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Xbox One: Exploring its synergies in the Microsoft ecosystem

Mark Hachman | Nov. 22, 2013
Don't believe for a second that an Xbox One will replace your gaming PC or your office PC--or even serve to supplement the PC itself. In some scenarios, in fact, a PC or a phone is almost a necessity for enjoying an optimal Xbox One experience.

Even after I did so, my Favorites failed to load. Though it allows you to browse to sites using only your voice, the One seemed to recognize my voice commands about once in every dozen attempts. Forget trying to navigate to a subdirectory, or even clicking a link on a page: The typical webpage contains so many links that nailing the correct one is an achievement in itself.

Snapping apps Windows 8style across one side of the screen--to play a game while you listen to music, say--provides a nice way of doing two things at once. But I never quite mastered the trick of moving from one window to the other.

Here, however, the SmartGlass application comes through big-time.

Microsoft introduced the SmartGlass second-screen app for the Xbox, and the new iteration saves the Xbox One experience. SmartGlass steps in to smooth over the Xbox One's navigation issues. Instead of having to type a webpage URL, for example, you can use SmartGlass (now available for iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and Windows 8.1) to bring up your onscreen keyboard on your phone, or to use your laptop's keyboard.

Skype: Why do I need a chat headset again?
Previous iterations of the Xbox allowed players to talk among themselves, using the in-game chat powered by Microsoft's Xbox Live Gold subscription. Microsoft does offer the Xbox One Chat Headset ($25), available as part of some retailer bundles. But the One's Skype implementation is among its strengths, and it plays off the Kinect to best effect.

On screen, Skype looks almost exactly like the Skype app for Windows 8. It displays a list of your recent conversations, and your contacts. I was pleased to find that Skype, unlike Internet Explorer, automatically logged me in. You can also order your One to call a friend ("Xbox, Skype David"). Instant messages are displayed as popups, which some users may find distracting.

Skype handles video calls terrifically. It projects the image of the caller on screen, and the Kinect camera automatically pans and zooms, "focusing" on the person who's speaking. You don't have to worry about trying to sit closer to the screen so your aunt in Bangalore can see you, and you won't need a chat headset, either. Kinect does a fantastic job of adapting itself to the conversation.

SkyDrive: Pretty, basic
Microsoft's cloud services float inside two different hemispheres. In one, Microsoft stores everything about you: your name, identity, pins, content, et cetera. And then there's SkyDrive, your online closet for storing your stuff.

Though I prefer Google's method of consistently expanding storage, Microsoft's SkyDrive feels like part of my PC. Naturally, you can tap into SkyDrive if you own an Xbox One. But you can't pull in everything that you've stored in SkyDrive. Forget about viewing PowerPoint documents between bouts of Forza, for example. Instead, you can use SkyDrive to view photos and video clips. 


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