Controlling the Xbox One S

With my Xbox 360 I always enjoyed the fact that there were plenty of ways to interact with the console and the same is true for the new Xbox One S.

The New Controller

The most obvious way of interacting with the console is through a controller. Microsoft’s controllers are widely considered to be some of the best controllers on the market. The Xbox One S comes with a new controller which is a slightly improved version of the original Xbox One controller.

This time the Xbox team managed to reduce the number of components making it cheaper and easier to manufacture. One of the benefits of this new process means that Microsoft provide the option of completely custom controllers: you can choose the colours.

I loved using different coloured controllers with my Nintendo Game Cube, and If I need to get myself another controller any time soon I will be going for the custom designs. The only tricky thing will be deciding which colour to get!

The New Xbox Controller

Another benefit of the new controller is the Bluetooth support. It works with Windows PCs without the need for a dongle and I’ve used this controller with my Surface for a couple of games and has worked really well.

The Elite Controller

While Microsoft found a way to reduce the costs of manufacturing their standard issue controller, they also found a way to appease the more hardcore gamers with the Elite controller. I’ve lusted after this thing since I first heard about it. The plastic feels a lot nicer to the touch with a soft texture. The triggers and bumpers are made out of metal and the sticks can be customised.

The whole device has a high-quality weight to it.

The Elite Controller

It has a switch on the front which allows you two switch between two sets of custom settings. I use a standard setup in the first position and the second position is configured with a custom setup which works really well for games like Halo and Gears of War.

It is no surprise that this has become my main controller!

I am really impressed by the Elite controller and I wish Microsoft would put the same kind of effort into doing mice and keyboards for the PC. I don’t play PC games with a mouse and keyboard but I do use them every day for software development. I’d really appreciate some high quality gear, especially as I spend so much time using them.

The Chat Pad

Being able to enter text using a physical keyboard and not pecking around on the screen is something that I enjoyed on the Xbox 360 and wanted to have the same experience on the Xbox One too. As soon as I got the Xbox One I was entering text on the screen and looking over at my old controller enviously so I decided to get for the occasions I enter text.

It does add some bulk to the controller but it doesn’t bother me at all. I can always remove it if I wanted to.

Chat Pad

The Media Remote

The top device used to control my Xbox 360 must have been the remote control. I knew that as soon as I got an Xbox One I would have to get a remote to go with it. The Xbox One version is a lot smaller than its predecessor and it lacks the number keys (which I never used anyway).

Most of the time I don’t really need to see the controls, but the new backlight is a welcome addition too.

Using the remote I can turn the Xbox on and navigate around the menus. There are dedicated keys for bringing up the OneGuide television interface, as well as changing the volume of the television itself.

Media Remote

I use the media remote a lot and find it extremely useful for apps like Netflix… but I have to say it is probably my least favourite piece of the Xbox hardware I have. It doesn’t feel that great, it doesn’t look very impressive, and to me the design is flawed by the fact that it is rounded on the bottom and doesn’t sit flat on a table without wobbling.

I’d like to see them release a new version of the media remote to match the Xbox One S style, or at least just ‘premium it up’ a bit and remove the rounded underside. Until then I will be continuing to use this version as it is still extremely useful.

The Xbox App

The Xbox App for Windows 10 has become a very useful way of interacting with the console. Like SmartGlass before it, you can use purely as a controller or for text input. But now it’s a fully featured Xbox experience for the PC, with the ability to stream too.

Xbox App

I’ve used this more than I thought I would already, and I get the feeling I will continue to use it more and more as updates for the Xbox One come out over the next few years.

The Xbox App also works with the HoloLens too!

What I don’t have

I haven’t bothered to get a Kinect. Not because I don’t think it is technically good, but because it seems that Microsoft has abandoned it.

The lack of Kinect’s microphone means I cannot use Cortana on the Xbox One. This is a bit frustrating as she’s something I use all the time on my Surface computer and Lumia phone. As I mentioned in my previous Xbox One S article: I am surprised they didn’t add a microphone to the console itself.

Maybe they’ll add a microphone to an update media remote in the future?

Surface Book

I usually push my computers pretty hard until they must be upgraded. Earlier this year it was time for my ageing Surface Pro 2 to be replaced with a shiny new Surface.

But which one?

There was no doubt I was going to get another Microsoft Surface, but it wasn’t until I started using a Surface Book at work that I decided to get myself “the ultimate laptop” rather than “the tablet that can replace your laptop“.

surfacebook-laptop

Since I first started using the original Surface I was convinced I would get tablets in the Surface Pro line moving forward. I still believe that they are the most forward looking form factor, but the stability of the Surface Book’s laptop base has allowed me to get more done with the computer on my lap, rather than only feeling productive at a desk.

I decided it was worth the switch for now… but maybe in the not too distant future the Surface devices would allow you to switch between the kind of base you want to use at any time, rather than making you choose from either the Pro or Book line. Why have a different tablet component? I guess that’s is a discussion for another time, but I still very firmly believe in the tablet form factor.

Flexible computing

I am fortunate enough to use the same model of Surface Book in my day job as well as having my own for personal use. Thanks to the dock I can plug either of them into external devices really easily: power, network, keyboard, monitor, and mouse are all provided by one cable that can be used with either my personal or work computers. Very handy.

dock

Most of the software development I did on my Surface Pro 2 was performed while it was docked, so I still have the same experience with the full-size Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard and Mouse set that I was using before, and I’m still using the same ultra-wide monitor too. (I’m actually considering making some changes at my desk, but I’m not sure what yet.)

The real benefit of the Surface Book is that I feel just as productive when I am away from my desk. It is much larger than the Surface Pro 2 but it still feels light enough that I am not carrying around something huge like my old Dell workstation.

The biggest reason for this is that the Surface Book is primarily a laptop rather than a tablet. While Star Trek has taught me that tablets are the future, decades of history has shown me that laptops are the best form factor for getting things done on the move. Thankfully the Surface Book isn’t just a laptop. You can remove the screen and use it as a fully functional tablet too.

As almost all of the electronics are in the screen itself the device would be top heavy if it used a standard hinge. Microsoft’s solution to this problem is the Surface Books most striking feature: the dynamic fulcrum hinge.

hinge

The way the hinge closes results in some space between the two sections and I remember people questioned on weather this was a good idea or not. Most arguments against the hing centered around the supposition that loose items stored inside a bag may get between the screen and the keyboard.

I am a sane human being… so I never put anything in the same bag compartment as the Surface Book itself.

While the gap may look striking in photographs, it very quickly becomes normal. In fact the last laptop I owned had an issue where the keys would touch the screen and would regularly need cleaning because of it.

Keyboard and touchpad

The backlit keyboard is great to type on, both in thanks to the stability of the base and the overall feel of the metal keys. They’re raised from the base thanks to the aforementioned hinge.

The touchpad is also pretty amazing, certainly on par with Apple’s MacBook and light-years ahead of the fabric touchpad I was using on the Surface Pro 2.

Surface Keyboard

The gestures to allow switching between desktops has really changed the way I use Windows and it all works together to make using the the Surface Book as a laptop a really good experience.

The combination of the impressive keyboard and multi-touch keyboard has enabled me to be more productive while hot-desking and moving between meetings too.

Touch screen and pen

I was never going to buy a laptop that didn’t have a touch screen, and Microsoft was never going to make a Surface without one either.

Honestly I was kind of waiting for OLED technology to make its way to the Surface line, but after using a Surface Book I realised that the screen was so good it didn’t matter. (OLED isn’t ready yet either, apparently!)

The step up from my previous device is substantial, and I love how crisp everything looks.

Here you can see the difference between the 1920 × 1080 @ 150% desktop of the Surface Pro 2 compared to the 3000 × 2000 @ 200% desktop of the Surface Book.

sizes-resized

These are the default settings and I’ve seen people tweak the settings to get larger working areas. I find 100% too small, but 150% seems okay. Either way there are a lot more pixels to work with and the aspect ratio is a lot more useful.

Surface Pen

The Surface Pen was updated for the Surface Pro 4 and the Surface Book, but the technology inside is largely the same as was used on the Surface Pro 3.

It sports a different technology to the Wacom used on the original Surface Pro and the Surface Pro 2 which means my existing pens do not work. This hasn’t been much of an issue for me as I think the pen that comes with the Surface Book feels superior when compared to the Wacom pens I was using before.

As the button on the end works over Bluetooth I must be careful not to confuse which pen is pared to which Surface. Amazingly I haven’t taken the wrong one to work… yet.

Windows Hello

One of the best things about the Surface Book is the way it can authenticate you by using an infrared camera.

The difference between the technology in the Surface Book and the Lumia 950 is night and day – using the Surface Book is absolutely fantastic and I rarely have to move just to be in the right position in normal use.

(For those rare times it is confused you can always use the Jedi mind trick to get it to try again)

Windows Hello

Specifications and storage

One complaint is that the SD Card slot is a bit dumb – like the MacBook Pro they use a full size card which doesn’t go all the way in.

Obviously I don’t use full size SD cards (as it is 2016!) but I do use microSD cards.

I’ve got a little BaseQi adaptor in the side of the device and I highly recommend this to anyone who has a Surface Book. I tend to use this microSD card for things like ISO files – but no actual data as it is not encrypted like the built in SSD.

BaseQi

Finally, the device itself is super powerful and brilliant for use as a developer machine I have the high spec version meaning there is an Nvidia GPU in the base, and lots of disk storage.

  • CPU: 6th Generation Intel Core i7-6600U CPU @ 2.60GHz
  • RAM: 16GB DDR3
  • Storage: 256GB SSD
  • Graphics: Intel HD graphics 520 and NVIDIA GeForce GPU with 1GB GDDR5 memory