There’s few things more exciting to the gaming community than the launch of a new console generation. I always harken back to being a little kid and finding a Super Nintendo waiting for me under the Christmas tree. That little box opened up an entire new world of possibilities for me: new kingdoms to save, princesses to rescue and Super Bowls to win. I’m pushing 30 now, and not much has changed. When I opened up the box for the Xbox One, I found myself absolutely giddy thinking about the possibilities that were waiting for me.
Microsoft has absolutely filled the Xbox One to the brim with features, and it’s a bit overwhelming at times. While there’s still a lot left to roll out, there’s a very strong argument that this box could be the new centerpiece of your living room in the years to come.
What follows here is a comprehensive, detailed review of the Xbox One, split into six parts and covering as much relevant information as possible. Read the entire review in order, or select from the table of contents below to jump to whatever section interests you. For those of you only interested in the final score, it is posted at the bottom of each page.
Part One Opening
The Xbox One’s design did come under fire from the internet when it was first unveiled, and I understand why. It’s hard not to look at it and be reminded of VCRs of old. That being said, it grew on me pretty quickly. The glossy coat plays off the matte finish which make up the landscape of the box and the large air vents on top of the system resemble something I’d expect to find on the ISIS space station.
No one will mistake the One for a small system. In fact, it’s fairly massive. Weighing in just under 8 pounds while measuring 13 inches wide and three inches tall, it will take up some hefty real estate wherever you place it. Add in the signature Microsoft oversized powerbrick, and you have a piece of hardware that is going to be thrust into sight whether you like it or not. I spent a good amount of time dealing with cable management, but I can’t imagine fitting this into a space any less than 14 or 15 inches deep.
While there haven’t been any reports of issues yet, I’d also advice that the shelving should leave a bit of breathing room for heat. I was unable to get an exact temperature reading on the unit we reviewed, but even when giving ample room, it was a bit warm to the touch at times. This is to be expected with any console of course, and it appears to be something Microsoft has expected as the system and power brick both have a plethora of cooling vents. The power brick itself even has its own cooling fan this time around. I don’t see any reason to panic or worry about a repeat of the Red Ring fiasco, but I wouldn’t push my luck too far with any system at this point.
Part Two: Hardware
The actual hardware of the system is fairly impressive. The Xbox One features an 8 core AMD CPU and 8 GB of DDR 3 RAM powering a 854 MHz GPU. While these numbers won’t wow PC gamers very much, it’s a fairly drastic step up in terms of raw computing power from the last generation.
The One also has your standard Gigabit Ethernet port as well as 8012.11 a/b/g/n wireless capabilities and the slot loaded Blu-ray drive can install games to the included 500 GB hard disk. Additionally, you’ll find three USB 3.0 ports, a digital audio out, the Kinect sensor port as well as HDMI input and output (but we’ll get into that later).
The system itself is remarkably quiet, albeit not silent. It’s easily one of the least noisy consoles out there as aside from a sudden roar when the system launches a game, it’s a simple whisper of the fans turning.
My one true complaint with the hardware at this point is the hard drive. Unlike the Playstation 4, the Xbox One features an internal HD that can’t be swapped out. Microsoft has mentioned the possibility of additional storage options, and that will become a necessity sooner rather than later. The 500 GBs will be eaten up fairly quickly with games taking up 20-50 GB each, and I really would rather not have to deal with proprietary drives like we did with the 360.
Part Three: Controller/Kinect
The Xbox One’s controller is just short of a masterpiece. The Xbox 360’s controller was easily my favorite since the Super Nintendo’s, but Microsoft did a magnificent job of refining things here. There are a few tweaks that I haven’t quite gotten accustomed to yet, but this is a fantastic piece of hardware overall.
The new triggers both feature upturned ends and a “U” shape, allowing you to rest your fingers on them a bit easier, as well as featuring haptic feedback. Playing through Need for Speed, feeling my finger vibrate as I pushed my engine to the max was a brilliant little touch that added a great deal of immersion.
The new D-pad may not be the finest I’ve ever played, but is so far ahead of the 360’s subpar offering that it’s hard not to gush over it. It’s extremely responsive and offers a fulfilling click sound as you use it.
The new shoulder buttons also feature a satisfying click, however, they seem a bit harder to push when compared to the 360’s controller. They appear to be more trigger based as opposed to strictly being an analog button, so it’s a bit harder to push them in from certain angles. This is by no means a massive issue, but it did pop up while playing Dead Rising 3 just enough for me to notice it. I imagine this is something I’d adapt to fairly quickly, however.
One detriment to everything having that great click sound is that it can be a bit loud at times. Playing Killer Instinct with a friend, we found that the combined sound of two controllers being slapped around ended up being louder than the system itself. With the TV on, this was essentially negligible, but those of you who like late night sessions with headphones on may find the click to be just a bit too loud to anyone else in the room.
The sticks themselves have been altered to be slightly concave, allowing the tips of your thumbs to rest near the middle without slipping out. This is aided by a textured edge that really offers a fantastic grip. The dead zones are diminished too as they seem to move much smoother and have the perfect amount of resistance.
Overall, the controller feels just a bit smaller in my hands, and perhaps just a bit lighter, but that may very well be the placebo effect in place. The grips have been redesigned too and the new removable battery compartment allows the back of the controller to fit perfectly in my hands.
Microsoft has doubled down when it comes to using the Kinect with the Xbox One, making it a mandatory part of the experience. While this seems like a great idea, I’m a bit torn over it. The fact that developers now know that everyone has a Kinect means they can keep that in mind when coming up with new ideas, but it’s also something that can feel tacked on at times.
You can use the Kinect for almost anything you would use the controller for when on the dashboard, but this ends up being part of its downfall too. Sure, I can wave my arms to switch screens or use my voice to change the TV channel, but often times these things can be done faster by simply grabbing the remote. I have high hopes that there’s still room for improvement on this tech, so maybe by the end of this generation it’ll be a flawless experience, but for now it falls just a bit short of what it could be.
The only other issue I really had with Kinect is that it does still take in the wrong commands from time to time. Stepping away from a film to check on dinner, I must have said something to my buddy that sounded like “play” as the film we were watching resumed even though nobody was in the room. I had similar problems playing Need for Speed too as it would sometimes restart missions if I wasn’t being careful about what I was trying to say.
One last thing I want to touch on that I really do thing is great is Kinect’s auto log-in feature. Simply by walking in front of the camera, it will recognize me and sign in my account automatically. For households where multiple people play regularly, this is an extremely useful and welcome feature.
The Kinect undoubtedly has a lot of promise, and there are things that I’ve come to rely on it for to the point where I have to wonder how I ever survived without it. However, it’s obvious that this tech is still in its infancy and has some growing to do before we can see its true potential. If Microsoft can continue to improve the voice recognition, it may become a crucial part of the experience for many gamers, but as of right now, it’s not always the best option.
Part Four: UI/Interface
It’s no secret that Microsoft is extremely proud of the Windows 8 user interface, so we really shouldn’t be shocked to see a variation of it here. What might shock some gamers though is just how well it works.
The home screen prominently features a main tile that shows the running application and is surrounded by smaller tiles that show some of your recently accessed apps to ensure quick switching. There’s a bar on the right that shows off some featured content too, but outside of that, everything on the main screen is stuff you would be looking for.
One of the selling points of the Xbox One is the console’s ability to multitask. I was able to minimize my Dead Rising 3 game and bring up Skype to take a call just as I would be able to on a PC. Being able to juggle multiple apps simultaneously may seem like such a minor thing, but it became something I grew to rely on fairly often, especially when used in conjunction with the Snap feature.
Snap allows the Xbox One to place certain applications and lock them to the right side of your screen in conjunction with whatever else you’re doing at the time. As the system grows, this is definitely something I imagine myself getting a lot more use out of, but even in the early stages it showed promise. I was able snap my cable box to the side of my screen and watch Aqua Teen Hunger Force while playing through Killer Instinct. This has the potential to be an absolutely killer application of the system, and I’m really looking forward to seeing where it goes.
The downfall to all of this is that every single thing the Xbox does seems to be in an individual app. Calling up my achievements to see what I just unlocked meant backing out of the game momentarily and opening the app as opposed to being able to just being able to bring it up like I did in the 360. It’s a pretty jarring break when you’re trying to play a game and I do hope that its remedied in the future.
The Xbox One has also taken its first steps into the world of video game streaming and sharing. While it doesn’t yet feature the Twitch.TV integration that’s found on the PS4, it does feature the ability to record gameplay on the fly and upload it to the Skydrive. Whereas the PS4 features a share button right on the controller, you’re able to simply tell the Xbox to start recording via Kinect implementation.
With the HDMI input on the back of the box, the Xbox One is also able to take in a signal from your cable box and run it through the interface. While I’m not an avid TV watcher, I have to admit that the approach being used here is pretty novel. The OneGuide essentially replaces the menu system for your cable box, allowing you to search for channels and even snap your TV to the side if you’d like to keep playing a game. The One will “learn” what TV you have as well as the specifications of your cable box and channel lineup, allowing it to control everything from one central location.
The issue here is that it’s not always easier to use as opposed to simply grabbing the remote and doing it on your own. I’ll admit, being able to tell the Kinect to switch to NBC was pretty fantastic, but I wonder how much time I was really saving here. If you’re more of an avid TV watcher than I am, you may get more use out of this feature than I’ve been able to, but it’s definitely a neat little aspect of the box.
It also has the ability to maintain a full audio system, but that’s sadly not something we were able to test at this time.
Unfortunately, there is a lack of music applications available for the Xbox One at the current time, the only one being Xbox Music and an audio CD player. I’m sure this will change in the future, especially if Microsoft wants the One to be your living room centerpiece, but it’s a bit disappointing. Having all of this power and not being able to fully utilize it by streaming music from my desktop or from Pandora natively is feels like a real letdown.
All in all, the UI of the Xbox One is attempting to compete with Apple for the centerpiece of your living room, and in trying to do a bit of everything it falls just short of being perfect at anything. I’m immensely happy with it as the new centerpiece of my apartment’s entertainment system, but I’d be lying if I said that the One didn’t still have some growing to do in order to meet its full potential.
Part Five: Games
Very few people are looking at buying the Xbox One as an all in one entertainment box though and the main question to be addressed here is: How does it perform as a gaming machine? Any credible journalist would state that it’s almost impossible to judge a console’s long term potential based on its launch window, but I’ve found that there’s plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the One.
The launch lineup of Forza Motorsport 5, Ryse: Son of Rome, Dead Rising 3, Call of Duty: Ghosts, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, NBA 2k14, LEGO Marvel Super Heroes, Madden NFL 25, Need For Speed Rivals, FIFA 14, Just Dance 2014, Battlefield 4, LocoCycle, Zoo Tycoon and Crimson Dragon isn’t bad at all for a brand new system, however, just like with the PS4, most of these titles aren’t system sellers.
The One requires that all disc games be installed onto the internal hard drives before playing. These installs are fairly massive (ranging from 25-50 GB it seems), but you are able to start playing once the game has installed enough data to unlock the single player. While it’s scary to think how quickly we may end up burning through the 500 GB hard drive, I have to admit that the install times are fairly quick and the benefits to these installs are immediately obvious as traditional loading times in game have drastically been diminished.
Admittedly, I did encounter a few issues. Need for Speed failed to render a distant texture for a moment and characters in Killer Instinct did not immediately show when selecting their portrait, but being able to jump right into a game is still a fantastic feeling and is worth the extra space taken up on the hard drive.
Of course, each game looks different and you can read more about how each one runs in their individual reviews, but even at this very early stage in development, the visual power of the Xbox One is very impressive. Killer Instinct may have gone a bit overboard here, but the sheer amount of particle effects present when performing some of the more advanced combos was outstanding. The visual acuity that developers have been able to put into these games shows a great deal of power, and it’s only going to get better as they become more comfortable with the hardware.
I’m going to be that guy here and I’m going to directly compare the One to the PS4 in terms of pure power. And, regardless of what some people may think, right now they are dead even. If you’re concerned with buying one console over the other simply due to graphical power, you cannot go wrong with either system. Time will tell if one is able to break away due to any number of reasons, but at the time of this writing they are absolutely identical.
Part Six: Conclusion
At the end of the day, you’re reading this review to answer one simple question. “Should I buy an Xbox One?” I hate to use this cop out answer, but I’d say that it depends. The Xbox One definitely deserves a place in your home, but just not right now.
At the current time, it’s very hard for me to honestly state that there’s a need to buy either next-gen console. With each system only really having one “must play “ title each (Dead Rising 3 and Resogun, respectively) and a lack of true console selling features, it’s hard to justify buying in right now. Once the holiday season is over and we start seeing fresh games released, that may change. But at the current moment, I don’t feel that purchasing either system is a necessity.
Buying an Xbox One now is less about buying a gaming system and is more about buying potential. There is a massive amount of potential here waiting to be unleashed, and I won’t be shocked to see the One have massive commercial success down the road. With a better selection of games and more apps available to be downloaded, the Xbox One will no doubt become a powerhouse in the gaming industry.
Personally, I’m extremely happy with the system so far, and I don’t think you’d go wrong buying in now if you don’t feel like waiting. I think our very own Jonathan Lack stated it best in his PS4 review. “We are coming off the best and most creatively rich generation in video game history – whether the next one can match it has yet to be seen.” He stated that the Playstation 4 is one hell of a start, and now that we’ve been able to have hands on time with both systems, the future definitely looks bright for gamers.