Most reviews start with a couple of sentences to introduce whatever it is I’m reviewing. In the case of the Xbox One this almost feels pointless. Almost everyone reading will know that it’s Microsoft’s newest gaming console that was released in November 2013. If you follow gaming at all you’ll know that when it was released it was rather lackluster in sales – Microsoft had bundled it with a Kinect and tried to position it as a media box and both strategies (and the subsequent higher prices) put off the gamers who would usually be expected to buy the console.
Two years later and the Kinect-in-every-box has been dropped, the price has come down to around £290 with deals often available taking it cheaper and Microsoft has refocused on games and gaming.
So when you buy an Xbox One what do you get?
The biggest feature of a console should be the games you can play on it. Unsurprisingly there is a wide range available with more coming into the store regularly. This generation of consoles has far less exclusives than previous generations but there are still some notable titles available now – Sunset Overdrive, Halo: Master Chief and Project Spark. Still to come in the next year is Halo 5 Guardians, Gears of Wars: Ultimate, Fable Legends, Quantum Break and several others.
Whether this combination of titles is important to you will depend entirely on your taste.
Microsoft has also announced and previewed the ability to play some Xbox 360 games on the Xbox One. The system will go into full release in November and will let you play around 100 of your old Xbox 360 games on the One. If you have a library of older games this will mean that you can get rid of the 360 you’ve kept around to play them but be aware – they’re not remastered or anything like that and will play identically as if they were on a 360.
Media and a pass through
When Microsoft announced the Xbox One they were very enthusiastic in showing off and explaining its media abilities. It has what is called media pass through – in other words you can plug your cable box into it and the Xbox One into the TV and then use the Xbox to control the cable box without ever picking up its remote again. I remember doing something similar with a VCR many years ago to record videos and while it sounds cool it’s less useful than you would think in the UK.
It is compatible with Sky, Virgin, BT, Freeview and Freesat boxes but the bundled software isn’t as full featured as we could hope. Watching TV and browsing the built-in program guide works well but recording using the cable box (or the Xbox itself) is not possible and neither is using the catchup options in the cable box. To make up for this there are a number of apps on the Xbox itself including everything from iPlayer to Plex and the program guide can (theoretically) search through them all to find what you are looking for.
Microsoft’s heartland is the US which has a very different TV system to the UK so it’s not a surprise that things are somewhat behind here. If you don’t have a media system already setup the Xbox One could do the job for you and do it reasonably well but if it’s the only thing you are after then there are much cheaper and better ways to do it.
The Xbox One controller is a clear evolution of the Xbox 360 controller being slightly larger and more curvaceous. With batteries in it weighs 222g as compared the 360’s 206g. I found it accurate and comfortable but again this is a situation where personal preference and ability comes in.
If the standard controller does not work for you in October there will be an alternative – the Xbox Elite Controller which will be somewhat more customisable and rather more expensive at £120.
The Xbox One has also added another option – the ability to use a USB mouse and keyboard. I tried it our with a wireless USB plug in model and it worked fine for things like navigating the menus and typing in search terms but it is not designed for gaming and I’d not recommend it for that.
Microsoft was founded in 1975 as a software company making BASIC interpreters and hit the big time in in the mid-80s making MS-DOS and later Windows. They branched out creating Office and later a number of other software products. In 2001 they launched the Xbox and with it and its successor the Xbox 360 became one of the big three console manufacturers. In the last couple of years the company has stumbled and changed direction several times but seems to have it’s feet back under itself.
Included in the box/price
Xbox One, HDMI cable, power brick and power cable, Xbox One wireless controller, headset, 14 day pass to Xbox Gold
Operating System: Skinned Windows
Size: 33.3 x 27.4 x 7.9cm
Optical Drive: Blu-ray/dvd
Item Weight: 3.2kg
CPU: 8 Core AMD custom CPU
Storage: 500GB magnetic Hard Drive
USB: 3 x USB 3.0
Connection: Ethernet port and Wifi A/B/G/N 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz and Wifi Direct
Video: HDMI Input and output
Warranty: One year limited warranty
Ease of use
The Xbox One was simple and straightforward to setup. When you plug it all in and power it up you go through several loops of downloading updates and then logging in with a Microsoft account is required. If you are using the media pass through the Xbox will try to auto detect information about your cable box and TV provider. Mine got my provider (Virgin) right but got my TV – an older Bush wrong.
Once it is setup the Xbox One will autolog in to your account (this can be disabled) so when you turn it on it will go to the main menu with no interaction required. From the main menu the familiar tile system is simple and intuitive.
I did find that although the Xbox One is generally simple to use some things were a little opaque. To give you an example I have taken a number of screen shots and wanted to upload them. All the guides online detailed exactly what to do menu by menu but the last menu option simply wasn’t available to me. In the end I figured out that it is because uploading screenshots is a Gold only – paid – option.
When it was first announced the Xbox One was expected to need an always on internet connection. This caused a huge backlash and was quickly reversed. The Xbox One needs a power supply and a TV but an internet connection is no longer a requirement – although it is highly recommended.
Some console options are only unlocked with a paid Xbox Gold membership which is available for £40 for 12 months. These include multiplayer and cloud save functions. Gold also gives monthly free older games and discounts on some newer games.
Note that I am not considering the Kinect as part of the Xbox One bundle.
It is accessible to anyone with a mild-moderate visual impairment, including the blind and those who experience visual symptoms, like photophobia (light sensitivity), eye strain or colour blindness.
The Xbox One allows the background to be changed to any color or image (from a USB stick or screenshot) and combined with the ability to change the transparency of tiles it is possible to make a high contrast theme. Text is generally small and white or very light on a dark background and there is no way to change font, size or color.
It is accessible to anyone with a mild – moderate hearing impairment, including the deaf and those who experience auditory symptoms, like tinnitus or hyperacusis (sound sensitivity).
The main unit of the Xbox One has no speakers (or mic) inside it and no dedicated audio out cables. There are several ways to connect to an external audio system but none are ideal. The controller has no speaker but has a propriety audio out port on older handsets which works with the included Xbox One headset or a 3.5mm out socket on newer controllers that works with a wide range of alternatives.
Individual games will have differing requirements but the menu system and the OS have no audio requirements.
It is accessible to anyone with a mild – moderate upper body impairment and those who experience symptoms that affect their hands, wrists and shoulders, like a tremor, fatigue, reduced dexterity or precision. The menu system is large and simple there are no times where a fast reaction is required. Individual games will need more or better dexterity.
Movement and mobility
It is accessible to anyone with a mild – moderate mobility impairment, including wheelchair users and those who experience physical symptoms, like severe fatigue or chronic pain. There is no mobility requirement to play.
Motion sickness and balance disorders
It is accessible to anyone who experiences a moderate motion sickness or dizzy spells. The OS does have some scrolling with all the tiles moving together but the background is stable and most motion sickness sufferers will not have any issues. Individual games and apps may cause problems.
It is accessible to anyone with a mild – moderate cognitive impairment, including those with a learning disability like dyslexia and those who experience cognitive symptoms, like problems with memory, concentration, planning and organization. Day to day operation is simple and if you can get someone else to set it the Xbox One up it is very accessible to those with cognitive symptoms.
No social interaction is required to use Xbox One although there are many games and apps that would benefit from it. Multiplayer online gaming is only possible with a Xbox Gold subscription so if you want to avoid socialising there is a ready-made excuse available.
This product contains no common allergens. The only part of the Xbox One that you will regularly touch the controller is made of a hard plastic with some rubber on the sticks.
Trigger warnings and age ratings
We are unaware of any triggers in the Xbox One itself and the OS is suitable for all. Individual games will have their own triggers but there are parental controls that can be set to restrict what can be accessed. The controls are not particularly straightforward and if you need them I’d recommend reading the small print very carefully.
The Xbox One is exactly what it says it is. It’s a decent reliable next gen console that does everything as you would expect it to with no surprises. There are more and more exclusive games being made available and with the ability to play some Xbox 360 games it may be time for us all to think about upgrading. The hardware is well made and solid and most consider the controller a big improvement over the last generation. The media playing abilities are a bonus but not worth investing in on their own right.
I’d recommend buying an Xbox One far more than I would have two years ago and now is a good time to buy one. Is it a must buy yet? Not quite but if you are hanging on to your 360 with both fingernails don’t expect to be able to hold on much longer. If you’re in the Xbox world now is a good time to upgrade.
The review is based on the UK Xbox One with no Kinect. This post contains affiliate links. First published on 21 August 2015