After spending a week with the Xbox 360 successor, here's what we liked, what we didn't, and everything in between.
It's been a rocky road to launch for Microsoft. But the Xbox One is here now and it's time to take stock of of what''ll be sitting under (or beside) your TV in just a few days.
Dubbed as an all-in-one system for the home - furthering Microsoft's wish to make Xbox One your living room hub for games as well as TV and movie streaming - the machine is a jack of all trades. If you're moving across from Xbox 360 you'll be pleased to know that most of the current TV and movie Apps will be supported from launch, with further roll-outs as the weeks and months go on.
This is an ad:
Reversing the Xbox 360's redesign trend that saw its predecessor turned into a sleeker machine over its life cycle, Xbox One is bigger than you might expect; in fact it's a chunky beast. The design and sheer size of the casing means you won't be able to turn it on its side (you could try, but we'd advise against it, unless you want the world's most expensive door stop).
If you'd been asked to combine a console and set-top box, the Xbox One is probably what would you would have imagined. But its solidness is also surprisingly elegant. It'll not be an eyesore sitting underneath (or to the side) of your HDTV.
Powered up its quiet, and even with a disc in and spinning, it's no more than a gentle hum that's notably softer than that of the Xbox 360. It also runs quite hot, kicking heat out of the grill that takes up half of the console's top. This machine is going to need room to breathe, though by now most console aficionados will have learnt the hard way that modern consoles need their own space.
This is an ad:
Conversely given the bulked up build of X1, the new controller is a revised version of the Xbox 360 standard, looking and feeling much closer to the original Xbox's Controller S type.
It's a smaller fit for the hands, and a much better one in our opinion. The black matte finish on the main body is stylish, while the raised analog sticks have bumps around their rims to make it feel more secure to hold. The D-Pad's a huge improvement over the Xbox 360's, losing the raised back circle in favour of the cross formation sitting within the casing of the controller itself.
It still needs batteries, but their housing is now built horizontally into the pad between the triggers, so your fingers grip the pad prongs more securely and don't need to contend with any rear raised housing.
The buttons that replace Start and Back on the new controller feel more at home underneath the Xbox/Home button, and the extra strip of plastic at the top that replaces the gentle curve of the old design and fleshes out the device and completes the more angular design of the whole.
The biggest feature is actually one of the most subtle: in-built 'impulse' vibrators on each of the back triggers. It may sound like a small addition, but for games like Forza, it lets you feel how much you're pushing a car, as well as giving you tactile feedback if your car wheels run off the track. On shooters, it'll feel much more like pulling a gun trigger as the vibrations rattle your finger. It'll make a massive difference to the level of immersion in games, and we can't wait to see what developers do with tech in the future.
There is a couple of issues that don't present themselves straight away, but their certainly worth considering, and they relate to batteries and power consumption. First up, there's now no feedback on the dashboard relating to how much power is left (as there was on Xbox 360), so now you're just waiting for the power outage to announce itself via the death of your controller. That'll be very annoying if you lose connection halfway through a round of Call of Duty or Battlefield. On the old 360 controller the flashing central button was a clear indication that you'd need to change batteries soon, but there's no such feature on Xbox One.
The controller also eats through batteries. The Duracell AAs that came with the console lasted for a couple of days of heavy use, but since then the Panasonic batteries that we replaced them with have had to be replaced daily. Of course there's a Play and Charge kit that you'll be able to buy, or you could use rechargeable batteries. It's also worth noting that we discovered you can use a USB to Mini-USB cable and play wired, if you've got a cable long enough and don't mind being permanently tethered to your new console.
The New Dashboard + Kinect
All Xbox One consoles come bundled with Kinect, and it's much more sensitive than the previous iteration of the technology (though on our first day of using it, it still had the occasional issue with accents). You can use it in conjunction with the new Skype App to video call anyone who's signed in to the service and online, with Kinect keeping you in frame if you move around the room as you talk.
At any point while playing a game you can get the console to capture footage by simply saying "Record that", with the console saving the video until you're ready to watch and edit it (you can upload it online as well, though these editing functions wren't available on our review unit - we expect them to be available from this Friday).
The Kinect certainly seems more responsive that the original version of the tech. Calibrating it is a streamlined experience, and it takes in a lot detail. With two people sitting in front of the camera it is able to pick out individual faces, and if you've set it up, can sign you in to your profile through facial recognition. Switching between players is simple, with available profiles located in the top left hand corner of the homepage.
The Dashboard is a vast improvement over the Xbox 360's, built around only three pages - your main Home screen, a ‘Pins' menu as the left page that you can customise for shortcuts to your most used game and Apps, while the right page is the Xbox Store, the page split into columns for quick access to TV & Movies, Games, Music and Apps. It's a killer UI, and it switches from Apps, games and Dashboard in a flash. Very impressive.
The new home of Achievements is a particular highlight. Now each achievement or award is presented on a ‘metro-style' tile. If you're a collector/achievement whore, you'll have a much more visual experience as you look through your past Achievements. Also as before, when you earn an Achievement, a message pops up in-game - holding the Xbox button takes you direct to Achievements page, where you can find out why you got it (if there was any doubt).
Selecting the tile that houses your profile brings up a feed that includes your friends recent activity, much like you'll see on a certain popular social networking site. Messages, friends/followers, achievements and recording gameplay clips can all be accessed here and gives you a more organic feel as to what those on your friends list have been up to.
Your main home page has been tidied, and stripped of the adverts that threatened to overwhelm the Xbox 360's one. 'Recommended' tabs still appear to the right, but they no longer feel invasive.
A huge window dominates the centre of the home page - your current activity - with other tiles orbit it like satellites. Here your most recent App, be it game or movie, sits waiting to be accessed again at the tap of a button. Around it hovers tiles that link to your profile, whatever's currently in the disc drive, and recently accessed apps. It's a much more simplified system, and easier than ever to get to the content you're frequently using. On the left page you can 'pin' Apps so even if some are cycled off the front page, they're still easily accessed.
Rolling to the right hand screen and you're greeted with the best of what Xbox One can offer via digital download: Games, Movies & TV, Music and Apps. It's a much more elegant solution to the 360's dashboard, and it ensures that all the core pillars on which Xbox One is built retain equal prominence. Each of the tiles takes you to a hub focused on that one area, so you can see what Apps are available to download, or grab a new game from the store.
On the Achievements page, the first thing you're greeted with is "Featured Challenges" - achievable targets that are tied to a timer (eg: play five FIFA 14 matches in the next 11 days, or finish 50 Rivals events in 43 days on Forza 5). Sitting next to them are your Xbox One Achievements, and if you keep scrolling to the right, you'll see all of the things you did on your Xbox 360. You can even ping text messages to friends if they're still on Xbox 360. A small thing, but a nice inclusion.
A selection of your most recent Achievements are displayed on the frontpage, but dropping down to a tab underneath the last tile in each section takes you to a list of all your achievements, presented game by game, in the order you last achieved them.
One annoyance is that there's no clear way of closing or restarting a game or App. For example, when trying to use Skype, there was a problem with the program so we exited back to the dashboard. Doing so is quick and responsive, however, when going back into Skype we were back where we started - facing the error message. To close Skype down we had to open a new program, back out of that and re-open the original App. Maybe there's a easier way of achieving that, but we've still to find it.
Another issue is the current Blu-ray Player download App. While the X1 takes you straight to the App download page when putting in a disc the first time (there's no Blu-ray play straight out of the box) and the App works fine, it doesn't save your film if you decide to skip into another App momentarily. Given you can do so with games, and after getting used to Netflix's saving of our position, this can be annoying and hopefully fixed in a patch sometime down the way (as we don't want to have to skip through previews again and again for those discs that carry them).
Xbox One does what we ended up using the Xbox 360 for: streaming our movies and TV shows as well as playing games. Depending on your TV storage setup, the bulky case can be hidden easily, but you may have to make a sacrifice of your under-TV spacing if you're juggling a lot of vertical-standing consoles there.
The new Dashboard's improvements are obvious, though working out how to use it isn't as intuitive as the Xbox 360's. Kinect 2.0 is also an improvement, but we're likely going to use it only as a supplement to the standard controller rather than a full replacement. The controller is a complete joy and could easily become a favourite for the gaming history books.
What we'd want improved, has been, though it's not so much that we'd say its essential you trade your old Xbox 360 in just yet. It's a promising start for the Xbox One, and we'll be watching it closely over this first month as the new Xbox Live gets its first proper workout, and the Dashboard opens the gates to post-launch content.
We like: The quietness of the console and its design. Fantastic and mostly intuitive UI. Quick and easy switch between Apps.
We dislike: Console takes up a lot of space, heat from top means it needs a lot of room to breath. We won't know for sure until the Game Marketplace fills up, but it doesn't look like there'll be great visibility for indies as there's no indie-specific tab.