Xbox One Review: Microsoft Goes All-in With Its Latest Console
Microsoft’s all-in-one entertainment console has been out in the wild for almost two weeks now, and based on reports millions of consoles have been sold. The software giant made up ground with most gamers in the Xbox One PR battle leading up to its launch, which surely helped to sell a few Ones to those gamers who were put off by its initial reveal, and disastrous policies. Regardless of the faulty PR campaign on the behalf of MS, the Xbox One is still a solid piece of gadgetry that does offer a brand new, yet familiar experience to Xbox 360 gamers, and new adopters alike. It’s far from perfect, but it’s also not the disaster that many Sony fanboys and pundits predicted it to be back in June.
The Xbox One sports 8 cores of processing power and 8GB of a slightly slower version of RAM than what is in the PS4. It also features some ultrafast ESRAM to support many of the fast-switching functionalities of the One. The 500 GB HDD is on par with the PS4, and just like Sony’s next-gen system, the Xbox One will fill up fast thanks to the need for game installations. This leads me to believe that newer versions of both consoles will be out before you know it, or at least some 3rd-party HDDs for those gamers who don’t feel like hacking their consoles to install new drives.
Thanks to the increased horsepower in the Xbox One it is noticeably faster than the 360. This speed gain is most realized in the boot up process of the console itself, and when switching between running apps. If you leave the Xbox One in standby-mode it can be awoken with a voice command, and will be back up and running right where you left it in no time. This means you can stop in the middle of a game, enjoy life outside of gaming for a bit, and then come back to your Xbox One and pick up right where you left off without really having to wait on loading screens. This feature is currently in beta, but in my testing I have yet to have a suspended game crap out on me after coming back to it at a later time, so I’ve been overly impressed with the speediness of the Xbox One’s warm boot process.
Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about the Xbox One’s ability to install, and even sometimes play games. Unlike the PS4, the Xbox One requires an obscene amount of time to install a game to your HDD fully. After a certain percentage of the game has been installed you can start to play it, but even getting to that moment is longer than the full install on the PS4. I’ve also noticed that two of the launch games – Dead Rising 3 and Ryse – both take forever to load while playing them. I’m talking upwards of 40-60 seconds just to load the next chapter, or in DR3’s case, to just load a checkpoint.
Honestly I wasn’t expecting this at all considering that the One is a more than capable system to handle these games, so I’m not sure if all the blame is to be placed on the console, or the developers. Games like Killer Instinct and COD: Ghosts both seem to have snappy load times, so I’m leaning towards the in-game slow downs being related to the game’s development tactics, but I still think the Xbox One should be quicker when loading large games even if it is a design issue.
The Xbox One runs surprisingly quiet, which is a godsend when compared to its predecessor’s awfully loud hum. It can hardly be heard while playing games, and when it’s performing non-gaming related tasks it’s just as quiet. The One hardly even makes a peep when it installs a game too. I have also yet to hear the Blu-ray drive sounding like it’s about to leave orbit, even during cold boots, which isn’t the case on the PS4 in my experience.
Xbox One Controller
Microsoft didn’t really need to change much about the 360 controller for the Xbox One, but the improvements that were made are definitely worthy, making the One’s controller the latest preferred standard among most gamers. The D-pad is definitely improved, and now the thumbsticks have nubs around the concave design for better grip. There’s no more Back or Start buttons either, those have been replaced by a Menu button and a View button, which both have more advanced functions than what was available before. One of the cooler new features of the Xbox One controller is the inclusion of vibrating motors in the left and right triggers, which may sound silly, but the extra haptic feedback goes a long way in making you feel like you’re in the game with the characters you’re playing.
In general the Xbox One controller feels right at home in the palm of your hands, and is still the best feeling game controller out in the market, even with the massive improvements to the Dualshock 4. One thing that is odd about the controller though is the fact that its input does’t seem to be an industry standard for high-end headphones, or other hard wired 3rd party mics. Unlike the PS4, which has a standard 3.5mm audio jack, you must use the pack-in mic for the Xbox One thanks to its proprietary port on the controller. This means you’ll have to open up your wallet to buy a new headset if you don’t like the included one, or look for adapters to purchase that will make your older headsets compatible with the Xbox One.
Love it or hate it, but MS has gone all-in with its kinect technology, and for now there’s no way to buy an Xbox One without getting one. Quite frankly, the new kinect actually works quite well when it comes to voice commands and Skype. Being able to wake up and put the Xbox One to sleep with your voice is more handy then you may think, and managing the UI is also a breeze with the new voice commands. Saying, “Xbox, select” allows you to easily navigate the Xbox One’s Windows 8 inspired UI, and rarely does the kinect falter when accepting a command.
I’ve read reports about the voice commands not working so well, but that is not the case with my setup. The only time I’ve had it not recognize me is when I was talking to someone else while also telling it to turn on, so it confused itself. I’ve even been able to get my One to turn on with just my voice while being in another section of my man cave that isn’t in direct view of the console.
What’s even more impressive about kinect 2.0 is its 1080p, 30 fps camera. No longer do you have to have a wide open play space to use the kinect. It only has to be at least 2ft off the ground and somewhere in your near vicinity to see you. It doesn’t have to be centered with your TV, or placed on top of it either. The new lens allows the kinect to see a much wider angle of your room, and the improved resolution is a bonus, especially when used with the Skype app.
Considering that MS packed in a kinect with every Xbox One most of the games out for it support the device. I have yet to find myself using it outside of the scripted voice sections in Ryse: Son of Rome. For now at least, the kinect as it relates to gaming still doesn’t revolutionize the art like MS wants us to believe. Regardless, its integration into the management of the Xbox One itself is still reason enough to use it when you get your new toy setup.
Microsoft decided to ditch the familiar look of the Xbox 360 dashboard on the Xbox One, and opted for a Windows 8 style UI that is quite cluttered looking. If you hate Windows 8, you probably won’t like the Xbox One dashboard too much either. There’s now three main sections to the UI. There’s a Pins section, which houses all of the apps and games you’ve selected to pin there. There’s also the Home section, which features your profile and friends, a large app window, and various other app related tiles. Finally, the last section of the Xbox One UI features the Store and its offerings.
Thanks to the One’s tiled UI it’s actually quite difficult sometimes to find certain apps or settings. The console settings are under My Apps and Games, which just doesn’t seem intuitive, and while chatting in a party you have to actually turn on the party chat after you already joined a party invite. I’m still trying to wrap my head around that process, and why it’s setup that way, but many parts of the Xbox One UI beg the same question. The use of tiles also makes it more difficult to quickly find a specific app or game since most of them sport the same color, and don’t really stand out from the rest.
Outside of the slow game installs the Xbox One UI is just as speedy as the PS4. Opening new apps and switching between previously opened ones happens on the fly, and the ability to turn off your One while it is still playing a game that can be resumed later is definitely a plus. In general the One’s UI is usable, but it could definitely use some personalization options, and a few organizational improvements to make it even better.
Microsoft made it clear from day one that the Xbox One is an all-in-one entertainment system, and not just a gaming machine. This mantra is defined by the ability to plug your cable box into the back of the One so you can pass its signal to your console. If your cable box is supported you can use the One Guide to view what programs are currently on, and can use voice commands to change channels. I was able to get this feature working with my DirecTV box, and I must admit that it will be useful for gamers who need to have the ability to watch TV and game at the same time. Considering that I already have an HDTV mounted to my wall right next to my main gaming TV, I don’t really have a use for it, but it is still a cool feature that the PS4 lacks.
The picture when passed through the One doesn’t lose too much clarity, but you’ll have to toggle the audio settings to get surround sound capabilities because the One doesn’t do it automatically. If your cable box isn’t supported, then the Xbox One’s TV feature starts to lose its luster. In my case, the One pulled in my receiver and built the One Guide for it, but I couldn’t use my controller or voice to change channels, so for now I’ve left my cable box unhooked. Like I said though, if you don’t have multiple TVs and your cable box is fully supported, then this feature is pretty useful, and a great function to show off to your friends who don’t have a One.
Snap is a new and very useful feature in the Xbox One UI that will do wonders for gamers who like to multitask. This app allows you to have two concurrent operations displayed side by side at the same time. By saying, “Xbox, snap <app name>” you can carve out a sliver of your TV’s right hand side to display the app you asked to be opened. You could be playing a game and have the NFL app snapped open so you can watch football while you game, or if you have your cable box hooked up you could watch the boob tube. You can toggle how you want to record gameplay using Snap, and all other sorts of functions too.
I’ve found it to be useful, but not necessary at this point since there isn’t much to snap that makes sense right now. Hopefully developers realize the potential of the Xbox One’s Snap feature, because it could definitely come in handy for both gaming and other forms of entertainment on the console.
Game DVR/Upload Studio/Social Features
The Xbox One is definitely not short on new software features, and two of the best new additions are the Game DVR and Upload Studio. The built-in DVR can record up to 5 minutes of current or past gameplay, which can then be edited and uploaded to your Skydrive account through Upload Studio. Recording gameplay can be achieved with a voice command – “Xbox, record that” – or you can snap the Game DVR to the game you’re playing for more recording options. The clips get recorded in 720p, and actually look pretty clear, so the One’s DVR can definitely be used to make professional looking gaming videos.
Dead Rising 3 clip recorded and edited with Game DVR and Upload Studios
One of the clear advantages of the Xbox One right now is its exclusive games catalogue. At launch the Xbox One has a few more exclusive games to play such as Ryse: Son of Rome, and Dead Rising 3 that can’t be played on the PS4. Moving forward the One will continue to feature exclusives that could possibly warrant a console purchase thanks to deals with EA’s Titanfall and PvZ: GW. There’s also Halo 5 on the horizon, so as it stands now the Xbox One has a more fruitful looking exclusive games lineup than the PS4.
The games themselves are quite pretty to look at, especially Crytek’s Ryse: Son of Rome (review). Ryse features some luscious looking visuals that definitely could’t appear on the 360 thanks to the One’s ability to render lighting more clearly and produce more advanced particle effects. Dead Rising 3 (review) on the other hand doesn’t look so impressive thanks to its dark tones and current-gen looking visuals. The cutscenes feature richly detailed environments and characters, but they just don’t exude a next-gen feel like Ryse or the PS4’s Killzone: Shadow Fall.
Ported games look exceptionally well on the Xbox One as well. Call of Duty: Ghosts looks much better than its 360 counterpart, and contrary to popular belief it doesn’t look like a 720p pile of crap. The character animations are smooth, and the game world is richly detailed with color, light, and textures.
Games on the Xbox One and PS4 look to be on equal footing at this point, so a clear winner can’t be determined this early into the next generation of gaming. The PS4 definitely installs games faster and doesn’t have long load times, but graphically its visuals are no better than what the Xbox One offers. Again, developers are responsible for coaxing the most out of a game console to produce the best visuals possible, so graphics on both consoles will only get better as time goes on.
Microsoft had a huge black hole to climb out of after it first unveiled the Xbox One. The strict policies of used game trading and always-online connections nearly killed the new console off in the minds of gamers months before it even released. Thankfully, MS listened to its fans and made the right moves to destroy the negative perception around it and those insane policies. Now that the console is upon us and in millions of homes, it’s clear that it is indeed a next-gen machine with infinitely more power than the 360. It’s use of kinect commands in UI management is a nice touch, and actually works. The new Snap, Game DVR, and other apps all add nice functionality to the system that make it feel like the all-in-one entertainment system that MS touted it to be.
The UI is a bit of a mess, and games take too long to install and load at times, but overall the Xbox One is a worthy addition to the next-gen console landscape. It’s a true step up from the Xbox 360, and has legs for the future. If you’ve been needing a mega-device in your entertainment center that can do more than just one function, then the Xbox One is waiting to come home with you. Just like the PS4 it will only improve over time, so as gamers we should all be excited about the next 8-10 years of this next chapter in our gaming lives.
[schema type=”review” name=”Xbox One | Review Summary” description=”The Awesome: Useful kinect commands, Snap, Game DVR/Upload Studio, Next-gen visuals | The Not so Awesome: Price tag, ESRAM issues, Clunky looking UI” rev_name=”Xbox One” rev_body=”Microsoft’s Xbox One is truly a next-gen gaming console thanks to its slick game visuals, and advanced applications. The kinect camera is vastly improved, and the built-in apps such as Snap, Game DVR, and Upload Studio make the One extremely useful for multitaskers. If you can handle the $499 price tag there’s no reason to not own an Xbox One.” author=”Matt Heywood” pubdate=”2013-12-05″ user_review=”8″ min_review=”0″ max_review=”10″ ]
Review Statement: The reviewer purchased an Xbox One console for the purposes of this review.
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