Monday, 28 March 2016

Windows 10 System Apps Review: XBox

Note: This page is a review which forms part of the post Windows 10 System Apps Review

What’s this app for?

The Xbox app brings together your friends, games, and accomplishments across Xbox One and Windows 10 devices.” So says Microsoft. I had to get their quote because I wasn’t sure myself how to explain this app to anyone J

Does it do the job it was primarily designed for?
I know what you’re thinking. “I’ve not got an Xbox, so what use is this app to me?” Well, fear not, because Microsoft has made this app more than just about that games console taking up space in your front room. Game apps created by Microsoft in Windows 10, such as Minesweeper and the Solitaire Collection, integrate with the Xbox app for all the social aspects of competing with friends. And if that doesn’t grab your attention, then probably the rest of this review won’t either.

The home screen of this app is quite busy. You’ve the main menu down the left side which is expandable via the hamburger icon, with the rest of the screen taking up by a large “Activity Feed” panel with a “Friends” panel on the far right. If you use Facebook you’ll be mostly at home here in terms of the social mechanisms.  

In the Activity Feed you can post your gaming achievements to share with friends, as well as view a lot of posts by Xbox about games you’ll likely not play if you’ve no Xbox. Sigh. Plus I can’t find a way to not see Xbox posts sadly. Never mind. Anyhow, over in the friends panel you get access to see which friends are online, find friends, create a games party (yes, to play games together), view messages between friends, and see all comments friends have made about what you’ve posted. Absolutely everything you could think of for interacting with your friends is most definitely there. You can even connect the app to Facebook should you so wish.

Off the main hamburger menu are 10 options; your avatar profile (of which you have to create one when you first open this app), home screen (where you start off), My Games, Achievements, Game DVR, Trending, Store, OneGuide, Connect & settings. Avatar wise the options are numerous but, where there is no choice, is in terms of photo. You have to choose an image for your photo from a decent choice but you can’t put your own mugshot there. Well, this is an avatar I guess. In this section you can also view the games you’re playing, your achievements in those games, who your friends are and some other basic customisation options for your avatar. It’s certainly quick and easy to set up an avatar.

Next down the main menu is ‘My Games’ which for me consists of just “Microsoft Solitaire Collection” but undoubtedly they’d be many more for serious game fans. The games don’t have to be Xbox ones or apps but can be more traditional PC games in much the same way ‘Steam’ supplies you games from the cloud. ‘Achievements’ shows you how well you’ve done in your games, with numerous quests to complete to get more XP (think street-cred). ‘Game DVR’ is where you can see game clips from any game that interacts with this Xbox app. Sadly, though, not all Windows 10 PCs support this feature, and my laptop is one that can’t do this, thus it’s useless to me. ‘Trending’ is an at-a-glance look at what games everyone likes which you can play via this app. ‘Store’ is a front-window into the actual Store app to download/purchase Xbox app supported games. ‘OneGuide’ relies on you having an Xbox connected in order to view TV Listings. Thus I have nothing further to say here. ‘Connect’ likewise needs an Xbox. Lastly we’ve ‘Settings’ of which there’s quite a few options within. As well as signing in and out of your account, you can setup a link to your Facebook account, turn the live tile on/off, change various notifications that the app can alert you to (such as when a friend sends you a message) turn off friends posting in your activity feed (argh, but I want to turn off Xbox posts!) and lastly, an option to show game streaming on the app’s home page (another feature useless without an Xbox). There are even more options via the mini settings menu which are very much more tailored towards those with an Xbox.

Bizarrely there’s no setting to change between the light and dark theme in this app. You’re stuck with blackness, which works ok but is a little depressing perhaps. There’s not a lot I can say that I dislike as even though maybe half or more of the app is useless without an Xbox, the social features and achievements are still just as relevant if you just play Windows 10 game apps or classic PC games that integrate with this Xbox app. It is a bit annoying that you have to create an avatar to use the app but at least it’s a quick process.

What’s the alternative?

For social features when using Microsoft Xbox integrated games, there’s no alternative. This is what the Xbox app is for. Most, like me, might be used to using ‘Steam’ for their PC games although I much prefer the social aspects of the Xbox app than those in Steam, where it’s very cluttered and confusing to really interact with people.

Hit, Miss, or Maybe?

Maybe; even though without an Xbox console this app is largely redundant, if you are a bit of a games player via Xbox apps on Windows 10, you’ll probably find the social and achievements aspects of this app useful and fun. If you’re not interested in games at all, or play your games solely via the likes of Facebook, this app is of no value at all.

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