A Look at Microsoft’s Xbox SmartGlass App for Xbox 360

Ah yes, the holiday season, which every two years for me has meant that it was time for me to say out with the old and in with the new, that is, when it comes to cellphones. I’ve been a smartphone user for a good number of years now, not wanting to miss out on the strange world of technology’s “it” thing, which has indeed taken off since I was first using those old Windows Mobile phones. When Microsoft announced Xbox SmartGlass a while back, an app for phones and tablets that was able to connect to Xbox Live, I was interested. It seemed like something that could be the future of gaming and afford for some big time innovation when it comes to having a second screen for gaming. Of course, the Wii U was released this year and showed exactly what you can do when you include that second screen with the console and make developers think about it. SmartGlass is different, though, as it is looking to dip its toe into the pool and not dive in headfirst.

So I picked up a new Android phone loaded with a quadcore processor and the latest iteration of Android, so it seemed like a good time to mess around with SmartGlass. So I load up my Samsung Galaxy Note II with it, and here is what I found.

The Useful: First off, the idea of being able to scope out what is going on with my Xbox Live friends without having to turn on my Xbox 360 is pretty awesome in SmartGlass. Sometimes I want to play a game, but I’m not sure that I want to go it alone, so being able to see if any of my friends are playing Minecraft or Black Ops 2 can help me organize what I’m doing; I can hop on for a quick game or just keep working and wait a bit. It is also incredibly useful to send messages with my phone rather than with the controller. I do have a USB keyboard hooked up to my Xbox 360, but it is an old one that I don’t use and isn’t wireless, so I find myself sitting three feet away from the television on my ottoman typing messages, this is a lot easier with SmartGlass.

The Alright: The “second screen” stuff for when you are watching a movie or television show is something that I thought sounded like a dumb idea right off the bat. I mean, there is a lot of times when I’m watching something and will want to do some quick research, so yes, it in fact could be useful to just glance down at my phone and already have that information in front of me. That being said, the information displayed isn’t always what I’m looking for, and sometimes I can’t avoid searching Wikipedia or IMDB for the information I need. I can’t fault them for not having a crazy comprehensive database at their disposal, I guess.

The Worthless: Why does it even give me an option to control my Xbox with my phone if it is going to be really, really weird and not work that well? The directional controls are uber-sensitive so trying to scroll through an Xbox Dashboard menu means that I’m going to have to try two or three times before I actually hit the option that I want. There is also no “Xbox” button, which would make it easier to pull up the “Shutdown” menu as opposed to having to pull up the Dashboard menu and to navigate through the whole thing to shut it down.

Overall: Xbox SmartGlass is a cool idea in theory that could be developed into something that rivals — at least in features — the Wii U’s GamePad. Of course, it might not be an actual competitor for that as the GamePad is included with the system and is relatively inexpensive to manufacture, while a brand new $700 smartphone that you probably signed a two-year contract to get for $199 – $299 is something that not everyone can do. Sure, tons of people have smartphones, but the fact that it requires a later version of Android means that most of the Android marketshare won’t be able to use it, and let’s face it, Windows Phone 7 isn’t setting the world on fire, is it? SmartGlass is fun to play around with, but not really something that you need.