Review: Xbox One

The Xbox One is the latest entry to the eighth generation of consoles. Does it deserve a place in your home entertainment setup?
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01.Out of the box


Xbox One
Price: $599

4 stars out of 5

Though its release is “just in time for Christmas”, you’ll be hard-pressed to get your hands on the Xbox One, Microsoft’s new-generation games and media console. Pre-orders have already sold out, but if you hunt around you may still be able to get one from a retailer that has stock.

But is it worth jumping on board before the year is out? We spent a few days with the Xbox One to see how big an improvement it really is on its predecessor, the Xbox 360.

Surprisingly, the Xbox One bucks the miniaturisation trend by actually being larger than the 360. It requires a fair amount of space alongside your TV (and most likely won’t tuck under it). You’ll find everything you need to set up inside the box, including an HDMI cable, so often omitted from new devices. Unlike the 360, the Xbox One doesn’t have component output ports and relies exclusively on HDMI, so you'll need to connect it to an HDMI-compatible TV. Aside from the console box itself, you’ll also need space for the Kinect camera that now comes standard as part of the package (an optional extra on the previous generation).

Setting it up

Here’s a tip for Christmas – if you’re lucky enough to get an Xbox One under the tree, open it early because it can take several hours to actually get it set up and running. First you need to connect it to the internet, and with mandatory updates and game installations, the time between turning on the console and playing your first game could be several hours. (Of course, this will depend to some extent on your internet connection speed.) Before first use, the console needs to “authenticate” via a downloadable software patch, which, at several hundred megabytes, will take a sizeable bite out of your monthly data limit. 

Once your Xbox One is up and running, you won’t be able to dive head-first into the console straight away. Unlike the Xbox 360, you can’t actually just pop a game disc in the drive and start playing – you need to install the game onto the console first. This can take up to an hour or even longer, since some games are up to 30GB in size or more. The game actually runs from the console’s built-in 500GB hard drive, though the disc still needs to be in the machine for authentication (to prove you actually own the game). 

The waiting game

In most cases you can start the game once a portion is ready while the rest of the game installs – but this varies between titles. For example, we could start playing Just Dance 2014 from when it was 14% installed, while Call of Duty: Ghosts needed to be 54% installed before we could launch it. This delay can be a real bugbear if you’re itching to play your new games.

The initial mandatory day-one update also doesn’t have a progress indicator. You’re left in the dark as the install bar sits on 0% while the patch is downloaded from the internet.

Once the mandatory day one update is installed, you can technically use the Xbox One without an internet connection, but you’ll be missing out on some of the best features, including online game play and access to most of the apps. To get online, you’ll need to buy an Xbox Live Gold subscription, which costs $10.95 a month or $79.95 for the year.

If you’re buying an Xbox One as a gift, either set it up the day before or put some time aside on the day to work through the installation process. Also, make sure you have plenty of data left on your monthly internet download limit.

Getting aroundXbox-One-Controller

Navigating the Xbox One menu system is fairly easy even for somebody new to the console. The functional layout is designed to allow easy access to every feature of the console. The tile-based interface design is relatively free of clutter and easy to work out.

If you’re a Windows 8 user, the tile-based home screen of the Xbox One will seem familiar. It’s broken down into three sections – Pins, Home and Store – which you can navigate with a controller, motion sensing or voice commands.

The home screen is your central hub. It keeps your current location active – a movie, game or app – and visible in a large window, surrounded by your five most recent locations. This ensures you can quickly backtrack without having to dig around the console, but it can be a little confusing, particularly when games that can’t be launched without a disk are visible.

Alongside these shortcuts are your account settings, a list of all installed apps and games, and the Snap tool (see below). The app list is searchable, but you can’t break the contents down into separate categories. As the list of apps and games grows over time, navigating this menu may become more time consuming. 

Fortunately, if you have an app that you access regularly, you can add it to the Pins menu. Anything from movies to specific websites can be pinned to this quick-access screen and unpinned when you no longer need them. Alternatively, using the Snap tool, you can fix in place almost any app alongside the main program for quick switching. If, for example, you’re happy blasting away in Call of Duty and you want to check your Facebook status, you can snap the included Internet Explorer web browser app alongside the game. It’s a great feature for multitasking, and we found it didn’t seem to negatively impact performance. You can’t run multiple apps in the background or in full-screen without using Snap.

Using the handheld controller to navigate the menus is straightforward, but there are a few new features that won’t be immediately obvious unless you are a seasoned gamer. The traditional controller Start button has been replaced with a Menu icon, which opens a hidden list of options for each app. This is where you can find useful functions such as Quit, but finding this list via the Menu button is unlikely to be intuitive for most people. A clear option to close the game or even a dedicated button would have been more obvious.



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