Xbox 360 Gets A Big Dashboard Update, But Is It Any Good?

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xbox logo   Xbox 360 Gets A Big Dashboard Update, But Is It Any Good?To coincide with the launch and hubbub surrounding Windows 8 and perhaps to a lesser extent Windows RT, Microsoft updated the Xbox 360 dashboard last week so if you haven’t turned your console on recently now would be a good time to do so.

In addition to a UI facelift, this year’s annual update brings with it some exciting new features like better Kinect support, a more customisable dashboard and something Microsoft held off doing for a long time – Internet Explorer. On your telly. So, is it the dashboard you’ve always dreamed about?

Don’t Call It Metro

Last year’s dashboard update was, in my opinion, the worst Xbox Dashboard in the current generation’s history. Microsoft championed a slew of new social features, debuted the upcoming then-Metro UI and seemed to lose track of how important games were to 360 owners. Video, social and other “apps” took priority over games, which is the main reason the overwhelming majority buy a 360.

In short, if you really want something to watch Netflix on there are cheaper and quieter ways of doing so, and this time round it looks like Microsoft have listened.

dashboard   Xbox 360 Gets A Big Dashboard Update, But Is It Any Good?

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Gone are Facebook and Twitter integration, instead the social menu is now dedicated solely to your avatar and your Xbox friends. No longer can you “watch” your Facebook stream on TV, which is a good thing because that’s what your smartphone and laptop are for. Games has been brought forward in the menu, meaning less button presses to get to the meat-and-gravy of your games console. Video, TV and other streaming services have been lumped together under the tv & movies label which now features your video apps, Netflix, Lovefilm and Microsoft’s own rental service.

The interface is now customisable too, and you can pin individual items (though not menus, only apps and games) to the My Pins section of your home screen. This is a very good thing, though it would be nice to be able to pin a shortcut to the demos and Xbox Live Arcade menus too.

xbox music1   Xbox 360 Gets A Big Dashboard Update, But Is It Any Good?

Xbox Music, a feature that is as much about Windows 8 as it is the 360 makes its first appearance, providing streaming music for a monthly or annual fee on your console, mobile or Windows 8 PC. While Windows 8 early adopters get six months of free music (which drops to 10 hours per month thereafter), Xbox users only get a trial period of 30 days free listening. Unfortunately the service is ultimately crippled, with streaming only possible from within the Xbox Music app. Why Microsoft didn’t think about adding an audio player to the standard dashboard and properly integrating the service is beyond me.

Prices start at $9.99 a month or $99.99 a year for those in the US, which makes the ÂŁ8.99 a month (nearly $15) or ÂŁ89.99 annual (around $145, ouch) cost in the UK seem like a bit of a cruel joke with Australians getting a slightly better deal at AU$11.99 monthly. On the plus side, the app is pretty quick to launch and not at all reminiscent of older Xbox apps that seemed to take an eternity to show up.

apps   Xbox 360 Gets A Big Dashboard Update, But Is It Any Good?

At the very end of the menu (before settings, anyway) is an area simply titled apps which allows you to browse all available apps for all available sections, and access Internet Explorer. The UI has had a little facelift and paint job, with a new row of tiles added to the new interface. A more attractive shade of green and slightly lighter grey greets you on the initial profile login screen, and it’s clear that in this department Microsoft have made progress.

Internet Explorer, Now With Kinect

There was a time when a fully fledged browser on my TV would have excited me, and there was also a time when I would have used such a feature. Unfortunately, I can’t help but feel that this time is over – especially now mobile devices do the job just fine. Then again, Kinect support is a nice addition – right?

xbox webhub   Xbox 360 Gets A Big Dashboard Update, But Is It Any Good?

Yes and no. The browser itself is actually very good at rendering webpages, displaying each with a thin border that only your pointer than cross. The result is a clean-looking web browsing experience with and a ton of control options. You can use the standard Xbox controller which is performs as well as can be expected, SmartGlass from a compatible iOS or Windows Phone device and Kinect. Controlling IE with Kinect is done solely through the use of your voice, and works fairly well if you take an authoritative tone with your console.

Unfortunately support is crippled by an inability to search or input any text using your voice, so instead of saying “Xbox search make use of” you instead have to use the controller (or SmartGlass) in addition to your voice.

ie keyboard   Xbox 360 Gets A Big Dashboard Update, But Is It Any Good?

This would be fine, but this latest update brings with it support for voice searching on the dashboard using the “Xbox bing <query>” command. And so, I was left banging my head against a controller wondering why. It’s like Microsoft put in a lot of work, added some neat control options and then spoiled it all by failing to integrate things properly.

searchresults   Xbox 360 Gets A Big Dashboard Update, But Is It Any Good?

Voice control, though improved, is still patchy as I learned from repeated “Xbox bing make use of” turning up results for “make us over” and “make yourself” but never quite getting it right. Similarly “Xbox bing the verge” decided to search for “search”. Maybe it’s my accent, but my repeated requests by my girlfriend were equally as frustrating. By comparison, Siri understands us both with very few issues.

muo ie xbox   Xbox 360 Gets A Big Dashboard Update, But Is It Any Good?

The shortcomings are mirrored elsewhere, you still can’t search by voice using the YouTube app, even worse you’re still forced to use the painfully slow instant-search style horizontal row of alphabetical letters. Microsoft lay down the rules governing app development on the platform and it’s nigh time they started enforcing a standard QWERTY keyboard like the one used in Internet Explorer.

Final Thoughts

The Xbox brand is probably Microsoft’s last concern at this stage in the Windows 8 game. With bets hedged on the new Windows 8 UI, Microsoft Surface and Windows Phone 8, the Xbox is pretty much the only product in Microsoft’s arsenal that doesn’t need to impress at the moment. The new dashboard has its moments of brilliance – the UI is more useful and better looking, and the ability to pin your favourite items to the home screen is brilliant. At its core, even Internet Explorer is an impressive browser that chews through websites and puts the PS3 equivalent to shame.

Ultimately though, the experience is still flawed. Voice searching (regardless of how patchy) should have been integrated into Internet Explorer, because it’s already there for the main dashboard. Text input should be unified across the system and Xbox Music should probably be called something else. So to mirror the many Surface reviews that have popped up online over the last week or so, there are glimmers of hope and tons of promise here – but it’s not quite ready yet.

What do you think of the new Xbox dashboard? Sound-off in the comments, below.

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12 Comments - Write a Comment

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Umair Adil

Iis the update free of cost and won’t it create some compatibility issues?

Tim Brookes

Yes it is free, no it shouldn’t create any compatibility issues!

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BenN

After the 30 minute download and install it all looked about the same to me. But then I noticed everything took longer to load. Launching the videos section to 5-10 seconds, clicking netflix app took 5-10 seconds, after logging in launching to 10 seconds, previewing a video took 10 seconds, launching the video took 10 seconds… I didn’t like what I was watching but had so much time invested in it I watched it anyway. Videos wasn’t the only thing. To me not only was the navigation more confusing with more step, everything must moved a lot slower. I stared at those two spinning circles a lot.

I tried to use Internet Explorer but the download froze at 80%. Not a good sign. I suppose it isn’t a big deal as I probably won’t use it much but if they can’t get their own app to work on their own machine it doesn’t bode well for other apps.

The only good thing is Netflix started working again. For months it hadn’t been working and told me to go to Netflix to fix it. Now it works. I don’t know if you can call this good or if it is just the ending of bad.

I agree that this is a gaming console first. It may be smart and even cool if it also does media, internet, social… But games should be fast quick and easy to locate and launch.

Anonymous

Thanks, I’m not the only one who has seen this slow down. My wife thought i was crazy when I said, it was taking longer after the update.

Mike Denney

Funny, I ‘Googled’ here to see if anybody else was having ‘impossibility’ issues with Netflix AFTER the update…for me, Netflix had been tossing up a single error code upon every sign-in attempt PRE-update, but this morning, ‘nil’.
Log-in fail, over and over, coughing up such ‘Error Codes’ as R1218 (Netflix phone customer service double-checked me on this one, saying it was a ‘new’ one) and some other one with 2 dashes in it, I’d seen before.
The Netflix CS rep questioned me some, then, about five mins in, decided to ‘come clean’ and tell me “this sounds like all the other calls we’ve been getting this morning”, and that “they have an [software, I assume] engineering team locked in a room until they fix it”. Which sounds like exactly what Netflix would do if they were encountering a massive shutdown of their streaming app after the ‘update’.
I despise M$ updates–whether for PC, or XBox, I’ve always hated them. It’s because I know enough to know when somebody’s OCD’ing it–‘fixing something that just aint broke’. They do it all too well.

MOVING ALONG:
Their latest update: s’okay, if you consider how long it took ‘em to release a working version of IE for it, the PS2 had a web browser, simple as it was, like, a decade ago.
I’ll preface my next comments by saying this:
I’m using my XBox 360 with an older LCD Projector that maxes out at 1024×768…what it’s at now…and you can’t read IE at that resolution (RCA connection ONLY here), even with an 8-foot display in a darkened room.
I can play Section 8 to my heart’s content, and PWN others I’ll never meet…but not browse the ‘net.
Also, ‘the cursor’. Looking more like a ‘leaf’, it’s way too big! Why not just use the same old little white arrow they’ve used since Windows 3.1?!?!
The arrow cursor is actually like a little map pin, complete with ‘eye’…and it gets in the way of reading any link you are trying to click on (which you might want to read).
Microsoft has needed good graphic designers for centuries now…but I guess they all use Apple.
I’m hooked by necessity on Windows-based PC products, because, at 44, when I was in college, Apple Macs were so junky that they may as well have been given away as carny prizes.
Well…the old Virginia Slims ads come to mind: “You’ve come a long way, baby” (Apple products smoke PC, even!).

AS FOR THE REST OF THE ‘UPDATE’
I hated that last one as much as anyone…I really do understand M$ ‘forcing’ updates on us (it’s not like they would have the server space to dedicate to keeping old systems running the same, and their customers happy, right?)
But I find myself hating MYSELF for even trying to understand, much like when I try and understand when a politician lies to us ‘for the better good’.

I’m copying the remainder of my little commentary over into a good ol’ Google blog, under my heading there I nicknamed ‘Dash It All’ (http://nowimreallymad.blogspot.com/).

Tim Brookes

That’s interesting about Netflix, thanks for sharing. I’m in Australia so I can’t use Netflix, though I’d subscribe if they set up the service here.

I’m on an old black Elite console (not slim) so I’m not sure if that has anything to do with it, but I didn’t really notice it being any slower after the update. I thought it was already pretty damn slow before the update. I think this time around they’ve definitely improved it, and while I won’t really use Internet Explorer (I can’t see anyone using it) it’s a nice addition. I don’t think it was a case of Microsoft not bothering or not being able to code a decent browser for the console, from the beginning they didn’t want to confuse the market by adding PC features to their games console. Of course, this was before they added all the social and streaming options, as well as other “Apps” so in the end it was probably a pretty obvious decision to make.

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Boni Oloff

Looks like Microsoft gonna use metro like interface in all their device :D

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linden

Regards the latest update…. Microsoft has changed the language from the previously set language in settings (in my instance english) to the language of the region i am in. (in my case swedish)

i am sure i am not the only person who needs a different language than their location default.. Microsoft is slowly removing the option of selecting English in other regions.

Tina

Lycka till!

Seriously though, I feel your frustration. Google would constantly switch to Swedish for the time I stayed there. I had to manually set it back to English so many times and at least that was rather easy.

Anyways, let us know if you figure out a way to change the language after all.

Linden

After an hour and a half with customer service they agreed to escalate it to the people above. What confused me was in was unable to leave a swedish phone number for a call back for my swedish account. Go figure.. My account would only allow a few aussie number. Lucky I have an aussie voip number. People need to tell Microsoft or nothing will change

Tina

Glad to hear you got a step forward. Hope you’ll be able to sort it out!

Your story sounds a lot like what my colleague Erez went through when trying to ‘purchase’ a free app from the store after upgrading to Windows 8. Read here. You would think they are a global enterprise…

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Easton Wiki

I am starting to enjoy the whole Metro UI and like how Microsoft is converting everything to it.

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