The Wii U is attempting to merge mobile and home experiences by being a home console that uses a controller with a built-in touchscreen. Of course, that console can’t provide a true mobile experience, as the main unit does all the processing, meaning you can’t take the controller on the road. However, you can take it to the bathroom, and that’s pretty cool, I think.
Both Sony and Microsoft are trying to emulate at least part of what the Wii U does, with the PS Vita’s cross-play ability and the Xbox SmartGlass Android app. I don’t have any cross-play games on my PlayStation account, but I do play a couple games that work with SmartGlass.
So let’s dive in.
First impressions of Xbox SmartGlass
The first game I tried to use SmartGlass with was Halo 4. I knew only that the app was compatible with that game, and not what it did, so when I played through the campaign with the app activated, I was disappointed to see that it did pretty much nothing.
After completing the story, I looked up what SmartGlass would do with Halo, and found that it is more or less a Halo Waypoint app. Then, I started a multiplayer game, had my fun, and finished with a loss. Then I glanced back at the app to find that it had a summary of that round, along with some of my stats, such as my favorite weapon and so on.
OK, so I guess that’s cool, but not really an important part of my Halo experience. I moved on, then, to Forza Horizon, that free-roaming version of the popular simulation racer.
SmartGlass has a far more practical use with Forza — when you’re in your car, the app pulls up a map of the world with your position on it, not unlike Google Navigation. You can also use the map to set up destinations, so it works like Navigation in that way as well.
SmartGlass works over your local area network rather than by directly connecting to your Xbox, and so some lag is to be expected when you’re moving and the map tries to update your location. If a live, on-screen map had the slight lag that the app does, it would be irritating, but the lag on the app is not that noticeable when looking back and forth from the screen to your phone or tablet.
It comes down to personal preference
Looking away from your screen to the mobile device is slightly awkward, however, as you can’t hold it in your hands while playing the game. The Wii U irritates me enough by forcing me to look slightly away from my TV in order to do stuff on the gamepad, and having to look even further away to see my map is worse. Furthermore, I find it more convenient to pause the game and pull up the in-game map and plan out my moves in a stress-free environment than to take my attention off the road while driving to consult the SmartGlass map. But I know some other people will prefer envy thing to happen live, and so your mileage may vary. It’s just personal preference.
SmartGlass does more than just interact with your games. It also allows you to control the Dashboard interface and the various non-gaming apps right from your phone. The interface is a blank screen with the various buttons you might want to press, and you navigate the menus with swipes. Surprisingly, this works pretty well, although I’m not sure it’s more efficient than just using the controller. It is, though, far better than trying to use Kinect gesture controls for this purpose.
Right now, SmartGlass feels half baked. They launched it without enough interesting functionality to make it a must-have app. It just doesn’t do enough stuff. There is a lot of potential in an app like this, but Microsoft hasn’t come close to fulfilling it just yet. But it will grow over time, and when developers are able to build SmartGlass feature into their games from the beginning, I think we’ll see some quality gaming advancements.