Xbox One Release Design/Experience Review

I decided to post this in Off Topic because it is sort of relevant to ID/UX, but I’d also consider it a product review as well.

I like gaming, but have always preferred PC games while occasionally playing console on PS3, which was a quality experience. I prefer PC because I can build them and I can fix them, not to mention I get much more processing and GPU horsepower out of them, and they can be upgraded extending their life cycle, I’ve done 4 or 5 overhauls within the same case I bought in 2005.

Anyways, I have 5 or 6 good friends who have been Xbox fanboys for years. Prior to the Xbox One release they really wanted me to join them on that system and play games with them. I decided that I’d pick one up eventually, knowing that they would be tough to get at release and that they had massive quality issues with the Xbox 360 launch. Well they made the hard sell and I agreed to pick one up a few weeks after launch.

Unboxing: Small green case package, semi-matte finish, carry strap, simple graphic design, and everything neatly packed in an efficient way. Interestingly some of the packaging was clearly laser cut (browned edges). The instructions/troubleshooting booklet was a little over-simplified, I guess they assumed that the system would walk you through setup.

Setup: Long initial load screen with Xbox logo, so long I thought the system might be broken, no loading bar…Once the UI loaded it took you through Kinect setup, account registration, network login, etc. This was fairly streamlined, however my first indication that something was amiss was when the d-pad lagged in the interface. I put the controller direction in front of the sensor and it still lagged a bit, randomly.

Controller: More comfortable than the 360, semi matte finish. The knobs have a nice high grit rubber surfacing that are not slip unlike the 360 and PS3. Strangely the control knobs are not aligned symmetrically so you kind of have to hold it differently which each hand. The controller works wireless with the Kinect sensor or the Xbox sensor, so they say. As an industrial designer and not a gamer this is where the whole experience went to shit for me, and where I started to realize how much this system was not ready for launch. It also lead me to start scrutinizing the whole experience/design. The Xbox One controller still, STILL, requires 2 AA batteries and does not come with a USB cable for wired power connection if you don’t care about wireless. Also, the only option to plug in a headset is through the controller. The 360 controller used to have a 2mm jack that you could connect any gaming headset to, but now the Xbox one has a proprietary jack that only accepts the stock headset. At launch Microsoft did not offer an aftermarket headset adapter, so this meant that my far superior $300 Astro gaming headset sat collecting dust. The fanboys are all willing to give a pass on these things, but as a customer new to the platform I felt like I was getting ripped off because I knew that all of these design decisions were actually marketing decisions designed to increase sales of accessories and aftermarket components.

Headset: The headset is nothing to write home about, it feels cheap. When you plug it into the controller your TV/Stereo volume increases, apparently to compensate for having a cheap piece of foam covering your ear. it is basically a secondary speaker for listing to voice chat. For shooters this is a handicap because you now have more difficulty hearing what is coming at you from one side of your hearing. Additional stock headsets are $50, they must make a huge margin on these. My friend’s headset died after a few weeks of use.

Kinect: Cool piece of hardware, not ready for a mass market. The 3D camera is intriguing and the voice commands are a great additional hands free option while gaming…in theory. The reality is that 40% of the time the Kinect ignores your voice commands or gets them wrong, even in a quiet environment you find yourself having to shout at it half the time. Now, the Xbox retailed for $100 more than the PS4, presumably because of the cost of the Kinect. Microsoft should have made the Kinect optional and invested in a stronger GPU, high resolution capabilities, and a better RAM architecture to improve the gaming experience, instead they invested in this gimmick, largely ignoring the needs of the hardcore gamer and providing a quality gaming experience. Even using it to control Netflix is annoying, when you use it to pause it ignores you half the time and you miss content because you’re trying to get it to pause.

Interface / UI: It’s in beta still, not very intuitive, no clear indication of what is running in the background, and the snap feature seems to work randomly.

Apps/Xbox Live: I wish I had questioned this more. $100 a year for Xbox Live, and you must be a subscriber to use any of the pre-loaded streaming apps that you already pay for like Netflix, it really is a joke. For the life of me I don’t understand this business model other than you get early access to certain apps/games/achievements. I guess it’s a fee for using their servers, but I don’t see the value in it, on PS3 you paid for a premium account, but paid nothing to use all of the system’s online features.

Performance: Played several games on it, they all ran smooth graphically, though at 720p, 720p in 2013! This is one thing I regret, it will not run 1080, and will never run 4k. That said, Battlefield 4 is still in what I consider beta phase, it was rushed out by EA to compete with Call of Duty. I played the actual beta launch on PC and decided it was not worth upgrading my machine to play, buggy on Xbox as well.

So, over the last several weeks I’ve had issues with my controller randomly losing its wireless signal. It would be fine for a hour or so, then cycle through a disconnect every few minutes over the course of an hour, then work for a while, then start randomly disconnecting. I replaced/recharged the batteries, rest the machine, reset the wireless, turned off all other wireless devices, repositioned the Kinect and the Xbox, even bought a new controller. Diagnosis, the Xbox itself was broken, a lemon. After trying to resolve the issue and putting up with it for a few weeks I finally boxed it all back up and have decided to return it.

So this is where it gets interesting. I tell my Xbox friends that I’m done and that it’s going back to Best Buy this weekend. They freak out on me, and I mean freak out. I had lots of fun playing with them, but with the quality issues, the obviously marketing driven design, and ultimately a broken system I decided that Microsoft doesn’t deserve the $700+ I’ve spent on this dog. They took it personally, as though I was insulting their taste in gaming hardware. They told me to just exchange it and wait for MS to fix all the bugs and issues. One friend mentioned that I should stop complaining because he had to go through 4 xbox 360’s and wait for them to ship until he got one that wasn’t broken, and that I had it easy because all I had to do was go to Best Buy and get a new one. His comment got me wondering just how bad the 360 release really was, so I decided to investigate that launch.

Apparently, in a study of 500,000 Xbox 360’s sold, roughly 42% of them were dead on arrival, that’s 4 in 10 machines that customers had to then re-package and either ship back or drive back to the store to exchange or return, not to mention then reinstall everything on once they got the new system home. What a massive waste of time and resources, and how completely irresponsible of MS. Had I known this I would have passed on this system entirely. But this info told me something else, this system thrives completely on its fanboy base, these fans are willing to put up with all manner of quality issues, marketing dupes, and time wasted, just to play hyped up titles that have little to no replay value. I daresay they are so caught up in the fanboism they’re willing to stake friendships on it. So, fast-forwarding to the Xbox One release, the 360 market data suggests that a 40% failure rate was an acceptable launch quality level for MS. They knew that they could retain their fan-base with a 60% successful hardware launch rate. Clearly, this says something rather pathetic about how much disrespect that MS has for their audience, and how much more I instantly respected Apple’s dedication to quality. At the end of the day MS will continue to engage in sub-standard QA with their systems as long as their dedicated customers will put up with it, and that, inherently, is what I believe is the difference between great marketing and great product design. The games may be great, but the platform is junk, and I can play most of them on PC anyhow.

I’m kinda bummed that I wont’ be playing games with my good friends anymore, but for me it’s about self respect. If a company is going to take my money and deliver me shit then that tells me they don’t respect me as a customer enough to deliver a quality product and a quality experience. Of course my friends are pissed at me, but they should be pissed at MS. They advocated to me the tenants of this product, and MS let their friend down. You get one shot to make a first impression and MS blew for this gamer.

Great review. I always thought the Xbox felt a little ghetto. The styling was great (Astro I think for the 360), but the touchy-feely bits felt cost driven. The Sony always felt rock solid even if the styling was conservative (boring).

Yeah I was impressed with the PS3 hardware, and their UI while not great at launch has improved a lot.

I think this answers the question why Xbox One use standard AA batteries and doesn’t ship with a USB cable, what a bunch of rat bastards…

Incredible. 42% DOA!?!? I loved the original Xbox to play Halo 2, but that was 10 years ago. I haven’t touched an Xbox since, and I’m glad I didn’t.

Great review. I’ll point to this to anyone who tells me I should buy an Xbox.

I designed some Xbox One headphones (Polk is an official audio partner with Xbox Team), but they’re not out quite yet…as with all XBone headphones so far. =), but the 360 counterpart is.

I was pretty impressed with Forza 5. Definitely exceeded my expectations, after playing a lot of Forza 4, which is so good, I was skeptical. So much detail, refinement, and pure fun. And luckily the '69 Fairlady Z was added with the first launch pak. That engine sounds so awesome. Great launch game. Obviously the rest were clearly rushed for launch, like any launch. Having one polished launch game is enough of an achievement for them I think.

In terms of ID, pretty impressed overall. Controller is really quite polished, so nice and refined. The box itself is a bit plain retro (compared to PS4 which is contemporary retro and much nicer, except for the controller), but I get the direction and love the branding and subtlety. Still want a white one though. I was surprised to hear it outsold the X360 over the holidays. Not bad for a launch season!