Xbox One... Step Short


I thought Xbox One was the right product marketed correctly. Sony has enjoyed more of a lock on the hardcore gamer audience, even if the PS3 was harder on developers. PS4 looks to have corrected that slight, while keeping the marketing focus (and product specs) on the gamers. Xbox was from the first generation meant to be more of a living room device. To that end the hardware, especially comparing the 360 to the PS3, was made easier for developers to work with. Taking things further with this third generation, the “One” in “Xbox One” is supposed to mean it’s the one device you have to plug into your television. It even offers HDMI In so that the console can act as the go-between with your TV and cable box.

But it all depends on execution, and that’s where things aren’t looking so great at launch time:

After about a week of using these voice commands every chance I could, I found them to be adequate but far from perfect. As evidenced by the above video, the voice commands were accurate about 80 to 90 percent of the time, depending on the command, the clarity of the voice, and the location of the speaker. The one significant exception to this rate was the “Xbox on” voice function, which only registered about 25 to 50 percent of the time when the system was in Instant-On mode. The system didn’t do much worse than normal at picking up commands through crosstalk, occasional stutters, and mumbling, but it occasionally refused to acknowledge slow, deliberate commands.

The 10 to 20 percent of commands that the system either ignored or misinterpreted was right on the line between “annoying but usable” and “frustratingly broken” to me. Having to repeat yourself once every eight or nine times is annoying, sure, but scrolling through a cluttered menu just to find the settings screen is arguably more annoying than saying “Xbox go to settings” even if you have to do it twice.

Reviewer Kyle Orland later says, “It would be nice if the system overall was a bit more forgiving or smarter about how it interprets voice commands as well.” Considering Microsoft has been pushing “natural language” use for years and years, it’s difficult to understand why they can’t make anything nearly as good as Apple’s Siri or Google Now. Another complaint is that it took two hours to transfer one particular game from Blu-Ray disc to the hard drive — and that’s a mandatory process. Apparently you can’t play directly from the removable media with these new-generation consoles. But if you’re going to require players to do that, you must absolutely make it as quick and as painless as possible.

Sony is going to make gamers (and developers) happy with PS4. Microsoft will almost certainly have more than enough high-quality, Xbox-exclusive titles to make the One a success, too. But if they’re going to conquer the whole living room, they’ll have to do better than this.


Cross-posted at PJ Lifestyle