Xbox One was released into the wild last week, kicking off the start of Generation Eight here in the UK. Some of us jumped on board from day one and are getting to grips with the new console, others are holding off, while many are instead placing their bets on a certain other bit of kit coming out this Friday. You know the one I mean. The slanty one. Regardless, the internet is awash with pundits and players weighing in on what the Xbox One can (and can't) do.
However, there are a few fun little features, tips, tricks and asides that you might not know about Microsoft's new entertainment system... ten of which I've now rounded up for your eager delectation ahead of our full hardware review.
10: Xbox Fitness Is Free, Also Knackering
If you've got an Xbox Live Gold membership - let's face it, if you bought an Xbox One at launch, you probably do - you can download and use the Xbox Fitness app for free until December 2014 (not next month - thanks Late!). This neat tool can detect your heart rate as you follow on-screen workouts from celebrity instructors, perfect for burning off a few pounds.
Speaking candidly, I'm just amazed it managed to identify me as human after trying out the P90X workout, which reduced me to a quivering mass of wheezing blubber within seconds.
9: Skype Follows You Around The Room
Skype is handily one of my favourite apps on the Xbox One at launch. It's a superbly convenient voice-powered VOIP client that lets you chat with and video call all your contacts, regardless what device they're on. However, by far its most interesting feature - in my opinion - is that it will intelligently track your face around the room, zooming in to keep you in frame as if you had your own personal cameraman. Though it did follow my elbow at one point, since I ain't the prettiest of videogame hacks.
Skype doesn't support 'Snap' functionality yet, mind, which will make it even more useful for chatting without breaking gameplay flow.
8: There's An App For Everything (Annoyingly)
We'll be discussing this in detail when our full review goes live, but Xbox One's operating system (technically systems) relies on using separate standalone apps for almost every piece of functionality, from achievements to playing Audio CDs. This allows the console to efficiently multi-task between them and make the most of Kinect's voice commands, which is very cool indeed, but there are definitely a couple of drawbacks.
The lesser of the two being the fact that you have to download most of these apps first. Want to play an Audio CD? Perversely, you need to manually install a specific app to do so. Want to edit a game clip? Fancy playing a Blu-Ray? Feel like watching a video? App, app, app... all of which have to be individually downloaded. This can make the first few hours of owning the system a little frustrating, since these apps are shunted to the back of the download queue. I just wanted to listen to Jools Holland, dammit!
Remember that you can prioritise downloads by hitting the menu button or saying "Xbox, show menu." Also, I freely admit that I put that Ryse screenshot in for flavour, despite being completely unrelated to the post at hand.
7: Yes, You Can Earn Achievements For Watching Telly
Well, entertainment apps, that is. As an example, I was surprised to receive a notification after watching a bit of the IT Crowd on Netflix, informing me that I'd unlocked an award for... watching three episodes back to back. Which was perhaps Xbox One's way of telling me that I should crack on with more of the review, really.
You won't get any Gamerscore, before you ask.
6: Minority Report Is Almost Here
No, not the nightmarish dystopian ideal of being hunted down mercilessly after your name appears on little wooden balls. Nor horrendous robot spiders jumping onto your face and blasting lasers into your eyes (that's in beta). The other thing. That fabulous gesture-controlled UI.
With all of Kinect's voice commands, it's easy to forget that the depth sensor is... well... a depth sensor. As such, outstretching an arm allows you to grab long screens and pull them around, minimise applications by crushing them between your hands and generally conducting your own Metro orchestra.
Though, erm, it still needs work. And I'll probably stick with voice commands, thanks very much.
5: "All In One?" Not Quite
The Xbox One is supposed to be an all in one media device, allowing you to plug in your set top box and control your entire television via voice commands, effortlessly multi-tasking and mediastacking. In terms of entertainment apps, it does the business, but it's missing one crucial piece of the puzzle on the television front here in Europe: OneGuide.
OneGuide is the tool that lets you choose between channels and services directly on the Xbox One, all using voice commands, but it's simply not available here. Meaning that we have to pick up the TV remote and, erm, do exactly what we used to do a week ago. Sure, you can plug other devices (such as other consoles or HTPCs) into the Xbox One, but you could alternatively plug them into... I don't know... your telly.
Don't get me wrong, saying "Xbox, watch TV" never gets old, and snapping it is a laugh. But without OneGuide, Xbox One is less of an "All In One" device and more of a middle man that squats between you and the television you already pay for, adding no new functionality, while forcing you to shell out for extra electricity. Worse, even though the setup resembles the old VCR analogue signal passthrough (television signal -> Xbox One -> TV), you have to switch on the console in order to watch television through it. Even on standby mode.
Oh, and don't get me started on the lack of proper Windows Media Centre Extender support, a shocking and unforgivable omission for a console that has media hub pretensions. An "all in one" device in theory, then, but us Eurotrash will have to wait until next year for the reality.
4: Resume Games Quickly Is In Beta, But Still Works (Sort Of)
One of the Xbox One's more interesting features is currently in beta and not activated by default, but actually works to a degree. You can find "Resume Games Quickly" under "Power and Startup" in the settings menu, which allows you to turn off the console mid-game and pick up where you left off later on. In theory.
However, its use is limited since many games (especially third-party titles) require you to be signed into your profile at all times, so resuming the game will dump you back to the main menu rather than where you left it. Inconsistent, but very nifty when it works as intended.
3: Bing & Netflix Are The Best Of Friends
We've never been the biggest fans of Bing, but on Xbox One, the search engine is surprisingly useful for finding entertainment content very quickly. Last night, I had a hankering to watch a few episodes of Arrested Development while matchmaking, so just on the offchance, I said "Xbox, Bing Arrested Development."
Bing found it within seconds, let me choose from all four seasons, then allowed me to launch into my desired episode on Netflix straight away. All without using the controller. I was flabbergasted.
Afterwards, it was a simple matter of loading back into Call Of Duty: Ghosts ("Xbox, go to Call of Duty Ghosts") and saying, "Xbox, snap Netflix." Don't get me wrong, both Microsoft and their entertainment partners need to do much more to improve voice navigation within the apps themselves (and audio syncing issues), but come back Bing, all is forgiven.
2: Make Do With PlayTo
Unlike the Xbox 360, the Xbox One is not a Windows Media Centre Extender, despite boasting DNLA support. The inability to use your new console as a proper PC streaming media client is intensely aggravating considering the "all in one" message - and it's currently unclear whether the functionality will every arrive as, perhaps, a standalone app or update - but it is possible to push media content onto your Xbox One via PlayTo.
It's not ideal, nor hugely convenient, since you'll have to effectively walk over/upstairs to your PC, select the specific file, right click it and then PlayTo your Xbox One.
However, if you own an Android device, you can use a DNLA-enabled app (such as Skifta) to act as a middle man between your PC and Xbox One. You'll need to open the Xbox Music or Xbox Video app depending on what content you want to stream, in order for your phone to recognise the Xbox One [thanks to Pocket-Lint for the tip]. Or I suppose you could just plug an Xbox 360 or PS3 into the HDMI-In port...
1: Life Really Is 'Better With Kinect'
One of the most important messages in the hardware review (hopefully coming tomorrow or Thursday) is that Kinect really does make your lounge feel like the future. What I originally thought would be a stupid gimmick has already become a core part of my gaming experience that I now take for granted.
I use it to seamlessly hop between games and apps. Navigate the store. Browse menus. Change settings. Watch and browse Netflix. Everything, from complex commands to the simplest of functions. Once you've learned a few key phrases (we've got a full list of them here, and you can say "Xbox, more shortcuts" for a contextual guide), Kinect brings a huge amount of convenience and undeniable magic to your daily gaming. "Xbox Select" and "Xbox, show menu" have become two of my most-used shortcuts, both of which let me control practically everything from the other side of the room.
To be honest, I'm delighted (and more than a little surprised) at how naturally Kinect has already slotted into my console user experience. As an example, my girlfriend called yesterday while I was playing Crimson Dragon. Without thinking, I paused the game with the controller while simultaneously saying "Xbox Mute" to kill the menu music. Talk about multitasking. Frankly, I wish she'd called me on Skype so I didn't even have to get my phone out of my pocket.
Of course, as we'll discuss soon, there are a few very important caveats. My nondescript kinda-slightly-Essexy-but-mainly-generic-whiny-southern accent is the best case scenario for accurate voice recognition, which is patchy for many players with regional accents, while Microsoft needs to sort out some extremely annoying workflow issues.
But even without voice commands, Kinect is still dead clever. It recognises me and signs me in with a cheery "Hi, Jonathan!" It changes profiles when controllers change hands, though sometimes you have to exaggerate the gesture if there are a few people in the room. It automatically switches my controller into a low-power state when I put it down during a cutscene. Even though Microsoft still faces plenty of patching and improvements over the coming weeks in order to justify Kinect's massive footprint, my cynicism has almost - almost - entirely vanished. "Xbox, on."
Stay tuned for our full review, and let us know about any fun tips you've picked up over the last few days! I barely touched upon SmartGlass and Internet Explorer, for example...