What you notice first about the Xbox One is also what you notice second, third, fourth, etcetera. I’ll let Ron Burgandy awkwardly blurt it out. The system is black. That much you’ve known for months. What you might not know is that it’s proudly rectangular with sharp edges. The power supply is all rectangles. Kinect is a rectangle. The USB cable ends in a rectangle. If Microsoft were selling the Xbox One on Cybertron I suspect the controllers would be rectangular. I’m not sure how this is supposed to square - ahem - with the fact that the Xbox logo itself is inscribed in a circle.
It’s also heavy. Everything is except for the controller, which is perfectly balanced. Not that this matters - you’re shoving an Xbox One into a home theater shelf, right? - but for those crazy people mounting game consoles inside briefcases I guess it’s a concern. I wouldn’t mention it except I feared for the handles on the plastic bag I used to carry the device home from Gamestop.
Setup was a breeze. While the Xbox One packaging is nowhere near Apple’s level of refinement, it was a very nice game console unpacking experience. My favorite part is the soft black bag in which the console itself is encased. You know, inside a black box filled with black cardboard is a black bag that holds a black console. Tired of that word yet? I’m not done.
The user interface is utterly black. I’m sure backgrounds will be an option soon, but now you’re staring at colored squares inside an inky sea.
Okay, I’m done complaining. The UI for the Xbox One is fantastic. It’s fast, clearly designed to be selected with a controller, and puts a higher priority on the user than the Xbox 360. Remember those tabs filled with ads? They’re gone. Well, sort of. Banished to the right side of the screen behind another click. I loaded up with video watching sites, Killer Instinct, and real apps you don’t expect to see on a game console like Skype and Skydrive.
How do the games perform? I’m not really sure. I spent today installing all four of them.
Now that I have the console in my hand, Microsoft’s all-digital scheme starts to make sense. They really do want to move to a future where you buy everything online like Steam or Apple’s App Store. That’s the only way to break through the performance limitation of physical media. Not that I mind swapping discs, but putting a disc in the drive and playing immediately is so last gen, daddy-o! Now all the cool kids wait for 30 minutes or more for the game to copy itself to the hard drive. If you bought the games digitally you can swap between any of them at any time, but those of us with physical media have to leap off the couch to insert a different plastic dongle.
I’m okay with that. I have a device that allows instantaneous switching between multiple games and apps. It’s a smartphone. For a game console, especially one that weighs as much as a bowling ball, I’m happy to put one game in the system and just play that for a while. The physical effort of inserting a different disc will keep me more invested in the game and stop the erratic mobile usage habits I seem to have developed.
Now, which one to play first…