A Year with the Xbox One

Although the Xbox has been out for almost a year and a half at this point, I didn’t get one until January of 2014. So it has been about a year now, and it is time to reflect on this “next gen” system.

The hardware in gaming consoles is typically not super sophisticated. This is what allows them to sell them for $400-$500 upon launch and then decrease from there. A $500 gaming computer (even with a monitor) wouldn’t go very far. And the insides are a mystery to almost every user, the only thing that matters at all is the user experience. And that is where things have been rocky.

It is amazing that a company that has made computer software for decades, and is on their third gaming console could put out a product so unpolished from the get go. Regular updates have improved the current state of things, but only marginally.

It’s clear that Microsoft assumed that a majority of navigation from app to app and throughout the dashboard would be controlled via voice commands with Kinect. The ironic part of course being that Microsoft basically killed Kinect when it removed it from being included with every Xbox One box. Without this, navigating to specific app is a pain unless they are “pinned”. But that list can grow big very quickly, even for someone that doesn’t play/use a variety of different things. Navigating to a specific app requires clicking on apps/games, then picking the category and then just aimlessly scrolling until the correct thing is found. There has to be an easier way.

The party system has also been a major hit or miss. It’s been hard to know how much of this is on specific games and how much of it is on the Xbox operating system, but it has been a train wreck at times. Hard restarts just to join a game with someone seem like the kind of thing that should be fixed in a very early patch.

When Microsoft first announced that games would just be dowloaded, and not shareable, there was a huge uproar. People pretended they were mad about sharing games with friends, but really it was about the used game market. So they caved, and allowed for games to be downloaded and also purchased on a disc. But the disc games still require massive amounts of storage space for “installs” that then also take forever. And of course the disc must be in the machine to play a game even though it’s been installed. Clearly this is prevent people from selling games and still playing them, but it seems like there is a better way. Like require the disc once every two weeks or something.

The downloaded games are clearly the way to go, and everyone seems to prefer that to buying the physical game. Apparently that is why often sales/deals for games are often available only for the disc version instead of the downloaded one. So in order to save money there is an inconvenience associated with it. It doesn’t end there though. The aforementioned storage space can quickly become a factor. Anyone who buys a enough games (probably a littler over one per month) will quickly run out of space on the (criminally) small 500 GB hard drive that ships with the Xbox One. Never mind the fact 3 TB drives are readily available, and instead consider the fact that even 1 TB drives were pretty much standard when the system was released last year. Sure external hard drives are supported, but that is just more shelf space required for an already large system.

It’s not all bad. The controller is a nice incremental improvement from the Xbox 360, and third party headsets no longer requiring batteries is nice. The Kinect voice commands work fairly well, although ambient noise can sometimes be a problem. Not often enough to ruin what feels like the future realized though. Netflix and Amazon Video work well and Twitch integration out of the box is a nice touch. The “Xbox record that” feature is a fun addition that reportedly is about to get a nice feature bump.

To Microsoft’s credit they are listening to users and making regular improvements. Although it seems crazy that low battery notifications and a way to be notified when friends (or certain friends) sign on were two features completely left out from day one, at least those things have been added. Unfortunately it took almost a full year after release for the system to really feel like it was hitting it’s stride, something that just does not seem excusable in this age of technology. The Xbox one has probably gone from about a C- to a B in the last year, but it is trending up. It is likely that before it’s lifespan is over it will be much better, but the first year has been a bit lackluster.