Xbox One: Xbox Music

Xbox One: Xbox Music

Microsoft gets the music experience right on the new console

The Xbox Music app on Xbox One combines Microsoft's multi-faceted online music service with its new all-in-one living room entertainment system, and it does so in interesting ways. Roughly analogous to Xbox Music for the web, the Xbox One version of the app is adapted to look and work well on an HDTV and be used with an Xbox One controller or Kinect-based voice commands.

It's perhaps not surprising that I've been thinking about Xbox Music a lot lately. As I noted in Rethinking "Paul Thurrott's Xbox Music," I'm prepping a major update to that book that will include the Xbox Music app on Xbox One and other platforms. I also recently discussed how the related Xbox Video app works on Xbox One.

If you're familiar with Xbox One on Windows 8.1 or the web, you know that Microsoft has dramatically improved the experience since the service debuted on Windows 8 last year. The Xbox One version of this experience follows a similar, simplified style, though the arrangement and color scheme—which is a stark white instead of the black seen elsewhere—is quite different.

On Windows 8.1 and the web, the top-level choices are divided between Search, Collection (albums, artists, songs), Radio and Explore (Xbox Music Store), plus Now Playing and Playlists. Indeed, the user experience of each is almost identical. (Which I think is smart.)

Xbox Music for Windows 8.1

Xbox Music for web

On Xbox One, the experience is quite different. Aside from the sheer whiteness of it—it's a bit much, in my opinion—the layout is quite changed. Across the top, the top-level views are Home, Radio, Featured and Top Music, where the last two items offer different views into Xbox Music Store. In the default Home view, you see tiles for Playlists, Collection, and Search, plus your recent plays, which is a nice touch.

Each view is of course tailored for the display (HDTV) and the controller. So the Playlists view is tiles-based, with nice album art, instead of a boring spreadsheet-style list.

And the individual playlist view is quite nice as well.

Now Playing will appear automatically after a bit, but it's a bit hard to find manually if you're navigating around. First, you tap the Menu button on the controller to bring up a floating playback control.

Then, you tap Now Playing to see the expected full-screen Now Playing experience. You can also tap various controller buttons to bring up the song list—again, in tile, not list form—to Pause/Play or move between songs in Now Playing. This works much like it does on the Xbox 360.

(Alternatively, you can return to the Xbox Music Home view and select Now Playing from there as well.)

Other views—Collections, Radio—work similarly to Playlists, with tiles-based, rather than list-based user experiences. Radio makes suggestions, which is also available in the web interface.

You can pin almost anything to your Pins area in the Dashboard and jump-start Search at any time by tapping the (Y) button on the controller.

Voice control also works as expected, and if you tune the Kinect correctly—hint: Set the volume really loud during the tuning process as directed—it will work fine even while music is playing. You can say such things as "Xbox, select search" to use Search or use terms like "Xbox, play Van Halen," "Pause," "Next song," and so on. "Xbox, go Music" will start the app from the Dashboard.

Overall, the Xbox Music experience is pretty great. It doesn't support downloading—neither does the 360 version—and I've not yet tested it without an Xbox Music Pass, but will soon for the book. I'd switch to a black background if I were in charge, but the tiles-based UI works well with the controller, and of course voice control is increasingly addictive.

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