Xbox 360 Dashboard update (2011) review: A glimpse at a sophisticated console future...

Is tomorrow's update really 'like getting a new console'?

Tomorrow (Tuesday, December 6) all Xbox 360 owners will be asked to download the new Dashboard - the so called Metro design - which brings the 360 in line with Windows phones and the new Windows 8 OS (the update isn't optional, so kiss goodbye to the Dashboard as you now know it). But is it a change for the better?

The answer has to be 'yes'. While the new Dashboard isn't perfect, lacking a number of key features and only really achieving its true potential when paired with Kinect, it's tough to be too critical of something that costs nothing.


Not only that, it gives us all a glimpse of where Microsoft is heading with its software and hardware - the stuff that'll find its way into the next-Xbox, and for us that's the most intriguing thing about the Metro Dashboard.

So, what can you expect when the update installs? Instantly you'll notice that it feels much more like the original 'blades' than the current system. You scroll through categories from side-to-side, rather than up and down. Shifting to a new area of the dash brings up a block of large panels, which you can then click on to go deeper into that part of the Dashboard.

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Example? Select Video and you'll be greeted with a selection of the latest TV and film content and panels that take you though to the Video Marketplace and to My Video Apps. Click through to the marketplace and you get another set of options - films, TV, video collections - that let you dig deeper into each part of the dash.

It's much more intuitive than the current system of scrolling across the screen to get to where you need to be, and the way things are labelled feel a bit more obvious.

Most areas of the Dashboard are self-explanatory, but there are two new exciting parts. First off the Game options have been expanded. Click through to the Game area and you'll find your Avatar and all your friends, which you scroll through as you would in the current set-up.

However, one of the most exciting new options within games is to send a 'Beacon' out to everyone on your friends list. A beacon is a general invite to play a specific game (you can beacon up to three games at once), which appears in the message box of every friend who turns on their console while you're online.

So, if you want to play Battlefield 3, just stick up a beacon - you can even ping all your friends on Facebook too - and your buddies will know you're up for a game of Battlefield. Easy.

The other area of note is Apps. Metro will launch with 16 apps available, and they're all free to download. They're essentially custom interfaces for the various features Xbox offers - 4OD, Sky, LOVEFiLM, YouTube - things like that (see the list of TV content and release dates for more).


What's great is that they all follow the same format as the new Dashboard. On PS3 each 'external' app feels different (the iPlayer design is atrocious), but on the new 360 dash they all feel and look the same - so you instinctively know how to use each one.

New apps will trickle out throughout 2012, bringing essentials like BBC and HBO to the console.

So, now you know what's in the Dashboard, how does it feel to use? With a pad it's business as usual - finding what you need by tapping through each panel and scrolling from left to right etc is a little easier than in the current set-up. There's more 'featured content' wherever you go.

On the one hand this gives you a good idea of the wealth of content available, on the other it feels like you're constantly being sold to. Microsoft makes no apologies for this 'content heavy' approach - it wants you to use your Xbox for more than just games, and that means buying movies and subscribing to features like Sky.

Got Kinect? Now that's where the new Dashboard really shines. It feels like Microsoft fulfilling the promise it originally made to sell its motion-tracking tech - the Minority Report style interface that was meant to be the future of gaming.

Kinect allows you to control your Xbox in two extra ways. The first is motion; wave at the Xbox to activate a small hand-like cursor and you can use this to click on panels (hold your hand cursor over a panel to activate it) and swipe through the Dashboard areas from side to side.

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