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Review | Xbox One

by on December 30, 2013
 

xbox-one

The holidays have come and gone, and after putting in hours upon hours of playtime into the Xbox One since its launch, it’s been long enough to see how the console has handled updates, online functionality and of course, a whole bevy of launch titles.

It’s hard to imagine that it’s already been eight years since the release of the Xbox 360, which up until recently, still felt fresh. Over the course of those eight years, the Xbox 360 has undergone quite a few changes, not just from a hardware standpoint, but also with its interface, which has given it a more Windows 8’ish look.

That look has more or less translated over to the Xbox One, but we’ll get into the interface in just a bit.  First, let’s discuss the hardware itself, shall we?

Visually speaking, the Xbox One is a beast, and not in a sexy way, but in a manner that you take one glance at it and you’ll think it’s a home theater receiver or some other audio/video device, and I suppose, in a way, that’s on purpose, given the entertainment functionality of the console – more on that later.  Even Kinect, is a much larger piece of hardware than the original one for the Xbox 360, though it’s also much better too.

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Despite its large size however, the Xbox One is extremely quiet, and the added bulk, gives it plenty of room to ventilate itself, which is always a good thing for any piece of hardware that lies in a home theater system. Taking a look at the backside, you’ll find HDMI in/out ports, as well as optical audio ports.  An Ethernet port is also available, while Wi-Fi connectivity supports 5GHz wireless networks.

For those wondering why there are input and output HDMI ports that has to do with the ability to pass video from your cable system through the Xbox in order to be able to watch TV from it…also more on that later.  You’ll also find three USB 3.0 ports, two on the back and one on the side, which is a little inconvenient, when you consider that having other devices next to it, can hamper its use.

The disc drive itself is also a Blu-ray drive, so fortunately, those with movies, can use the console, without needing another Blu-ray player or either the PS3 or PS4, while the Xbox One also comes with 500 GB of internal storage.  That sounds like a ton of storage, but games need to be installed and they can fill up your storage quicker than you might think, which can be annoying, especially when you consider that for every new game you pop into the system, you have to wait a long while before it installs itself.  Sure you can start playing as it gets closer to finalizing, though you may not be able to use all of the game’s features.

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Then there’s the controller itself, which had a lot to live up to, since the Xbox 360’s controller is universally thought of as one of the best and most comfortable controllers ever.  Fortunately, Microsoft does the 360 controller proud as the Xbox One’s controller feels quite similar, while improving the functionality of the triggers, which now have force feedback, as well as the D-Pad now being an actual cross and not the annoying circle, while also being more responsive and accurate. I wasn’t sure if I could like a controller more than the 360’s but I can safely say that I have found the Xbox One controller really impressive and easy to handle.  One area where I think there could’ve been a slight change though, are the bumpers, which are kind of slippery, and the fact that once again we have to use either AA batteries or rechargeable ones.  I can’t understand any logical reason why the controller couldn’t have an internal rechargeable battery like the PS4’s.

That being said, even using AA batteries does allow the controller to retain its charge for days on end and it’s smart enough to turn the rumble feature off when you are low on batteries to give you more playtime.

Now let’s discuss the user interface, as the Xbox One’s UI looks fairly similar to Windows 8, even more so than the 360’s. You’ll find colored tiles, which are easy to see and there seems to be an actual structure to them.  On the flipside, the frustrating part of the dashboard is that there are a lot of options that are hidden and it’s a guessing game as to where they’re located. Sure you can pin apps and such, but it’s not as intuitive as one would have guessed.

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If I did have one favorite thing about the interface, is that you can now scan QR codes with Kinect in order to activate a download code for content.  You can still enter the 25-character code, but it’s really cool to see how fast it works with the QR code.

Speaking of Kinect, the voice prompts work pretty well but they’re not perfect.  You can say something like “Xbox, go to Netflix” to launch the app, or “Xbox go to Ryse” to get the game started.  I’ve tried telling it to turn off and it also works well, but getting it to turn on, doesn’t always work, despite that I’ve set the console to a state where Kinect is supposed to hear me when the console is in a low power state.

Kinect can also sign you in, as it recognizes your face once you’ve picked up a controller so that it syncs up and gets you ready to go.  It’s kind of weird that I can pick up the controller, sit on my couch, and have my Xbox say Hello Ramon (on screen) and get me all signed in.

Xbox Live has also gotten some upgrades, such as the ability to have a friends list up to 1,000, which includes followers.  Followers are gamers who want to check out what you’re playing, sort of like having a follower on Twitter or Facebook, that doesn’t reveal all of your info like a friend would.  It would have been nice though, if like the PS4, the online system allowed for the display of real names.  Microsoft says it’s coming later but it would’ve been better to have it available at launch, and while not a deal-breaker by any means, it’s a weak omission nonetheless.

Twitch livestreaming is also not supported right now, which is another sad omission, and although Microsoft says it’s arriving in 2014, it really should have been included at launch, since sharing gameplay is such a big feature. What you can do however, is record the last 30 seconds of gameplay, or use the console’s Game DVR app to record up to five minutes.  From there, you can use the Upload Studio app to edit videos and publish it on your Xbox Live account or move it to SkyDrive.  Obviously from there you can share it to other networks such as YouTube or use the created link to publish it on social networks.

As it pertains to cloud storage, Xbox Live now syncs cloud saves which is great.  Microsoft has made saves automatic and you no longer have to either select a storage medium nor worry about moving save files to a memory stick before going over to someone else’s console.

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I mentioned earlier the HDMI input of the Xbox One, and it comes down to TV integration.  Essentially you can pass the video through from a cable or satellite receiver and use the Xbox One to watch TV, letting you use voice commands to change channels and the like. You can also use a universal remote to take care of other functionality but be warned that the UI can sort of clash between the Xbox One’s guide and that of your cable box.  That being said, being able to watch TV while also playing a game is pretty awesome.  Obviously it’s not something you’d want to do with a movie, but I tried watching football while playing Battlefield 4, and it was a cool experience.

If I could go back for a quick second to Kinect again, I have to mention the Skype app which is bad ass on the Xbox One.  Not just because you have a potentially huge screen in front of you, but sound quality is great on a home theater system and more importantly, the video quality is superb.

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For gamers who like to take their Xbox One profiles on the go, the console makes it super easy to do so. If you have your profile logged into another console, you can simply go to that other console, having Kinect recognize you to sign you in and your saved games, as previously mentioned are saved on the cloud, so you are ready to continue whatever it is you were playing at home. You can activate your profile on two consoles, with one being the primary console and the other still letting you play your exiting games on it.  Xbox One can handle up to six players logged in at the same time, which is great for multiplayer games.

SmartGlass also gets updated on the Xbox One, as the app, which is specific to the Xbox One (for those who have the 360 version already), is much faster, since the Xbox One uses Wi-Fi Direct, but for the time being, there isn’t much software taking advantage of it at the moment, though Battlefield 4 lets you use a level map, Dead Rising 3 showing you mission briefs and of course Madden NFL 25 showing you plays.

Overall, the Xbox One is a very nice console, though it’s not without its problems, such as lengthy install times, Party Chat working only occasionally, and no display for battery life or storage space to name a few, and while I would say that the console is a work in progress, it’s still a satisfying experience and shows glimpses of what it can really become over the course of the next few years.

Final Score: 4.2 out of 5

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