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Get the most out of your Xbox One with these tips

You’ll quickly realize when you fire up your Xbox One for the first time that there’s a bit of a learning curve. The dashboard is only slightly different from the Xbox 360’s, aesthetically speaking, but the entire system has been re-shaped into something decidedly unfamiliar. What are these “Pins” and how are they different from what’s on Xbox 360? Where is the Settings menu? Why the crap can’t you hear your friends when you join their party? And why, for the love of all that is holy, does the console not turn off when you say “Xbox, off.”

The Xbox One might not be sentient (yet), but there is most definitely a process of learning to communicate with it. Even if you strip Kinect voice commands out – not a recommended plan, by the way – there’s still a lot to figure out as you ring the various bells and blow the various whistles. You can muddle through on your own easily enough… but why do that when you can just keep reading for a rundown of simple tips and tricks that will improve your day one experience immeasurably?

Before you jump in…

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Prepare to sit patiently for a little bit the first time you turn on your Xbox One. After you do the initial setup – including getting your Internet connected – a day one update needs to download. Just let it happen. The console will flat-out not function until you get that update installed. Once that’s ready, you need to set up your cable box, provided you’re connecting one to the console. Extremely easy process here: you’ll need your ZIP code, your cable provider’s company name, and the manufacturer/model of cable box you’re using. Just follow the steps on the screen; it’s all laid out very clearly. Getting your remote code set can be a little tricky with certain older model cable boxes, but just keep tinkering with the automatic and manual setup commands. For the cable box, you should find the model name/number on a sticker on the back. Everyone has a different arrangement at home, but the Xbox One setup is built to be user-friendly and universal.  

Once you get to the dashboard for the first time, don’t immediately dive in and start gaming! Sure, do that if your heart is really set on it, but know that your setup isn’t quite finished. There are certain apps that, while you might not need them to use the console, you’ll probably want to get them downloaded. Stuff like Netflix and Hulu is entirely optional, but you’ll definitely want to grab the Blu-ray Player app and the Upload Studio app, since both of those relate to core console functions. 

Know your space

Every single disc-based game needs to be installed on the Xbox One before you can play it. You’ll be able to start playing after only a few minutes when the progress is as low as 5-percent, but the disc keeps installing in the background. This also goes for downloadable games; you should be able to start playing most of them by the time they reach roughly 50-percent download completion (sometimes less). Microsoft claim the Xbox One OS automatically manages your storage space. If there’s a game you haven’t played in ages, it will delete install data (not save data, since that’s all stored in the cloud) to make room for more recent games.

Communication breakdown

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Voice commands. The new “button” in your Xbox One control scheme. An ideal setup sees you browsing around on the console using the One controller and your speaking voice in concert with one another. Here’s the thing though: Kinect’s ability to recognize commands is somewhat limited at launch. There are some extremely useful voice orders you can issue to your Xbox that aren’t at all obvious. Here’s a few you should definitely keep handy:

Xbox: Just say “Xbox” at the dashboard to bring up a list of global console commands covering basic navigation and interaction. Saying “Xbox” also tells Kinect to get ready to listen for a follow-up command, as a pop-up in the top right corner of the screen indicates. You can tell the mic to stop listening for a command – say, if you accidentally say “Xbox” in error – by simply saying “Stop listening.”

Xbox, select: Possibly the single-most useful unexplained command, saying “Xbox Select” at the dashboard or any of its sub-menus brings up an overlay that allows you to speak the name of the on-screen tile you want to select.

Xbox, turn off: This is the voice command for turning your console off. “Xbox, off” doesn’t work, even though “Xbox, on” does. You’ll also have to say “Yes” once the pop-up appears to confirm your desire to shut down the console.

Xbox, start a party: Use this command to quickly bring up the party menu.

Xbox, use a code: Kinect can read your redemption codes with this command, provided you get them on a card that also includes a QR code. If you get a code without the QR – say in an email or on a retail receipt – you can easily convert the 25-character alphanumeric string to a Kinect-readable image. Simply head to qrcode.littleidiot.be (or any QR code-generating site), type in the code there, and convert it. It’s best to do this with a smartphone or tablet, or even a laptop, since Kinect can read off of those screens. Take note that you may need to dial down the brightness on whichever screen Kinect is reading.

Xbox, go home: Use this command anywhere to immediately send yourself back to the Xbox One dashboard.

Xbox, go to settings: This is the easiest way to access the Xbox One’s settings menu. You can also get there by hitting the Menu button (where the 360’s Start button used to be) at the dashboard and selecting Settings off the menu that appears.

Xbox, help: Self-explanatory, right? Brings up a voice-activated help menu.

Xbox, watch [channel name]: Assuming you’ve got a cable box connected with your console, the Xbox One keeps track of your local TV listings and channel numbers. You can use voice commands to switch to any channel, but you don’t need to remember the number. You can simply say things like “Xbox, watch ESPN” or “Xbox, watch History Channel” and the built-in IR blaster handles the rest.

One added note: when Kinect is listening for a command, any text you see on the screen that uses a green font denotes something you can select simply by reading it out loud. 

Learn to love the Snap

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Snap is a new feature on Xbox One that allows you to open certain apps in a small pane that appears on the right side of the screen. You can’t have two games open side by side, but you can have Netflix (and a handful of other apps) open alongside any game or app. The voice commands “Xbox, snap [app]” and “Xbox, unsnap” turn this feature on and off. You can also use “Xbox switch” to jump between control of each pane, though as an alternative you can double-tap the controller’s Guide button to perform the same task. Unfortunately, you can’t snap the Achievements app for some reason, even though it’s potentially the most useful app to snap next to a game.

A smarter SmartGlass

You’ve probably had some exposure already to Xbox SmartGlass since it launched on 360 well before the Xbox One was even announced. The new SmartGlass – it’s a separate app that you’ll need to download to your mobile device of choice – integrates more closely with the One. You can use it as a touch-based controller to jump to various parts of the dashboard. You can also switch into “remote” mode, which turns your touchscreen into a controller. This is particularly useful when you need to type something. Best of all is the “Companion” functionality for certain games. If you’re playing Dead Rising 3Madden 25, or one of the handful of other games that support SmartGlass Companion, simply fire up the game, tap the bottom of your second-screen device where said game’s info bar automatically appears, and choose “Companion” from the pop-up. That’s how you use stuff like Madden‘s CoachGlass feature.

Introducing Challenges

The Xbox One brings a broadened approach to Microsoft’s Achievements system that debuted with the Xbox 360. You still earn Achievements and, in doing so, up your Gamerscore for completing various tasks in any game. You also now stand to earn actual prizes for completing those, as well as for completing new, time-limited Challenges. Unlike Achievements, Challenges can only be completed within a specific span of time. Looking at the Achievements app at launch, we see stuff like “Drive 100 miles in Forza Motorsport 5 between release and 12/31/13″ and “Play Dead Rising 3 during launch week.” Complete these and you stand to earn in-game rewards, from titles and badges to actual content (such as a horse head mask, in the case of DR3).

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Another thing to note about Achievements: it’s a separate app now. On the Xbox 360, you could press the Guide button whenever you unlocked a new Achievement to bring up the Cheevos list and see what you did to earn the Gamerscore bump. It’s a little more complicated now. You need to hold the Guide button when you see the Achievement notification, then press A to select said Achievement from the menu that pops up. This opens the Achievements app which, in turn, tells you what you unlocked. It’s extremely convoluted and likely to change at some point, but it’s the way things work at launch.

It’s an Xbox party

Cross-game party chat returns from the Xbox 360, but it’s a little different now. For one, party invites aren’t considered “messages” anymore. They appear in your notifications list, which you can access by clicking on the purple box with the globe icon in it, located at the top-left corner of the main dashboard screen. Once you join or create a party, you’re not quite done yet. Take a look at the menu items in the party window. See one that says “Turn party chat on”? You’re going to want to click that. Much like the Achievements situation, this is a little bit convoluted and will likely be patched at some point.

Put a pin on it

Pins are similar to what they were on the Xbox 360, but they’re more front-and-center now. Any pinned app or game is essentially tagged as a favorite, which means it’s accessible from the dashboard’s Pins menu, located to the left of the main screen. The act of pinning something isn’t immediately obvious, however. To create a pin, find the app’s tile in the dashboard, likely buried somewhere in the “My Games & Apps” menu. Highlight the desired item, press the Menu buttonand select “Pin to home” from the menu that pops up. 

It’s not TV, it’s everything else

Just because there’s a voice command that allows you to “Watch TV,” that doesn’t mean you have to pass your cable box signal through your Xbox One. Sure, you won’t be able to do stuff like change channels simply by saying “Xbox, watch ESPN,” but with more and more tech-savvy individuals cutting the cord on cable TV, that’s really no great loss. In the absence of a cable box, you’ve still got that handy little HDMI pass-through on the back of the console. What else can you plug into it? Anything (with an HDMI out)!

PlayStation 3? Sure. PlayStation 4? Have at it. Wii U? Absolutely. Laugh in the face of console exclusives. Turn on your Xbox One to load up Super Mario 3D World. Get your work done on your PC, and reward your progress throughout the day by quickly switching over for a couple of pickup matches in Killer Instinct. You’ll have to live with a tiny bit of lag, but this is the price we must pay for having the ability to play The Last of Us on a Microsoft console.