Xbox Live Update Preview Fall ‘09: Review

Not That Wow

I’ve been using the new content that Microsoft offered up in the fall preview for a couple of days now.  I have to admit like most people, I was on some Xbox high waiting to get this new content only to be not let down but dropped on my face.  The way the update comes off to me is half-baked.  It’s like when grandma is baking your favorite cookies and you can just smell them from the living room.  Your mouth is watering at the thought of getting some of those hot, soft, chocolate chip cookies.  She serves them up to you and  you bite down immediately. . . to find uncooked dough in the center!  Anyways here’s a run through of what I found.

Facebook

At first appearance it seems like your standard Facebook.  I already knew going into this not to expect the extras from Xbox’s Facebook app.  But I’m really disappointed in the way it’s implemented. 

 

One of the requests Microsoft has for you as being part of the Preview Program is to make sure that you can auto login.  I was thinking great, you will be signed in constantly and get updates from Facebook.   Not the case.  By auto logging in, they mean that you don’t have to sign in every time you go to the Facebook application.  Okay Microsoft, I’ll take that one.  That means I’ll have to stop doing whatever or during down time walk the whole 5 feet from my Xbox to my PC which is obviously a much better interface for Facebook.  Why sit and stare at Facebook on albeit a better screen but a diluted interface?

 

One of their major selling points is that you can see your friends photo “on the biggest screen in the house”.  I’m not a expert on pictures but it definitely doesn’t seem like an improvement in quality.  An opinion that is being echoed by other users in the Xbox Preview forums.

 

Okay, that’s cool.  I’ll just message my buddies and show them that my Xbox is superior with its Facebook.  I fumble through all the screens, channels, or whatever Xbox is calling them these days.  Hmm, I can’t seem to find the messaging area on here.  I get up from my comfy couch and start searching the features on the Microsoft Connect page that’s used as the launch pad for the program.  Seems that my super socializing Facebook has no way to socialize with people directly!

 

After fiddling around with it for a while longer it strikes me that this app is basically good for only 3 things.  First and foremost that being keeping updated on your friends news feeds.  From the feeds channel (actually its called Home) you can see your friends list as it grouped on Facebook, photo news feeds, and all news feeds.  Once you select one of the feeds, you are able to see each feed, the number of “likes”, and comments associated with that status.  You can also “like” a status update and add a comment of your own.  Without any way to get updates this is very unexciting.

 

The second thing that seems high on the importance list of Facebook and Microsoft is of course the ability to update your profile.  This is done easily enough from anywhere in Facebook by pushing the blue “X” button.  Doing so will bring up the standard Xbox dialog entry box with the keyboard laid out below it.  I’m sure that anyone who owns a Xbox 360 knows how painfully slow it can be to type out words with the controller so might I recommend a choice of two suggestions of speeding along this process not only in Facebook but in anything that uses the Xbox interface for data entry including games.

 

Xbox 360 Messenger Kit1. Get the Chatpad from Microsoft.  It can be sold separately and often comes in some type of kit.  But this little guy will make entering text in much quicker and attaches to the bottom of your controller.  I have one of these and although while playing with this attached you will notice it’s there, it really doesn’t get in the way at all.  It is also backlit for night time use and has the headphone/mic jack beneath it if you still want to talk on Live.  Typing on it is much like typing on your cell phone’s qwerty keyboard.  Click the picture to the right for information and a sample video.

 

2. A second option is to simply find a cheap or extra USB keyboard.  You can plug almost any keyboard into the Xbox 360 and it will recognize it.

 

The third thing that is glaringly apparent that was on the agenda for Microsoft and maybe Facebook is the ability to connect your Facebook and Xbox Live friends lists.  Basically what this means is that you have two ways of finding out if your friends on Facebook or Xbox Live have accounts for both.   You can go to the friends channel and select “Facebook Friends on Xbox LIVE” which is supposed to do exactly what it says.  I don’t know if it works or not because the Facebook on Xbox Live app has not been released to the public yet.  Your second option for connecting with friends is selecting “Xbox LIVE Friends on Facebook”.  Which once again presumably does exactly what it says but I don’t have the means to test it.

 

Overall I don’t think this application is a negative nor a positive.  It’s not great but it’s really not terrible considering the fact it may be a solution for others.  Cool idea but for me I could have lived without it and not skipped a beat.

Twitter

Now on to Twitter.  Twitter pretty much gets the same treatment as Facebook by Microsoft.  Seems like a great idea but doesn’t quite allow the idea to work to its potential on the Xbox.  Oddly you have to manually sign in every time you launch Twitter.  Once its going, anyone who has used Twitter at all will be familiar with the layout.  Your Twitter feed is on the left.  You last update to the top.  Username and 3 options to the right below your avatar.  The 3 options are “what are you doing?”, “search”, and “trending topics”.  Selecting your username will take you to a profile screen.  From here you can see who your following, who’s following you, your updates, direct messages, and tweets that mentioned your username.

 

Pretty straight forward Twitter stuff here.  There’s really nothing to like or dislike about Twitter.  It’s pretty much the same as what you’ll find on your PC.  I have the same gripe here though as Facebook.  How come  these tools don’t work from the dashboard but more importantly from within games.  Very hard to tell your friends what your doing right now when you have to exit your game, launch your social app, update, open game, then continue. 

Last.fm

Last.fm is hands down my favorite part of this update.  There are way too many reasons to like what Last.fm has done here and very few not to.  Last.fm for those who don’t know (where you been?) is a music streaming site with a social site twist.  They allow you to listen to what they call stations.  Stations are basically picked by artist or tag.  If you pick an artist like The Beatles it doesn’t necessarily play The Beatles but Beatles type songs.  Or you can pick a tag like metal in which it will play all artists and songs that have been tagged as metal.  Pretty easy and straight forward.  While your playing your station, if available, it will show transitioning pictures of the current artist also.

 

The biggest drawback that I’ve seen others complaining about around the web is that Last.fm will not play unless you are in the Last.fm application.  That means no streaming music while playing your favorite game like you can do with local music or music from your PC.  This doesn’t bother me though because I don’t feel it’s that important.  What Last.fm will allow you to do is get introduced to new music and lots of it.

 

Other than the inability to stream music outside the app, Last.fm is a major plus for the Xbox 360 and worth not only checking out on your console but go to the website also.

Zune

A lot of people are interested in the Zune application but sadly I don’t think it lives up to any of the hype.  For those who don’t have a subscription to Netflix, this was supposed to be the answer.  With an advertised 1080p streaming video you can’t go wrong.  Unfortunately it doesn’t quite work out that way.

 

On the technical side, you don’t get true 1080p.  Its a variable stream dependant upon the quality of your network connection.  If your connection lags then it will step back the picture quality to something lower.  I did see that they have some movies that will also stream 5.1 Dolby digital surround sound also.

 

The selection content seems pretty small to start with.  Maybe like Netflix you can get more on the Zune store site and it will show up on your Xbox Zune?  Can someone confirm this?  You have the choice of renting or purchasing some of the movies.  Fanboys the movie was priced like this:

 

Rent:

High Definition ………. 480 ms points ($6.00)

Standard Definition .. 320 ms point ($4.00)

Buy:

High Definition ………. 1600 ms points ($19.99)

Standard Definition .. 1200 ms points ($14.99)

 

The prices aren’t great but don’t strike me as unreasonable either.  That’s $20 for a newly released DVD at 1080p and 5.1 DD.  Most of the movies seem to fall in line with these prices with a few being a little more or less depending on the title.  The older title “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” was priced at 240 ms points ($3.00) for rent.  The TV show generally are going for 240 ms points ($3.00) for HD and 160 ms points ($2.00) for SD.  I don’t know for sure but it seems that all of the TV shows are for purchase and not rent.  Zune Marketplace had music videos but no music for purchase.

 

The Zune Marketplace is more or less the Xbox Live Marketplace in a pretty new skin.  Nothing to like or dislike about this.  I personally suggest Netflix with a monthly subscription over Zune.  I recommend that you go to Netflix website to get complete information and check out the Zune store online also.

Inside Xbox News & More

Last is the news and more channel.  What you get here is basically news clips from msnbc.com.  I like it because I’m a news junkie but I can see how most people won’t visit this more than twice.  According to Microsoft this channel is updated throughout the day.  You don’t get a choice either of the type of news getting pushed to you.  I assume its the top stories or most interesting stories of the day.

 

In addition to news, this channel gets 2 animated newspaper cartoons.  Dilbert and The New Yorker Cartoons round this channel up.  I was hoping that the Dilbert cartoon was the ones that were being aired on TV a few years back but this isn’t so.  These are very short cuts.  Judging by the length of them, they are the Dilbert comics from the newspaper in animated form.  Even with the abbreviated content Dilbert is still enjoyable.  The New Yorker cartoons are also very shorts like Dilbert leading you to believe that they are directly from the newspaper’s comic section in an animated form.  This cartoon has some very quirky, dark humor about it.  Not my cup of tea (or glass of beer) but I’m sure some will enjoy it.

 

As a final comment, I have one complaint about the fall 2009 update that I hope Microsoft resolves before general release.  With the addition of these apps and placing them in the dashboard, they have effectively cluttered up an already visibly disorganized dashboard.  To add to this, they have redundant entries.  The Zune app shows up multiple times and seems like a wasted of space.

 

As a footnote, the information I provided is that of my opinion.  I don’t have a way to know all the facts about this material, therefore some of it may be incorrect also.  If you find mistakes, please leave a comment or contact me via the Contact page and I will do my best to correct the relevant information.

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