Xbox SmartGlass: Is It As Good As Microsoft Implies?

We break down Microsoft's "second screen" technology, which utilizes mobile devices to create an even more immersive game experience.

It seems everyone is trying to put gamers in a deeper experience, one that relies on more than just holding onto a controller and playing the game.  That’s usually enough, but as you can see from what Nintendo has done with the Wii U, there’s more that can be done with the use of a “second screen”.  For instance, with games like Mass Effect 3 or Darksiders II on Nintendo’s platform, you can select weapons much easier.  And others give you crucial data over the course of your game experience, like getting a better view of the race track from above in Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed and learning the stats of your characters in Skylanders Giants.

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But Nintendo isn’t the only company doing its thing with the “second screen.”  Earlier this year, during its pre-E3 press conference, Microsoft announced that it was utilizing Smartglass technology, which enables those who own a tablet/mobile device to boot up the Microsoft-made app and create a secondary experience for certain games and programs, including specially made apps and, in some situations, special events.  For instance, earlier this month, during Spike’s 2012 Video Game Awards, users could vote in real-time and check on other things surrounding the show, while it was happening live.

At first, Smartglass only supported Windows 8-powered devices, but Microsoft knew that it would fall behind making it an exclusive item for their tech, so they soon released the app for iOS and Android devices as well.  And while not every game and app use it yet, there are more than enough to get you engaged in the experience.  We recently decided to take it for a test drive to see how it fared.

What You Need To Do First

You need to download the Xbox Smartglass app through the Xbox Live Marketplace (relax, it’s free of charge) and install it into your system, then download the coordinating program off the App or Android store.  Once installed and activated, it’s a matter of turning on one of the Smartglass- supported programs and/or games, which include the following…

Games

Kinect Sesame Street TV

Karaoke (which just launched last week)

Home Run Stars

Halo Waypoint

Forza Horizon

Dance Central 3

Sports

ESPN

NBA Game Time

UFC

Entertainment apps

Prima Games (of course)

Elections 2012 (pointless now, but back when it was running, it was really something)

HBO GO

MSN

NBC News

NOW TV

Slacker Radio

Today

Univision

(Various on-demand movies are supported as well, including The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises and Prometheus, with more to come as they launch.)

More will be supported in the months ahead, including rumored Halo 4 support as well as upcoming games like Gears of War: Judgment.  

How’s It Work?

Once you get everything connected between system and the tablet (which really only takes seconds once the apps are running), then it’s just a matter of deciding what you’re going to run first.  SmartGlass uses an interactive display that lets you choose different options, starting up with five.  

You’ve got Bing, which helps you search for programs or games that you’re in the mood for; Home, which shows you the home menu with popular favorites; Social, which hooks you up with friends (and even lets you send messages through the convenience of your device’s touch-screen keyboard – much better than a controller); Recent, which shows your most recent actions and purchases; and Discover, which lets you find new interactive experiences for your SmartGlass.  You maneuver through pages by dragging your finger through them, from left to right and back again, depending on which one you want to go to.

Games

When it comes to using the SmartGlass for games, the bad news is that you can’t actually play the games themselves on your tablet.  Instead, they provide a wealth of information, depending on what you’re playing.  For instance, with Forza Horizon, you can check out the stats on your racing, as well as see what’s next in terms of the circuit you’re on, or what’s opening up.  With Halo Waypoint, obviously, you can display your Service Record, showing where you’re sitting in terms of XP, as well as how you did in kills and deaths in Spartan Ops and War Games.  It’s secondary at best, but if you like knowing how your progress is going, it’s really something else.

Apps

Obviously sports fans will eat the SmartGlass features up with both hands.  ESPN and NBA Game Time both went live this week, and are available free of charge, save for what you normally pay for online connectivity.  With ESPN, you’re able to check on how you’re leveling in terms of sports picks, and you can also vote in polls, choose favorites, and see what’s happening in terms of social activities with others.  Same goes for NBA Game Time, which lets you track scores and, on some occasions, see highlights from games.  (This still has yet to be 100 percent tested, but so far, so good.)

Entertainment Apps

Well, we won’t gush about our own SmartGlass-supported service here, but let’s just say if you want the most game information you can get without browsing our website, it’s definitely the way to go.  As far as movies, though, the service has a number of purposes, including checking out cast/crew notes on the fly for specific films, running playback features without having to reach for a controller or remote, and more.  Back when it was running last month, Elections 2012 also engaged in polling questions and real-time feedback on results.  Future apps are likely to do the same as well.

Give It a Shot

Overall, SmartGlass is definitely living up to the hype thus far.  Sure, more apps and games could use it (still waiting for that Fable: The Journey support), and you can’t maneuver through things holding a controller while tapping on a tablet (unless you have big hands), but for a free secondary experience – and on a bigger screen than the Wii U in some cases – it’s awesome.  Check out more on SmartGlass over at http://www.xbox.com.


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Prima Games Staff
The staff at Prima Games.