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.
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.