Sunday, 22 December 2013

Xbox One Review - Part 2: The Console

Having queued up the night before to get my Xbox One, I awoke early on Friday morning like a child on Christmas Day. The console is arguably the most well-packaged product I’ve ever seen, with not an inch of space in the box wasted.

The Kinect sensor is bulkier than its predecessor; it no longer has a motorised hinge mechanism and generally looks and feels better quality.

The console is large, but not as big as photographs of it make it appear and it sports a half matt, have glossy finish. Elegant, but not showy; designed to blend in with other devices in your living room.
With the Xbox 360 controller regarded as the best on the market, the Xbox One version was never going to be a great difference in design. With the battery packs now slotting inside the controller, it feels lighter. The thumbsticks are smaller and feel more precise, the bumpers have a crisp click to them while the triggers have opted for a much lighter pull. 
The triggers also have vibration mechanisms built into them. Called “Impulse Triggers”, developers will be able to use these to further enhance the gaming experience. As an example, when your right front tyre brushes a curb on Forza Motorsport 5, the right trigger will vibrate. Bounce a ball with your left hand in NBA 2K14 and the left trigger will buzz along with it.

Setting up the console is straight forward. Get all the cables plugged in (Kinect no longer has a plug, it is powered by the console), and then you will be taken through the setup process on screen. This will involve an update, signing in with your Xbox Live ID and calibrating Kinect (though you can choose to do this later).

And then you’re away. There are a number of videos available to you on the dashboard that will show you the new features – How to Snap, how to upload video, how to use voice commands and where you will find the store and new apps.

To get gaming as soon as possible, I suggest either putting in a disc and set it off installing, buying a digital version of a game from the store or using a code for a free game. This game will now be installing as you carry on exploring the console. You can queue up apps to install and you can switch the order that things are installing if you’re impatient. The apps available in the UK at time of writing include 4OD and Demand 5, Netflix, LoveFilm, Twitch, YouTube, Internet Explorer among others. You’ll also want to install the Blu-Ray and Audio CD apps.

All apps and games can be pinned to your home screen for easy access, but once you get used to the voice commands, you can open anything from anywhere. The Snap feature is particularly good, allowing you to open 4OD for example while you’re playing a game, or your Activity feed so you can see who is online and what they’re doing.

Let’s look at a few things that need improvement:

There is currently no way to tell how much battery life you have left in your controller.
You are no longer notified when Friends arrive online and your Friends are mixed in with the people you follow (a new, Twitter-like system, where you can see the activity of others who aren’t online Friends).
There are currently no game-wide defaults, so if you’re an invert your Y-axis kind of guy like me, you’ll have to switch it for every game.

One of my favourite features of the console is the Upload Studio. On a basic level, this allows you to record the last 30 seconds of a game simply by saying “Xbox – Record that”. You can then edit these videos with commentary, video of yourself or different skins. With Game DVR, you can record 5 minutes of gameplay, which has seen some creative use in the community. In Upload Home, you can view featured clips, official videos and your own creations or those of your friends. Saving your clips to the excellent SkyDrive app will allow you to take these clips anywhere, though there isn’t currently a simple YouTube upload option.

Navigating the console with the controller is fine, but even the Kinect-cynics will find Voice Commands to be a lot better. As mentioned, you can quickly go to any app or game from wherever you are and if you’re still learning the commands, there are shortcuts and lists to guide you. 

Kinect is a lot better than the first version and only rarely mishears or ignores you. Once you have the timing and tempo of the commands down, you’ll have no trouble with it. If you have a family member signed up to your console, Kinect will see them and say Hi when they walk in the room, which they’ll either find delightful or creepy.

Kinect can also be used to turn the console off and if it is in Instant On mode, it will be listening for the “Xbox-On” command to boot up again in a matter of seconds.

In Part 3, we’ll be looking at what brought us to the dance in the first place – the games.

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