Just in case the Kinect and a controller weren’t enough, you can also control many of the Xbox One’s features using the SmartGlass mobile app for Windows 8, Windows Phone, Android and iOS. As with just about every aspect of Microsoft’s new console, the app is similar to what’s already available on the 360, but with a few new features of varying utility. SmartGlass lets you view basic information like messages, achievements, and friend activity on the second screen. It also allows you to launch companion apps for games that have them — Dead Rising 3 in particular has an extensive companion app with some features exclusive to the second screen. After you get a cellphone in the game, you can use your real phone in place of the in-game phone to access a map of the city and receive missions over the phone; you can also look up items on the map, get text messages and gameplay hints, call a friend to help you fight off the zombie horde, or even request an airstrike from your phone.
Our one sticking point is that it does make a constant low hum when sat in its ‘Instant On’ mode, which I could hear when sitting in a very quiet room. For more on its standby modes and power usage, see Interface.
From there, you can access Upload Studio, trim and prepare your video and publish it to your Xbox Live account or, for sharing purposes, push it to SkyDrive. Once uploaded, you can grab the link, further edit the video or manually upload it to YouTube or share it manually across social networks, though it again rankles that there’s no direct Twitter or Facebook integration.
The Xbox One menu has literally been turned on its side with the new update. While the original interface was a mostly horizontal affair, built around navigating left and right for nearly everything, the new interface incorporates much more verticality. The visual design is still heavily based on Microsoft’s Metro design scheme, which uses large graphical tiles and simple text for menu elements. The four main menu tabs (Home, Community, OneGuide, and Store) are now arranged vertically, so instead of flipping left and right between pages of a given tab, you can simply scroll up and down (or use the left and right triggers to page up and down), which makes the menu layout feel much more coherent.
Gameplay SharingEven without Game DVR snapped or a Kinect connected, the new Xbox One interface lets you easily capture screenshots or record five-minute clips of gameplay. Double-tapping the Xbox button from a game not only brings up the Quick Access menu, but gives the option to save your screen or the last five minutes of video from your game by pressing X or Y. It’s not quite as convenient as the dedicated Share button on the PlayStation 4’s controller, but it’s still very accessible.
But in many ways, the Xbox One’s bold direction for the future is well in place. The integration of voice controls and its media strategy are a boon to everyone, and the ability to run apps while playing games is something we now want on every gaming console we have. That it has a handful of strong, exclusive games at launch only supports its legitimacy as a gaming console and not just an entertainment hub.
Elsewhere the Xbox One is a perfectly decent Blu-Ray and DVD player and will offer access to online movie and music services such as Netflix and Microsoft’s own Xbox Music. Many of these apps were not available to test pre-launch so, again, we will make any amends to this article once the console is released.
We would really like to see a 4×4 scaler mode added – it’s effectively a simple ‘nearest neighbour’ upscale but it works well because 4K is a simple 2x scale in both directions compared to full HD. The feature is supported on our Panasonic DX750, and at range, it’s definitely better for gaming than both the Xbox One S and indeed the DX750’s own standard upscaler.
The most recent update has also brought new goodies. You can now use Cortana through Kinect or a headset microphone, to find movies and programmes to watch or to launch games, or even to quickly search for something on the web while you’re busy in a game. It’s easier to find Facebook friends with Xbox Live accounts and add them to your friends list, while sharing video clips and screengrabs is a faster process, too.
Our Verdict It might look big and bulky next to its slimmer version, the Xbox One S, but these days the older Xbox One can be found for some temptingly low prices. If you’re willing to sacrifice the 4K functionality of the Xbox One S, then the Xbox One is still a great piece of hardware.
Not everyone will love the design of the PS4, but at least it looks like it has been designed, rather than simply shoved into the case of a VCR from the ’90s. Exaggeration? Ok, but the One is a big angular box of a machine that no-one’s going to appreciate for aesthetic reasons.
The Xbox One S’s design improvements aren’t limited to the console itself. The controller has gotten some nice evolutionary upgrades as well. For starters, the included controller now comes in white to match the Xbox One S’s body. It also feature a new textured grip, which makes it a lot easier to hold while playing long gaming sessions.
Yes, you say “Hey Cortana” instead of “Xbox” now; it is part of the “summer update” going out to all Xbox Ones. To my mind, the update puts the focus on the things that a games console like the Xbox is good at: easily finding games and streaming video. I’m not going to delve too deeply into the software here other than to say that it’s an improvement overall and I’ll be curious to see how much effort Microsoft continues to put into getting Windows 10 apps running on the Xbox.
However, given the Xbox 360’s notorious reliability problems, it’s a little reassuring that the Xbox One was given so much room to breathe. It’s quiet, and it runs relatively cool. But if you’re looking for subtlety, this is not the console for you.
The Xbox One S is neither of those, but it is an evolutionary step towards them. It bridges the gap between the old and the new, and while it is hard to make a case for an upgrade for existing Xbox One owners, it has become the best console on the market on the build up to Christmas 2016.
But while the Xbox One S may not offer native 4K gaming support, it does offer native 4K streaming support and also supports 4K Blu-ray discs. The built-in 4K Blu-ray player, which supports UHD Blu-ray playback (4K Blu-ray discs) is particularly nice as it saves you from having to go out and buy a dedicated 4K Blu-ray player. It’s also nice that you can now use the Xbox to stream 4K video from supported providers including Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Video, and a few others. However, the drawback here is that you won’t get to see the Xbox One S’s 4K benefit if you don’t own a 4K telly. But at least it’s ready for when you do get one.
Verdict: If you’ve been waiting to buy a new games console, the Xbox One S is the one to get. While the addition of a Bluetooth player and HDR gaming support is nice, the amazing feat of the Xbox One S is so much power in such a tiny, beautiful design. However, the design changes shouldn’t be enough to make those who already own a previous generation Xbox One splash out for an upgrade.
One of the most exciting additions to the controller is actually behind that unusually long battery life. The controller works in coordination with Kinect to monitor its use. When you put the controller down to watch a movie, it enters a low-power state. It’s a smart way of extending the utility of Kinect in a practical way. When you put the controller down to watch a movie, it enters a low-power state. The Xbox One also supports the Wi-Fi Direct standard for, well, direct wireless connections between devices. This kind of connection eliminates your wireless router from the equation, reducing latency and speeding up transfer speeds — which Microsoft is using for the Xbox One’s new, improved version of SmartGlass (discussed later).
And talking of the Store, there are some weird issues here, too. Try using the One’s global search function to find Destiny. You’d have thought it would take you to game page where you could at the very least watch trailers and probably pre-order the game for download on the day of launch. Alas, that game page doesn’t exist, the One doesn’t yet support pre-orders of digital editions, and no trailers or other game information is turned up. It’s almost like the game doesn’t exist, but is made all the more weird by the fact that there’s a trailer for the game on the console’s Home screen. Think that’s just Microsoft marginalising a game that’s launching with exclusive PS4 content? Try typing in “Advanced Warfare” or “Quantum Break” and the result is the same.
The focal point is the home screen. The largest of its nine tiles is a live preview of the latest game or app you’ve used, and under it you’ll find the last four apps you accessed before that. To the left, there’s a link to your friends list, with your profile and Gamerscore; to the right, small tiles for the disc currently in the drive, a link to a list of all your apps and games, and the Snap command. If you scroll further to the right, you’ll get to the Store screen with dedicated sections for games, apps, music, and movies, and if you go further to the left, there’s a space for you to pin up to 25 pieces of your favorite content. At the very top of the screen there’s a single unified notification bar that keeps track of alerts and messages, as well as the icons for each player currently signed in to the console.
That appears to be the point. The One isn’t designed to stand out, like the sharply angled PlayStation 4; it’s designed to disappear into the stack of black rectangles next to or underneath your television. The PS4’s light pulses as it turns on and glows as you use it, while the One just sits in the shadows hoping you don’t even notice it’s there.
If you’re not interested in using Kinect, or at least not willing to deal with missed commands, you can indeed turn it off. You can turn off the microphone, the camera, or both from a dedicated Kinect page in the settings menu, or simply unplug the peripheral completely for maximum privacy. Of course, then you’re stuck navigating a Windows-like interface with a controller. Even if you have to try two or three times to get the Kinect to recognize your commands, it’s still faster than the alternative.
It may have upset the thoroughbred gamers out there, but for a good number of people seeing Xbox control cable TV through voice commands during the announcement press conference was pretty exciting. It was a huge disappointment then, that this other huge new feature of the One was so underbaked for the UK at launch. Now, though, Microsoft has mostly finished the cooking.
A notable disappointment is the absence of real-name support at launch. One of the PS4’s most enjoyable enhancements has been postponed for Xbox One until an unspecified future date. Microsoft has also dropped social-network integration, which seems like a short-sighted reaction to the lack of users of the Xbox 360 apps. With the Xbox One far more qualified to support these features alongside games and entertainment, it’s disappointing they’re not here. Also missing at launch is Twitch livestreaming support. While Sony revealed its console — and its streaming ability — first, Microsoft was first to specifically announce Twitch streaming support. Twitch, unlike other streaming video platforms, is gaming-specific and its inclusion in the PlayStation 4 already makes the feature feel mandatory. Twitch streaming is coming to the Xbox One “during the first part of 2014,” but its initial absence is pronounced.
There were very few complaints when the original Xbox One was announced, and it failed to handle 4K. In 2013 nobody really cared about HD’s successor. Not unless they’d spent thousands of dollars on one of the few 4K TV sets available at the time. Yes, the best consoles have a habit of being future-proof (see the PS2 playing DVDs and the PS3 playing Blu-ray), but in 2013, 4K seemed too far in the future for anyone to care.
From design perspective, the Xbox One’s version of 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 the PlayStation Camera. That’s because its field of view is now so large that it doesn’t need to sit up high, meaning you no longer have the original Kinect’s unnerving habit of moving to find you across a room.
You have to install each game from the disc. The next-generation has brought enormous file sizes, so it’s fortunate that the Xbox One allows you to only partway install a game before you can start playing. Similarly, title updates downloaded from the web can be partially downloaded as you play, rather than having to wait too long for that 4GB day one Forza patch. There’s definitely two sides to the coin, in that there will be more regular updates, but the console makes an effort to make downloading them fairly painless. Theoretically the additional connectivity should offer developers the chance to constantly update their games, which will hopefully only benefit players.
Those apps should whet the appetite of developers, but even Microsoft’s not quite committed to showing just how versatile the One can be. For now, the Xbox One’s app ecosystem is just like the 360’s. Netflix and Hulu, Amazon and HBO Go, apps for the NFL and ESPN and for Fox and FX. All the apps look good and work well, with much shorter loading times than on the 360, which has started to slow under the weight of its upgrades over the last couple of years. It feels like the beginning, like Microsoft’s only opened the door to a giant world of possibility. Why shouldn’t Evernote be on my TV, showing me all my clippings and notes? Why is there no way to see my Instagram feed, or my Twitter stream, or the weather? All of those are almost certainly on Microsoft’s roadmap, but for right now Microsoft’s great synergetic plan for Windows goes mostly under-utilized. Microsoft’s just built a system that does everything the Xbox 360 did, only better.
The Xbox One S, at the time of writing, is the cheapest 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player on the market by quite some distance. The 500GB version of the console costs around £250, with some retailers now offering bundles for even less.
Coming in three flavours, 500GB, 1TB and 2TB, which relate to the amount of storage on offer, the Xbox One S (or just “Xbox One” as it says on the box) is an excellent console that also echoes statements made by the manufacturer before the original launched. It is a bone fide, all-in-one media machine, and we feel that is its attractive selling point.
Finally, there’s Dark Souls 3 – with PS4 players enjoying the blood-soaked exclusivity of Bloodborne, Xbox One players were crying out for a bit of Miyazaki mayhem and we got it in Dark Souls 3. Punishing, deep and utterly intoxicating, DS3 will make you scream in frustrating but it’ll make you pump your fist with self-congratulation more than any other game (well, maybe except Trials Evolution).
PerformanceThe 1TB version of the Xbox One has a hybrid drive that uses solid state media for part of the on-board storage. Microsoft claims this makes the system quicker to load than the hard-drive-only 500GB model. Killer Instinct was a hair faster on the 1TB Xbox One, loading matches in 11-12 seconds compared with between 12-13 seconds on the 500GB system, which is hardly a noticeable difference. Gears of War: Ultimate Edition was even less apparent, with both systems getting to the game’s title screen from the main menu in approximately 30 seconds. The 1TB Xbox One’s hybrid drive might be a little bit faster, but don’t expect a big jump in performance.
Microsoft wants you to take your Xbox One profile with you. If you have an Xbox One, say, at the office (you do, don’t you?), you’d only need to walk into that room, have it recognize your face, tell it “Xbox, go home” and then load the last thing you were playing, picking up right where your save from home left off.
Both in terms of graphics and gameplay, the Xbox One and PS4 are more or less equivalent. Where the Xbox experience differs is the Kinect. Despite its impressive power, it’s currently just a better version of the 360’s implementation when it comes to games. Kinect-exclusive titles fall into two very predictable categories: full-on fitness trainers, and fitness trainers masked as arcade games like Just Dance and Kinect Sports Rivals. Xbox Fitness is actually a great demonstration of how eerily accurate the new Kinect sensor is — and it’s something I’ll be using, a lot, as long as my roommates are far, far away from the house.
Kinect & UI User Interface & Experience While the Xbox One’s UI is a departure from the Xbox 360, it should be familiar to anyone who’s used Windows 8. The colored tiles are easier to navigate than the multiple cluttered pages that made up the Xbox 360’s dashboard, and there’s a clear, easy-to-understand hierarchy.