Earlier this week, Microsoft transmitted a beta version of the new Xbox 360 dashboard -- the New Xbox Experience -- to my home console. I'm not allowed to "review" it for another week or so, but I've been told I can share some impressions.
So here are some initial impressions based on some dabbling I did this week during the few hours I was home in New York:
The transition to the NXE is easy: It took all of one minute to get the NXE on my machine. Another six minutes were required once I logged on to Xbox Live, further updating the NXE. I was prompted to edit an Avatar for myself, which seems to have cost me my old Gamerpic, but nothing else was lost in the transition. My friend's list, downloaded content and settings all carried over.
NXE is quick: Everything in the NXE loads really fast. No more hiccups and pauses in the system while it tries to display icons for Achievements or Marketplace content. The overall presentation is smooth.
More feasts for the eyes: There's a lot more visual information to take in. You've got images of the games your friends are playing propped up next to their avatars. You've got many more still and video promos for highlighted content and contests. I was browsing the Xbox 360 Marketplace and found that there were screenshots being displayed for any Arcade game I selected, which realy helped me ascertain what the game's all about. There are a lot of visuals to take in, and while it's too early for me to judge if it's all for the better, I can say that it's remarkable how all of these things are just ... there .. for you to see. Nothing ever seems to be loading. It's all already waiting for you -- or at least appears to be.
My 360 is finally quieter: I installed "Fable II" to my hard drive, a new feature available through the NXE for any game. The 6.8 GB installation of "Fable II" took 12 minutes and my system ran far more quietly once I booted up the game. I didn't have a chance to compare load times yet but the lack of any noise from a spinning disc drive is a great improvement. The game disc has to be in the system when playing an installed version. Opening the 360's disc drive during my session of "Fable II" re-booted my console. That's a small price to pay for being able to close my eyes and finally distinguish my Xbox 360 from my vacuum cleaner.
Spying on my friends is now an extra click away: My only disappointment with the service at first blush is that the thing I like doing the most when I power on -- checking out my list of online friends to see what they're playing -- is one or two clicks further away than it was on the original dashboard. Yes, I can easily select the NXE's new Friends option and flick through a hallway of avatars that represent my friends and display boxart of whatever game they're playing. I can spy on them that way. But I can only see four friends' avatars at a time. To get the old-school text list of all my friends, I have to press the 360 controller's Xbox Guide button, select the Friends' option from there and then select the list. It's not a big hassle and it is a sign of how the original dashboard functionality is retained in the Guide section. But it's also a demonstration of how, as some are concerned will be the case with PlayStation 3's "Home," that a more visually-oriented design can't always present information as efficiently as can something oriented on text.
I've been out of town for a few days, so I haven't had a chance to try some of the NXE's key features, such as the party system and the new Netflix integration and some small but interesting features I've read about in the promotional material. We'll have more on that next week.