I got an Xbox One (part one?)

I decided quite a while ago that I’d use some of my American Express reward points to buy a next-generation console, eventually. Once the intervals between my compulsive price-checking and review-reading grew short enough, I placed an order. This Tuesday, I received:

  • an Xbox One
  • a Kinect
  • download codes for:
    • Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag
    • Assassin’s Creed Unity
    • Dance Central Spotlight
  • Sunset Overdrive
  • Watch Dogs

I set it up, which was no problem, and then I started to use it. So far, it has been… a mixed thing.

I’ve played a bunch of Watch Dogs and some Sunset Overdrive. They are good. They are great-looking and impressive. If I have complaints about them, they’ll come another time. I got the Xbone to play them, and that’s fine. For everything else, though…

The Xbone UI is just a complete and utter mess. It is nearly incomprehensible, and I don’t understand how anybody can use it without thinking so. The Xbox 360’s navigation is strictly hierarchical, and the B button pretty much always moves back up one level of the hierarchy. Geting from one place to another is pretty easy no matter where you are.

On Xbone, the B button is more like a brower’s “back.” It goes to where you were last, even if that was in some other application. Even if it was as another user. At one point, the home screen was showing, in my color scheme, with a panel of apps in use by my daughter was shown in the picture-in-picture of “last active app.” What? Is there more than one active login at once?

The only way to get to somewhere else reliably is to hit the home button… except even that’s not so great, because the home screen dynamically redoes itself based on your usage. You can pin things to a small side panel, if you can figure out how. To find something you haven’t used in a while, you need to get into “Games & Apps,” which is something of a mess of “everything on the whole system.”

It took me quite a while to figure out how to change my gamerpic, and when I had to find it again later for my daughter, it took at least a long. In theory, using voice commands should make this less painful, but the voice commands are a mess, too. Not everything is as addressable as I’d like, and there’s very little leeway in what you can say. Xbox One’s voice commands are certainly no Siri.

Kinect should also be dealing with login, but it continually fails to recognize me. I say, “You failed to recognize me!” and it brings up picture of the room. “Is this you?” it asks, pointing at my wife’s elbow, in the corner of the frame. Eventually, after moving around, adjusting lighting, and trying to hold my hand in many different positions above my head, the Xbox says, “Oh, is this you?” Yes! Then I have to enter my Microsoft account password for the thirtieth time. On a d-pad.

When I try to use gesture control, imagining the frenetic gesturing we see in movies set in the near future, I spend most of my time waiting for Kinect to notice that I’ve raised a hand. Then, I try to move it to right place on the screen before my arm gets tired.

The Xbox One UI is in nearly every way a complete step backward from Xbox 360. If they’d taken the Xbox 360 UI and added voice and gesture control, they’d be a lot better off. It wouldn’t be innovative, but when you innovate you need to avoid innovating yourself into the realm of unusability.

It is really baffling. I don’t know how this was permitted to happen. Do people really find this … okay?

Still, in the end, I got the Xbox One to play games. The games are good. I just won’t use it for anything else, and that will be fine.

Written on January 1, 2015
videogame   xbox