Have We Truly “Jumped Ahead”? My Early Xbox One Impressions
I feel that I need to start this off with full disclosure. It’s probably going to be much easier to understand some of my impressions if I do so. First off, I just plugged my Kinect in yesterday. I’m not going to be using the lion’s share of the entertainment apps on the Xbox One because my TV has 95% of that functionality built into it. I bought the Xbox One due to the fact that it’s going to have some great games that aren’t available anywhere else.
With that out-of-the-way I’m ready to get into my early impressions regarding the Xbox One itself. The UI, Controller, and Upload Studio will be covered.
Xbox One UI
Let’s start with the good, because there are tons of it. Microsoft has taken the visually appealing nature of Windows 8 and applied it directly to Xbox One. X1’s UI is very similar to the state of the Xbox 360 with a few notable alterations. First off, the “home” page is full of tiles that are dictated by your recent activity. Which is beyond convenient; it’s great. I’m also a fan of “pinning” my favorite apps onto my main UI as it provides easy access to the things I use most. The main page consists of one large tile that retains your single most recent activity within it. Whether it’s the Xbox Store, Netflix, or the game you’ve most recently played; it’s there, and it’s ready to jump directly back into at a moments notice. The dashboard remains “busy”, but Xbox One manages to organize the sensory overload into an almost wholly applicable manner. On top of all the great new functionality, the Xbox One menus are lightning fast. For now, the games, movies, music, and app stores are all well-organized and easy to navigate. And games are refreshingly first on the list of stores by default. The Xbox One offers many conveniences, but the negatives are surprisingly severe.
As I mentioned at the top of the write-up, my Kinect was still in the box several days after receiving my Xbox One. Here’s a few things that are certainly left to be desired from a design standpoint when you decide to go Kinectless. First and foremost, you have to physically sign your gamertag in EVERY single time you turn on the Xbox One if Kinect isn’t running. It doesn’t sound like much of an inconvenience outright, but the fact that the sign in is buried in a sub-menu and not on the main screen, makes it one. The act of recording video without Kinect plugged in is rather tedious as well. The basic run-down is this; pause and/or hit the Xbox button and return to the main menu, then open the Game DVR app, select record, and return to your game. This is in stark contrast to PS4’s double tap of the share button to begin recording video (without ever having to leave the game). The most notable design flaw that any 360 owner will instantly notice is the friends/followers list. It’s also buried in a sub-menu. This make the act of simply seeing who’s online more of a task, and the same can be said about starting a party as well. Don’t forget that during a Kinectless Xbox One experience you’re constantly reminded the damn thing isn’t plugged in. A small, but conspicuous notification is constantly present in the upper right of the dashboard when the device is unplugged.
After plugging in Kinect I tried out several of the features Microsoft has been driving home since the announcement of Xbox One. Voice commands like “Xbox, record that” are much more useful to archive game footage than the alternative. But that’s where my complaint lies. Things shouldn’t be five times harder just because I don’t want the Kinect active. Moving along I also tried the snap feature to browse apps and games while I was actively enjoying Netflix. Snap is a pretty great multitasking tool, but I’m not sure how often I’ll actually use it. I literally ran Netflix on the Xbox One to test the feature, and nothing more. I also utilized voice commands while watching Star Trek: Into Darkness. Not having to look for a remote when your son comes wandering down half asleep is a pretty slick offering. Overall I get the distinct impression when using the Xbox One that I’m being penalized for not having Kinect plugged in.
I’ve already expressed my distaste of how the Game DVR service is accessed, but I have to say that Upload Studio in conjunction with SkyDrive is a pretty tasty combo. Once you have gameplay recorded and saved it’s time to put it through the Upload Studio process. The app itself is a pretty killer addition to the Xbox One. You have the ability to post produce your captured video by clipping it, adding commentary, selecting an appropriate filter, and even adding PiP video content via Kinect. Once you’re done in post production you have the ability to upload it directly to Microsoft SkyDrive and have access to it anywhere. Here’s a quick sample of what I captured, edited, and uploaded with Game DVR and Upload Studio:
This is by far the component that I’m most impressed with. Yeah, the shoulder buttons are only pressable on about 60% of the surface, but I’ll take that any day of the week if I can keep the controller’s many updates. First off the d-pad is decidedly more accurate and satisfying to use. I’m loving the fact that there’s the user receives actual feedback from the pad when using it. Back in August when I first had the chance to use the new controller I was almost immediately smitten. But I had to remember that I’d held onto the thing for just over an hour, not really enough time to get a good feel for its durability or long-term ergonomics. After using the controller for extended periods of time I’m just as impressed as before, possibly even more so. The built-in haptics of the Xbox One controller provide very realistic feel and produce really great feedback for the user. Gone is the “rumble” feature that we’d become so accustomed to. It’s been replaced by a much more true-to-life form of reaction. Weapons now have a specific “feel” to them. The response received from a pistol isn’t nearly as strong as that of a sniper rifle. You’ll also have a better indication of how well you’re executing turns in a game like Forza Motorsport 5. Dead Rising 3 employs a great use of the new haptics. When wielding a weapon like the Sledge-Saw you’ll notice what I refer to as a “purr” from the controller indicating that the saw blade is active and ready to slice at a moment’s notice. The analog sticks are a bit more concave than the 360 controller with a bit of texture around the outermost perimeter of each stick. In my personal experience I feel much more precise with the Xbox One controller than I did with the 360’s. If I had to describe X1’s new controller in one word it’d be; great.
As I said in my previous write-up of my early PS4 impressions. I can’t justify providing anyone with a proper “review” at this point. And I think that anyone that has is simply doing so for the traffic. Games are hard enough to review nowadays due to unforeseeable day one updates, post-release DLC and the like. I feel like reviewing a console whose experience could drastically change in the coming months would be gauche. Until I feel that the overall experience is near complete, I’ll reserve my judgement. Watch for more Xbox One game reviews very soon. Dead Rising 3 is coming along very nicely, but if you need something right now, check out Ryan’s NBA 2K14 day one review.
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