Review by jparis09
"The Quest for Living Room Dominance"
After eight long years, the next generation of Xbox has finally graced our presence. Unsurprisingly, Microsoft has set its eyes on more than just taking over our gaming world. Microsoft has bigger aspirations and bigger goals with their new platform. Their eyes are set on taking over your whole living room with promises of a console that will not only be a gaming platform, but your go to device for all things entertainment. After a rough start from a public perspective and a few changes and tweaks prior to its official worldwide release, Microsoft has brought us the Xbox One.
Inside the Box
The box comes with the Xbox One console, an external power brick, the Kinect sensor, one controller, a HDMI 6-foot cable and one chat headset. One of the most glaring things you will notice is the size of the Xbox One. Compared to its primary competitor, the PS4, the Xbox One is a huge piece of hardware. It weighs approximately 8 pounds and is 13.5 by 10.4 inches long and is 3.2 inches tall. There are vents everywhere on the system to keep the internals at a cool temperature. By no means is the Xbox One a sexy machine. It will surely not attract much attention while sitting in your entertainment system. It has been built with the intentions of being turned on all the time. Thankfully it is an extremely quite machine that makes minimal noise while turned on. If it wasn't for its sleek, white power button in the front sometimes it would be difficult to notice if it is turned on or not. The Xbox One is equipped with an eight-core AMD CPU, 8GB of DDR3 RAM and a GPU that is clocked at 853 MHz. Around back there is an HDMI in and out (for TV intergration) 3 USB slots (one on the side), a slot for the Kinect sensor and an Ethernet port. There is a built in non-user replaceable 500GB HDD. The Operating System takes up a nice chunk of it unfortunately and leaves you with around 365GB for your own use. Microsoft has promised a future update that will allow for external storage however. This time around the Xbox One is built similar to a PC using the same x86 architecture as well.
The Controller and Headset
Arguably the Xbox 360 controller was one of the best controllers ever made so the Xbox One team had a tough task to try to keep the magic they had with the 360 while improving on its successor. At first glance the Xbox One controller looks exactly the same as its predecessor but there are a few tweaks that has made it better. It is slightly smaller and lighter than the 360 controller. The first and most welcomed change is the D-Pad. The D-Pad had drastically been improved and has a nice clicky sound when used. The triggers are the next big improvement. They have a little curve on them so your index finger can sit comfortably while holding the controller. They also can vibrate individually. This new feature Microsoft calls Impulse Triggers. This is a really cool feature that vibrates individual triggers depending on what you're doing in a game. For example in Forza Motorsport 5, when you are revving up your engine or braking really hard, your triggers will vibrate. Also in Battlefield 4 when you are running low on a magazine clip, the triggers will vibrate to let you know. The home button has now been moved slightly higher on the controller to help prevent accidental touches and gone are Start and Select buttons. Those have been replaced with Menu and View buttons. All of these changes are much appreciated upgrades to an already fabulous design but there is still one glaring flaw. The Xbox One controller still comes with batteries instead of a rechargeable controller that is on the PS4. Microsoft still offers the Play and Charge kit separately for $25.00.
The headset is very similar the Xbox 360 headset as well. It is black to compliment Xbox One. The chat is noticeably clearer however this time around. At launch there was no support for gaming headsets such as Turtle Beaches but recently there has been an update to the system to allow this. Unfortunately, just like the Play and Charge kit, you will have to purchase a separate adapter in order for your gaming headsets to function. There is an adapter that will plug into the controller that will allow you to plug your headset into it.
The Kinect and User Interface
Unlike the Xbox 360, Microsoft has now included an upgraded version of Kinect dubbed the Kinect 2.0. The Kinect is no longer an optional accessory as it was last generation. Every console comes with this new Kinect. During initial setup of the console you will also set up the Kinect. This new Kinect is crucial to Microsoft vision for its new platform and it is blatantly obvious. Kinect can be used to navigate to anything on the system, log you in, turn off/on the system, change TV volume etc. The Kinect features a full 1080p camera and is struts it's video capabilities in apps such as Skype. While the Kinect itself is not mechanical, while using apps such as Skype, the Kinect will zoom in to your face and follow you as you pace around the room. The video is extremely clear and really one of the areas where the Kinect camera shines. Voice commands are great when they work. Saying something such as Xbox Bing will allow you to search anything on the Xbox in a matter of seconds using your voice. There are a ton of commands to learn and once you have them memorized you will be surprised to how much you actually utilize the voice commands. Unfortunately, sometimes the Kinect won't hear you or will hear you incorrectly which can make you want to give up on voice commands all together and resort to the traditional way of navigating things with the controller.
Anybody familiar with Windows 8 will quickly notice that the Xbox One UI is built with Windows 8 in mind. The Home Screen is broken down to three sections; Pins, Home, and Store. The Home screen is filled with tiles such as the current game inside your system, recent apps, access to your friends list and profile. Any app that you use frequently can be pinned to the Home screen under Pins this allows you to always get to your favorite apps really quickly without having to open up a list of all apps you have installed to the system. The Store section gives you access to movies, games, and other apps that can be downloaded. The Snap feature is a multitasking feature that allows you to run two apps side by side at the same time. For example, while playing a video game you can say Xbox snap Netflix. Saying this command will essentially bring Netflix to the left side of your screen and allow you to watch Netflix while you play your video game. The Party System is now only used in the Snap feature. For the most part the Party system is the same as it was last generation. You can make your parties invite only, invite friends to the party and game etc. Not every app can be snapped so it takes some time to learn what you can do and can't do with the Snap feature.
Sometimes the UI can be frustrating because of menus. On the Xbox 360 something simple such as opening a toast achievement or going to your friends list was a simple click of a button. Now it seems longer because everything is considered its own app. If you unlock an achievement no longer can you just press the Xbox button and it will pop up immediately with more details. Now it takes you away from your game opens up the achievement app and loads up all your achievements and then shows you the achievement you just unlocked. For the friends app it is similar. You cannot just press the Xbox button and bring up your list. The friends list is another separate app that must be opened and then takes you away from your game. The friends list does have some improvements however. There is a new activity feed that will show you what all your friends having been doing on Xbox now and in the past. You also have the option to designate friends you deem to be your favorite friends. Friends that are selected as your favorites will appear at the top of your friends list so you don't have to search for them when browsing your list. There is also a Follower section added to the friends list. Similar to social networks such as Twitter, you can follow other gamers so you can see what they are doing and also watch game clips they add to their profiles. If someone follows you they won't become your friend so they won't appear on your friends list. So it is a way for other gamers who enjoy watching your video clips or playing games with you occasionally to still do so without clogging up your friends list. As of now there are no toast notifications that alerts you that a friend has gotten online but Microsoft has stated that will be coming in a future update.
The Second Screen
With this new generation gaming is moving from your TV to you smartphones and tablets. Microsoft has a Xbox One Smartglass app that allows you to keep up with everything that pertains to your Xbox without actually being on your Xbox. This app allows you to add friends, check friend's activities, and view game clips among other things. You can also use your mobile device as a controller. Syncing up your Xbox One and smartphone/tablet on the same Wi-Fi network will allow you to control your Xbox via your mobile device by navigating the dashboard, turning up the volume on your TV and doing just about everything you can do with your controller. There is also game integration using the Smartglass app as well. Some games will allow you to unlock certain mission or use certain features if you are utilizing the Smartglass app.
If you have a cable box, Microsoft has added TV integration to the Xbox One as well. Plugging your cable box HDMI cord to the HDMI out port on the back of your Xbox One will allow you to watch cable on your Xbox One. Why do this instead of watching cable normally? Well it all comes down to Microsoft putting all their chips in on making the Xbox One your only entertainment device. Using the Xbox One for your cable box allows you to also use your Kinect to navigate channels as well as Microsoft own TV Guide dubbed the One Guide. This One Guide is similar to your typically TV Guide allowing you to see programs on TV now and in the future. You can set channels that are your favorite to get to them easier too. Kinect voice commands just like everywhere else can be utilized to navigate TV. You can say a command like Xbox watch ESPN and the Xbox will automatically switch to ESPN. You can also say Xbox what's on ESPN and it will bring you to the OneGuide and show you what is playing on channel. While the TV integration is extremely convenient and surely helps Microsoft reach its goals of living room dominance there is one issue that is here. There is no DVR support so you can record TV with it. You will still have to grab your TV remote in order to watch your record TV shows.
At its core despite all the other functions the Xbox One can perform it is still a gaming machine. So to the majority of Xbox One owner's especially early adopters such as myself, this is what is most important. Microsoft has a solid launch lineup with games such as Dead Rising 3, Forza Motorsport 5, and Ryse: Son of Rome. These games definitely show off the graphical and technical prowess of the next generation games. After the first few months of launch just like all new consoles there is a drought of quality games but with release of games such as Titanfall early this year and possibly Halo and other IPs, Microsoft has a bright future with games. New to this generation are mandatory installs of all games. Every game that can be bought at retail can be downloaded digitally off of the Xbox One as well but regardless of how you purchase your games every game has to be installed. As of now games has ranged from as small as 20GB all the way up to 40-50GB in size so obviously for some, a 500GB HDD won't be enough. While a game is installing you will have the option to play the portions that are already installed. This is great because sometimes these installs can take 2 or more hours. The Xbox One is not backwards compatible so any hopes getting rid of your 360 are gone. Hopefully Microsoft will allow classic 360 games to be purchased digitally but until then you may not want to unplug your 360 just yet.
One of the biggest new features in gaming is Game DVR. Now at any time during a game all you have to say is Xbox Record That and the Xbox One will automatically record up to your last 5 minutes of gameplay. This is a great feature for capturing those epic moments that happens in video games. You can also record the next 5 minutes of gameplay as well. It would be nice to be able to create videos for more than 5 minutes so hopefully that gets updated in the future. Anyways, all the game clips that you record will be saved in your Upload Studio. When you open your Upload Studio you will be given the option to edit all of your videos. You can put videos together and make a montage, make video reviews, show off cool moments, and whatever else your imagination can think of. There are filters and intros you can add to your videos as well. Kinect plays a role in allowing you to do voiceovers or making recordings of yourself to add to your videos as well. After your finished editing your video you can upload it to Xbox Live for everyone to see as well as save it to the SkyDrive so you can tweak it even further on a PC. Twitch Streaming is a feature that has made its way to Xbox One as well. Using Twitch you can live broadcast your games while using the Kinect or mic for voiceovers and recording.
Pricing and Xbox Live Gold
The Xbox One is an expensive piece of hardware costing $500 dollars. It is $100 dollars more expensive than the PS4 mainly because of the Kinect that is comes with. That is a tough selling point for people especially those who don't have too much interest in the Kinect itself. Most people don't buy gaming consoles for what they are now but what they will be in the future. It is more of an investment into something great. Xbox Live Gold isn't mandatory but the $60 dollar a year subscription surely seems mandatory because without it you really can't do anything that makes the $500 system a $500 system. TV, Skype, Multiplayer, Netflix, etc. all of those features are rendered useless without this subscription. Xbox Live Gold does has a great reputation when it comes to quality and reliability however so getting a subscription will surely pay off.
The Verdict 8/10
+ Entertainment Features
+ Kinect Functionality
+ Improved Controller
+ Graphically Capabilities
- Gold Subscription Mandatory for Features
- User Interface Still Needs Tweaks
- Bland and Bulky Design
The Xbox One is off to a good start for living room dominance but isn't quite there yet. As is the case for all new systems, they are only going to get better. There is stiff competition from Sony but Microsoft is surely up for the battle and has done more than Sony from an entertainment perspective. The Xbox One has burst out the gate putting everyone on notice that it is here for the long run and has its heart set on being the all in one entertainment device but only time will tell if they will successfully accomplish their goals.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 03/10/14
Game Release: Xbox One (Day One Edition) (US, 11/22/13)
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