Hardware ReviewsPS4 vs Xbox One Comparison: Graphics, Specs, DifferencesHardware Reviews - RSS 2.0
Xbox One User Interface
The Xbox One's interface looks a lot like Microsoft's much-belittled Windows 8, but it makes more sense in a gaming console than a PC, honestly. There are a series of hard-edged squares and rectangles, brightly colored, and you can navigate them with the controller easily enough. The voice commands of the Kinect are even easier, and, especially as you explore an unfamiliar interface, it's amazingly useful to just tell the Xbox what you want it to do.
Removing the barrier between your brain's desires and action is a definite advantage of the Xbox One interface, at the risk of sounding like a moron talking to yourself. The only problem is the voice commands only seem to work 65% of the time, whether through mumbling or volume problems, or just pure stupidity. No, Xbox, I didn't say "Search Justin Bieber" - who would do such a thing? The fidelity of the voice commands improves when you learn the inflections the Xbox best understands, but be warned you will sound lame and stilted doing so.
You can still use hand gestures to navigate the UI, but it's as useless as it was with the original Kinect, perhaps more. This new camera system can detect whether your hand is open or closed in a fist, and it is neat to pretend you are in the future by making a fist, and scrolling the interface to the right or left. When you actually try to select an app with a hand gesture, however, is where that Minority Report illusion crumbles yet again. The Xbox One removed the hand delay function from the 360 to select, and relies on some kind of push or pull gesture that's impossible to get the Kinect to understand.
The big feature touted at every Microsoft event this year is the ability to run multiple applications side-by-side with a feature called "snap". You can play Ryse for example, and simultaneously look up strategies in a wiki by snapping Internet Explorer and searching with Bing. It's possible to do so with the controller, but the voice commands are wonderfully useful here, too. To be sure, snapping is worthwhile for those of us accustomed to working on multiple screens simultaneously and it's great for gaming in a private, quiet room. It's just not very practical if your Xbox One is set up in a busy area full of people chatting or kids screaming.
When you start your Xbox One, you'll see a big rectangle showing what you last did, surrounded by smaller squares that bring you to recently used applications or the revamped achievement screen. It can feel a bit clunky getting to what you want, but you can "pin" apps and games you use often to the left of this pane. You'll appreciate being able to alter the UI to suit your needs.
Sounds are an oft-overlooked part of Microsoft's user interfaces. There is no music, and the sounds of moving around the tiles are not updated from the annoying Xbox 360's bleeps and blurps. It's possible the UI designers left the sound effects unchanged to allow some familiarity with a new product, but an updated aural experience would have better served the Xbox one.
The Kinect's facial recognition system automagically signs you in. It even supports multiple logins, so if you're gaming with your buddy, both of you can earn achievements just by sitting on the couch together. Also tied to your Microsoft account - and not the console - are your digitally distributed games. You can head over to your friend's house, download LocoCycle, and play it with him even if he hasn't bought it. Of course, your friend will not be able to play LocoCycle when you're not there even though it's taking up space on his HDD. If you have a disc, though, you can play the game on any Xbox One.
The social aspect on the Xbox One is a bit spare, with limited Twitch, Facebook and Twitter integration baked in at launch, and there's no real way to do so from the user interface itself. We go into more detail in the Applications and Sharing section so look there for more insight.
Even without those functions, the user interface of the Xbox One is designed well to reflect you as a gamer and the ability to modify the interface with pinning apps is an incredibly useful feature. Being able to flit between functions by speaking aloud and snapping apps is something a gaming console has never attempted, and while the Xbox One doesn't succeed in everything it tries to accomplish, the complete experience of the user interface is exciting to use.
PlayStation 4 User Interface
The first thing you notice about the PlayStation 4's user interface is the obscenely pleasant background music. The tones seem engineered to make you simultaneously happy playing around with the menus of the PS4 and eager to jump into a game to make it stop. The music wouldn't sound out of place in a seedy massage parlor or a corporate presentation - and that balance is really hard to pull off, honestly. Kudos to Sony's composers.
Sony's UI designers again opted for a horizontal arrangement of menu items for the PS4, with vertical popouts. When you boot up the PS4 from standby - and Sony wants you to always keep it in standby, more on that later - you are shown a pane called "What's New" which lists all the social activity you or your friends have done with their PlayStation. You can scroll sideways to get to the games or apps you've played recently, and jump up to mess with the settings in a streamlined menu system. Each game or app pane can start the software, but - after short delay - it will show you related topics like DLC you can buy from the store or what your friends' activity with this title has been.
That's where the share button comes in. It's a simple procedure to press the button on the DualShock 4 and immediately upload a screenshot to Facebook, or start broadcasting on Twitch. Sony clearly spent a lot of time to make this seamless - the game you're playing is suspended while you edit video in an intuitive interface. We didn't think much of the feature when it was announced, but editing and posting videos is surprisingly enjoyable. Sharing when you earn a trophy with a video of what you did to get it brings back the joy of showing off your fancy moves - something I haven't done since college.
The PlayStation Network is alive and well, and the store looks largely unchanged other than handy links to spend more money in every game pane. It's important to note, however, that you can activate your PS4 as your primary console and any games you've downloaded to it will be playable by everyone that signs in. And PlayStation Plus members who make the PS4 their primary will extend the benefits of that program to all those who sign in. If you've got multiple gamers in the same household, the PS4 makes it very easy to share even downloadable titles.
Much was made of the automatic update system to alleviate the long delays on the PS3, and keeping the new console in standby allows for updating to occur when you're not actively playing a game. The pesky updates needed when you first put in a game disc are still there, but Sony has done a decent job of minimizing the downtime. You can often jump into playing singleplayer or multiplayer - some games even let you choose which - while the other portion downloads in the background.
The optional PlayStation Camera is a $60 addon, but it does add limited voice functionality to the PS4 interface. You can say "PlayStation: Battlefield 4" and the UI will flip to that pane. Saying "Start" will boot up the game, but if you don't have the disc in the drawer you'll be shown an error screen you can't get out of without a controller. The lack of a simple root command like "Go back" or "Go home" makes it seem like the voice integration was an afterthought for the PS4 UI.
The friends system now allows up to 2,000 contacts, up from 100 on the PS3, and Sony would like you to have as many friends as possible. You can even share your real name on the system, instead of just displaying your PSN handle, to make the activity updates more personal. "Justin Clouse played Killzone" makes a lot more sense than "Slycne played Knack".
Seeing all the stuff your friends have done is neat, but it will only matter to some of you. Unfortunately, if you're not a social gamer, and don't populate your friends list, all of the social stuff and the share features of the UI will be useless to you. You can safely ignore sharing, though, and still be satisfied with a solid user experience, but there's very little innovative or interesting about the PS4's UI if you remove the social features. It works as a vehicle to play games, and it does that well.
Xbox One vs. PS4 User Interface Comparison
Both the Xbox One and the PS4 have well-designed interfaces, but only one tries something truly new. Sony offers a pleasant experience with an emphasis on displaying social cues to get you interested in games your friends are playing, and then letting you play those games. Even though the interface based on hard, square lines isn't exactly pretty, Microsoft has made the Xbox One more rounded by allowing you to customize your interface through pins, enabling multi-tasking and more closely integrating voice commands. The PS4 interface is no-nonsense, while the Xbox One's interface succeeds on that level and then reaches for new heights.