The Xbox One has changed a lot since its announcement back in early 2013. Even before the system hit store shelves, Microsoft reversed a lot of key points about the hardware and how users would interact with the machine. In the two years between the system’s launch and today, even more changes would come into place. . Despite those changes, the original UI of the system remained the same, but finally, on Nov. 12th, you’ll get to see the updated UI and the new backwards compatibility. I’ve been living with the new UI for over a month now, and here’s what to expect, what’s changed, what hasn’t, what’s moved, and where to find it.
Note: These impressions were based on preview access to beta software. Some of the bugs and interactions I ran into while using my Xbox One may be worse, better, or non-existent when the update officially rolls out.
Main Page Layout:
You may first glance at the new dashboard’s main page and think very little has changed. Your most recently played game or app is slightly larger and is also the first thing you see on screen. A short list of what else has been used recently no longer encircles it, but can be found in a list below it, which you can scroll down to browse through. Keep scrolling down to find your pins, which were previously to the left. It kind of sucks that pins are regulated so far away, since it defeats the purpose of having favorites if they aren’t easily at hand. I found myself only visiting pins occasionally and really using the new section to access the ‘My games & apps’ section.
If you press left on your controller, you get a slide-in menu that replaces the pins’ previous position. Note that this menu only shows up if you’ve selected the main, most recently played, tile. If you’ve selected your pins or another page on the UI, pressing left will not pop this menu up. Despite the inconvenience, this is where your friends list, messages, party info, settings, and snap apps all reside. It’s a bummer to see snap apps anywhere since I know absolutely zero people who make use of them. However, it is nice to have messages and notifications easily accessible now and listed out in a compact and easy to read manner.
Notifications are now bundled together as well. Before, earning an achievement would trigger a notification for each individual achievement, which cluttered up the notification system. I’d lose track of important messages thanks to a half dozen achievements I’d earned the previous night. Friends are also listed out in an easier on the eye list, only displaying seven friends at a time. You can also scroll up from this menu to look at your own profile, which is where they’ve moved the full screen achievements app. You now have to launch achievements from your own profile, as the apps section only launches the snapped app.
Kinda strange Microsoft has hidden their own achievement page since Xbox Live made achievements popular, and because they’ve put a lot of work into the new page. Games are listed out nicely in a two-columned list that contains percentage complete, how many you’ve earned, and how many points per title. You can quickly compare games with friends, or if you select a title, it’ll list out both achievements and other stats like ‘Time Played’, ‘Kills’, ‘Deaths’, etc. Every game seems to have unique rankings among your friends list; for instance Zoo Tycoon has ‘Number of Animal Poops Cleared Up’, and if you’re the best animal poop cleaner it’ll add a tiny crown to this stat. Overall, this looks tidy and adds really interesting ways to compete with friends and see how others play the games you do.
You can also look at your friends list in more details, your followers list, your own ‘feed’, profile info, and any game captures in the “my profile” section.
The Xbox One, your source for Netflix and Stalking:
The shoulder buttons still navigate you around to the other pages, or blades, if you’d like, of the dashboard. Next to the Home main menu is the Community menu, where there’s a friend’s feed, similar to a Twitter feed, mostly filled with achievements people on my friends list are unlocking. You can use this to update the feed yourself or secretly stalk your Xbox Live friends, but really it all seems like a waste. Every friend online is a friend on another social platform that won’t be filled with achievement and game clip spam.
It’s also a shame to see the two week ranking in achievement points gone by the wayside. That was a great way to compete with friends. It’s also a subtle way to encourage people to continue playing their games instead of selling them to user game stores. The social media feed feels forced and ineffective.
Over another page and you’ll find the OneGuide. This is a combined page for all video and streaming services. You can browse through to see what are on apps like Crackle, Sling, Starz Play, and whatever other streaming applications that suddenly exist. It’s nice to get all of this in a more compact “at a glance” style, but I never have more than one or two of these services at a time. And I routinely use them enough that they would still be on my ‘Home’ page; not buried in the OneGuide. This section isn’t really for me, but for families or users who use the Xbox One as the basis for all their entertainment, this looks much improved.
“He does like to shop, Cher. And the boy can dress.”:
Lastly is the Store page, which is laid out similarly to the OneGuide. Upcoming or recently released games are advertised prominently at the top and sections like ‘New Releases’ and ‘Top Rated’ are underneath. If you browse all games, you get more categories and everything fits better inside the screen than before. Searching through the games feels just as slow, however, as the Xbox still hamfists Bing search into the store.
The handful of test searches I ran through, titles like Call of Duty and Halo, didn’t feel sorted correctly. With my Halo search, Spartan Assault, the free to play game, was the first result. Next was the Master Chief Collection and third was the newest title in the franchise, Halo 5. The search bar’s predictive text has a similar problem, as beginning to search for Assassin’s Creed suggested I search for AC: Black Flag and not a newer release like Unity or Syndicate.
“Don’t worry she’ll hold together…you hear me, baby? Hold together!”
Overall the UI looks much better, but there are still the usual hiccups. The button delay is less severe once a page is fully loaded up, but when starting the system for the first time, or loading to a new store page, the images take a few seconds to load. This delay means you can’t move the cursor around the screen. Said delay is also evident when bringing up the new side menu. A few seconds doesn’t sound terrible, but that’s when the system is resting. Switching from in game, to looking at your achievements page, and back again doesn’t feel fluid. You can almost see the system attempting to figure out what you’re trying to do and try to keep up.
Just like with the poorly implemented snap app feature, the “breadcrumb trail” is still embedded with the new UI. I recently learned that this UI upgrade is also Xbox’s chance to switch to a Windows 10 operating system. It boggles my mind why such systems are still in place! The breadcrumb system never felt intuitive, and it almost always surprises me when I hit the back button.
This is an improvement from the Kinect based, voice focused UI of the last two years, however, it doesn’t feel like a change in design. Instead, it feels like a band-aid over an ugly scar, except this band-aid has Fallout 4 and Halo ads on it. Sure, that band-aid looks dope, but the scar is still there. The Xbox One may need a deeper, backend heavy update that I’m sure the machine is capable of. Maybe this is the start of a new experience for the Xbox One and all the old skeletons can be removed in due time. Or maybe this machine is cursed to look good and feel horrible.