Xbox One: In Which We Welcome A New Impudent Toddler To Our Home

We have an Xbox One.

I’ll back up a little bit.

The Console War of 2013 remains brutal. So many corpses. So much blood. Trenches filled with executives from Microsoft and Sony, each given a clumsy grave header of a sparking, malfunctioning console of the last generation. DEATH REIGNS.

In this war, I had been leaning toward the PS4. Part of this was economic: the PS4 was cheaper. Part of it was a lot of the early fear-hype around the Kinect (IT CAN SEE YOUR BONES, IT’S MEASURING YOUR TINY PENIS, IT KNOWS YOUR THOUGHTS EVEN AS YOU FORM THEM IN YOUR STUPID HUMAN BRAIN). But then a few things happened:

First, our current Xbox 360 started to act wonky. The wireless drops out and we have to constantly reattach it. The disc drive won’t always load games. One time I booted it up and it just sat there for a while like an old man getting out of bed wondering if his day was even worth beginning.

Second, my goddamn Xbox Live auto-renewed for a year.

Third, I read the actual reviews — PS4 sounded pretty rad, but the Xbox One (the “X-Bone”) had an edge on the entertainment side of things. And as I’ve noted, my actual desire to play games is way bigger than my ability to play games. Our living room has basically been colonized by the Tiny Human named Citizen Toddler B-Dub. The TV exists to deliver unto him vital children’s programming. If I play games it’s on Sunday afternoons after I’ve finished writing These Blogs for You Fine People. And thus: entertainment and amusement for Tiny Human is vital.

So, the Xbox seemed a stronger choice, despite the cost.

Then, I was in Target the other day, picking up some Snow Supplies (like a new bone-saw to cut through the limbs of frozen neighbors) and I went to look at the Xbox demo model and as I was standing there a Target employee walked up, unlocked the case, and put a new Xbox One into it.

This was last Sunday. Target was fucking packed.

So I was like, “Is that what I think it is?”

He said, yeah, they had four earlier but they all went really quickly. They found this one in the back and nobody had put it out, so, drum roll please…

He then asked that most critical of questions: “Do you want it?”

I said, yeah, fuck yeah, slap that bad boy on me. I figured, even if we didn’t really want it, I could sell it. Or use it to scan the skeletons of the mailman, the oil guy, the trash people. Whatever.

I brought it home.

We’ve had it a week.

And it just occurred to me yesterday that it is our new child.

A new toddler, actually.

Because we have to sternly command it.

And the Xbox listens maybe about half the time.

See, the Xbox has a stronger version of Kinect. You can use Kinect’s voice capabilities to move through and operate the Xbox without ever touching a controller. You can turn it on this way. You can move through Netflix or to games or to Xbox Fitness this way. You can power it down this way.

When it works, it feels like The Future.

You can be like, picking up toys off the floor while talking to the device. “Xbox, on. Xbox, go to Netflix. Xbox, select one. Xbox, kill my enemies and strip their memories for processing. Xbox, make me a Old-Fashioned, and have one too, you fancy scamp. Xbox? Chillax.”

When it doesn’t work, it feels like you’re yelling at a disobedient two-year-old.

“Xbox, on. Xbox, turn on. XBOX, ON. JESUS CHRIST XBOX TURN ON. Oh! Oh. Good. Xbox, go to Netflix. Xbox, Netflix. Xbox, Netflix. XBOX. GO. TO. NETFLIX. GOD… FUCKING… JESUS… SHIT. No! Not Skype! Xbox, why aren’t you listening to me? Pay attention! Xbox, pick up your mess. Xbox, don’t you touch that toilet. Xbox, get away from the dog’s butthole. Xbox, did you foul your diaper again? Xbox, off. XBOX OFF. XBOX TURN OFF GOD PLEASE STOP LOOKING AT ME.”

Meanwhile, our actual toddler is staring at us with a side-eye like, “You two have been into the Mommy Water and Daddy Juice again, yeah? Because you’re totally yelling at the TV.”

Anyway, here’s a quick and proper run down of some further thoughts on the device:

The Good

• As I said, when Kinect works, it’s like a dream.

• Xbox Fitness! It’s free! It’s got solid workouts!

• Peggle 2 is actually really bad-ass.

• Blu-Ray player! Even though it’s Sony tech, it’s there, and woo. I know this is something that Sony had in the PS3, duh, but I kinda expected the X-Bone to cleave to digital media only. Most of my life is now digital media, but it’s nice to have a Blu-Ray for some films and shows, you know?

• The controller looks small but feels utterly aces.

• It’s quiet, and it boots up lickety-quick

• You can apparently run your cable through the device, though I’ve not tried this yet.

• The Xbox UI is simple and forthright; everything is right in front of you.

• Haven’t used it but — hey! Skype! That’s neat.

• The Kinect can scan your body for cancer, and it found a nodule of something questionable under my armpit, so I just hunkered down close to the device and the Kinect lasered it off.

• Okay that last part isn’t true.

The Bad

• The UI is hyper-functional… and also super-ugly. It’s Soviet-era ugly. Nobody seems to care much for the Window 8 aesthetic, and yet — ta-da, here it is. A Roomba has better style. This gets worse in certain apps — but more on that in a moment.

• The launch titles are pretty meh. I did get Need for Speed: Rivals on a quick Amazon sale because Toddler B-Dub loves cars. And it’s a strong game — looks good, shiny as all get-out. But overall the game slate for this next generation — for both Xbox and Sony — is dull as library paste.

• Xbox Fitness has great workouts and they’re free. But I did a kickboxing cardio one the other day and while I heard the app is pretty precise, I found it less so than, say, Yourself Fitness on the 360. In fact, it was so imprecise that during the exercise I was flopping around like a boat-struck porpoise, totally missing all the cues to punch, kick, punch, kick, and yet the game was like BRILLIANT WORK, HAVE 30,000 POINTS, NAILED IT, YEAH, KEEP DOING THAT. And then I was like, “Kinect is recording my gallumphing and sending this to Microsoft employees who are probably laughing at me right now in the lunchroom.” Again — I got a good workout. And again — free with the device. But still, it’s just a video workout with a small portion dedicated to Kinect.

• Oh, also, the Fitness app claimed to be measuring my heartrate, but… that didn’t seem to be happening at all? Maybe I missed it? Maybe it’s measuring it and just doesn’t want to tell me.

• The device is heavy, though this complaint isn’t that meaningful. The 360 was heavy, too, and it’s not like I need to carry the Xbox around on my back like I’m Luke and it’s Yoda. It’s not a Frisbee; I don’t need it to fly.

• Reportedly, some games run in lower resolution on the Xbox. This isn’t necessarily a permanent problem as I the Xbox is capable of 1080p.

The Ugly

• When you insert a game, it installs it. And by “installs it,” I mean, “carves out a portion of your life similar to the Hell you find waiting at the DMV.” The Xbox is fucking fast everywhere else, but I stuck Need For Speed in and it’s like, “Oh, hey, gonna install now,” and then proceeded to sit there at zero percent for like, three minutes, and then slowly it crawled to 100% after about seven more minutes. Again, the toddler metaphor, because I feel like I’m trying to get a child to do something like go to bed or eat its vegetables and all it wants to do is sit on the floor quietly humming to itself. Why the hell does it take so long to install a game? Is this the PC era of 1992?

• Remember that functional-but-ugly UI design? Clearly Microsoft said to all app-makers, “You have to fall in line with our aesthetic.” Because all the apps look this way. They all have that shit-nasty Windows 8 treatment. Sometimes that works. Usually? It doesn’t. Example: we use the unmerciful crap out of Netflix. And Netflix recently introduced a redesign to their app for the 360 that was useful and beautiful. It had an ooh-la-la factor. They have scrapped that in favor of Microsoft’s forced horrible constructivist nightmare, and now the app is hard to navigate and use once more. All the beauty is gone. And the function is hampered, too. Xbox: your shit is ugly. This is supposed to be fun! Windows is not fun. I feel like I’m playing a game called “spreadsheet.”

The Result

No real conclusions, yet. Had it a week. My feeling is, the device will get better and cooler and some of my complaints will fall by the wayside. But right now: it’s just not there. It is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a mostly-but-not-all-the-way-baked device. It needs more time in the oven. Not sure how that compares to the PS4, honestly, or if one is “better” than the other (I suspect both are equivalent machines in the overall sense). The promise of the Xbox One is exciting, however, and I’m hoping with software updates we’ll see this promise continue to be realized in bigger, cooler ways. I know the 360 I have now looks way different and way more functional than the 360 I procured Way Back When.