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Xbox One review

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  • Xbox One UI
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  • Xbox One Elite Controller 53
  • Xbox One UI 11
  • Xbox One UI 5
  • Xbox One UI 7
  • Xbox One vs PS4 25
  • Xbox One Kinect
  • Xbox One S

Summary

Our Score:

8

User Score:

Pros

  • Great exclusive titles
  • Superb controller
  • Improved software and apps ecosystem
  • More strong games on the horizon

Cons

  • Struggling to match the PS4 on raw performance
  • Big and bulky
  • Superceded by the Xbox One S with Project Scorpio on the way

Xbox One – Two years after launch

I think we’ll look back at 2016 as a landmark year for console gaming – the year when manufacturers ditched the whole idea of console generations to follow a more straightforward, less risky smartphone-like release model where you no longer abandon your existing hardware and customer base every five to seven years. It’s a move that's already brought us the Xbox One S, and will in the near and not-so-near future deliver the PS4 Neo and Project Scorpio – consoles that will play the same games as your current one does, but make them look a whole lot better.

But where does that leave the original Xbox One? From one point of view, in a sad place, destined to become Microsoft’s second-rate system within four years of its launch. Yet from another point of view, the future’s golden. It has a lot of big releases still ahead of it, and providing Microsoft sticks to its current ‘no-one gets left behind’ philosophy, it could have many more on top of that.

Related: Best Xbox One games

Xbox One – Hardware

Like most sensible people who aren’t rabid Xbox fanboys, we’ve often been unkind about Microsoft’s initial Xbox One design. At 333mm x 276mm x 78mm it’s not only larger than the PS4 but bigger than some gaming PCs, which only seems more amazing when you remember that there’s a huge external power supply to find a home for on top of that. Factor in that you can’t stand it upright, and you have one of the biggest, most obtrusive home entertainment products that’s not a home cinema amplifier or old-fashioned VCR.

This makes Microsoft’s achievement with the new, svelte Xbox One S seem even more significant. Much smaller, it’s still found space for an internal PSU and can stand fully vertical as well. Microsoft was also smart enough to jettison the dust-magnet glossy areas and over-sensitive power button, which came on at the slightest brush.

Yet I’ve got a lot of affection for the old Xbox One. It feels solid and it’s proved reliable. I can’t tell you how many Xbox 360s died on me in the decade between 2005 and 2015, but between the production and the debug consoles it got close to double figures. The Xbox One is still going strong, feels robust and works fairly quietly. Where my PS4 sometimes makes a noise like a leafblower that’s been turned on accidentally in a garden shed, the Microsoft console sounds pretty much the same as on the day I took it home.

Of course, some things have changed since then. The Kinect that Microsoft pushed as a core part of the system now spends much of its time unplugged, making the dedicated power and USB connections on the rear of the Xbox One seem strangely obsolete. The console’s repositioning from home-entertainment hub to games machine has had a similar effect on the HDMI input, and I wonder how many users actually have one connected to a Sky or Freeview box. That still leaves two USB 3.0 ports on the rear and another one on the side, which have been handy for Guitar Hero and Rock Band wireless adaptors, not to mention external USB hard drives.

Supporting the latter has been one of Microsoft’s best decisions. Sure, you can replace the hard drive on a PS4, but doing so is a hassle, involving switching out the drive and transferring the data. With the Xbox One you can just plug in a USB 3.0 drive and it’s initialized and ready to fill within minutes. It’s a quick, cheap upgrade and one that can actually reduce your loading times.

Related: Xbox One S vs Xbox One

Xbox One – Specifications

Looking at the Xbox One, knowing what we know now, it seems like the stage was always set for today’s more software-focused, device-agnostic Xbox world. What we have here is effectively a low-end gaming PC with a fixed specification, even running a heavily customised version of Windows 10. On paper, it doesn’t sound too promising. The AMD APU gives us eight Jaguar cores – already slower and less efficient than Intel’s Core technology – running at just 1.75GHz, along with a mere 12 GCN compute units running at 853MHz. GPU-wise, that makes it equivalent to a downgraded Radeon 7790, now considered a rather weedy low-end chip.

It’s no longer controversial to say that Microsoft got the core specification wrong, focusing on Kinect and all those home-entertainment hub features instead of hitting the perfect balance between performance and price. With an extra six GCN computer units and 5,500MHz GDDR5 RAM, Sony simply made smarter choices – the Xbox One’s embedded ESRAM can’t make up for the slower 2,133MHz DDR3.

While performance has differed from engine to engine and game to game, that's meant higher frame rates and/or resolutions on cross-platform games for PS4 than on Xbox One. That said, we’re now more often looking at 1080p on the PS4 and 900p on the Xbox One than 1080p and 720p, while clever adaptive resolution and scaling techniques are doing a great job of hiding the gaps.

What I would say is this: I spend an awful lot of time playing console games. Sometimes I get review copies for the PS4 and sometimes I get them for the Xbox One. Sometimes I even play them both (and on PC too). I’m struggling to recall a single instance where getting the Xbox One version has marred my enjoyment of the game or its visuals, and it’s unlikely that, without both versions running in front of you, you’d be able to spot any real difference – and perhaps not even then. In fact, as a PC gamer I should be sneering at both consoles, yet I still think many games look great – even sometimes astounding – on the Xbox One.

Meanwhile, Microsoft and its first-party studios and third-party partners continue to pull off miracles with what’s basically some underpowered hardware. Quantum Break might not be the time-stopping shooter to end all shooters, but it looks fantastic all the same. Forza Horizon 2 and Forza Motorsport 6 are still the best-looking racers around. In the coming months we’ll see ReCore, Gears of War 4, Scalebound and Forza Horizon 3, all of which look set to push the hardware even further. While the Xbox One’s spec will be thoroughly eclipsed by Project Scorpio’s, it can still produce great results on a 1080p TV.

If you’re lucky enough to have a 4K TV, of course, it’s arguably worth your while to either wait for Project Scorpio, which promises native 4K gaming, or stump up for the Xbox One S. The latter will run 4K Blu-ray movies and video streams while upscaling Xbox One games to a 4K resolution, which it does a great job of to boot. If you’re stuck with a 1080p set, however, then existing Xbox One will do you fine.

Xbox One – Controller

The Xbox One S has refined the Xbox One controller, adding a grippy texture and tougher thumb sticks. Neither was a huge problem with the old controller, though, which for my money is the best standard controller of the current generation and one of the finest ever made. The analogue sticks are almost perfectly responsive, the buttons fast and sensibly-placed, and the ingenious, rumbling impulse triggers add a real tactile dimension to those games that use them best. Driving games and shooters tend to be particularly good. I just wish that Microsoft would integrate rechargeable batteries. AAs last a lot longer than the DualShock 4’s built-in battery, but recharging and searching for replacements is a lot more hassle than plugging in the cable.

While the new controller has a slightly better feel and Bluetooth connectivity, your existing Xbox One controller will see you through many happy hours of gaming.

Related: Xbox One Elite Controller review

Xbox One – Software

One lesson Microsoft learnt in the previous generation was that, while hardware can’t change or be upgraded, software updates could radically transform the whole experience, year on year. We’ve already seen the Xbox One shift from a dashboard based on Windows 8 to what’s effectively a whole new operating system founded on Windows 10, but with a more gaming-focused look and feel.

At times, the new UI feels too busy, packed with pages you can flick between with the bumpers and weird slide-out panels, but there’s no question that it puts the most important elements, like your games, apps and friends, close to the surface, while reducing the emphasis on Kinect and the home-entertainment hub stuff that, as it turned out, we’re not so keen on. Microsoft has also done a better job of making apps feel like less of an extra and more like a part of the ecosystem, particularly by bringing App Channels into the OneGuide and making it of use to those of us who aren’t using the Xbox One as a TV hub (which is most of us, I suspect).

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.

In theory, the Xbox One’s move to Windows 10 should benefit both Xbox One and PC users, the latter getting more Xbox One games and the former getting more Universal Windows Platform apps. In practice, there have been benefits, like closer integration between the Xbox One and the Windows 10 Xbox app, game streaming and the ability to check photos you’ve uploaded to OneDrive on the Xbox One. However, the flood of UWP apps has yet to materialize. I’m not sure this matters. All the major video-on-demand and catch-up TV services are covered, barring ITV Player and Google Play Movies and TV. That’s arguably the most important thing on a box that plugs into your TV, though a few more music streaming options would definitely help.

Xbox One – Games and the Future

I’ve said it before and I’ll keep on saying it: don’t choose a console for the specs, video apps or hardware – buy it for the games. These days, of course, community also matters – if you have most of your friends on Xbox Live then buying Microsoft makes more sense than buying Sony – but it still really comes down to the games. Cross-platform titles still run best on PS4, though the difference isn’t often that significant. The primary reason to buy an Xbox One is because you want to play Microsoft’s exclusive games.

Here I’m a little less confident about the Xbox One’s line-up than I was last year. Forza Horizon 2, Gears of War: Ultimate Edition and Forza 6 have all been brilliant. Rise of the Tomb Raider and Inside will soon no longer be exclusives, while I’ve been slightly disappointed by Quantum Break and Halo 5. Last year, Sony was having nightmares with its own first-party line-up, but Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, Bloodborne, Uncharted 4 and (if you like it) No Man’s Sky have shifted the balance in their favour. Microsoft has ReCore, Gears of War 4, Crackdown 2 and Forza Horizon 3 on the way, but then Sony can count on Horizon: Zero Dawn, The Last Guardian and God of War in the next six months or so.

Meanwhile there are now two future consoles to consider: PS4 Neo and Project Scorpio. We’ll know more about the first in September, but while it will be a big step up in terms of 3D horsepower, that’s likely to come with a higher price tag. Scorpio looks set to be more potent still, but it will also be expensive and may even do the current Xbox a favour.

Xbox One Elite Controller 53

Microsoft’s take so far has been that, at least in the short term, Scorpio will effectively be a 4K version of the Xbox One, giving you better-looking games at higher resolutions with richer textures, but still running the same games. That means those of us stuck with the old Xbox One won’t have to cut our losses and upgrade right away, or risk being left with an obsolete machine.

There are still two good reasons to game on the Xbox One. One is if you already have one, in which case don’t worry: you still have a brilliant games machine. The other is that you can buy one really cheap. At the moment you can pick one up for roughly £200 to £225, making it a cheaper option than either the PS4 (£260 or more) or the Xbox One S (at £250 or more). For gamers the PS4 is still very tempting, while the One S wins if you have, or plan to buy, a 4K TV, but if you want to catch up on the current generation and get some games in, the old Xbox One, while stocks last, is still a very appealing deal.

Related: Best games you can play right now

Updated verdict

Times are difficult for the old Xbox One. It’s facing even stiffer competition and has been superceded by a smaller, more desirable 4K-friendly update. Yet if you’ve got one or you can get one on the cheap, it’s still a very desirable games machine, blessed with a line-up of fantastic games and many more to come. Microsoft’s software updates have only made it better. Bag a bargain and you have a great step into 2016 console gaming, with many years of life ahead. Just be aware that it’s not the greatest system now, and will be even less so in another year or so.

Overall Score

8

Cameron

May 22, 2013, 1:50 pm

This could be a big setup for Microsoft if we get the xbox one for a good price, seen pre orders at £399.99, at that its a bit much but if you can get a good bundle deal at lunch then it could work out for everyone

Spike Black

May 22, 2013, 2:51 pm

With no back catalogue to play it could mean a slow start, will it also mean MS keeping the 360 in production to prevent peoples old games being coasters or as older models get the rrod in their old age.
Would I use this new model as bluray player, well probably not. Having experienced a rrod recently on my original white 360 I wouldn't want to push my luck by using this as a player even with a long warranty. It was an utter pita to get my saves transferred over to my new slim line one.
And regards the rrod of the 360 any details on what warranty they'll be offering on this?

The elephant in the room is still MS charging for online gaming when the PS3 and 4 will remain free.

rybo1

May 29, 2013, 5:45 pm

I'm staying away from any gaming console that detects my heartbeat or those of my guests.

Lacerz

June 12, 2013, 2:16 pm

Actually, Sony has stated that online play for the PS4 will require a PS+ subscription, but you won't need a + subscription to watch your streaming movies online. I've been a + subscriber since the service launched, so I can say that the service has slowly eveolved into a very worhtwhile one. Initially all I got were a couple of crap games, early betas, Qore episodes and not much else. Now I have a ton of games from their instant game collection.

Oh, and PS+ subscribers get Drive Club at launch. That's pretty sweet if you like racers.

David Hale

June 12, 2013, 2:22 pm

I wonder if Microsoft has it right with the Xbox One. I agree that the PS4 appears to be a better console for the gamer and being an Xbox 360 user (although previously an avid PS1 and PS2 user) I am seriously torn between which console to get.

Despite all that though, there are a lot more consumers who are after that all in one home entertainment system than there probably are hardcore gamers. Look at how popular Smart TV's and streaming services have become.

I suppose what I mean is they might lose the "console" war but win the one for the living room!

torjs99

June 12, 2013, 2:58 pm

was it abnormally cold? was there a feeling of creeping evil?

Tony Anderson

June 13, 2013, 2:33 pm

Just imagine what the NSA could do with your heartbeat information!

another

September 29, 2013, 1:55 pm

PS+ is just not in the same league as XBOX Live! and will never be able to compete, XBOX Live has evolved into a 300,000.00 server monster of an experience, this is servers we are talking and the MS servers are dedicated number crunchers that if utilised right by developers will add so much to the end user experience, Games could have multiple paths as could Thriller movies etc

talha Sohail

October 15, 2013, 2:14 pm

I admit that ps4 has a better design but xbox one have better games and more specs

fourtywater

October 21, 2013, 5:59 am

In addition the Xbox One eliminates AI in games. It uses the cloud to remember how you play. When you are offline, your player plays games while you are away and report how you did virtually when you were away. It learns new patterns as you get better as well. You will NEVER play against a computer again. Can PS4 do that?

fourtywater

October 21, 2013, 3:52 pm

Lets break it down. If you want the latest and greatest technology and can afford to use an HDTV Broadband Internet and a budget to purchase virtual content the Xbox One is the best. If you want a good console without the bells and whistles and you are on a budget, you should get the PS4. I hope this helps all you people in video game land.

da Boss

November 13, 2013, 3:47 pm

My main complaints with X1 are simple but crucial. If Microsoft came to me and said i have the option of an X1 with Kinect and the DVR bs or an X1 with the same hardware capabilities of the PS4 for the same price, god knows i'd choose the better hardware. Kinect is a large, ugly, useless chunk of plastic that is insanely priced at a 100$ and is forced upon the consumer. The DVR feature, nothing but a useless gimmick that most people won't use and nobody will need anyways. The X1 is large, very large and heavy, same can be said for the very large power brick that comes with this behemoth. Things like entertainment apps and most console features are locked behind a 60$ pay wall. Things like fucking Netflix that i'm already paying for. And when you compare the cameras, yes the kinect is of better quality as it can record 1080p/30fps video, which is great. BUT the PS eye is 40$ cheaper, smaller/lighter and flexible due to its smaller size, and comes equipped with not 1 but 2 camera lenses. This adds for a much larger field of view, which for a piece of hardware that promotes getting up and moving around, is crucial for its success. Xbox Live pales in comparison when compared to PSN+. It's 10 bucks cheaper and is spread across 3 platforms, not just the PS4. It offers you free games for all 3, every week on top of discounts, themes, avatars, exclusive betas/demos/trials and early releases of dlc's and games. Its value is unquestionable and nothing but online gaming and the features i just said are locked behind a pay wall. But for some games, like the F2P games, it wont be. And finally, the controllers. As much as i loved my 360 controller, the X1 falls short when compared to the PS4 controller. I personally enjoy the DS4 controller more, due to its ergonomic design and matted grip, but that is all preference. My opinion on how the controller feels means nothing to another person as it is only my opinion, but there is something we can compare. Controller features. What the X1 controller fails to do is bring anything new to the table. It looks similar to the 360 controller (note the X1 controller is a slightly sleeker and lighter) and feels similar, which is a good thing, but thats about it. Microsoft has added a new rumble mechanism that adds better feed back to the triggers which is great for racing games and shooters, but i found it was more of a distraction than anything and will probably eat away at your controllers battery life fast. Other than that, nothing new has been added. But when you look at the DS4, many things are there that weren't there in the previous gen. Sony has added much better triggers, tighter, better gripped and designed analogue sticks and a slightly improved D-pad. The stick and triggers are greatly improved. The analogue sticks sport a concave design, similar to the 360 controller, with smaller, rubber gripped sticks placed slightly farther apart for better handling. There is no dead zone, which is probably the best improvement. The triggers fell great and very responsive. The D-pad is also a little better. These are all great, but nothing Xbox gamers haven't already been enjoying (except for the d-pad, its still pretty terrible on the X1), whats new are the features. Well before we dive into the features, lets take a look at the specifications. The controller weighs about 3 ounces, which is slightly heavier than the PS3 controller, which will feel nicer. The controller is also slightly larger, which is a great improvement. Especially for adult gamers who are tired of the cheap, SMALL piece of plastic that is the DS3. The controller has a nice matted grip at the bottom which will also feel nice. The controller has a nice, well placed clickable, multi-touch pad for RTS games and web browsing (among other things), it comes with a share button which will make sharing clips and screenshots of games a lot quicker. The controller also has a PlayStation move light at the top of the controller. Which will be great for game feedback, controller recognition and over all use in motion games (note: most of these features will be lost without the ps eye camera, something i still will not be getting). The controller also has a mono-speaker in the bottom middle of the controller. This will make games more immersive, providing sound feedback such as a bullet zooming by or a command from a general in-game, similar to the speaker on the wii mote. The controller also has built-in sixaxis/gyroscope similar to the DS3 for better motion controls, which will probably go great with the camera and the move light. The controller also has well placed extension/headphone ports which will look very similar to the 360. The rumble has also been greatly improved, but i will not be using it as it will kill the controllers 8 hour battery life. Yes, 8 hours. Not much, but at least now you can charge your controller in standby mode with the insanely priced (20$) micro usb cable. The controller will also be using Bluetooth 2.1 instead of the outdated Bluetooth 2.0 on the PS3. Allowing for better, faster connectivity. This is probably the reason why the DS4 and the PS3 are not wirelessly compatible. With all these new additions its a wonder this controller is only 6$ more expensive than the over priced PS3 controller.
I spent a lot of time on the controller because i know it is the most important aspect of a gaming console, along side its hardware capabilities.
In my opinion i believe the PS4 is the superior console at this point, with a feature packed controller, cheaper console, more focused on games and gamers, and a more powerful hardware.

da Boss

November 13, 2013, 3:48 pm

lol "latest and greatest technology". Thats a massive joke

da Boss

November 13, 2013, 3:51 pm

Yes it can moron. Cloud computing is nothing new and is certainly not exclusive to the X1. Have you done any research what so ever? Microsoft just touted it because they knew idiot American consumers would eat that crap up like bad propaganda. Anybody can do cloud computing, have been doing it for quite some time now. But even in the states, the PS4 is leading 2:1 in pre orders.

CSViper

November 21, 2013, 9:13 pm

Wow, no Digital Dolby on Optical ouput??? I can't even believe they just announced this on launch day!!! Looks like it is stereo only for my Denon receiver until they fix it.

Guest

November 22, 2013, 12:11 am

"My main complaints with X1 are simple..." - Phew, good job you complaints weren't complicated or you would have written loads! ;-)

da Boss

November 22, 2013, 1:34 pm

More specs? What does that even mean? And no it does not have more games. It has 1 more exclusive than the PS4. X1 has Forza, Ryse and Deadrising. Forzas a racing game, Deadrising was very mediocre and had terrible graphics, and Ryse sucked ass. So comparing that to Knack and Killzone, its pretty much a tie. I'd definitely choose Killzone over any of those games anyday.

Pg

November 22, 2013, 1:54 pm

Hmm..I get the feeling your rant isn't without bias.

The only major complaint I have with either, is with the xbox1. The tv functionality which is only ready for the US (is this really true?), it's a major feature that one country can benefit from. Yes, they will update for other countries, but don't hold your breadth.

And being in Ireland,means we are so much further down the pecking list of countries for this functionality.

The best advice is to wait before buying one, assuming you can do that.

Pg

November 22, 2013, 1:56 pm

I thought the "on a budget" was the funniest part. Seriously people, they are both expensive.

I guess if you don't have a budget, then get both.

Pg

November 22, 2013, 2:00 pm

Ha. More specs? What does that even mean?
PS4 is the more powerful, just have to wait and see how big that advantage is and whether it makes a difference in games.

Pg

November 22, 2013, 2:01 pm

Telling when we are lying? Dectect a congenital heart defect?
Tell me!

da Boss

November 22, 2013, 7:09 pm

Its not about the budget. The Xbox is charging you more for less. Yeh you dont get a camera with the ps4, but its just a gimmick anyways. I would probably never use it for any real gaming.

Johnnypg01

November 22, 2013, 11:50 pm

Joke- does not work- totally reliant on internet connection- which Microsoft denied before going to launch- I wish I had not bought this.....

Unhappy mother

November 23, 2013, 9:43 am

Can't believe you can spend that much money on a console you can't play as it immediately requires 2 gb of data updates! My son has been waiting for launch day for months, god help anybody that's bought this for their child for Christmas, they might get to play on it by new year. Forza 5 needed 6 GB of updates and CoD ghosts needs 1.2 GB !

L4lefty

November 23, 2013, 9:59 pm

Surely you aren't serious? Of all the reasons to avoid a console, this is yours? Fair enough if so, it's your prerogative and choice of coarse, but you can't think of a workaround for this if it is indeed your main concern?

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