Microsoft’s next-gen console has arrived.

Like the PS4 before it, we’ve tinkered, tweaked, undressed, examined, experimented with, and thoroughly evaluated everything the Xbox One is capable of in its final retail build. Finally, we have our verdict on whether the revamped, friendlier official console release delivers on the hype.

It’s been an uphill battle for Microsoft since the console’s announcement, and it’s no understatement to say that the Xbox One has battled no end of controversy, even now. A poorly-received initial reveal at May’s private Microsoft event, and widespread public blasting over the console’s planned, but since abandoned used game blocks and mandatory online check-ins, has only been the beginning.

Since then, Xbox One has also come under fire by gamers and a good chunk of journalists for having launch games that aren’t properly rendered in 1080p HD, often capping off at 720p, unlike most PS4 launch games and especially most Wii U games since its own launch, which do true 1080p HD resolution with no problem. This likely doesn’t amount to a hill of beans for the casual player, but to the scrutinizing hardcore gamer, it makes the Xbox One appear underpowered in contrast to the PS4, and even compared to the lesser-powered, but 1080p-effortless Wii U.

With that said however, power, resolution and counting polygons is not the be all and end all of gaming, so we’re not going to dwell on this frankly silly controversy. The Xbox One offers a huge suite of intriguing features, even if some are currently better than others, and we aim to deliver an informative and objective review of the console, should you be debating putting down the hefty $499.99 asking price for your own Xbox One at launch.

So, forget the controversy, forget the scrutiny and forget the abandoned policies. We are evaluating the Xbox One as it is, and not as we feel it should be. To that end, let’s start with the first thing you’ll encounter:

THE BOX & INITIAL SETUP

Like Xbox 360, Xbox One comes very neatly-packed and stylish even from the interior packaging. As promised, the console itself is not only included, along with its upgraded Kinect sensor, the new Xbox One wireless controller, power cord and HDMI cord, but you’ll also find a wired headset that plugs into the controller (which Microsoft originally wasn’t going to include, but caved to public demand on), an Xbox One sticker, a thirty-day trial voucher for Xbox Live Gold, if you don’t already have a membership, and of course, the user manual.

Xbox_One_BoxIf you preordered the console and got the exclusive Day One edition of Xbox One, you’ll find a few more bonuses in the box as well. You’ll get DLC goodies for various Xbox One launch titles to start, specifically Forza Motorsport 5, Dead Rising 3, Ryse: Son of Rome and the upcoming Kinect Sports Rivals, which was originally planned to be a launch title before being delayed into early next year. You’ll also get an exclusive ‘Day One’ achievement QR card, which you scan with the new Kinect to add a commemorative achievement to your Xbox Live Gamertag (it’s not worth any Gamerpoints, don’t worry). Finally, the controller included with the console will have a commemorative ‘Day One 2013’ stamp on it. It’s certainly more sentimental for the Xbox faithful, considering that preordering PS4 and Wii U didn’t come with any perks!

While you once again have to deal with a huge ‘power brick’ when plugging the console in, unlike PS4, at least the power cord is a good length and can easily reach your wall outlet/power bar even from halfway across the room, again, unlike the tiny brick-less power cord that is a bit of a nuisance with PS4. Likewise, the included HDMI cord stretches for about two meters, easily allowing it to reach your television if you have any sense of proximity when placing your Xbox One. Kinect’s cable is a bit shorter, but it’s highly doubtful that you’ll want to place Kinect and the Xbox One console itself far apart from one another.

LocoCycle - GameplayIf you didn’t read our Xbox One FAQ, allow us to remind you again that Xbox One is not meant to be positioned vertically! This makes the somewhat beefy console rather difficult to place in a shelf, though you shouldn’t be doing that anyway. Most Xbox gamers probably won’t want to tempt Murphy that way as it stands, given the Xbox 360’s now-infamous overheating and hardware issues that lasted for years since its own launch! Fortunately, Xbox One doesn’t contain mass hardware defects like that, so you can breathe easy even buying and using one at launch, but we still wouldn’t needlessly tax the console all the same!

We’ll admit however that the Xbox One is a tad, well, big compared to the surprisingly compact PS4 and rather tiny Wii U, which really limits your options regarding where to place the console, and ditto with the equally beefy new Kinect. Hopefully you have floor space and open unit space in front of the television to spare, though Kinect’s cord should at least allow you to position the sensor on top of the television from the console’s placement on the floor, with no length issues. Just make sure that Kinect is well-balanced if that’s where you put it, because it’s a somewhat bulky, heavy device for a camera-esque sensor, and thus, may fall over if you have a very thin flat screen TV!

Fortunately, when you figure out placement and plugging-in, setting up Xbox One is yet again rather simple to start, especially since the controller comes pre-synced, and the power button is easy to spot, unlike PS4. You list where you’re from using the controller, set up either a local or wireless internet connection, and from there, you have to download the day-one update. Yes, the Xbox One literally does absolutely nothing if you don’t download this update. If you try and refuse, it just shuts off. Until you download the update, the console is a brick.

This mandatory update is the only barrier with setup, as early Xbox One adopters are already clogging the Xbox Live servers, making online access a bit difficult at certain times. There will be times where Xbox One just won’t connect to download the update, or may even freeze during the download. Both of these issues happened to us, and yes, it was incredibly irritating! When this is the case, you have no choice but to turn off the console and try again later, as it’s useless without this update.

Forza Motorsport 5 - GameplayThis is a considerable nuisance, especially since Microsoft rather disagreeably took away the option to download the update onto a USB stick via a PC, and upload it from there. Why? We don’t know. This will likely be a problem for people inevitably unwrapping Xbox One’s under their Christmas tree this year, so beware if you plan to ask Santa for one, and hope to get some use out of it on December 25th! You may start out with a giant paperweight for the first day or so.

Still, when this update is finally applied (thankfully, it only lasts a few minutes when you DO get through!), you are then given the option to tweak the colouring of the Xbox One dashboard, and whether or not you want to carry over your Xbox Live Gamertag/Xbox Live Gold membership from an Xbox 360 that you may already own, along with your Xbox Avatar. If not, you either make a new one on all counts, or skip it to start. You then calibrate Kinect, which is very easy to do. After that, you’re taken right to the dashboard.

The mandatory update is the only real hassle here, and we’re baffled as to why Microsoft inexplicably made applying the update harder instead of easier, given the needless removal of the USB option. The console and Kinect’s size may also be a hassle, depending on the arrangement of your entertainment center, and whether or not you prefer to orient your consoles vertically.

By and large, PS4 setup and Wii U setup are a bit easier, but if you’ve thought ahead and are experienced with arranging entertainment devices, and get lucky with making it online to apply that mandatory update, setting up Xbox One is still pretty painless.

CONSOLE BUILD

As we said, the first thing you’re going to notice upon examining the Xbox One console is that it’s rather large. It’s not as heavy as you would probably imagine though, even if it’s definitely not as easy to transport as PS4 or Wii U, which you can carry under one arm pretty effortlessly due to their compact size and minimal weight. Xbox One is light enough for an adult to carry without the box, but it’s significantly fatter than its competitors too, making manual transport of Xbox One a bit less easy than PS4 or Wii U.

Xbox One - Console

While the console’s finish still feels more refined and glossy than what you would see on Xbox 360, or the original Xbox for that matter, the bulkiness of Xbox One is a little bit difficult to ignore, especially for people that own multiple consoles that they all prefer to crowd in the same entertainment area. Xbox One is well-built and performs well, leagues better than the flimsy and volatile build of the launch model Xbox 360, but it’s fussy with the circumstances of where and how you can arrange it, especially with the inability to orient it vertically.

Outlets regarding where to plug in the power source, HDMI cord, Kinect cord, satellite/cable box cord, USB devices, and whatever else are clearly-presented and easy to figure out on the bright side, regarding both the front and rear of the console. Again, only the bulkiness of the console itself is an occasional issue when reaching around it and plugging things in. The cooling fans are quiet and are given plenty of ventilation however, making the Xbox One stable and silent, even during extended play sessions.

While the power switch is very easy to identify, as it’s the big glowing Xbox symbol right on the front of the device, the switch is a little sensitive, even moreso than the Xbox 360 Slim’s power switch in fact! It’s very easy to accidentally turn on the console simply by walking too close to it, and it’s probable that your pets will accidentally activate it as they walk by, if you own a dog, or especially a cat. Of course, the console is just as easy to turn off again, but if you’re particular about your electric bill, you may want to at least find an elevated stand to place your Xbox One on.

While the hardware of the console is functional and easy to work with, it’s difficult to argue that Xbox One’s launch model is, to put it bluntly, a bit of an eyesore. At the very least, the console is light, quiet and easy to figure out, but when stacked against the sleek, compact build of the PS4, and especially the tiny Wii U, Xbox One’s bulkiness is more likely to cause spacing and placement issues. It performs well and is pretty quiet, but there’s no way around the fact that the console’s launch model is rather fat and ugly too.

MENU SYSTEM

The Xbox One dashboard feels like a more compressed, streamlined version of the same dashboard that currently exists on Xbox 360, which is to say, it also resembles the Windows 8 OS. You can change the colouring of your options if you wish, on top of being able to take a new Gamertag photo of your Xbox Avatar to commemorate your upgrade to Xbox One (and this isn’t a bad idea, as Xbox 360 Avatar photos look dinky and lo-res on Xbox One), and, best of all, you can jump around the dashboard pretty quickly using Kinect.

Xbox One SmartGlass

While Kinect was initially mandatory to navigate the dashboard back when the console was first announced, Microsoft has since removed the demand for Kinect to be plugged in and used on the Xbox One’s main menu. If you wish, you can unplug Kinect and just navigate with the controller, which isn’t that tough, given the dashboard’s decreased size compared to Xbox 360.

In fact, if anything, the Xbox One dashboard is almost too compact at present! It doesn’t take long to get used to, but certain options, specifically secondary and tertiary options like inputting DLC codes or navigating Xbox Live Marketplace, feel tossed around wherever, and are occasionally difficult to find with the controller. Yes, you can use Kinect voice commands to summon options wherever they may be, but, even if controller support is now an option, it also occasionally feels like an afterthought. Most of the dashboard is fine and good to navigate with the controller in terms of time, but some options and prompts feel disorganized, making them a pain to find without having to just summon them with Kinect.

The dashboard isn’t awful by any means, and it at least streamlines the Xbox 360 dashboard by reducing your entire slate of options to about three screens. Even if it’s a more compact menu however, it’s undeniably cluttered in some respects. You get the sense that the Xbox One’s current dashboard is a work in progress, one that will inevitably be cleaned up with Microsoft’s traditional annual refreshes for Xbox dashboard OS’s.

Still, at launch, it does take some stumbling around with the controller to figure out where all of the options are on the dashboard, especially if you never owned an Xbox 360. It’s easy to find your library of games and launch core features like movie playback, Skype and the Game DVR, but secondary options need to be more accessible and organized for people who would prefer not to use Kinect for all of their navigation. As it stands, the Xbox One dashboard is noticeably less user-friendly than the PS4’s and Wii U’s main menus, and could use some work.

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About The Author

Senior Editor

Brent Botsford has reviewed video games, movies and television for over a decade. He is also a Twitch Affiliate at twitch.tv/venuszen , presenting new, retro and independent games as the, "Sixth-Handsomest Gamer on the Internet', VenusZen, flexing his personality with comedy, heart and just that right dose of sex appeal.

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