Hands On Impressions of the Fall 2011 Xbox Metro Dashboard Update

After a considerably long delay the Fall 2011 Xbox Live Dashboard update was finally made available to gamers last night around 10 PM EST.  After about a 10 minute process of downloading and updating my 360’s software I was up and running with the Windows 8 inspired Metro theme of the new XBL Dashboard.  During this process I only encountered one major issue, which dealt with my profile’s inability to sign into XBL after updating.  I’m chalking this up to the system being stressed out, but strangely enough I was able to sign in after I moved my profile back to my console’s HDD from my MU.

Outside of accepting a new user agreement, and choosing whether or not I want to enter my password every time I sign into Live, the update process was a breeze.  Overall, I’m quite pleased with the new Dashboard so please continue on to read about and view some of the major changes introduced in the Metro update.

Fall 2011 Xbox Metro Dashboard Update

EB 9 out of 10 Buddhas

The Awesome: UI Overall Look and Feel, New Kinect Controls, Cloud Storage

The Not so Awesome: Lack of Apps, Non-Kinect Users Left Out


The Awesome

UI Overall Look and Feel

If you’ve been following the tech world, and have kept tabs on the development of Windows 8, and/or Windows Phone 7, then you already have a good idea of what the new Xbox Dashboard looks like.  The Xbox team definitely borrowed the tiled theme of like apps from the MS OS to use in the new dashboard, and it works perfectly.  Gone are the sections filled with single content squares, and in their place you’ll find tiled rectangles representing the broader categories of: Bing, Home, Social, Video, Games, Music, Apps, and Settings.  Each of these tiles represent various functions that relate to their parent category with one center square for Xbox advertising, a few side squares for functions related to the particular tile, and finally a bottom right square that has advertising for consumer products.

Introducing the new Tiled UI of the Xbox 360

I truly do appreciate the organization that these new tiles bring.  They elevate the visual flare of the XBL Dashboard, and when paired with the Kinect they make your Xbox 360 seem as if it has a touchscreen interface.  They really provide more pertinent information for each parent category that wasn’t as easily available in the previous dashboard.  It may take a few minutes to get used to the new layout, but when it comes down to it I really feel like it’s the perfect fit for XBL.  There’s no confusion as to where to go anymore to check out new games, apps, videos, music, and even your system settings. With the new Friend Beacons it’ll be easier than ever to get a game going with those who are interested in the same game.  The Metro look doesn’t just work for feminine men anymore, because its style is perfect for the Xbox 360 Dashboard UI.

New Friends menu and Beacons

New Kinect Controls

Without a doubt one of the main things that the Xbox team wanted to achieve with this 2011 Dashboard update was to integrate the kinect more deeply into its controls.  For the most part I’d say they succeeded, but it’s still not Minority Report.  In the new update almost every menu can be navigated using kinect motion and voice controls now.  You can easily swipe between the parent categories with a stroke of your hand, and with some more precision maneuvers you can navigate each square in the new tiled blocks of each parent category.  The gestures worked very well for me even in a completely dark basement with me sitting on my couch.  The kinect did a real good job of locating my movements, and it integrated them pretty well into the navigation of the new UI.

On top of the improved kinect motion controls the voice commands are much more robust as well.  This is exhibited perfectly in the new Bing search function that was also added into the XBL Dashboard.  If you have a kinect you can now say, “Xbox, Search Term”, and it’ll search your console for the content.  You can find movies, games, and music that you already have on your console, or that you’re looking to buy from one of the app stores.  I was impressed with how responsive this system was even when I wasn’t shouting out the commands.  You can take a look at this new Bing/Kinect search function below in a video I made of it in action.  This new UI definitely makes owning a kinect more alluring, but like the old one it isn’t necessary to have one to enjoy all the benefits of your XBL membership.

Demo of Kinect and Bing Controls in the Fall 2011 Xbox Dashboard Update


Cloud Storage

Yes gamers your saves can now be kept in the proverbial Cloud!  I think this feature is worth the price of admission alone of the new Metro Dashboard.  Once enabled (full directions for cloud use here) gamers can store their game saves in the cloud and easily retrieve them on any console that is connected to the Internet.  You still need to either bring your profile with you on a SSD, or download it to the console you’re currently one, but at least your game saves will be available anywhere you choose to play connected to the Net.  Each Xbox gamer gets 512 MB of cloud storage, which is plenty to keep game saves in, but that’s about it.  Regardless, it’s a nice new feature that will make console hopping a little more easier than it was in the past.

Once enabled you can save game progress to the Cloud


The Not so Awesome

Lack of Apps

For all of the great additions to the new Xbox Dashboard I was surprised to see that a majority of the TV channel apps weren’t available yet.  In fact, most of the new apps that MS talked about aren’t available yet.  You can really only use the same apps that were there before such as Netflix, Fb, Twitter, and others.  The Epix app is now available, but as of last night it was having some technical issues with signing in and providing content.  You’d think that since MS included an entire section dedicated to apps that they would include some new ones in this update, but that is not the case.

Notice the two sections of coming soon. Not much going on right now.

Non-Kinect Users Left Out

I don’t really know if many will consider this a downside to the new Xbox Dashboard, but it’s clear that this Metro design is meant for kinect enabled consoles.  All of the menus can still be controlled with a controller, but it becomes a little tedious to click through all of the sub-tiles of the main tiled box of each parent category.  The bigger issue comes in the form of the new Kinect/Bing search functionality.  Without a kinect you have to use the God awful keyboard of the UI that just doesn’t allow for quick searches like the voice enabled ones.  It’s not a major bummer, but if you don’t have a kinect then you may not fully realize the potential of the new Xbox Live Dashboard.


The Final Verdict

I can honestly say that I’m a big fan of this new Windows 8 inspired Xbox Dashboard.  Haters will hate, but they’re just blowing hot air.  There’s really nothing you can sh*t on about this new dashboard outside of the lack of new apps.  It flows better, looks snazzier, and if you have a kinect it becomes much closer to the sci-fi UI’s that you’ve seen in the movies and TV.  The tiles allow for better organization of your console’s content, and like I mentioned I prefer its cleaner look.  The ability to save your game in the cloud is a much appreciated bonus, and I really appreciate the direction that MS has taken the Xbox Live Dashboard.  For this I give the Metro update an EB 9 out of 10 Buddhas!  You can head on past the break to view a quick and dirty video of the update in action, and don’t forget to let us know what you think of the changes in our comments section below.  You’ve been wondering how many trolls will pile on this new UI…

New Xbox Metro Dashboard Update User Interface in Action


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Matt Heywood

The author Matt Heywood

Matt Heywood is the founder and EIC of where he strives to make you a better geek, one post at a time! When he’s not scouring the Internet for interesting nuggets of awesomeness he can be found in his secret lair enjoying the latest and greatest video games, taking pictures of toys, or talking Star Wars on EB’s Star Wars Time podcast show.