Xbox One video Review – A smart gaming console for the masses

The Xbox One launched on the 22nd of November in 13 countries and has thus far proven to be popular across the globe, selling over 2 million units. This is in the face of stiff competition from Sony and its PS4.   However, the Xbox One has its own set of features that separate it from its peers and so after some weeks of getting to grips with the system, we take a look at the Xbox One and its features in our Xbox One video review.

Xbox One review:

Today we’re taking a look at Microsoft’s Xbox One games console which released on November 22nd 2013 in 13 countries at a price of £429. Whilst we’re not going to focus too much on the aesthetics, we’re more interested in how the console operates and how easy it is to use.

To begin, the Xbox One console retains the black colour of the later Xbox 360S and looks fairly solid. However, it does feel quite weighty when you include the external power brick and Kinect camera.  It’s presents a sleek, angular simple design, with a clear set of grills to allow for airflow into the system. Obviously Microsoft doesn’t want a repeat of the Red Ring of Death fiasco which plagued the early Xbox 360 consoles and cost the company billions of dollars.  So it’s looking quite functional as a piece of kit to sit under a TV or whereever. That said, the Xbox One does not operate in a vertical position unlike its predecessors which has to be noted for those with space issues. Also, by design, it does not appear to encourage other boxes being placed on top due to the grills.

Once unpackaged and placed in the correct position, the Xbox One has to go through a procedure of updates which can take some time, there’s no plug and play here which is a shame, but a necessary evil. Once the initial set up is done, players can then start migrating their Xbox 360 account (if they have one) or set up a new account. What’s good here is how easy Kinect is to set up, as it doesn’t require players to stand up or move into various positions in the room unlike before.

So, the Xbox One is set up, updated, accounts created, what about some games? Well, unfortunately, this isn’t an instant process either, as games need to be installed on the Hard Drive before being played. It’s very PC compared to simply popping in a disc and playing right away, but has its advantages in the longer term – with things like load times being quicker and less wear on the Blu Ray drive. Luckily, you  can start playing a portion of a game whilst it’s installing which is pretty neat but this still sits behind having to wait a fair number of minutes.  So this is where the Xbox One comes into its own with its multi tasking features.

What also has to be noted is the new lighter Xbox One wireless controller which feels less solid than its Xbox 360 counterpart. The sticks feel looser, but in a way offer more precision, and the ridged edges prevent slippage which is good. The D-pad has been improved and is less protruding, and the triggers feel remarkably familiar. The only real quibble here is with the shoulder buttons which feel very light and often can be pressed accidentally during heated gameplay moments. The face buttons are slightly larger and have a more pronounced depression which feels better. In terms of comfort, the size, weight and design makes for a pleasant controller to hold for long periods, and with added rumble to the triggers is a pleasant upgrade on the Xbox 360 controller.

Looking at the Xbox One user interface and it’s fairly easy to navigate using the Windows 8 metro style it has adopted. It’s not too dissimilar to the Xbox 360 dash, but seems cumbersome at first due to many items being hidden away in sub menus. Things like settings are a few clicks away, and whilst it’s easier and quicker to navigate using voice command, the problem is that newcomers won’t be familiar with the correct terms right away. It might be easy to simply say “Xbox go to settings”,  but to find out that this phrase works takes a bit of experimentation. There are handy help files on every page, including a set of voice commands, but as with all things, it takes time to learn what works and doesn’t. Perhaps the biggest hurdle is remembering to say “Xbox” before any other word. This key word  activates the Xbox One listening mode, which then picks up the phrase after. The commands are relatively simple, and unsurprisingly work most of the time. What is neat is having possible phrases highlighted in green which are then easy to say out loud. However, it’s not entirely flawless, and some times the entire name has to be said or an abbreviation. For example, if one says, “Xbox go to Assassin’s Creed IV” Kinect will simply ignore the command. Looking at the tile and the green text, and it reads “Black Flag” for Assassin’s Creed IV. So the correct phrase it’s looking for is “Xbox go to Black Flag”. Bingo!

There are occasions where kinect seemingly locks up and doesn’t respond to anything at all, which might mean something is happening in the background preventing this. However, these moments are rare, and easily rectified by being a little patient and waiting a few moments, or grabbing the controller and using that instead.

The Xbox One user interface does appear to be designed with Kinect in mind, deliberately so it seems but once familiar becomes a breeze to use – for example, if you want to switch between a snapped item and game, this requires a few button presses, whereas can instantly switch between the two by saying “Xbox switch”. What’s perhaps the first port of call once some games, apps and most frequent items are ascertained  or have been installed is using the Pin feature which allows a blanket view of your favourite tabs. However, even this becomes somewhat of a moot point once players know what’s available, where a simple “Xbox Go to Call of Duty Ghosts” is issued followed by “Xbox snap TV”.  There’s no need to browse through items you already know about, unless you forget you own Fighters Within.

Something else that makes quite a difference to the experience is via installed games which although more expensive than their retail counterparts, does away with the disc swapping making for seamless transitions between games. So for example, we can switch easily to “Xbox go to Killer Instinct” this will begin loading right away. We can then switch to “Xbox go to NBA 2K 14” and again, the game instantly switches without you having to get up off the couch to change discs “Xbox go to Fifa 14”. It’s clear there would have been some benefits to the original policy Microsoft was aiming to adopt for Xbox One, but for now, there’s a premium attached for anyone wanting to ditch the discs. That said, downloading the now huge files takes quite some time and will fill up the disc space eventually. But again, license to play these games are tied to the user, and means if space does become an issue, older less used games can be removed – and re downloaded again if desired – to create room.

Aside from jumping into the games themselves, the Xbox One’s other features are quite handy as well. Whilst we’ve not really sampled much of the Skype chat – which to date still does not allow for skype video chat and gaming at the same time as showcased at E3 – the higher quality viewing is simply far superior than what we’ve seen on Xbox 360. The other features such as avatars, and customization of the dash retails the same format, although as of now, there’s no customization in terms of user created images or importing content from other sources so you’re stuck with a megre selection of stock colour schemes.

Achievements have been given a visual overhaul, but in some ways has become less concise as a result. The achievements pages for example are filled with images and large icons which look better, but aren’t as easy to browse through. There’s also no separate gamerscore tally to differentiate between Xbox One and Xbox 360 achievements.

The snap feature, which allows TV  or other apps to be watched at the same time as a game is perhaps one of the more innovtive features for a console. It’s perhaps standard fare for PCs but here it’s excellent being able to watch TV or have a web page available to switch from full screen and back very easily. So for example, we can say, “Xbox snap TV”.  Xbox go to Call of Duty Ghosts. Full screen – Xbox go to call of duty ghosts . When snapped together, the sound is louder on the selected application or game depending on what the focus is which is quite neat. What would be great for multiple viewing is being able to select the size of the snap window and perhaps selecting output of the audio of the game via the headset and the rest through the TV. The snap features is most welcomed, and makes for a seamless transition between devices, although at present, this is much more a feature for the North American region, as things like SKY in the UK aren’t properly supported. This is likely to change in 2014, alongside more apps being snappable. For example, Youtube can’t be snapped at the moment.

Another big feature that is interesting but basic is the DVR and upload studio. The DVR allows gameplay to be recorded up to 5 minutes in length, at a low quality, that’s good enough to get a basic idea of the game, and then uploaded for others to view. Clips are automatically stored and can be viewed and edited using the upload studio app. What’s also interesting is how the Xbox One records the last 30 seconds of gameplay, which means if something cool happens in a game, you can instantly have access to a recording of it.There is an option for auto clips to be recorded during key moments of games, but this is rather hit and miss and sometimes irrelevant in terms of what is being recorded. The upload studio is a fun and easy to use app that is lacking in overall  editing features to make it really  stand out. It does allow multiple clips to be chained together, trimmed, and voice-over added. You can also record yourself via the Kinect camera and go full screen or windowed. It’s a neat way for content creators to expose themselves, but sadly, it’s not easy to get “noticed” if you’ve got something cool to show off given that there are lots of clips being uploaded every minute!

For those with active friends the sharing is quite informative and has numerous applications beyond merely showing off, and with the new activity feed which allows friends achievements earned, what they are currently playing, uploaded video clips to be viewed means that keeping abreast of what others are doing is easy, especially as friends can be divided into regular and favourites with independent views for either groups. The only real negative here is not being able to interact more with friends content, a like or rate feature for uploaded video clips seems like a missed opportunity.

So to conclude, the Xbox One is definitely a comprehensive gaming machine that’s filled with features which extend into the wider field. It’s very much a connected device, and perhaps needs to be Internet connected to get the full benefits. Whilst ultimately, it plays games simply and very well, the added features whilst perhaps novel at first, look like becoming standard fare which is a good thing. The impressive voice commands and snap tools have to be lauded as innovative in terms of interface here despite being nothing new, and the added extras are very much viewed as neat bonuses to mess around with. After several weeks with the system, navigation is a breeze, content is easily found and gaming is just as fluid as ever. Xbox One is certainly a worthwhile investment, although it’s clear some features need updating which is inevitable once Microsoft gleans all the feedback they’ve received. Xbox One is a smart system, that looks like it will evolve into something very special indeed over the coming years, not just with its user interface and apps, but the games as well.

Score (based on ease of use, available features, and functionality) 8/10 – Review by Robert Cram.

 

 

Written by: Rob Cram

Rob Cram has hundreds of video game reviews, thousands of articles under his belt with years of experience in gaming and tech. He aims to remain fair and free from publisher/developer influence. With his extensive knowledge, feels his gaming opinions are valid and worth sharing. Agreement with his views are entirely optional. He might have a bias towards cyberpunk.

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