Microsoft's bid for living room supremacy is powered by an AMD processor, backed by 8GB of DDR3 and 32MB of ultra fast ESRAM. For storage, there's a 500GB hard drive to keep your media, gameplay videos and game installs. Unlike the PlayStation 4, there's no swapping out that mechanical drive for solid state without considerable trouble, and letting your warranty fly right out the window.
Speaking of windows, if you've used Windows 8, the Xbox One's interface will look familiar. It's made up of tiles and divided into three sections: Pins, Home and Store. It's somewhat customizable, letting you pick the color of said tiles, but mostly works by automatically populating itself with your recently accessed apps and games.
Home is the first thing you'll see when you turn on your Xbox, or hit the Xbox button on the controller. It devotes a large front and center rectangle to whatever you're currently doing. Whether it's a game, an app or TV, you'll see a live preview of it in the middle of the screen. If you just booted up, it'll show the last app you used.
The current app preview is flanked on the left by a strip for your Xbox Live profile. It provides fresh information about your Gamerscore and friends list.
The rest of Home is covered in tiles for other recently accessed apps. Besides your Live profile and the current app preview, Snap and My games & apps are the other permanent residents. There's also a tile representing the disc drive, and three large Featured tiles.
Currently, the Featured section is filled with tutorials for the Xbox One. We're not sure what kind of content it will host in the future, be we wouldn't be surprised if advertisements started to hang out there.
To the left of the Home screen you'll find your Pins, a favorites list you can customize with games, apps or TV shows. You may remember pins from the Xbox 360, but they're far more convenient and powerful on the Xbox One.
For one thing, they're practically living on the Home screen, just a scroll to the left away, while the 360 tucked them into their own folder. Being able to save a specific show or TV channel to Pins is the Xbox One's media integration at its most convenient.
To the right of the Home screen is the Store. It's divided into Games, Movies & TV, Music and Apps. There's also a Bing search bar below it. The layout is attractive and the placement is unobtrusive. We're just glad that it's been relegated to its own screen, away from the more personal Home and Pins.
When you're in an app or game, returning to the Home screen is as simple as pressing the Xbox button on the controller. Games are automatically paused, while videos and live TV continue to play, creating a sort of picture in picture effect.
Of course, the whole interface can also be navigated by Kinect, using either gestures or voice commands. The Xbox One's interface does have its unintuitive moments, and the Kinect compensates for them nicely. We're not sure why Settings has been folded into My games & apps, but being able to shout "Xbox go to Settings" saves you from having to remember that.
Currently, notifications aren't getting the sort of prominence they deserve. They're packed into a globe icon in the upper left of the screen. Same goes for your Xbox Live friends feed, which is stored in another small icon right next to it. It's easy to miss gameplay videos shared by your friends, or an invitation to join a game.
Cramming all this important and fun information into tiny little icons really makes the Featured section of Home feel like a waste of space. We'd much rather have game invitations pop up there, rather than tutorials or whatever else is on its way.
When it comes to booting up, the Xbox One is very fast because it doesn't really turn off unless you unplug it. Holding down the Xbox button and selecting console off really just puts it in standby mode.
Surely the Xbox One needs this hidden standby functionality both for better performance, and so the Kinect can listen for your "Xbox on" command. It does stand in contrast to the PS4, which lets you choose to either go into standby, or completely turn the system off. Fully shutting down your PS4 also locks you out of cool features, like PS Vita Remote Play, or starting a download from the mobile app.
Coming out of standby, the Xbox One takes only twenty seconds to reach the Home screen. Kinect will have you signed in by then as well, unless you're sitting too far back. We sometimes had to lean forward before it recognized us.
From a full, unplugged shut down, the Xbox One takes a less impressive minute and seven seconds. Honestly though, there's no reason why you should be frequently unplugging your Xbox One. We just think it's odd that console off really means standby.
So while not every design choice is transparent, you can't accuse the Xbox One's interface of being sluggish. There's no pop in on the Home screen, and overall navigation is snappy. You can drill through menus and browse your library as quickly as you can manipulate the D-pad, or bark at the Kinect.
Multitasking is where the Xbox One really shines. The system keeps your last three apps suspended, letting you switch between them with nary a stutter.
What's surprising is how little is on the system when you first get it. When you first use your Xbox One you'll frequently click on a tile, only to discover you don't actually have the corresponding app yet. Out of the box, almost nothing is pre-installed. That makes sense for third-party services, but apps like Game DVR, Xbox Video, even the Blu-ray playing software need to be downloaded and installed.
It's not such a big deal, just a telling indication of how internet reliant this new generation of gaming will be. Be sure get all your pertinent apps downloaded before having friends over to show off the new system.
Every game on the Xbox One requires at least a partial installation before it can be played. These installs are lengthier than on PlayStation 4, but not by much.
For example, a disc copy of Madden for Xbox One needed six minutes to reach 25% installation before letting us on the gridiron. The PS4 version needed two minutes, and an additional minute to download a patch before online features were enabled.
Installing isn't a major roadblock on either system, but it is something to anticipate. It's a good idea to pop a new game in the drive the minute you get home. That way you can be sure it'll be ready when you are.
One advantage the Xbox One has over the PS4 is that discs are not required to play. Once a game has been installed, the system won't ask for it when it's selected from the menu. It's a convenient feature, if nothing else, and makes using the Xbox One feel pleasantly self-contained.
Getting to graphics and gameplay, a lot has been made of the fact that many third-party games run in full 1080p on the PS4, while the Xbox One versions are 720p. There are indeed sharper visuals to be found on the PS4's versions of Battlefield 4, Call of Duty: Ghosts and Assassin's Creed: Black Flag, but you need a keen eye to tell the difference.
Character models often have more detailed textures, and lighting effects can be slightly more impressive on the PS4. However, performance across the two systems is very similar, with equally smooth framerates and load times that are close in length.
The 720p vs 1080p situation is still troubling, Microsoft will need to close this visual gap in future releases. It's something we'll be keeping an eye on as we update this review down the line.
The Xbox One has first-party games that show off just as much graphical gusto as the PS4. Ryse: Son of Rome and Forza Motorsport 5 are just as gorgeous as anything currently available from Sony. Dead Rising 3 is a bit behind the beauty curve but the sheer number of zombies it can render while maintaining a solid framerate is impressive.