Xbox One Review Update: Six Months Later

Xbox One Review Update: Six Months Later
To sign up for our daily newsletter covering the latest news, features and reviews, head HERE. For a running feed of all our stories, follow us on Twitter HERE. Or you can bookmark the Kotaku Australia homepage to visit whenever you need a news fix.

Last November, Microsoft released the Xbox One. Six months later, the console has gotten a bunch more games and a hefty software upgrade. Microsoft has also decided to sell the Xbox One without the Kinect sensor. Halfway through its first year on planet earth, it’s time to revisit our evaluation of the Xbox One.

Last year, I reviewed the Xbox One and found it to be an interesting, ambitious console that wasn’t quite ready for prime time. At launch, was the Xbox One a must-own console? The Kotaku verdict at the time: Not yet.

To sum it up:

I admire what Microsoft is trying to do with the Xbox One, and I’m rooting for them to give their console that final push to get it to where it needs to be. The whole thing is almost there. The Kinect almost works well enough to get me to use it all the time. The TV integration is almost smooth enough to make me plug it into the heart of my living-room setup. Multitasking almost works well enough to get me checking the internet while I play games.

The sceptic in me says that while many technology manufacturers seem hell-bent on making the next great convergence device, technology tends to diverge. New devices are more likely to take on a role we didn’t know we wanted (e.g. people now own a smartphone, a laptop and a tablet) instead of pulling together multiple roles we didn’t realise could be combined. Successful convergence devices like the iPhone will forever inspire others to swim upstream, attempting to replicate a one-in-a-million success. Will our living rooms ever be governed by a single device? And if so, will that device be the Xbox One?

I wrote that review after spending an exhausting week and a half testing a couple of Microsoft-issued Xbox Ones to the best of my ability. Now, after six months more time using it, I have a significantly more refined view. I’ve spoken with dozens of friends and professional peers about how they use their Xbox Ones, and read through our readers’ recent stories about their own experiences. Here’s where we’re at.

The Xbox One still hasn’t found its footing.

Six months in, the Xbox One still raises as many questions as it answers. What is Microsoft’s vision for this thing? Is it about the cloud, or online gaming, or is it about Kinect? Is it for watching TV, or as the company’s more recent messaging seems to suggest, is it now all about gamers and games?

It’s only natural that some unanswered questions remain, of course — no game console achieves its every goal in the first six months. All the same, Microsoft has yet to put forth a coherent vision for the Xbox One, nor have they clearly articulated why it’s worth spending hundreds of dollars to own one.

I’ve lost faith in Kinect.

First things first: I’ve lost faith in the Kinect camera. I’m sick of hollering orders at my TV, and have been annoyed by the camera far more often than I’ve been served by it. There are so many small problems, and they add up to become a very big problem. It takes too long to recognise me and sign me in. It can’t hear me well enough, and there are few things more annoying than when my girlfriend and I are taking turns shouting “Xbox, Pause” at a movie as the pizza guy knocks on the door. There’s a lag between when I say something and when the console acknowledges it, and that lag is long enough that I usually start repeating myself even as it’s reporting that it heard me the first time. And while voice control is bad, gestural control is far worse; it’s so weird and inconsistent that I can’t believe Microsoft even included it.

Back in November, I wrote:

A week and a half with the thing is enough to have me wondering: Do I really want this to be the primary way I interact with my entertainment centre from now on? Am I going to be talking to my console at all hours of the day and night, sternly using my Kinect Voice at 2am while the rest of the house is sleeping?

At this point, I can safely answer both questions: No.

Microsoft appears to have lost faith in the Kinect as well. They have already announced a cheaper Xbox One that will ship sans Kinect, meaning that game developers working on Kinect games no longer have a guarantee that every Xbox One owner will be able to play their game. That in turn significantly reduces the incentive for anyone to actually make games that require Kinect, and that makes it even less likely that this unusual device will ever find the software support it will need to become more than a neat but inessential accessory.

It’s surprising how quickly that all turned around; I wasn’t expecting Microsoft to make the Kinect optional this early in the Xbox One’s life cycle. But so it goes. Microsoft had their shot, and they failed to convince people that the Kinect 2.0 is fundamentally different than Kinect 1.0 was on the Xbox 360. That is: an interesting oddity that never quite manages to distinguish itself either as an indispensable tool or an irresistible toy.

I like the controller more and more.

I was glad that the Xbox One controller hewed close to the already-good design of the Xbox 360 controller, but back in November I said I had doubts about some of the changes Microsoft had made. The thumbsticks felt too tall, the triggers too loose, and the shoulder buttons too awkward.

Six months later, my opinion of the Xbox One controller has significantly improved. I’ve grown to like the feel of the thing in my hands, including the contrast between the solid controller and those wiggly triggers. Many hours of Titanfall have helped me get a sense of just how good the Xbox One controller is for first-person shooters. It’s enough of an improvement that if and when Microsoft finally makes the controller work with PC games, I’ll switch.

I remain uncomfortable with the thumbsticks; they still feel too loose and stilt-like for my liking. But even then, I’m getting more and more used to them, and I really like the material they’re made out of. I still don’t like the new shoulder buttons as much as the old ones, and that might never change. But while, as I complained in November, the raised battery compartment on the controller does make it more difficult to swap out batteries, the issue is largely moot. The Xbox One controller’s battery life is astonishing, and my controllers have gone months without requiring new juice.

Overall, my opinion of the Xbox One controller has significantly changed for the better. Good job, Xbox One controller!

The OS is too laggy and impenetrable.

While my opinion of the controller has improved, my opinion of the Xbox One operating system has, uh, dis…improved. I like it less than I did.

The many-squared OS still feels robust, but months of use have actually revealed it to be a good deal frailer than it appeared. On top of that, the things I initially didn’t like — the fact that it’s a pain to navigate without your voice, that you can’t tell which apps are running and which ones aren’t, that you can’t see much drive space you have left — are mostly still problems, though a recent software update made it possible to see how much space a game is taking up.

It’s still too cumbersome to navigate the friends list, or tweak settings, or organise your “pinned” favourite apps, or perform any of a number of other basic functions. It’s not impossible, of course, but things that should be one- or two-step operations take three or four steps, especially without the Kinect. Furthermore the Xbox One OS is noticeably laggy, which is odd for an operating system that’s been custom-made to work with a single piece of hardware.

I’d expect that sometime after the Kinect-less Xbox One comes out, Microsoft will significantly overhaul and streamline the Xbox One OS (let’s not forget how much the Xbox 360 OS improved over time). It will all start with the June update, which adds a number of features both large and small. Hopefully things will continue to improve from there.

I’ve stopped using “snap” multitasking.

I remain baffled that Microsoft promoted the Xbox One’s “snap” multitasking as heavily as they did. When playing online I’ll sometimes snap my party (carefully muting and then un-muting my chat microphone before I do), but the snap screen is even laggier than the generally laggy OS, and always feels uncomfortable to use. Other than for party invites, I more or less never have cause to stick an unresponsive, inferior version of an app over whatever game or app I’m viewing. Better to just switch between apps, like I do on my phone or computer.

The remote control makes everything better.

I was surprised at just how much I liked (and continue to like) the Xbox One’s dedicated media remote. I stream a lot of video through my Xbox One, and as a result I use the media remote more often than I use the controller or Kinect. I still use the Kinect for big operations — “Xbox, go to Hulu Plus” — and then will use the controller to navigate within each app. It’s become such an integral part of my Xbox One usage that it really should have come bundled with the Xbox One, not sold separately for $US25.

The audio shortcomings have been fixed.

As promised, Microsoft has added Dolby support to the Xbox One’s optical audio output, meaning that those of us who use Dolby-enabled surround headsets can get the most out of our gear. They have also released a headphone adaptor for the Xbox One controller, which allows people to plug their third-party gaming headsets into the controller for chat.

In testing, I’ve found that the chat from my Astro A50 headset is much more scratchy than the chat from my Xbox One headset or from Microsoft’s stereo headset, but it’s nice that I can finally use my A50s to play multiplayer games on Xbox One. Headset support should have been included on day one (and shouldn’t require an extra audio adaptor), but it’s good that Microsoft has finally added it.

I wish the console were smaller.

The Xbox One is a monster. It’s simply too big. It takes up an entire shelf in my entertainment center, all the more conspicuous for how relatively little I use it compared with my other devices. At some point Microsoft is almost certainly going to release a much smaller “Xbox One Slim.” Our first-gen consoles are going to look dumpy and ridiculous by comparison.

I hope the startup chime never changes.

Come with me, the Xbox One sings, and you’ll be in a world of pure imagination.

“Xbox, Record That” is my favourite.

After “Xbox, pause,” the thing I find myself saying the most to my Kinect is “Xbox, record that.” It’s an intuitive command that I never forget to use, and more often than not the recording time is a perfect match for the moment I wanted to catch. (Of course, some button or button combination would work equally well.) If only accessing the video file were as easy as recording it…

The Upload Studio is not my favourite.

Editing a video clip and preparing it to share with my friends, unfortunately, is pretty much a nightmare. That’s because the Xbox One’s Upload Studio software, while a valiant first attempt, has miles to go before it’s as usable as it needs to be. While I understand Microsoft’s desire to get everyone using their own built-in video sharing service, there’s really no acceptable reason why the Xbox One can’t immediately and automatically upload all video clips I record to my SkyDrive and let me edit and share them on my computer. The Xbox One makes it very easy to record good gameplay clips, but far too difficult to actually do anything with them.

My kingdom for an “Xbox, Screenshot” command.

I’d love to be able to say “Xbox, screenshot” and snap a screenshot of whatever game I’m playing. Even better would be a combination button-press to do the same. Even better would be if the screenshot was then automatically added to my SkyDrive account. It’s 2014, Microsoft. This stuff should be standard by now.

The games are better, but they still aren’t there yet.

As is usual for the first year (or two) of a console’s lifespan, there aren’t enough games for the Xbox One. And really, the console’s not doing so bad in this regard — there are already a fair number of good games for the system. Launch standout Dead Rising 3 has gotten a substantial amount of post-release downloadable content, and new games like Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare and Super Time Force have been a whole lot of fun.

The not-on-PlayStation Titanfall has certainly been the most successful game on the Xbox One. However, the Xbox One didn’t even get the definitive version that game, which ran noticeably more smoothly on PC and without the Xbox One version’s ugly screen-tearing. It’s still a super fun game — I play more or less exclusively on Xbox One — but it raises an eyebrow to see that the blockbuster game most closely associated with the Xbox One runs noticeably better on another platform.

And so we look to the future: Sunset Overdrive looks really promising. We know there’s a new Halo game coming, and we’ve heard that HD remasters of the first four Halo games are coming as well. And of course there’ll be plenty of multiplatform games like Destiny and Dragon Age: Inquisition.

Past that, we’ll have to wait for Microsoft to throw down the gauntlet at E3. I sense that they know they have a lot riding on this year’s show, and that their newly anointed Xbox chief Phil Spencer is going to show up with something to prove. But as with so many other aspects of the Xbox One, we’ll have to wait and see.

The Xbox One is less of a sure thing than ever, and it’s therefore even easier to tell you to hold off.

Most consoles get better year after year, so even Microsoft’s stormy Xbox One launch couldn’t diminish my optimism that eventually, their bulky new-gen console would be worth buying. The last few months have been strange to behold, however. Microsoft has been publicly painting a moving train, patching a long list of flaws as they go.

In a way, that inspires confidence. But it also raises questions about how the console came out with so many issues and whether the folks behind the Xbox One, once they finish fixing problems, can move forward more gracefully. If they can, the Xbox One — or, more likely, the inevitable Xbox One Slim — will be a must-have. As it stands, it’s not there yet.


  • Pretty comprehensive, and basically mirrors my own thoughts with mine. We’ll see what E3 brings.

  • I still haven’t found a reason to get the “next-gen” consoles yet, to be honest, I’m still happy with my PS3 and Xbox360.

    E3 is coming soon, and I hope both Sony and Msoft have good shows, and I look forward to that. As for getting the new consoles, I might wait until the slim versions come out.

    • As someone who owns both the xbone and the PS4, I can safely tell you not to bother with either for at least another year. The only “next gen” game I have is inFamous, and it’s not worth buying a console for. Every other game I own is available on last gen systems anyway. I use my PS3 more than both my Xbone and PS4 combined. Definitely hold off.

      • i also have both.
        i went through the process of re-cabling my home theater to put the new consoles in. this meant removing the old ones.
        I have now gone out of my way to get the old ones back into the fold.

        Second sun was visually impressive (for the most part) but it never clicked with me. it was a decent distraction but nothing special.

        in retrospect it would have been a better use of my money to update my PC.
        seeing as the best games Ive played so far on the next gen are titan fall and AC4

    • If you have PSN but do not yet have a PS4 (but plan to buy one), remember to log in each month on your PC to “purchase” the PSN freebies.

      The fact that you don’t get them automatically is pretty annoying.

      Not sure if Xbox Live has the same basic issue.

    • I feel the same way and this comes from someone who has previously bought a consoles on release. I am looking toward the PS4 at the moment, as the Xbox One doesn’t provide much for the gamer.

  • I love that Xbox One controller. Wish I could connect it to everything.

    I can’t really comment on anything else, though. I tend to put a disc in and play. Don’t really fuff about with Kinect and the like.

  • So basically a lot is riding for both consoles on E3. Should be fun viewing then 🙂 hopefully Nintendo will bring something good to the fight as well as I feel if I had a Wii U, atm it would be the console I would have the most fun playing but there’s still not enough on it to justify a price tag almost as much as a PS4 or Xbone

  • Had my Xbone since day 1 and totally ages with just about everything. Except the thumb sticks. Which are a huge step up from the 360 I think. Still missing that killer app/game though. Spend most of my time messing about in Plants VS Zombies GW.

    • I’m in a similar but opposite boat with my PS4. Love the controller but those sticks are smooth already! I’m thinking about putting some 360 sticks in.

  • I have mostly the same feelings towards the PS4 except you can add: ‘While the controller is amazing the analogous are smooth after 6 months of minimum use’.

    This gen, like no other, is more disappointing every day. Games continue to underwhelm (And the ones that are good are cros gen anyway). Yesterday it was brought to my attention that the consoles are out performed by SIMILARLY specced PC’s!! (normally the consoles are quite optimised for, but not ATM)

    I always assumed I was getting better performance because of my i5 or the 7870 being that much better, but the truth is that the ports are real bad this gen so far. (Exclusives are pleasantly surprising graphic though)

    That said I am being a little too harsh and I am sure E3 will be good. (It has to be at this point). While I don’t ‘regret’ it, I won’t be an early adopter next time around. On the 360/ ps3 I felt similar but 6 months in there were some cool games that were actually decent coming out, not this time (IMO).

    • I do think you’re being a little pessimistic.

      If you compare the games available on the Xbone over the launch period they’re actually a lot better than the games the 360 got over the same period, with perhaps the exemption of Oblivion which was great.

      The 360 was launched in November 2005 and it wasn’t really until the back half of 2007 when it got Bioshock, Halo 3, Assassins Creed and Mass Effect in the space of a few months that the machine really hit its stride. The Playstation 3 was even slower to get going.

      I can’t sell the machine as a must own yet, but I think games like The Witcher 3 and UFC should start to separate the Xbone from the 360 over the next 6 months or so.

      • Oh yeah, I know I’m being pessimistic without a doubt. I guess I was just expecting more with the consoles being x86 I wasn’t expecting the usual bad launch ports and all.

  • I’m holding off on new-gen (as it seems to have been dubbed) until Arkham Knight, and I’m already sure it’ll be on PS4. It’s not that I dislike the One, I just won’t have time for both and Sony’s first-party studios just make games that I tend to enjoy more.
    This’ll be the first console generation since the PS2 era where I haven’t had all three consoles – being an adult means making choices, unfortunately. Get older, get boned.

  • I’m still not as in love with the controller as I was with the 360’s.
    I don’t like the lack of a player number indicator (like the 4 bars on around the menu button on the 360) although that’s a small issue which would be fine if Kinect wasn’t such a POS. I don’t like the finish and I don’t like the way the triggers intent into their controller shell near the top. They also dropout randomly (every 5 hours or so) despite my Xbone being about 5 ft away in the same spot my 360 was.

    The rumble is great though, even if one of my controllers has a squeaky motor.

    Kinect is a steaming pile and I agree with all your thoughts. “Record that” IS the only good feature of it.

    Also just for the record (for the 5000th time):

    • 🙂 I’m with you on the Custom soundtracks. Playing Battlefield 4 and playing music on a tinny blutooth speaker with my iphone is not next-gen!

  • I decided last night I wasn’t going to get Watch Dogs on the 360, watching a comparison video I could see the differences (mostly with trees, water and surface textures)

    I’ve got a backlog of about 12 disc games and probably double that number of digital games and quite feasibly Dark Souls will keep me amused for the rest of this year (much like I played San Andreas for a whole year before buying the 360!)

    Hopefully E3 will give me a better idea of which one to get – I don’t care about resolution so much as the games so it’s over to the two companies to show how they can differentiate themselves in time for Xmas!

  • Count me lucky but I have never had a single issue with kinect. I only use it for voice commands but it always understands me and rarely do I have to repeat myself. Maybe I just have really good annunciation..?

    • Wow, that’s really weird.

      I’ve had all kinds of friends and family try to communicate with it and even the best of them can’t get it to respond more than 70% of the time, myself included.

      “Xbox record that” and “Xbox pause” work most of the time, but it’s not much good saving a button press (the pause button) if it then un-pauses my game from the sound of the fridge closing.

      I find that if I pause in an action game to check a football score or something like that there’s every chance I’ll switch back to the Xbone 10 minutes later only to find that the console has found a reason to unpause and I’m now dead.

      It’s the same as the “auto” login that never f*cking works and when it does often takes forever. Take something that you take for granted (pausing), add totally unnecessary novelty features and end up breaking an unbreakable system.

      • I most certainly must have lucked out with mine!

        WIll admit to having the auto login fail a few times but it hasn’t bothered me to much as it always understands me when I say “Xbox sign in” then “Choose this user”.

        I am so glad it does work well for me though as I can’t fathom navagating that UI with just the controller!

  • I bought my Xbone on day one, I was loving the FIFA 14 as at the time it felt like to me this is how I imagined FIFA should be. I have played a lot of Titanfall, Madden and Battlefield 4 but still keep coming back to the well of FIFA.

    I feel like I don’t get the most out of the Xbone though as I mostly use consoles for gaming, jumping on Youtube occasionally to watch Let’s Play’s. I watched an Xbone broadcast of someone playing Watch Dogs last night which was fun, so I think I may try and do this again for other games. I watched to Kill a Mockingbird with my partner last month, which the movie didn’t quite fit the screen of my T.V though which I’m not sure if that is a super old DVD’s problem or the Xbones fault so I don’t see myself watching movies on that for a while.

    I used the record feature for a while, but I found that a lot of times it stopped recording what I had wanted and going back to watch my videos took a while. I ended up with videos of me getting achievements for not doing much, and ones where I specifically wanted to record. Maybe a way of differentiating the two would make me more likely to use it again, but loved it when I was playing Battlefield 4 and recording match highlights!

  • This was disappointing to read, it reminded me how unfinished it was when it came out and made me realise there’s still a lot of work left to do.
    I still play my X360 when I can and my PC so I have no need for a new console. However, I can see myself being tempted by a slim model in a few years mainly to be able to play Halo and Forza.

  • Sounds like you’ve had an unusually frustrating exprerience with Kinect Kirk. Once you’ve done a good audio calibration, it should work really well. Mine, especially since all the updates is as close to 100% perfect at recognising me and my commands as you can get.

    I’m in the June beta so I already have auto-sign in switched on because I don’t like being forced to sit in front of my console until it recognises me. Sometimes I like to turn mine on while im sitting somewhere else in the room, or just turn it on in advance of using it.

    Games wise? I think there’s more than enough there for the average person who buys a few games a year. I’m not sure why there’s not enough games there given we’re a mere 6 months in.

    I’ve got the PS4 as well and I’m also enjoying it, but if I had to say which one to hold off on it would be the PS4 right now. It’s exclusives at least in my opinion aren’t as enjoyable (funny enough, I actually really like Shadow Fall despite the hate it gets) and despite great strides in the OS department, the PS4 OS still needs some work and Sony aren’t nearly as free and loose with the updates as Microsoft are.

    Overall though, I’m loving both consoles and think that both are worth buying. Especially given how cheap they are in relation to past console released in this country.

  • Basically all I use snap for is having youtube snapped playing a podcast or audiobook while I play something. I wish you could snap the friends app (not party) to just see who is online right now.

    I find kinect reasonably easy to use. That’s probably from my previous work where I used a voice recognition system about 7 hours a day for over 4.5 years. It’s funny hearing my friends scream at it while in the party, not realizing it wont have a hope in hell of understanding them when they join their words together or get an inflection or exasperation going in there voice.

    Monotone baby, monotone.

  • However, the Xbox One didn’t even get the definitive version that game, which ran noticeably more smoothly on PC and without the Xbox One version’s ugly screen-tearing. It’s still a super fun game — I play more or less exclusively on Xbox One — but it raises an eyebrow to see that the blockbuster game most closely associated with the Xbox One runs noticeably better on another platform.

    Uhm. But it’s a PC. It’s ALWAYS going to run things better if you have the rig for it. Always. That’s what PC does. What… what did you expect?

  • Hard to argue with the points you have made. I think you are right on the money and the apparent lack of confidence that MS has in the XBO is disturbing. I pre ordered mine because Ive never had a console at launch and I wanted to go on the journey. I bought a 360 late in the cycle so I guess I experienced a console at its peak. Getting a next generation console that was missing seemingly obvious and generic features was quite shocking. Actually hard to believe sometimes that anyone had used this thing before it was released.

    At launch it was the perfect time to jump ship with no backwards compatibility on either console announced but I chose to stay with the xbox. The software updates are mildly reassuring but it still feels like they are standing up in a canoe.

    My bugbear – The ever-persistent-hi-contrast-white-on-black-Xbox-logo that resides in the top right hand corner of the GUI. It’s burning a hole in my plasma. The extreme contrast of the logo makes it very dangerous to use the Xbox One as a media hub device for plasma owners.

  • Thanks for the article Kirk. Just want to inform all folks who live outside US that Xbox One is a great media Player. If you want to access Netflix and other streaming stations on your Xbox One you can use UnoTelly as I do to get around the geo block.

Show more comments

Comments are closed.

Log in to comment on this story!