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.


  • Your description of when the voice-recognition doesn’t work is exactly me when I’m trying to dictate to my computer via Dragon and it decides to mishear EVERYTHING. And then you yell swear words at it and oh, they write all of those down. Just not, you know, the stunningly beautiful prose I was attempting beforehand. So then you have to correct them. Voice recognition software can be wonderful, but it can be so frustrating.

  • My laughter, you can possibly hear it from where you are.

    I am giving the 360 dead-outs a side-eye because we had one too. Oddly, ye olde xbox is behaving just fine a few weeks later. Maybe it was a phase.

    The Kinnect voice-rec issues are just… odd. Why can’t it hear you sometimes and not others? Does it need a nap? A time out? Is it too busy scanning the room to make sure that you haven’t exceeded your seat license for that Netflix movie? (… [or maybe it stuck a marble up its nose while you weren’t looking.]

    Instead of going PS3 (which, oh, if I had one, I would be playing Journey right now), I’m trying a WiiU… and because we’ve been a xbox household for so long, the balance board and controllers are such a cool change. So I’m curious to hear how your amped up Kinect embetters the xbox fitness workouts.

    Meantime, I’m asking Dark Horse and all the game/fitness workout programmers who listen to me (far too few) to make me a River Tam fight workout for wii and (given the likely upstairs/downstairs way we keep our platforms) the Kinect. Because that? I would like that a lot.

  • I’m imagining the Target employee with a wiseguy Brooklyn accent and a toothpick in his mouth–my guess is he “found this one in the back” for the next dozen guys who walked by, just so he could feel alive again by pretending to peddle stolen goods. Hey, whatever works…

    Thanks Chuck–both hilarious and informative!

  • One of my day jobs is working at a GameStop. The console war factions are akin to political parties. No matter what facts you present, they all drink the Microsoft or Sony koolaid. Insofar as technology, both the XBONE and the PS4 are technologically identical. I personally feel Sony is only slightly less evil than Microsoft. The XBONE has garnered my intrest as my media center is dying. I stil don’t plan on getting one until holiday 2015. I figure a year will allow the bugs to be resolved and for each system to actually have games to play.

  • I imagine I’ll get a PS4 at some point. For all practical purposes, the two consoles are comparable, and it’s really going to come down to the strength of exclusive games. I tend to like Sony games more, so PS4 it is. Why people fight over how someone else spends their money is beyond me. I guess no one wants to be “wrong.”

    However, I will say, I’m loving the crap out of my Wii-U, and the line up of titles over the next year is looking great. Plus — and this was a major selling point — I didn’t have a Wii, so now I have access to an entire generation of titles I didn’t before.

  • Entertaining and informative as always–I’d say like Fox news but then I’d have to drop “entertaining and informative”.

    Sonny Jim may want a new console so we’ll have to see if his 16 year old brain has made a decision yet, and if my 51 year old wallet can afford it. I don’t like that the shelves and shelves of 360 games we own aren’t playable on the new console, from what I’ve heard. That just bugs me.

  • I dunno, dude, the fact that you didn’t even want one and the stocker just-so-happened to bring it out at just the right moment? Feels like the first five pages of a Phillip K. Dick story to me. The last 95 pages probably won’t end well.

  • The difference in Netflix apps between the PS4 and the X-Bone are mind-boggling. It’s kind of tragic, really. The way they organize things on the X-Bone is not the way my brain craves things to be organized (if such a thing could ever be said about my brain).

    But…free Fitness app? Hmm. The next time nobody else is home, maybe I”ll look.

    What really pisses me off about both systems is neither is backwards compatible. Because I want to rebuy 9 years of Xbox games, including titles I bought in 2012 and 2013. Nope.

    • Don’t know about the XBox, but the PS4 IS compatible with PS3 games. My coworker has one and was rocking some older games like Call of Duty and Drake.

  • I’m counting on my vita to get me through the first year or so of the new generation since a lot of the ps4 games I’m most excited about are also coming to the vita, like Velocity 2x, Assault Android Cactus, and Hohokum. But as soon as Naughty Dog releases another game or the next Mirror’s Edge comes along it’s gonna be ps4 time!

    (I have a 360 as well and nothing against Xbox at all, it’s just I love a bunch of playstation exclusive games like Journey, Flower, and The Last of Us, and I’ve never cared for Gears of War and couldn’t get into Halo II-IV.)

  • Me, too. I laughed my butt off reading this, especially the part about yelling at the X-Box “like a disobedient two-year-old.”

    I don’t own any gaming consoles. Not anymore. Life just got too busy. Work, family, work, trips to the gym to stave off the physical onslaught of middle age. Somewhere along the way, sleep because a hobby.
    And then there’s the guilt . . .

    Although I’m 39 years old, I salivate every time I see a commercial for Call of Duty or some new zombie game. “That looks awesome,” I tell my television. But really I’m telling my wife, secretly hoping she’ll decide to make that my Christmas gift this year, and secretly praying she doesn’t.

    I know that if I did get a console, I would feel, I don’t know, dirty every time I sat down to play. “You know, you really should be writing. Or grading your students’ papers. Or washing the dishes. Or walking the cat (that’s not a joke . . . I really walk my cat. . . .yeah, I know). Anyway, I’m not here to cast aspersions on the time that gamers spend in front of the television. Maybe I’m curious if anyone else has been stuck on this treadmill of self-imposed guilt.

    But then sometimes I think, “But perhaps a little gaming would be good fodder for the old bean. Might help me be a better writer. Give me an incentive for organizing my time better. Grading those papers faster. Walking the damn cat earlier.”

    As life gets busier, that reservoir of free time seems to be drying up pretty fast. Sometimes it would just be nice to unplug from all of that and plug into an alternate reality. With zombies and monsters, lots of gratuitous violence and special effects. (“Read a book”—-OH, DAMN YOU, CONSCIENCE!!)

    I guess it’s that whole “needs vs. wants” problem. Can I justify it? I want a console, but do I need one? In the meantime, I’ll just stick to playing Plants vs. Zombies II.

  • We’ve got the new ONE and had to turn the Kinect recognition off. Every time I came into the “Man Hut” where my husband was watching a movie or playing a game (but particularly when he was watching a movie), the damn thing would quit what it was doing to say hello to me, and on occasion, it would log my husband out and log me in! It drove us both insane. However, I did think it was cool that I could simply peer over the edge of my iPad while sitting on the couch and it would recognize me.

    The jury is still out on everything else, but I am definitely going to check out the fitness thing!

  • I’ll often hear my husband yelling “Xbox! Xbox! Cancel! Cancel! No! Xbox! Return! Xbox! Back! Go back! Xbox! Back! Xbooooxxx! Listen, Xbox!” for several minutes, refusing to use the controller because “WE LIVE IN THE FUTURE!” It only listens when it feels like it. Now it’s at the point where we’ll be having a conversation about nothing at all Xbox related and it will stop, pause, cancel, go back, randomly. Then we have to stop our conversation to yell at it, or scramble for the controller. It’s like it’s already achieved Skynet intelligence.

    Our favorite thing to yell at our Xbox now is, “Xbox! You’re drunk!”

    This is the Future they don’t talk about.

  • Whoa, thanks for the heads-up, Chuck. I am NEVER buying one of those things if you have to TALK to it to get it to work… I’m bad enough with ATMs and those bloody self-checkout-ing tills that are spreading like a GODDAMN VIRUS in every supermarket in town…*punches a wall* I know you’re not even supposed to have screaming arguments with those things, but how can things that display such malevolent STOOPIDITY expect to be treated with respect and courtesy when they’re MESSING UP PEOPLE’S LIVES?

    If I were to get a ‘talkie’ Xbox I may well end up getting arrested for disorderly conduct.

  • Agree pretty much 100%. Picked ours up for the same reasons (feeding the 2 year old streams of Justin Time and Caillou). Find it super-weird the way the Kinect sometimes listens and sometimes does not — haven’t been able to suss out what environmental factors (I’m assuming there are environmental factors) put it in a mood. One feature I particularly like is that you can suspend a game by switching to another app or even shutting the thing down, then jump right back in where you left off — no game start-up, no loading — just by switching back to the game. Lets me get a tiny bit more playing out of those few and valuable playtime hours. I disagree about the aesthetic, though. Generally I like the tile-thing, particularly on a phone / tablet. It is a little stark on the big screen, though; maybe some less bright color choices would help with that.

  • Ha-ha-ha!!! Great post. =D
    It appears I’m not the only one who has trouble with the voice recognition with Kinect. My family and I have been debating when to buy the XBONE. We’ll probably wait until our 360 crashes though.

  • The bit of this that had me really weeping my pants laughing was the voice recognition bit. When I was a young, thrusting executive I had it on my car phone. A typical voice activated call went like this.

    ‘Call Steve.’
    ‘Calling John.’
    M T jabs disconnect button.
    ‘Call Steve.’
    ‘Calling Michael.’
    ‘Michael? Why the fuck are you calling Michael I said “call Steve”! How hard can this be?’
    ‘Hi MT, what can I do for you?’
    ‘Oh. Hi, who’s this?’
    ‘Bob. You rang me.’
    MT, head in hands, seriously tempted to drive into the back of the lorry in front to put herself out of her misery.

  • And through all this, I’m just sitting here, looking at the PS2 I just got from my brother because mine broke and he’s letting me have his old one =P I’ve actually been playing on my PS1 for the past couple months (My PS2 died back in September) and honestly don’t really notice much difference because half my games are for the PS1 lol I really don’t care about getting the “latest and greatest” when it comes to gaming systems. Though recently I have seriously contemplated getting a Nintendo 3DS. But that’s a different ball game than the play station. My biggest hang up with not getting a PS3 or PS4: They aren’t backwards compatible. Why the hell would I want to rebuy all my games that I already own? That’s just moronic.

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