It's always tough to judge progress in the present. After all, it's often said that genius is never understood in its own time. But that's usually the case with artistic genius. Technology is a different beast. You can usually tell within five minutes of using a piece of tech whether or not you like it and will use it often. So the central question of my Xbox One Review is this: is the Xbox One really the next leap forward in living room multimedia or is it just Siri-on-steroids masking not-so-spectacular gaming hardware?
I don't think there's any question that the Xbox One is less popular right now among gamers. The (rightful) consensus is that the PS4 offers a more gaming focused-experience with a stronger piece of hardware and a burgeoning relationship with indie developers. There's more to games than graphics, yes, but you can't deny that the PS4 is bringing better gaming hardware to the table at launch. Whether or not Microsoft's nebulous "power of the cloud" will even things out in the coming years (I think it will) remains to be seen. But out-of-the-box, right now, the PS4 offers a stronger gaming machine and isn't that what matters most?
No. Not to me, anyway. And, according to Forbes, not to a lot of consumers. The gamers who tend to focus on aliasing and pixel counts and frame rates gravitate towards the "PC Master Race" side of things. If you want the best graphics, always, then a PC is your best investment. Consoles are known to lag behind the PC's power but they remain viable because they belong in the one place PCs don't: your living room. And right now my Xbox One is a welcome addition.
When it comes to gaming the Xbox One is no slouch. I know, I know, I just said the PS4 has better hardware and graphics. And that is true. But that's not to say the Xbox One looks bad. Quite the opposite. The graphics on some of the launch titles took my breath away, especially Ryse: Son of Rome. It's a game that seems designed to make you fantasize about the potential of the new system. Dead Rising 3 and Assassin's Creed 4 both delivered some next-gen thrills of their own. Dead Rising 3 has more zombies on screen (think thousands) at one time than any game in the genre and Assassin's Creed 4 has the most realistic ocean I've ever seen in any game. At no point playing any of these games did I say "I think these graphics could be incrementally better and the game more enjoyable."
There's also a redesigned controller for the Xbox One, one that reportedly cost Microsoft $100 million to develop. I'm not entirely sure the money was well spent since it's almost identical to the 360 controller, with the exception of better grips on the thumbsticks, an internal battery storage and larger L/R bumpers. But it's more comfortable and a little lighter than the old one so I guess that counts as progress.
I purchased my Xbox One at a midnight launch on Friday and it's basically been on ever since. I'm struck by how QUIET it is, especially compared to an Xbox 360 which is about as quiet as semi-trucks having rough sex. My Xbox One was on for 12-18 hours at a time and stayed whisper quiet with no slowdowns or overheating. So far, my Xbox One has functioned (almost) perfectly.
I say (almost) because the new voice command system takes a little getting used to. Fortunately, the set-up is simple. I was worried that installing a device that used a sophisticated voice/motion sensor and integrated with my cable box would have a million hang-ups and roadblocks on the way to smooth, seamless functionality. I was wrong. The Xbox One, despite its all-in-one persona, maintains the beautiful console tradition of 'open the box, plug it in and play.'
But not everything works perfectly (yet). I'm encountering a few random errors when I watch several episodes of something on Netflix or Hulu. Nothing major, but it will say "an unexpected error occurred" and take me back to the home screen. I re-launch the program and all's right with the world. I guess my Xbox One just doesn't approve of binge watching 30 Rock? Maybe it's more of a Community guy.
There's also a weird remote control issue that occurs whenever someone uses an iPhone in front of the Kinect. The infra-red sensor apparently thinks the iPhone is some kind of a remote control and a UI with a "use this for clicking" hand icon appear. This may not sound like a big deal but when I'm watching TV and my wife sends a text to someone the screen darkens and this random bar appears and it gives her another reason to tell me "I don't like this thing." Obviously, she's jealous. Because I really do LOVE my Xbox One.
Hopefully these issues are addressed with a patch or something in the near future. (Although @XboxSupport is telling me the iPhone issue is a "function" that can't be turned off.) It is a launch system, after all. Bugs are to be expected. But in general, my Xbox One works 99 percent of the time without issue and, man, it's awesome. The voice-control actions, which I filed under "feature I'll never use" before I bought the thing, are incredibly convenient.
You never realize how much of your life you wasted looking for remote controls until you get an Xbox One. I haven't seen my TV remote in days. I imagine it's in some sort of under-the-couch denial collecting dust with loose change and dog toys. The Xbox One controls channels, volume, everything. The best part for gamers is that it keeps your game running in the background so you can take a half-hour snack break and jump back right where you left off without having to reload your game. Or touch a remote. Or do anything more rigorous than saying "Xbox go to Netflix" or "Xbox Watch TV." It's the most ADD/420-friendly console ever.
Yes, it's weird at first. And you look like an asshole when you talk to your Xbox One. (Or worse when it doesn't pick up/misunderstands a command and you repeat yourself ). My wife refuses to talk to it ("It won't listen to me!")and casts sidelong glances my way when I do. But when it comes to new tech you need to embrace your inner asshole. Where would wearable technology be without the brave assholes that walked around with Bluetooth headsets on all day? Where would smart phones be without the focused assholes that never looked up from their Sidekicks as they texted the day away? Today your Xbox One makes you look like a jerk. Tomorrow, you'll look like a genius.
I say this because I truly believe the Xbox One is the future of consoles. The oft-maligned all-in-one concept (lampooned best in this TV TV SPORTS TV YouTube video) is a huge step forward. You'll realize this too if you get an Xbox One. It happens during a mundane moment, like walking into your living room with your hands full of takeout food. Instead of setting it all down THEN looking for a remote to turn on the TV THEN switching to the Xbox input THEN using the Xbox controller to select the Netflix app THEN waiting for the app to load and THEN selecting the show you want you just say this:
"Xbox On. Xbox Go To Netflix. Select #1" or "Xbox On. Watch TV. Watch Comedy Central."
It doesn't sound impressive, I know. Skeptics will say "that saves you what, like 15 seconds?" I imagine the same was said when touchtone phones began to replace rotary phones or when Windows mouse-clicking system replaced DOS commands or when Swype replaced text buttons. Time is relative. Fifteen seconds of great sex feels much faster than 15 seconds of staring at a loading screen.
Should you buy an Xbox One? Yes. It's not the only next gen console out there, but it's the only one that makes your TV remote obsolete. If you're using your 360 or PS3 to do more than game then the Xbox One is the next-gen system designed with you in mind.
The fact of the matter is that when it comes to gaming the Xbox One vs PS4 debate is a lot like Coke vs Pepsi. Your opinion has more to do with branding and marketing and prior experience than it does with the products themselves because the products are virtually identical. The graphics are close and the platforms will share all the major AAA titles and most of the indies, too. But beyond gaming, the XBO is the clear winner. It does more. And it does it better than any other device in your living room.
The Xbox One isn't just the future of gaming. It's the future. And it's here.