Hands-on: Xbox 360 Dashboard Update (Fall 2012) review

It may be a while before it hits everybody's console worldwide, but the final release of the Xbox 360 Dashboard Update (Fall 2012) has arrived on Pocket-lint's own machine.

It brings with it plenty of small, welcome alterations to the way the user interface operates, but the grandstand new features are an Internet Explorer application and compatibility with Xbox SmartGlass, the second-screen functionality that allows you to interact with your 360 using a smartphone, tablet or PC.

However, the latter won't come into play until Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 are both released on 26 October, so we can't find out any more about its talents until then - any more than we already discovered at E3 in June, that is. So let's start with the other biggie, Internet Explorer.

After downloading the update - which took about three to four minutes on a 50-meg broadband connection - the first place you should head over to is the apps section, where you will no doubt see a mighty "e" staring down at you. Click on it and the new browser software will quickly install.

Read: Xbox SmartGlass pictures and hands-on

In use, the Xbox 360 version of Internet Explorer does seem simplified. You get a choice to have the software block "unsafe websites" before it loads for the first time, but the rest is plain and no-nonsense.

The front end of the IE app presents featured websites to begin with, including Facebook, Twitter, Sky Sports and a couple of others. These will no doubt be dependent on territory and we presume the first two mentioned are so prominently displayed because Microsoft has sneakily removed the dedicated Twitter and Facebook apps from Xbox Live. If you did use them, you'll now have to sign in again through Internet Explorer and use that platform in future.

The other two tags on the IE home screen are Recent and Favourites. You can also Pin pages for even faster access, but we'll get on to that later.

The browsing itself is a doddle to use and actually reminds us of mobile browsing in both speed (very fast) and clunkiness when scrolling down a page. It's not bad when compared to the PS3's internet browser, but it's no computer version. Elements do load swiftly; just not smoothly.

As for the browser itself: it's a browser. You type in your URL and away you go. Or, because of the integrated Bing search functionality, you can just type a subject or title and Bing will do its best to present salient options.

We did find a couple of things with the Xbox 360 version of Internet Explorer that didn't impress us so much. Firstly, there's no Flash player. Video on several websites, including Liverpool FC's official homepage, refused to play until we "downloaded Flash Player", which we couldn't. And we couldn't play Flash games either.

However, we did find that, as previously reported, you can indeed play mucky content on grot sites such as YouPorn.com and those who have adopted other video formats in order to be Apple-friendly, so it is compatible with plenty of content out there, just perhaps not the type you were looking for.

Read: Hardcore porn coming to Xbox 360 with Internet Explorer update

Kinect implementation is great, with motion-controlled browsing being smoother and more intuitive than you might previously have imagined - preferable to the joypad manoeuvring of a giant arrow, which can be hit and miss. Voice commands can also be used, although we have to admit, we couldn't find a way of searching for online content vocally.

Moving on to another new function we've been wanting to see on the platform for some time: My Pins.

One of our biggest bugbears with the Dashboard in the past has been that content can be hidden away several menus and layers deep and you would have numerous screens and clicks to navigate to it. The Big Search functionality helped that in part, but was a bind to use with just a joypad to hand and not always accurate when using Kinect voice control.

My Pins aims to give you a bit more control over a prominent section on the Home Screen in order for you to jump to your favourite content more quickly. Games, movies, video clips, music, websites, etc, can be "pinned" in their respective sections and then a hot link to them will appear in the My Pins box that makes up part of the Home tiles.

You can then quickly enter that menu and all your favourite content is there ready for immediate access. Or, at least, it should be.

Sadly, although we found that My Pins worked with games and websites, we couldn't get music tracks to appear in the dedicated section, even though they were "pinned" in Xbox Music. Also, it was difficult to find other content that gave you the option to pin it. BBC iPlayer shows, for example, are incompatible.

It's a great idea mind, and one we hope will improve in time.

Another major addition to Xbox Live that's coincided with the release of the update is Xbox Music. That's worthy of a thorough test all on its own, but for now all we'll say is that it could grow into a very valid rival to Spotify. For starters, it's cheaper for the full service - at £8.99 per month - and features music videos to boot.

Read: What is Xbox Music?

However, it too is not without its teething troubles. For example, on the main screen it was trailing the video of Psy's audio worm Gangnam Style, but it was not to be found anywhere, even through a Bing Search.

In addition, the software kept locking up when searching for and accessing specific titles. We searched for The Stone Roses, tried to load the Very Best Of... album and the whole thing froze on us. We would be surprised if there isn't an update to the update soon, at least where this is concerned.

At least you can try the new service for free for 30-days to make up your own mind.

Other than the new major features, the tile format for each tag is better. You get more of them on screen at once, and a new column of recommended related content that reminds us a bit of TiVo's "suggestions". At first, the recommended titles will be chosen by the Xbox team, but as time goes on it will better learn your own preferences and suggest games, movies, etc, for you specifically.

There are other minor tweaks and improvements but, as previously mentioned, the most exciting new addition is yet to come - Xbox SmartGlass. When that appears it will help iron out some of the minor issues we have with Internet Explorer, for example, and add an all-new element to Xbox gaming and control.

Until then, there's more than enough to play with for now.

What do you think of the new Xbox 360 Dashboard Update? Let us know in the comments below...



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