Xbox One: Interface
It’s not easy to relate our first experiences of Xbox One to the out-of-the-box experience you should get, just because we’ve had some things set up in advance and had to go through more pre-release patching than you’ll endure. Patches aside, the setup process is painless. The console walks you through identifying and configuring your TV and any audio hardware, signing on to Xbox Live and setting colour preferences.
You’re prompted to have Xbox Live profiles signed on through Kinect so that you can, if you want, walk in, say “Xbox On” and have it recognise you and sign you in automatically. It might be a good while before the novelty wears off.
The interface takes inspiration from Windows 8
The user-interface is clearly based on Windows 8, and for the most part it’s brilliant. You can pin your favourite games and apps to the left of the dashboard, while the store, with promoted games, music, movies and apps, is on the right. In the middle you’ll find a Home section with your most recent activities, and a tile that takes you straight to your installed apps and games (not to mention settings).
It’s easy to navigate using the controller, and there are Kinect powered motion controls for – as examples – swiping through the dashboard, selecting tiles or minimising apps. Yet the real USP of the Xbox One UI is voice control. For many of the Xbox One’s functions, it’s the quickest, most efficient way of getting things done.
Say “Xbox, Go to Netflix” and it launches Netflix. Say “Browse to TrustedReviews” in Internet Explorer and, provided you’ve visited TrustedReviews, the page comes up. You can say “Xbox, Bing, The Hobbit” and it will pull up movies, music and other items associated with The Hobbit, whether they’re installed on the console, on Xbox Video or Xbox Music, or available through services like Netflix. It’s hard to explain how brilliant this is until you’ve tried it, but it makes finding what you want so much easier.
That said, this Kinect stuff is 80%, maybe 85%, there: it’s still not perfect. Often we find ourselves reaching for the controller for the last selection or to choose an option, not because it’s impossible to do it through voice or Kinect, but just because it’s quicker and easier.
The voice recognition doesn’t work equally brilliantly for all members of the household, though either it is or we are getting better. We still find ourselves getting SkyDrive when we really want Skype, or sitting around looking stupid while it ignores a command entirely. Overall, though, this feels like a small revolution. It’s not the first voice control system we’ve tried, but it’s the first that works – and works effectively – most of the time.
The Xbox One’s other strengths are its integration into the wider Windows ecosystem, particularly pulling photos and the like from SkyDrive, and the ease and speed with which you can flick between apps. There’s hardly any delay between switching quickly from, say, Forza 5 to Internet Explorer and back again, and you can snap an app to the right-hand-side of the screen and keep a voice conversation going in Skype while you browse the Web or play on. Some apps are simply too small in snap mode to be practical, but this speed and flexibility feels like the future. Going back from Xbox One to a conventional Smart TV experience feels slightly painful.
Surprisingly few apps and services come pre-installed, but a quick visit to the app store soon sorts that out, and we had Netflix, the Blu-ray player, Skype, Internet Explorer, Xbox Video, Xbox Music and SkyDrive up and running within an hour or so of switching on the console – and that was with a lot of messing around trying various things out.
Microsoft clearly hopes that you’ll use Xbox Video and Xbox Music for your TV, movies and music-streaming needs, and the selection is improving now that Xbox, Windows and Windows Phone share one ecosystem. LOVEFiLM and – particularly – Netflix work brilliantly on Xbox One, and the only major disappointment is the lack of any Sky services, with no Sky Go on Xbox One and no Now TV until next year.
Generally speaking, we’d still rather browse on a tablet or laptop than a TV screen, but Internet Explorer on Xbox One does its best to change our minds. Put a bit of legwork in and you’ll quickly be finding sites and adding favourites, and it works surprisingly well with Kinect voice commands for scrolling up and down, selecting links and switching tabs.
The other highlight of the Xbox One experience is Skype. Kinect turns out to be a great Skype camera, the view moving subtly to track you as you move around the room, and with excellent definition, colour and contrast. Once again, voice control works well for making calls and hanging up. If you buy Xbox One we expect it will become your device of choice for voice and video chat while you’re at home – particularly as you can be watching a film or playing a game and you get a discrete notification to let you know that someone’s calling.
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