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It's coming November 22 for $499

Now that Sony's PlayStation 4 has already been reviewed and released, it's time for the competition to step into the ring: Microsoft's Xbox One.  

Reviewers like CNET, TechCrunch, The Verge and Gizmodo have put the Xbox One through the wringer, inspecting the ins and outs of Microsoft's latest console. While opinions varied from feature to feature, one thought seemed to be universal in the end: the Xbox One has the potential to be a great console, but that day isn't today.

Ready? Set. Go!

The Specs
  • 8 Core AMD custom CPU at 1.75 GHz
  • AMD Radeon GPU clocked at 853 MHz 
  • 8GB DDR3 + 32MB eSRAM embedded memory
  • 500 GB Hard Drive
  • 8GB Flash Memory
  • Kinect 2 motion control
  • Blu-Ray/DVD optical drive
  • USB 3.0
  • Gigabit Ethernet, WiFi connectivity
  • HDMI input and output
Pricing & Availability

The Xbox One will be released November 22 for $499. 

Reviews

Hardware - Console

Many tech sites touted the beauty of the PlayStation 4's console design, but that's not the case with the Xbox One. In fact, the reviewers said Microsoft's console is too large and has no distinguishing features -- it's just a black box.

Eric Limer from Gizmodo compared the Xbox One to a VCR: 

"The first thing you'll notice about the Xbox One is that it is large. Comically large. It looks like a Xbox 360 ate an Xbox 360 slim. It's more VCR than Blu-ray player. And that's in addition to the external power brick, itself a heaping chunk of hardware. It makes me nostalgic for my SEGA Saturn in ways I don't fully understand. And it's waaay bigger than the PS4."

The Verge also thinks the Xbox One is unattractive:

"If ever there were a triumph of function over form, it's the Xbox One. It's not attractive by really any definition: it's a big, black box about the size of an old-school VCR and with about the same amount of design flair. 13.1 inches deep, 10.8 inches wide, and 3.1 inches tall, and with only an capacitive Xbox logo power button and a disk drive on its face, an untrained eye might confuse the Xbox One for your Blu-ray player or cable box. That appears to be the point. The One isn't designed to stand out, like the sharply angled PlayStation 4; it's designed to disappear into the stack of black rectangles next to or underneath your television."

Greg Kumparak from TechCrunch said "it's not very pretty":

"Beauty is a subjective topic, but I think you’d be hard pressed to find anyone that would say the Xbox One is particularly beautiful. That’s not to say that it’s ugly, mind you — it’s not. It’s just.. there. It’s a big, black box, its materials a mix of matte and gloss. It has lots of vents. To describe it more richly than that would be using needless words. Many a commenter has suggested that the Xbox One resembles a VCR, and those comparisons aren’t wrong. It does look like a VCR, or the set-top cable box your cable guy might deliver.
Perhaps that was the intent. Microsoft has been pitching this as an all-in-one entertainment box from day one. For better or worse, it seems they’ve designed this box with the intent of it blending in with the aforementioned appliances, rather than having it scream 'I AM A GAME CONSOLE!'. Regardless, it’s not very pretty."


CNET's Jeff Bakalar reinforced the VHS opinion, but likes the look of the logo:

"The Xbox One is significantly bulkier and notably less sleek than the PlayStation 4; some have described it as a retrofitted VCR. Quite frankly it's not really anything special to look at, though the glowing white Xbox logo on the right panel is oddly soothing."


PS4 on top of an Xbox One [SOURCE: Gizmodo]


Hardware - Controller

The Xbox One's controller received mixed reviews from tech sites. While some felt the changes to the controller improved the gaming experience (one even said it's the best controller they've ever held), others saw hardly any change from the Xbox 360 controller or felt it didn't require the changes it received. 

Limer said the controller is "more solid":

"How the console—which you will only rarely interact with and hardly ever notice—looks is peanuts next to the controller and oh my god the controller. While it's roughly the same size as an the already fantastic Xbox 360 controller, the Xbox One controller feels more compact, a little heavier, and more solid, all in a way that's utterly fantastic."

Kumparak shared Limer's enthusiasm: 

"The Xbox One controller is absolutely superb. It is, perhaps, the best console controller I’ve ever held. The Xbox 360 controller was already very, very good, but it had a glaring fault or two. Its directional pad was, for lack of a better word, 'mushy', and it only got worse with age and use. The analog sticks lacked any real texture for your thumbs to grip on to, especially when the gaming got tense and the ol’ mitts got sweaty. The Xbox One controller is essentially a 360 controller refined, scrubbed of its flaws. The names of some buttons have changed, sure — but functionally, it’s a finely polished version of its predecessor. The D-pad now lets out a resounding click in every direction, and the analog sticks cling to your thumbs."

However, The Verge wasn't as impressed:

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Microsoft spent $100 million developing a new controller for the Xbox One and ended up with something almost exactly like the gamepad that came with the Xbox 360 eight years ago. It's practically the same exact size in every single direction, only a half-ounce heavier, and all the buttons are in the exact same places. Even the analog sticks are the same distance from the ground. There are a few subtle, meaningful improvements to the new gamepad, though. From the face buttons to the directional pad to the very seams in the plastic, everything looks and feels more precise than ever before. The analog sticks are now exactly two and a half inches apart and rimmed with an extremely grippy rubber material that practically guarantees your thumbs won't slide off. There's a new cross-shaped directional pad and shoulder buttons that click instantly when you apply pressure, and better still, Microsoft's completely replaced the squeaky, cheap triggers of the Xbox 360 gamepad with a new set that's silent and buttery smooth."

Bakalar doesn't like the feel:

"It's tough for the Xbox team to have improved upon the Xbox 360 controller. Save for its subpar D-pad, the controller was easily the most comfortable one ever made. For Xbox One, the controller's shape and feel have undergone tweaks, and I can't say it's all for the better. The new controller isn't necessarily uncomfortable, but it's gripped slightly different and has more angles as opposed the curves of the 360's controller. The Xbox guide button (now the Home button) is placed well away from where the Back and Start buttons used to flank it -- likely to avoid accidentally hitting. The Back and Start buttons are now the View and Menu buttons respectively. The Xbox One's controller still has the same layout for face buttons and the analog sticks are laid out in the same format as well. The sticks have smaller circular tops on the joysticks and they can be clicked in. The D-pad is the most different-looking, compared with the 360's controller; it no longer sits on a disc. The plus-shaped directional pad now clicks in four directions, totally eliminating the accidental inputs its predecessor suffered from."


Xbox One Controller
 

Software - User Interface

The Xbox One's UI also received mixed reviews. Some tech sites said it reacts much quicker to commands while others said it could be faster, and some like the Windows 8 design with tiles while others said it's confusing.

Limer said the UI is "busy" but not challenging to use:

"The Xbox One's dashboard is an obvious evolution from the latest version of the Xbox 360's UI, but it's also very much its own entity. The tiles on the Xbox one are far more starkly Windows 8 than anything on the 360. It's a change that's fresh, but not alienating. From the moment the Xbox One wakes up, everything is right at your fingertips. Apps, games, notifications, and yeah, a couple of "featured items" that Microsoft would be more than happy for you to purchase. The whole thing can feel a little busy, but it's easy to pick up and use. The UI has some nice little flairs, like color settings that you can change to pair with different gamertags. It's small, but it goes a long way in making it immediately clear who is logged in and driving things."

The Verge thinks the UI is a little cluttered and tough to navigate:

"The Xbox One is not a particularly easy console to set up. After you hook up your TV, your cable box, your Kinect, and your wireless gamepad, you have to download a mandatory day one update, sign into Xbox Live, and wait for the console to install a game before you can play anything at all. You'll need to invest even a little bit more time if you want to do anything else. Want to play a Blu-ray disc? Skype with a friend? Upload a video clip? There's an app for that — an app you'll need to download because there’s virtually no functionality baked in.But the hardest part of setting up the Xbox One is simply getting used to the console's user interface. Where Sony's PlayStation 4 gives you a simple scrolling list of everything on your console — a visual paradigm that, while possibly cumbersome, immediately makes sense — the Xbox One is a smorgasbord of colored Windows 8-style tiles in seemingly arbitrary locations."

Kumparak feels it could be faster:

"Alas, it still feels like it could use a bit of work. The One’s interface is noticably quicker than that of the 360, but it’s not eight years of technology faster. You’ll still see that signature spiral loading screen in between apps — even when you just want to pop in to check the details of an achievement you just unlocked. I never felt like I was waiting painfully long, but with this generation of consoles, it feels strange to wait at all while clicking through something like an interface."

Bakalar thinks the UI will take time to learn:

"Without a doubt, the logic of the Xbox One dashboard will take some getting used to. It's tough to discern which apps can snap and how to take control of everything onscreen, all while managing voice commands and controller inputs. With every new piece of software the user begins to understand behaviors and rules that dictate how things work. With this new dashboard, though, the learning process will take longer than you're used to. Too often in my time with the dashboard I'd get confused about exactly where I was in the system. The best way I can describe it is a form of 'menu Inception' where I was within a menu within a menu, but accessing it from a different place than I thought I had originated from. Got all that?"


Xbox One dashboard [SOURCE: The Verge]
 

Kinect 2.0

Kinect plays a big role in Xbox One navigation now with enhanced voice recognition features. But reviewers say Kinect doesn't always understand your commands, which can make for a frustrating experience. There are also new gestures to learn for Kinect's motion sensor, but once you learn them, they really come in handy.

Limer said Kinect's voice recognition is great -- when it actually works:

"Kinect is ostensibly a camera first, but its voice recognition prowess is a huge selling point for the Xbox One, and it is incredible—when it's working. It's very clear that Kinect, and its always-listening capabilities, have been a huge part of the Xbox One vision from the start, because this stuff goes deep. Wonderfully deep. In optimal circumstances, Kinect voice recognition is freaking fantastic. Like, sit-in-stunned-amazement-barking-commands-and-pausing-to-squeal-with-glee fantastic. There is hardly anything you can't do on the Xbox One using voice commands. The only place I ran into a hard stop was the settings menu, and one weird button in another Kinect configuration window. Just about everything else though—switching apps, opening games, customizing your avatar, checking notifications, going to Netflix, making Skype calls, pulling up videos from your SkyDrive—is voice-enabled, and functional as hell."

The Verge said it had to scream at the Kinect in order to get it to understand them:

"Kinect doesn’t always work. It’s simply not reliable or flexible enough. Often, I felt like I spent more time screaming at the Kinect to follow my commands then it would have taken to just pick up the controller. I begged, I pleaded with the device to do what I wanted in the most commanding yet humble tone I could muster, and on many occasions it indeed felt like I had the robotic butler of my dreams. Most of the time, though, it felt like my butler was a little hard of hearing. There are two distinct ways the Kinect fails, and the first feels inexcusable. Many of the voice commands are extremely rigid, to the point where you need to memorize a list of exact phrases to be able to use them reliably. If you want to go to an app, for instance, you need to start by saying 'Xbox go to.' But if you want to go to Bing, that structure doesn't work. The correct command is 'Xbox Bing,' because Microsoft expects you to unquestionably understand and accept that "Bing" should be a verb. If "Xbox on" turns on the console, why doesn't 'Xbox off' turn it off? Because 'Xbox turn off' is the proper command, and you’ll need to memorize it. If you’re a Redbox Instant subscriber, get used to calling it "Redbox Instant by Verizon," because the Kinect won’t accept anything less. There are dozens more examples like these."

Kumparak said voice recognition could use some work, but the gesture tracking during gameplay is great:

"Microsoft has pitched the new Kinect (their motion-sensing, speech-recognizing accessory) in such a way so as to essentially suggest it puts the old one to shame, claiming greatly improved accuracy in both speech recognition and gesture sensing. The speech recognition does seem better, but not to some insane, mind-blowing degree. Yes, the new Kinect will still mishear you. Yes, you’ll still feel totally stupid when you shout a command at your TV and it ignores you. When it does work, though, I’m still not entirely convinced that using voice recognition outside of a few particularly use cases is particularly awesome. Pausing a video without finding the remote as I run over to my kitchen? Hell yeah. Slowly commanding my Xbox through the App Store, screen by screen? Meh. The same can be said for using gestures to navigate through the menus; while the Kinect’s improved gesture tracking gives it a few new tricks (for example: you now 'tap' at an item to select it, rather than having to hover over it. That can actually prove pretty challenging some times, but I have a feeling I’ll get better in time), it still feels like a neat tech demo rather than something that actually makes the experience better. With gaming, however, the improved gesture tracking starts to shine."

Bakalar said learning the new gestures takes time, but are worth learning: 

"Kinect 2.0 introduces a handful of new voice and gesture commands, all of which will take some time getting used to. In fact, Microsoft provided me with a cheat sheet containing around 30 new voice commands and five new gestures. When it does work, Kinect can provide some brilliant 'a-ha' moments. Even the simple task of turning the console on without the need to locate a controller is a luxury tough to abandon once experienced for the first time."


Kinect 2.0 [SOURCE: CNET]
 

TV Integration

Xbox One's TV integration is a major selling point for the console. It's an entertainment box meant to blend in with your other machines in the living room, and act as your TV powerhouse. The TV integration has a few hiccups, according to reviewers, but the feature definitely sets it apart from other consoles. 

Limer says the TV integration is best if you have cable: 

"One of the primary reasons you might be interested in an Xbox One has nothing to do with games. It's a full-on living room general, one that commandeers your television and gives it superpowers you'd never dreamed of. That's the idea, anyway. And it works! Mostly. Especially if you have cable. Xbox One's TV features come in two flavors. If you don't have cable, the functionality is limited but still awesome in its own subtle way. Thanks to a built-in IR blaster, the Xbox One will control your TV, and the setup is a dream. All you have to do is tell the 'box what make your TV is—with a little bit of trial and error—and BOOM, you're good to go. From there, your Xbox can do most of the most basic stuff your remote would; turning your TV on, turning it off, changing the volume, muting, unmuting, etc. And you can do all that from your controller or with your voice. Saying "volume down" is handy but not life-changing, but things like waking your TV with an "Xbox on" command or muting at a moment's notice with no remote in sight is. You'll wonder how you ever got along without it. The Xbox One's biggest play for 'the one box you need in your living room' only really hits home, though, if you have cable."

The Verge says the idea of TV integration is great, but the execution needs work: 

"The Xbox One’s TV integration is one of its biggest selling points, and it’s potentially very cool. By routing your cable box through the One, you can get game invites and Skype notifications while you’re watching your favorite shows, and you can snap live TV to the side while you’re playing games. The Kinect can fire off infrared commands to control the basic functions of your cable box and TV, letting you use your voice to search and browse the new One Guide, which features streaming services like Hulu and Netflix listed as 'app channels' alongside regular channels. But while the ideas are great, the execution just isn’t there. For starters, passing my TiVo through the Xbox One darkened the picture and stripped the signal of its Dolby Digital audio encoding, taking away surround sound. There’s a beta option to transcode Dolby into DTS or PCM audio, but it didn’t seem to work for me, and Microsoft says it might cause additional video distortion with some cable boxes until it’s out of beta. If you have a home theater system, this is an immediate dealbreaker; I wouldn’t let the Xbox One near your cable box until it can pass the signal unmolested."

Bakalar thinks the TV integration is great, but won't be the one and only box your living room needs:

"Live TV integration is probably the most ambitious 'outside-the-box' thinking a console has done in a while. Xbox One wants to get between your TV and your cable box so that it can cater the experience. Overall, the ambitious live TV and home theater integration features of the Xbox One are a mixed bag. When they work they seem like they're right out of a sci-fi movie, but when they don't, it's enough to drive you mental. I expect we'll see some refinements and tweaks down the road through system updates, but right now no one should assume it will be able to take over control of their entertainment space exclusively."


TV integration feature [SOURCE: The Verge]
 

Games

Many reviewers have said the Xbox One definitely has better launch titles than the PS4, which could score Microsoft's console some big points this holiday season when shoppers are debating between the two. 

Limer said you can expect the Xbox One's graphics during gameplay to be comparable to that of a PC:

"As did the PS4, this thing is going to blow your gat-dang hair back. All the games we tried (Forza 5, Dead Rising 3, Crimson Dragon, and a few titles we're not allowed to talk about yet) looked beautiful, without exception. You can get graphics like this out of a powerhouse PC, sure. But in the console world the Xbox One—and the PS4—is like whoa. Then again, after eight years, you'd expect it to be. Some titles embrace the future better than others. It's an unfortunate fact that Dead Rising 3, one of the cornerstones of the Xbox One's launch line-up, runs in 720p (upscaled to 1080), locked at 30fps. That's not bad, but it's not the kind of HOLY FREAKIN WOW you necessarily expect out of your new $500 box. That said, there's still plenty of HOLY FREAKIN WOW to Dead Rising 3; it boasts massive crowds of zombies on screen at a time, while only occasionally (but still occasionally) stopping to chug if you're really cruising through the scenery in a car or armored tank or whatever. That's a different kind of impressive. And it's worth noting thatKillzone: Shadow Fall did its fair share of chugging too on the PS4, albeit in native 1080p."

The Verge sees excitement in the potential for greater titles down the line:

"Both in terms of graphics and gameplay, the Xbox One and PS4 are more or less equivalent. Where the Xbox experience differs is the Kinect. Despite its impressive power, it’s currently just a better version of the 360’s implementation when it comes to games. There’s already a fair amount of good gameplay on the One, but here’s the most exciting part about launch games — they almost certainly won’t stand the test of time. The best years of both Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are a ways off. 12 months from now, the library for both consoles will almost certainly be more fleshed out, and the best games could take even longer. The longer developers play with these consoles, the better they’ll understand the new platforms. That means shorter load times, better visuals, and more chances to be creative with allt he power these new platforms have to offer."

Kumparak reviewed individual titles: 

"FORZA: Absolutely beautiful, though most of the processing time seems to be going towards making the cars insanely shiny and throwin’ down that sweet, sweet lens flare. Once you start looking at the buildings and bushes you’re blasting by, it’s not quite as pretty. KILLER INSTINCT: A surprisingly complex fighter for being a freemium title (you get one character for free, but can pay to unlock the rest.) based off a property from 1994. After 6 or 7 hours of practice, the computer still whooped my ass on a medium difficulty. Loading screens were a bit longer than I’d hope. CRIMSON DRAGON: Not good. Gameplay felt disappointingly disconnected, and it got boring really, really quick. LOCOCYCLE: I love the team that made this (Twisted Pixel, same folks who made ’Splosion Man andThe Maw), but this one isn’t my favorite game of theirs. The graphics seemed rather dated, and the gameplay got repetitive within a few levels. ZOO TYCOON: It’s.. Zoo Tycoon. It was cute as heck, but not quite my thing. Loading screens were crazy long."

Bakalar said cloud computing didn't noticeably provide in-game results:

"Most of the Xbox One games I tried out look great and perform mostly well. Dead Rising 3 is capable of displaying a dizzying amount of zombies on screen at once -- way more than its hardware predecessor was physically able to do. Ryse: Son of Rome and Forza Motorsport 5 are the best-looking eye candy among the initial crop of exclusive titles...Since the Xbox One's announcement, Microsoft has really drilled in the idea of cloud computing and how it will supposedly open the door for revolutionary in-game results. None of the launch titles we've seen incorporates cloud computing in any noticeable manner, but we're sure this kind of tech will surface as we head deeper into the console's life cycle."


"Crimson Dragon" [SOURCE: Gizmodo]
 

To Buy or Not to Buy?

So what do reviewers think when it comes to actually dropping the $499 this holiday season?

Limer:

"Not yet. It's generally dumb to buy any new console right at launch. PS4's have been having issues with a 'blue light of death,' and for all we know the Xbox One could have its own issues as well; the sting of the red ring of death is still fresh in most memories. Besides, the launch line-up of games—while a little better than the PS4's—is a bit soft. The real gotta-play system-sellers like Watchdogs, Destiny, and Titanfall, are still a few months out. Halo 5 is a mere glint on the horizon. The software is still in flux too. We experienced a little jank with a few apps. Twitch streaming isn't coming until sometime early 2014. HBO Go is "coming soon" but hasn't shown up yet. These consoles are coming in hot, so just chill. Theoretically all will get fixed with time; hopefully right around when a game you just have to have finally gets released. For now, the Xbox One is one impressive living room box machine—and it more than justifies its $500 dollar price with the inclusion of at least $100-worth of set-top boxitude—but you're going to be better off waiting for a little while to see how things shake out."

The Verge

"When Microsoft says it's building a console for the next decade, it's not lying. Where the PlayStation 4 is designed to simply become an ever-better version of itself, the Xbox One is poised to turn into an entirely different, entirely unprecedented device. It may not only supplement, but replace your cable box; it could have a rich, full app store; games are only going to get better, more impressive, and more interactive. The blueprints are all here. Virtually everything Microsoft is trying to do is smart, practical, and forward-thinking — even as they've undone some of the Xbox One's most future-proof innovation over the last few months, Marc Whitten and his team at Microsoft have clearly kept their heads in the future. But nearly everything that could be great someday isn't great right now. The Kinect is an incredible piece of raw machinery and engineering, but it's not implemented well into games, nor does its voice control provide a truly fast, seamless way to navigate the operating system. The TV integration is an awkward hodgepodge of menus and overlays and dead ends. There's a massive opportunity for Windows apps to turn the Xbox into something no one could have imagined, but it's as yet gone unexplored. Some of these are easily solved problems, but others — cable integration in particular — are a much steeper uphill climb."

Kumparak:

"Would I recommend buying the Xbox One? If you already have a 360 and aren’t absolutely dying for any of the launch titles, I wouldn’t say you need it right this second. Give developers a bit of time to figure out the console’s inner workings. Let the must-have titles get made. If your 360 is on its last leg or you skipped the last generation, however, it’s a solid buy as is."

Bakalar:

"Xbox One gets points for its forward-thinking mentality and ambition to integrate live TV and home theater control, even if that vision is far from being realized at launch. Of course no console is perfect out of the box, but it will be a difficult road ahead on that specific front. Where Sony positioned the PS4 as the 'gamer's console,' Microsoft felt customers would be better served with a console that wears many hats. Thankfully it can still play games with brilliant visuals, but it lands short of its ambitious all-in-one hubris."


So what do you think DT readers? Now that both consoles have been reviewed, which do you want to see under the Christmas tree this year?

Sources: Gizmodo, The Verge, TechCrunch, CNET





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