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Xbox 360 Feature Focus: Internet Explorer

Rather than a write a review of the new Fall 2012 Dashboard Update for the Xbox 360, I thought it would make more sense to discuss each of the new features in this release individually. First up is Internet Explorer, a port of Microsoft’s web browser to its best-selling entertainment console.

Now, IE is only a click away. On your TV

I wrote about this update recently in Microsoft Begins Delivering Dashboard Update for Xbox 360. Overall, it’s an evolutionary update to the existing Dashboard, and Microsoft says that it will rollout automatically to all Xbox 360 consoles in the coming weeks.

SuperSite for Windows rendered in IE for Xbox

Internet Explorer for Xbox is arguably the update’s one major new feature. Not only does it bring much of the power of desktop and mobile IE versions to the living room, it does so in ways that take advantage of key Xbox technologies, including Xbox 360 controller (and remote) based navigation, Kinect voice, and Xbox SmartGlass. And in an intriguing move aimed at driving usage, Microsoft has elected to discontinue the Facebook and Twitter apps and Xbox and direct users to the service’s web sites in IE instead.

Facebook in IE for Xbox

If there’s anything surprising about Internet Explorer for Xbox, it’s that it so faithfully reproduces the Internet Explorer experience on your HDTV. It closely resembles the Windows 8 Metro-style IE version most of all, with a large address bar area that is visually very similar to its Windows 8 cousin. There are some layout differences—the Xbox version sits at the top of the screen, not the touch-friendly bottom as in Windows 8, for example—but the familial resemblance is there.

IE for Xbox also prominently features Favorites (as well as recent and featured sites), a beloved browser element that is curiously quite hidden in Windows 8. And because it’s not possible to touch the Xbox screen, there’s a Forward button in addition to Back. (Windows 8 lacks the latter.)

IE for Xbox Favorites

Navigation is surprisingly decent, even with a balky Xbox controller. You move a large teardrop cursor around with the left stick and select items with the A button as expected. Pressing Y brings up the address bar and a nice Web Hub interface that provides visual thumbnails for your Favorites, and recent and featured web sites.

The typing experience isn’t quite up to Windows 8 standards, again because of the lack of touch controls. And while the onscreen keyboard looks a lot like the one in Windows 8, an examination of the two side-by-side reveals many differences, which I chalk up to the differences in the form factors. Moving the teardrop cursor around the keyboard isn’t ideal, but it works.

IE for Xbox onscreen keyboard

Thanks to its IE rendering core, sites render as expected, which is to say properly. And while you can enable a mobile web mode if you want, I see no reason for that: My own site, and sites like Facebook and Twitter look just great on this browser.

Featured sites in IE for Xbox

There are of course some problems. Flash doesn’t work, and can’t, since you cannot install add-ons. This is a problem Windows RT users are going to face soon, but of course Xbox users can (pardon themselves) console themselves with apps such as YouTube or ESPN instead of using the web versions. And while the onscreen keyboard is fine for quick navigation, it’s maddening for even the shortest emails. You’ll want a real keyboard—or another device, ideally—instead.

Ultimately, it seems that IE for Xbox is really designed to expand the available entertainment services you can consume on Microsoft’s console. And in this regard, it’s pretty successful. I’ve never seen the point of a web browser on the TV before, but given the Xbox 360’s entertainment heritage, this does round out the package nicely.

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