Microsoft Australia was kind enough to provide Stevivor with a pre-release Xbox One, and we’ve taken full advantage of the opportunity to provide you guys with our thoughts on the next-gen console.
Let’s get into it, shall we?
The console, its controller and Kinect
Sure, it’s far bigger than the PS4, not to mention bulkier, but the Xbox One has a very expensive-looking finish that means the unit fits well within your entertainment unit. A capacitive power button isn’t nearly as annoying to use as the Xbox 360 Slim’s disc eject button, and glows a warm and inviting white when you’re ready to game.
The Xbox One controller, largely like the 360 one before it, is noticeably lighter, though it has a sharp-edged bottom that I immediately noticed. Thankfully, it’s never been an issue over the course of many, many hours of gameplay this week. Button placement is almost identical to the Xbox 360 controller, with the guide button being moved right to the top centre of the controller, and Options and Menu buttons found just underneath and to the left and right. The controller features a fancy new rumble system, but sadly it’s only really put to use in Forza Motorsport 5 for now. We wish Microsoft could have included the controller demo app we saw at E3 with the console, cause we’d be dragging friends over to show them how neat it was.
The unit’s Kinect sensor is surprisingly heavy, but the little guy delivers in ways you wish (and, really, you were promised) the original Kinect would. Facial recognition means you’re greeted with a friendly, “Hi!” whenever you turn on the device, and the system is quick to pick up on friends and roommates as they enter your play-space. Think of the Xbox One like a puppy that sees you at home after a long day at work; it’s really satisfying to have the Xbox greet you and be digitally excited to have you around.
The Kinect easily handled voice commands thrown at it by room filled with a Canadian, two Melburnians and an Adelaidian. I thought it would have stuggled with the Royal South Australian accent, but no.
Movement tracking is amazing, with the Kinect able to pick you up in a smaller room, and adds heartbeat functionality into the mix. Though it works better in a small room, you’re still going to have issues with fitness apps because you’ll still be required to fling your body around. When you’re using the Kinect with Skype, the Kinect follows you about your room and zooms in and out so you’re the focus of attention. It’s good.
The Xbox One UI
The Xbox One user interface is straight up Metro. If you’re unfamiliar with what that means, think Windows 8. The Xbox One features three – and only three- main screens. Home is where you start at and also where you’ll be taken when you press the controller’s Guide button at any time. Your details are shown on a bar on the left, next to that is the main window which shows the app or game you’ve used last, and directly under that are four other games or apps that you’d accessed before that.
To the right of that interface are three ever-present apps: the Xbox One’s Snap functionality, the My Games and Apps… um, app, and an indicator of whatever’s in your disc tray, be it a game disc, a DVD, CD or Blu-ray disc. Beside that are three ads, essentially, but ones customised to things you and your friends are doing.
Hitting the controller’s right bumper will take you into the Xbox Store, grouped in one of four categories: Games, Movies + TV, Music and Apps. Each storefront is very easy to navigate, which is a massive improvement over the behemoth that used to the Xbox 360 Marketplace.
With the Xbox One UI, customisation is somewhat limited via Pins and colour schemes. The Pins area is located to the left of the Xbox One Home screen. Pins themselves can be added through game and app details on the Xbox Store, or via an app itself as it sits under My Games and Apps. Music albums, specific songs, movies, TV series and specific TV episodes can also be added to your Pins for easy access.
You can set your Xbox One UI colour scheme through the Friends app, and a variety of colours means you mostly likely will pick a different hue than others in your household. I went for a teal option while my partner selected purple; any notifications I get will show up in that teal colour, whilst my partner’s will appear in his colour. It’s a simple, yet effective way of managing notifications.
With different colours selected, it’s also easy to tell who’s Home screen you’re on; in the example above, all of my Home tiles are coloured teal, whilst my partner’s are coloured purple. You can hit the controller’s Guide button to see your personal Home screen, or simply say, “Xbox ,show me my stuff”. Best yet, the system can easily handle multiple gamers in your living room; it was great fun to have four people logged in with only two controllers and see that the Xbox One and Kinect could track which two gamers held said controllers. Keep an eye up in the upper-left corner of the Home screen to check out that functionality; the Kinect will highlight gamercards corresponding to players it can see, and place a line under those that are holding a controller. It’s geeky, neat stuff… and we passed controllers around to try to stump the system. It didn’t work.
The simplification of tabs along the Home screen is mostly great, but there are downsides. Xbox One settings are now inside the Settings app, and that doesn’t seem to offer the same levels of access as on Xbox 360. Sadly, you can’t access anything that relates directly to storage, meaning you can’t tell how much hard disk space you have remaining on your Xbox One. As far as we can tell, you need to go to the My Games and Apps app to see how much space a game is taking up.
Managing your download queue is also done from the My Games and Apps app, which isn’t too painful. We noticed that you can only install one game at a time, meaning you can either download something from the internet or install from physical disc, but not both at the same time.; not both.
Games install relatively quickly – or at least let you start playing relatively quickly – and the disc drive remains quiet as a mouse while you’re installing something from physical media.
Xbox One apps
This is by no means an extensive list of apps on offer in Australia and New Zealand, but it’s certainly a majority of the core ones.
Both the Xbox Video and Audio are standard fare, pretty much copied 1:1 from what you can experience on Windows 8 and, in a limited fashion, on the Xbox 360. Video streaming is possible on the Xbox One, provided you do it from Windows Explorer on a PC and use the “PlayTo” function, as demonstrated in the video below:
The Achievements app lets you see how far you’ve progressed in each game you’ve played, and also gives you a nice progress meter for its achievements. The app expands on existing Xbox 360 functionality by giving a counter per achievements, for example, showing you that you’ve killed 27 enemies of the 100 required for an unlock. The Achievements app also features nice, stylised pictures for each achievement, and icons in the top right of each image shows if it’s connected to any in-game rewards. That gift icon is your friend, achievement hunters.
The Friends app shows your basic, editable details on the left, an activity screen with all your friends and what they’re doing in the middle, and your extended details on the right. It’s easy to use and navigate, though with pre-release it’s not sure how friend requests will work in the face of the new Followers system; it wasn’t clear if notifications and friend requests are sent on Xbox One, or if gamers need to check their Follower lists and add people they actually want to interact with from there.
TV through the Xbox One is a novelty, though we’ve noticed that our Foxtel IQ2 signal seems to look a little less-HD when it goes through the Xbox One. It’s barely noticeable, and you get used to it pretty quickly, but it is still weird.
Even through Albert Penello said that the Xbox One wouldn’t work very well with a non-TV HDMI signal plugged into the HDMI In input, we’ve found it works perfect, lag free, and we’ve got a video to prove it. We connected everything but a PS4 cause we obviously don’t have access to one yet.
Snap functionality works really well with all of the above apps – including TV, surprisingly, managing audio quite well — and a double-tap of the controllers Guide button can take you back and forth between your main and your snapped pane.
SmartGlass was turned on shortly before our pre-release time was over, and most companion apps weren’t working at time of writing. On the whole, it functions largely like the Xbox 360 SmartGlass application with extra functionality surrounding achievements. We’re looking forward to using it more, post-launch.
Our pre-release Xbox One won’t be exactly the same as the box you’ll get on 22 November, but it’s damn close, we’ve been told. If your Xbox One is anything like ours, that launch day patch is of paramount importance; we weren’t able to use our console for anything until an update was accessed, downloaded and installed.
On the whole the Xbox One is a powerful machine with a gorgeous, easy to use interface. Microsoft marketed it as an all-in-one type device, and they weren’t wrong; we’ve got our Foxtel plugged into the unit for TV, and also managed to do away with our Blu-ray player so it wasn’t taking up additional (and valuable) inputs on our display. It handles movies, music and apps with ease, and also does video games damn well too, as you can see in our Xbox One launch game reviews.
Granted, it’s a bit pricey, but it’s hard not to fall in love with the Xbox One once it’s in your home. Say hi to Kinect for us.