go right back to your video game? It can do that, too.
Sounds cool … but does it work?
It’s not perfect. That’s for sure.
I’ve had to repeat myself a few times.
But when the Xbox One’s Kinect is listening to you and decides to work, it does so wonderfully and fast. The best part? You don’t even need to yell at the Kinect every time you want a command done. Speaking in your regular voice — while a good distance from the console — registers with the console.
I’ve sat in front of the console from a variety of ranges, speaking in a multitude of high and low-pitched voices ( looking slightly ridiculous in the process) and though I’ve had to repeat myself a few times, the Kinect picked my voice up without fault.
Just make sure you don’t have the volume up too loud while trying to speak to the console or it may not hear you.
One thing I have noticed is that the Kinect seems more responsive to me than other friends and family members. This may be because I have used it the most so the Kinect recognises my voice more than the others. Over time, the technology is supposed to respond better to those who speak to it frequently as it recognises your voice over others.
It sounds weird, but in a way, I’m kind of like its mum.
Just how easy is it to set up?
*Well, we ended up having an old Comcast box without an HDMI outlet (those exist!). So we had to go and get a new one in order to use the cable feature on the Xbox One.
We’ve tried out the feature on three different TVs and overall, setup is pretty painless. However, for those who have surround sound, it hasn’t been as easy to figure out how to hook that up. There’s currently a Beta in place. If you’re having trouble figuring that out, you can head here.
Hate: How specific I need to be with commands.
While using the TV on the Xbox One, you do need to know the channel network. You can’t just say “Xbox watch channel 42.”
Want to play a video game? You can’t simply say “Xbox play Forza.” Games require that you say “Go to” instead of “Play.” Play is reserved for movies and music.
For some apps, you also need to say the name of that app specifically. Any command with Xbox One’s exclusive title, “Forza Motorsport 5” must be said with the entire title of the game.
Needs Improvement: The Xbox’s version of a TV Guide
While watching TV on the Xbox One, you’re able to surf through what’s on through the consoles version of a TV Guide called the One Guide. Sounds and looks cool. You can mark your favourite channels, and easily say any show’s name on the screen to bring up info on it. It’s very similar to what your cable box can already do for you — just hands free.
One feature you’re supposed to be able to do is ask the console what’s on any channel at a given time by saying something like, “Xbox, What’s on ABC?”
Though it worked during various demonstrations while I was with the Xbox team, no matter how much I have used this command, it simply hasn’t worked. Instead, I’ll be taken straight to the network channel. Not a huge problem, but it could be refined.
Love: The Snap feature
gone over this before, but the ability to run two applications at once — or snap them on the screen together — is pretty awesome.
You can play video games while listening to music or watch TV while running Skype or the NFL app.
The combinations are endless depending on the apps you have downloaded on the console.
Some combinations don’t make sense (we wouldn’t run two TV based apps at the same time — Netflix and Hulu), but that’s part of the fun.
Our best combo so far? ESPN and the NFL app to show live scores and game highlights.
You can read more on this feature here.
Love: Xbox One’s Kinect Gestures
The new Xbox has five gestures to try out.
On the 360, you used to select an object by hovering your hand over something and waiting for a load circle to complete around it. This is gone. Instead, you push in with your hand to “tap” into an application. For any “Star Wars” fans, it’s kind of like using the force (without things getting obliterated in the process).
They’re fun to use … when you can get them to work.
Hate: It’s not so easy to get your hand to pop up on screen.
We spent a good amount of time looking like morons trying to get the little hand to pop up on the screen. (We nearly couldn’t put it in our 60 second Xbox One review because we couldn’t get the function to work.)
On the 360, the way you make the hand appear is by gently waving your hand back and forth.
On the One, you just hold your hand up. But you need to make sure that you hold it up so the one camera sees your hand. Then a white hand pops up on the screen. It can be frustrating if it doesn’t work and we’ve given up many times.
Also, the only gestures we’ve really gotten to successfully — and easily — work are “making a selection” and “grip and hold.”
Hate: Calibrating the Kinect and its size
Compared to the old Kinect — and the
PS4 camera — the Xbox One’s Kinect is pretty large in comparison.
Though we can see the improvements in the Kinect camera (it uses an HD camera that shows us in 1080 pixels) and how precise its motion technology is, we’ve experienced issues using the Kinect when going to play Kinect Sports.
You have to make sure you have the camera leveled JUST right in order for it to see your floor space to play.
The camera can be adjusted easily enough up or down. If you’re fiddling around with this it can become a bit frustrating.
Could be better: The Internet and Bing Search
Sorry Google fans. As a Microsoft product, you’re forced to use Internet Explorer and Bing search. The concept sounds intriguing; however, the execution isn’t that great.
The Bing feature listens fantastic. It brings up exactly what you search for … provided it has to do with television, movies, and actors.
On Internet Explorer, while useful, it’s annoying to type out a website with an Xbox controller letter by letter.
Could Pass: DVR / Record That
Like the PS4, you can also record and share gameplay on the Xbox One. While Sony’s console records up to 15 minutes of gameplay, the One will only record up to 30 seconds.
It’s easy to share recorded clips with friends across Xbox Live. However, if you want to share your videos elsewhere on social media, it’s a two-step process through the Xbox’s Skydrive which isn’t really all that clear.
We’ll take recording on the PS4 any day over this.
Love: The achievements you can get across apps.
On the Xbox 360, you could get achievements, goals the game sets for players to accomplish, only in games. (The point of these is basically to give players extra incentive to continue and replay games.) The One allows you to get achievements in any app.
Here are a few you can receive:
|App||Achievement||How You Get It|
|Netflix||Can’t get enough of this show||Watch 10 episodes in a row (Yes, this is a reward.)|
|FXNow||Super Binge||Watch 10 original episodes. (Do we see a pattern?)|
|Hulu Plus||Breakfasting Bad||Watch 10 shows before noon (We see what they did there.)|
Indifferent: The ability to Skype
Skype looks great on the Xbox One. You can host calls with up to four people and send messages to anyone using the application, on or off the Xbox.
The only problem here is whether people are really going to use this feature on the console. Microsoft wants you to use it to chat with friends while watching TV or playing games.
We figure this feature may come in handy during Xbox Live parties and matches with friends; however, you’re already using the chat feature to communicate with up to 30 people, so one must ask how necessary this really is.
Overall: Is the Xbox One cool? Without a doubt. Do you need it right this instant? Probably not.
There’s no denying this is a great console. From the cable and Snap features to the Kinect gestures and commands, the Xbox One has much more to offer to the average consumer than the PS4.
The Kinect commands don’t work perfectly, I’ve had to repeat myself numerous times speaking to the console, and that can become frustrating. Over time, it does seem more cognisant of my voice over others the more I use it.
While meeting up with both Sony and Microsoft for the two consoles, there was one main difference I noticed.
When I first tried out the Xbox One at the start of the month with some of the Xbox team, they were very anxious to show off every facet of the Kinect. I spent very little time actually playing a game, and that was a problem.
Though the Kinect was — and is — cool, it didn’t always work. The Sony team wanted to get me to play a game right away, tossing around its virtual robots.
To me, that speaks volumes about the audience both are trying to hit.
Microsoft seems a little too dependent on using the Kinect to sell this device when in reality I’m not sure how many people will even use the camera all the time.
Don’t get me wrong, though. The Kinect is great. There’s a lot of room for potential and growth. I’m really interested in seeing how developers plan to use the full range of Kinect capabilities (motion capture and all) in future game releases — if at all. But it’s not why I’m dishing out $US499 for a console.
It’s clear Microsoft is trying to reach a broader audience. However, it may just be trying to be too much of everything.
Do I really need Skype on here? It’s cool I guess, but I have a multitude of other devices to easily use that on (iPad, laptop, desktop).
It sounds silly, but I feel so distracted by everything else available on the console that it’s easy to forget the main purpose of the Xbox One is to play video games.
I get that Microsoft is trying to make gamers’ lives easier by integrating everything into one system and make everything available so you never want to leave the console.
While it’s great to have everything available at your fingertips, at the end of the day, gamers just want to play their games.
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