Saturday, 8 March 2014

Xbox One : Review

A work in progress, 

the new Xbox has lots of potential

By James Rivington 

"The Xbox One is a brilliant console, and with a few more updates and games it could become a must-buy for media-savvy gamers."


  1. Great interface
  2. Kinect is impressive
  3. Snapping works
  4. Strong launch lineup
  5. Easy video sharing


  1. Gold paywall
  2. Controller still uses batteries
  3. No OneGuide in UK

Introduction and design

The Xbox One is Microsoft's third games console and certainly its most ambitious to date.
Not just a powerful games machine, it's designed to sit at the centre of your digital home, offering a slick, unified interface for your choice of live TV service alongside music and movie streaming options, Skype chats, catch-up TV and more.

It's also just received a £30 price cut, now costing £399.99. And if you're quick you can get it with a free copy of Titanfall as well.
Ratings in depth

Coming with the new version of Kinect by default, voice and gesture controls sit at the heart of everything and offer a step up in reliability and performance from the previous generation.

If you're not going to play a game, you no longer need to use the gamepad to turn the console on or navigate to your entertainment of choice.

Still, does it have a chance at the runaway success of theXbox 360? Or will it trip over its own £399.99 price tag (down from £429.99 of course).


The Xbox One box is very similar to that of the Xbox 360 - big, fiddly and frustrating. While the PS4 comes with minimal packaging, the Xbox One comes bundled with far more cardboard and plastic. It's very American in this regard and does at least feel like a premium product.

The first thing you'll notice about the console when you get it out of the enormous box is what an absolute beast it is in its own right. It measures 274 x 79 x 333 mm, making it longer and taller than a PlayStation 4 or an Xbox 360. You don't need a tape measure to figure that out though, the thing just looks huge, and it's ugly too.

Its size and girth harkens back to the original Xbox, an imposing black plastic beast covered in black plastic ridges. Microsoft seems to be throwing back to that design, bringing back the all black and the ridge-covered aesthetic.

It's massive size and black rectangular construction evoke a stereo tuner from the nineties. Its imposing bulk begs to be hidden away, with just its slot loading disc drive exposed, little white Xbox logo glowing in lonely TV cabinet darkness.

Flip the machine around and you'll see a plethora of ports. It has all your standard nodes: ethernet, HDMI out, power, S/PDIF (commonly used for optical audio), dual USB 3.0 ports and an IR out. Additionally, there are two proprietary ports, one for hooking in the Kinect, and an HDMI-in, which is how you feed the Xbox One your cable or satellite signal. There's also a third USB 3.0 port found on the system's right side.

The HDMI-in can function as a passthrough and let any old HDMI signal in, but there's a slight delay that makes it no good for hooking in another console.


You can't talk Xbox One without bringing up the new Kinect. While the system can operate without being hooked into Microsoft's magic eye, you'd be losing a lot of its most unique features and showroom wow factor.

The new Kinect is a whole lot bigger than its predecessor. It's also designed to sit in front of your TV, rather than perched on top of the screen like thePlayStation Camera. It's too big and, presumably, delicate for that.

Just like the system itself, it has a white light up logo on its right side. Dull red lights from its IR blaster intermittently glow when it's active.

The underside of the Kinect has rubber feet that provide a firm grip. It's not going to fall off your entertainment center any time soon. It can also tilt up and down, with enough range of motion that there shouldn't be any trouble finding the right angle for your living room.

What's in the box?

What a pile. An Xbox One purchase gets you the console and a Kinect, a power cable and adapter (aka the power brick), a decent headset, the headset adapter, an HDMI cable and controller with batteries. You'll also get a 14-day free trial of Xbox Live Gold.


Xbox One setup is more involved than on the PS4, but it's still not terribly complex. Along with power and HDMI, you'll also have to connect the Kinect through its proprietary cable.

If you plan to watch TV on the console, you'll do so with an HDMI cable, through the system's HDMI-in port. You'll then need to run the OneGuide's setup, which isn't too complex. We'll get into that in the media portion of this review.

When you first switch the system on you'll be met with a setup wizard which will get you connected to the internet for that day one patch. It's around 2GB, and absolutely required before you can even get to the Home screen.

After that's done don't go unplugging your router just yet, at least if you want to play Blu-rays. Almost nothing is on the system by default, and while internet access is not required for single player gaming, there's a ton of functionality that still needs come down from the cloud.

Hop into the Store and get those downloads queued up. After that though, setup is complete. Now before we dive deep into the Xbox One, allow us to walk you through some of its big new functions.


The Xbox One's tiled Home screen is a dead giveaway that the interface shares some DNA with Windows 8. Its brought one of the unique features of the Metro UI to your TV screen in the form of app snapping.

Snapping lets you run two apps at once, giving a third of the screen to one app off to the right, and the rest to your primary engagement. It's a good way to do a little Internet Explorer browsing while you wait for a friend to join your game, but beyond that it can be straining on the eyes.

First off, on all but the biggest TVs, a third of the screen just isn't enough space to do much of anything. Having FIFA on one side and an actual live match on the other may sound intriguing, but in practice it's cramped and terribly distracting. Snapping is better left to simpler apps, like the browser or answering a Skype call.

It's also a headache in execution because it requires multiple trips to the home screen. First to load up the primary app, then to back out and choose snap, after which you pick your secondary app.

Kinect makes it easier, allowing to simply say "Xbox snap Skype" to get the side by side feature working. It's also much easier to just say "switch" for toggling between the two rather using the controller.

Also, once an app is unsnapped, you lose all its functionality. Skype calls hang up, Xbox Music stops playing, basically you're forced to give up precious visual real estate for this debatably useful function.

While it's impressive that the Xbox One's hardware is capable of juggling all this with a drop in gaming performance, it comes off as something you can do, but not something you'll actually want to do, at least very often.

Game DVR

Game DVR could be the end of gaming tall tales and "you had to be there" stories. With help from Microsoft's SkyDrive service, it lets you easily record and share your personal epic wins.

It's much simpler than third-party recording devices since it's built directly into the system, and can grab your finest moments just after they happen. Simply say "Xbox record that" to Kinect and a 720p recording of your last thirty seconds in-game is saved to the hard drive. You can also get up to five minutes of footage but you have to plan ahead by snapping the Game DVR feature.

Like the recording on the PS4, game DVR cannot record on the Home screen, and developers do have the choice to disable it at certain moments, in case they don't wont spoilers to pop up online.

Unlike the PS4, which keeps a running archive of your last fifteen minutes of gameplay, the Xbox One is not constantly recording. However, games can be programmed to automatically engage the DVR. Battlefield 4, for example, records when you rank up or earn an achievement.

The Xbox One does allow more complete access to your recordings than the PS4. Using upload studio you can send the recording to SkyDrive, Microsoft's answer to Dropbox, and download it your PC as an MP4. You can then edit it using any tools you like, and upload the clip anywhere you choose. That's a lot more freedom than the on PS4, which limits you to Facebook or PSN uploads.

You can also share clips on Xbox Live where they will appear on in your activity feed. Those feeds are rather buried though, so chances are your friends won't see it unless you give them a heads up.

Upload Studio also has a simple suite of editing tools, and allows you to record a voice over commentary. You can even use Kinect recording to place yourself in the video, picture-in-picture style.

While the Xbox One currently has no built-in live streaming capabilities to match the PS4's Twitch and Ustream support, we think players will appreciate having direct access to their clips, which greatly extends the possibilities of editing and sharing.


Smartglass is the Xbox's second screen experience. It was introduced on the Xbox 360 and lets you navigate menus and see system information on your tablet or smartphone.

The app is back for Xbox One, and does have improved functionality. You can now launch apps from the second screen, and several games now have companion apps. Dead Rising 3 lets you use your device in lieu of the in-game phone for ordering attacks and calling for back. You can even view the in-game map.

The best service Smartglass provides is a keyboard that's easier than the console's on-screen option. It's a great way to read and respond to messages. You can also type in URLs and operate Bing search this way, which is an excellent way to multitask. You can also use the OneGuide on Smartglass for TV control.

The Windows 8 Smartglass app has its own special features. You can throw a browser page from the console directly onto the screen of your W8 device.

Also, its online requirement, which threatened to lock up the system without a daily server ping, has been dialed way, way down. Out of the box, your Xbox One will need to download a day one patch before you even arrive at the homescreen. After that, you can cut the ethernet cable or smash your router; there's no further online connectivity needed for single player gaming.

Xbox OneGuide

Sadly, this functionality is not available to UK customers at launch, North Americans can use that HDMI-in to turn the Xbox One into a cable box. Using a built in guide, you can navigate channels and search for specific shows, using the controller or your voice via Kinect.

Xbox One also integrates streaming services that you're currently subscribed to, and helps you find what you're looking for across all options.

For example, if you want to watch The Matrix, search for the film, and the Xbox One Guide will tell you if you can watch on Netflix, if you own it on Amazon, show a link to buy it through the Xbox Marketplace, or give you a heads up that it will be on cable next week.

What does work in the UK

UK gamers can still use the Xbox One's passthrough features though, so you can still plug in your Sky, Freeview or Freesat box and watch it through the Xbox One using existing remote controls etc. You just can't do anything else with it... yet.