Xbox One Review Part 6: Full Review of SmartGlass App

By December 2, 2013
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In the last generation of video game consoles, the true innovation seemed to come from motion control. The Wii was the most dominant in sales for the majority of that era because of its ease in picking up the Wii Remote and playing a game of bowling, and it was in the last generation that Microsoft put their major foot forward with Kinect. Although Sony’s PlayStation Move didn’t really catch on in the way that Nintendo and Microsoft’s efforts did, it’s still a peripheral that’s supported on the PS4 and may be improved upon in the future.

The connection setup screen on SmartGlass, here shown connecting to my console (named "Gamebrox" in honor of Dr. Steve Brule).

The connection setup screen on SmartGlass, here shown connecting to my console (named “Gamebrox” in honor of Dr. Steve Brule).

This generation, it seems like one of the defining fads right out of the gate is having some kind of second screen functionality with your game or app of choice. Much of the Wii U’s marketing when it launched a year ago focused on the Wii U GamePad, a wireless controller featuring a touch screen that allows for more interaction with your game in a number of different ways (depending on what the developer decides to do). The handheld console from Sony, the Playstation Vita, can function similarly to the Wii U GamePad when linked to a PlayStation 4 and allow game and video streaming from the home console to the handheld, as the GamePad does. This generation has also expanded on the last’s second screen offerings in a bit more of an aggressive way, with the Nintendo 3DS handheld console succeeding the original DS (which currently stands as the number one handheld console in gaming) and with the new version of Xbox SmartGlass, developed specifically for use with the Xbox One.

The first version of Xbox SmartGlass was released for the Xbox 360 last October, and introduced second screen functionality to the established gaming platform by allowing your mobile device to operate as a remote control for the Xbox, giving some additional information and functionality to certain games (most notably Halo 4 and Forza Horizon), as well as interactivity with certain movies and TV shows watched through the Xbox Video service.

While I was under the impression that the existing app would simply be upgraded to allow for new and existing features to be compatible with the Xbox One, instead an entirely new app was created for Microsoft’s new console. Xbox One SmartGlass in some ways feels stagnant because of the majority of returning features, but introduces very interesting game functionality with an extraordinary potential for the Xbox One gaming experience going forward.

The app is available on practically any mobile device under the sun, supported on iOS devices from version 5 or later, which covers iPod Touch 4th and 5th gen models, all iPhones from 3GS-5S, iPad 2-4 and Air, and both generations of iPad Mini. It’s supported on Android phones and tablets 7″ and larger running Android 4.x or later, and of course on Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 PCs and tablets. This review was conducted with the versions found on an iPhone 5, an iPad 3, a Kindle Fire HD 8.9″, and a Windows 8 laptop.

Console Connectivity

Once you download the app from your provider’s store, the process of connecting it to your Xbox One console is pretty simple. Make sure your console is on,  and tap the console-shaped icon in the top right hand corner of the interface. It will then scan your home network and locate the Xbox One on it, and from there you simply tap it and connect. You can also make it connect automatically when your console is on whenever you decide to open the app. Unlike the Xbox 360 version, a pop-up icon does not appear on your console confirming connectivity. If you need to confirm it, then simply tap the remote control icon in the bottom right corner, and attempt to do a task.

Xbox One SmartGlass's controller interface, with all of the front buttons represented and responsive.

Xbox One SmartGlass’s controller interface, with all of the front buttons represented and responsive.

My network did not once drop the app from being connected to my console, and there was virtually no latency between the operation of pressing a button on the app and the actual response on my TV. It seems like Microsoft has the connection to their hardware down pretty well, and the app is definitely better for it.

Remote Control Functions

Returning to SmartGlass for the Xbox One is the ability to remotely control your console from the app. Pressing the aforementioned remote control icon brings up a pretty simple interface. The majority of this is labeled with the A button, and to select icons you simply swipe in the direction of the tile you wish to select, then tap the pad to replicate pressing the regular controller’s A button, selecting your highlighted option. On the left are blue and yellow strips representing the X and Y buttons respectively, and on the right is a single red strip representing the B button. For these buttons, you simply need to tap the corresponding letter of the button you’re attempting to press, and the console responds. At the top of the app interface are the Menu, View, and Xbox buttons, functioning the same way that they do on the console’s controller.

Response time is fast. Using the app as a remote for video playback, either through the Blu-ray player, or on VOD apps, will bring up a video timeline that you can use your finger to scan through, along with scene select, fast forward/rewind, play, and pause buttons placed across the bottom of the existing control interface. It’s all very clean, and everything works exceptionally well. As a simple peripheral device, Xbox One SmartGlass allows your mobile device to allow your multi-tasking to be a little easier, especially when watching something through your console.

But, of course, as easy as it may be to forget considering some of the ad campaigns that we’ve seen, the Xbox One is a gaming console. And thankfully, SmartGlass gets to make its biggest splash  by adding far more interactivity into the games.

In Dead Rising 3, SmartGlass can turn your actual smartphone into the one used by your character in the game itself.

In Dead Rising 3, SmartGlass can turn your actual smartphone into the one used by your character in the game itself.

SmartGlass and Xbox One Games

So far at launch, three games include extra functionality with Xbox One SmartGlass, and although I’ve only played one of them, I’m incredibly excited about the way that it can potentially expand the gaming experience. Dead Rising 3 is the game that I picked up along with my console on November 22nd, one of the reasons being that I was really curious about the SmartGlass functionality.

It’s far more than a cosmetic addition, as using SmartGlass in the game actually unlocks a whole other level of depth to the already broadly deep gaming experience (which will be reviewed in Part 9 later this week). You see, early on in the story, your character stumbles upon a military smartphone that allows him to communicate with someone that can give him side missions, or other things to check out across the besieged city of Los Perdidos. Enabling SmartGlass can actually allow your phone or mobile device to become the phone within the game, where you can receive calls, text messages, RSS news updates, as well as helpful gameplay tools like survivor details, safehouse locations, and weapons inventory. In the game world, you can also locate “app updates” that can further expand the functionality of the SmartGlass app’s phone, and if this is the kind of experience that we’re getting at launch,  then I’m extremely excited to see how else they can make the gameplay experience jump out of the TV.

Some of the missions that you can then undertake through the SmartGlass app, at least to my knowledge, cannot be found anywhere else in the game. While this can potentially cut people off from some of the gameplay experience, that number is now pretty low since almost 6 in 10 Americans have smartphones. With a lot of people talking about mobile gaming taking over console gaming, functionality such as this can likely minimize that potential effect if it offers an intersection between both devices. I think it’s really cool.

It’s not exactly perfect, though, since there were a few times that the SmartGlass app would pause the game’s companion even when I was in the middle of playing. This is a small gripe, though, and is expected in something so new at launch. I expect the kinks to be worked out just as much as I expect the experience to get better in more games going forward.

So, in a nutshell, SmartGlass is a definite asset to the Xbox One experience in both gaming and as a remote peripheral. It may not be a defining reason to run out and buy the console, but it’s definitely a nice bonus for those that do, and is absolutely worth trying if/when you bring your new console home.

In the next part, we’ll discuss how it feels to play games on the Xbox One, and whether or not the potential is there for this to become the dominant home console of the eighth generation!

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Chris Clow
As a former comics retailer at a store in the Pacific Northwest, Chris Clow is an enormous sci-fi, comics, and film geek. He is a freelance contributor, reviewer, podcaster, and overall geek to GeekNation, Batman-On-Film.com, The Huffington Post, and Movies.com. He also hosts the monthly Comics on Consoles broadcast and podcast. Check out his blog, and follow him on Twitter @ChrisClow.