Xbox SmartGlass Hands-On: Controlling Your Xbox Is Really Awesome Now

Xbox SmartGlass has been floating around for a while now, but we got a chance to check out some of the final features being added to it before it's available to everyone later this week. Here's the new stuff.

Browsing

The biggest boost to convenience with using SmartGlass is probably the keyboard. You know how every time you've got to type in a password on your Xbox and you ponder whether you'd rather climb onto your roof and jump face-first into the arborvitaes or spend the 20 minutes required to select one letter at a time? SmartGlass fixes that by popping up the native keyboard every time you come to a text entry box. From what we saw, it's pretty snappy in the Xbox's Internet Explorer, and in other places you might need to enter a username or search term.

Browsing pages themselves is also made pretty easy. You use the tablet's surface to drag the viewing area around, and you can tap links to navigate around, and pinch and squeeze to zoom in or out. It works pretty well, but you get into some trouble on pages that have smaller links. Because Xbox IE always loads the full version of sites to display on your TV, some of the controls aren't touch-friendly, even though you're using nothing but touch. It's a compromise, but not a huge one.

Music and Movies

Here's where SmartGlass really shines, and is probably where you'll get the most real world use out of SmartGlass. You can use SmartGlass to control your music, either your local files, or streamed songs over Xbox Music. The controls are intuitive, and make your TV seem like a big, visual entertainment centre.

For video, you can press a "Play on Xbox" button, and your video will transfer from your phone or tablet to your Xbox. From there, you'll have a nicely designed control panel, and, basically, Amazon's X-Ray for movies feature — only much better designed. Microsoft says it will be on 65 per cent of all "views", which is a sketchy metric, but chances are it'll be on any popular movie you watch. The Play on Xbox button changes into a play on tablet function when the movie is playing on your TV. The time between it swapping from one source to another is pretty quick, and I didn't notice any lost time or dialogue as it was changing over. At the very least, it's a much, much, much more fluid way to control your movies than clicking the shoulder buttons on you Xbox controller.

Sports

In Australia, we've been told that the sports partners include ESPN, NBA Game Time and UFC, but that was on a press release that cited HBO GO as available. A little addendum says that we'll find out regional availability "at a later date".

Sports are a natural fit for the second screen, so naturally everyone's trying it. For Microsoft, it makes sense because you can use SmartGlass to navigate through content from ESPN and the NBA, UFC, and NHL (in the US at least). That will include games through your cable provider, or ESPN over your ISP. You'll get the usual — scores, rosters, stats — and the strangely heavily featured ability to pick the winners of games (no one will use this).

The highlights and stats packages look pretty good, for something you're throwing up on your TV. But the strength of sports on SmartGlass is also a weakness. You're much more likely to want to use your phone or tablet to look at scores while you're watching a game, especially if you're using that phone or tablet as your remote. But without access to your fantasy teams, or some of the more granular stats on dedicated sports sites, it might not be enough for the kinds of fans who already have a tablet or laptop in the hands during games.

Playing Games

Some games will have a SmartGlass Duel Mode, which turns your phone or tablet (there are apps for Android and iPhone, in addition to Windows stuff) into, basically, a Wii U controller. You can use it to select what kind of pitch you want to throw in a baseball game, for example, and then you'll play a mini game to determine how well you throw it. It's a pretty neat feature, but it's totally developer-dependent, so it's not clear how much support you'll see built in going forward for content not all gamers will see.


Comments

    lololol still no WP7 Smart Glass app.

    *sigh*

      I don't think it's coming until WP7.8, which will be months after WP8. There's really no point in keeping a WP7 device...

        Except that it doesn't suddenly get bricked by the release of WP8. Although I can understand the justifications for not keeping WP7 devices updated, that doesn't mean they stop being good handsets for what they are. My sister is really, really happy with her HTC Trophy and literally wants for nothing - she will no doubt love an upgrade to my Lumia 800 when Voda gets me a good deal on the 920 :D

    I hate being a pedant, I really do.
    I try to quit, but things like this just keep dragging me back in (down?)

    " make your TV seem like a big, visual entertainment centre. '
    Ummm..... It's a TV.

    It IS a visual entertainment system. By design and definition.
    What's happening here is something that makes a tablet seem like a clunky remote control for the aforementioned visual entertainment system.

      A TV is nothing without what is connected to it. While you could try to have a big, visual entertainment centre without the use of your XBox or other but you'll probably just be staring at a blue screen!

        I was thinking more along the lines of, you know, TV, DVD and the likes.
        No need for an xbox at all.
        It's been the entertainment center for a couple of generations now without these additions.

      It depends on how it's used in my opinion.

      You can use it as a remote and it is a bit clunky.

      But you can also make it pull up interactive menus where you can use the touch screen to select the file you want to play.

      And in my opinion the remote could be improved even more if they wanted to, although it would require a fundamental rewrite of it.

      it's ok man, I'm trying to quit too. It's hard.

    I keep hearing different things on different sites about app availability, is it for all platforms as originally stated at E3? Or have Microsoft back-flipped and only made it for Surface. That was one of the great things about this idea, that it works with the stuff you've already got.

    All I want is live updating stats on my iPad while I play Halo 4

    Last edited 23/10/12 4:40 pm

      They've not backflipped...

      Surface, Windows 8 and WP8 at launch... other platforms to follow.
      However, I saw a rumour that said the iPhone app may be as much as a year away.

    now just bring this to the Win8 PC and Pixelsense and I'll be one very happy person because that will change work in a huge way, no more video projectors :-)

    @nathan - I'm sure they'll release a waypoint app to cover that :)

      they already have that for iOS (iPhone and iPad) and WP7.

    All well and good, but most of the meaningful applications wont be able to be used in Australia because of restrictions put in place by US content owners.

    If you've got a tablet...why not just use the tablet?

      10" screen vs 50" screen maybe?

        USB MHL/Micro HDMI/Micro Display port maybe?

    I thought he had a gs3 lol and thought it would be interesting.

    Awesome. Looking forward to this. If my PS3 didn't play bluray and free to air TV I'd never turn it on!

    This has real potential. I'm predicting this will kill off user manuals too, which I don't really care about anyway.

    Is Smartglass going to work without an xbox? ie: can you interact with a windows 8 media pc hooked up to your TV and your windows 8 tablet? Or must everything be routed through an official "xbox 360"?

    "You know how every time you’ve got to type in a password on your Xbox and you ponder whether you’d rather climb onto your roof and jump face-first into the arborvitaes or spend the 20 minutes required to select one letter at a time? "

    Nope, I bought a Chatpad when I got my 360 and haven't regretted it for a second. It actually feels 'wrong' and uncomfortable to use a controller without the extra weight of the Chatpad now, I love it to bits.

      x2, plus it only cost me about $15 online. Much better than plugging a USB keyboard in.

    All I can say in FINALLY! They had promised this when they announced the now dead Zune. I remember a line from the key note that said something like "And with the Zune and a Xbox 360, you will one day beable to call up plays in Madden, place a air strike in Call of Duty, or have a real time map of a Halo game showing you where your team mates are, all without having to go into extra menus or screens"

    Clearly the Zune died, Android and Apple are the main players in the Mobile and Tablet market, and apps are easy to make, so why not push the tech to all the players and not just the ones that can afford all the Microsoft tech.

      I hope Microsoft are smart enough to give themselves a 3-6 month head start before giving iOS smartglass and office.

    Credit to M$ for supporting iOS devices, knowing that this will potentially damage future sales of Windows tablets as gamers in particular search for "killer app" reasons to make the switch from their iPads to Surfaces/Windows RT devices. Shows a real willingness to work with the existing market, and I think it's only going to benefit them in the long run. I already love the usability and the Nokia Lumia-like UI in the My Xbox LIVE app on iPhone, so I'm hoping I see the same sort of usability in SmartGlass on my aged & senile iPad 1 :P Kudos for also supporting Android!

    Can't wait to try this with Halo 4

      Yeah, so this:

      a) Is only Waypoint stats
      b) Doesn't work on a Lumia 920 with Halo 4. Smh Microsoft/343

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