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In its past life as My Xbox Live, Microsoft's companion app allowed Xbox 360 users to lightly interact with friends, view their created Avatars and Achievements, and have a mobile way to stay looped in on the home console gaming service. Following a radical transformation, the new Xbox SmartGlass goes beyond mere surface-level synergy to become both a touchscreen input device for the console and a second screen for expanded game and media experiences.
After a breezy syncing process to your Xbox Live account, your iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch can become an extension of the Xbox 360 menu interface. The iOS device screen takes the form of the console's dashboard, letting you view your Avatar and friends list, discover games and media available on the console, and even browse the web via Internet Explorer, with your finger serving as the TV mouse pointer. For flipping through the usual menus, meanwhile, you can use a touch pad with virtual buttons in the corners, which is inelegant but functional.
It's when you pop in a supported game or media app that SmartGlass shows its most interesting functionality. For the wildly popular shooter Halo 4, that means having a full listing of player stats, past matches, campaign progress, and recent competitors to pore through. Meanwhile, the Kinect-based party favorite Dance Central 3 includes a SmartGlass playlist option, where players can add tracks to keep the game moving from song to song without fumbling through menus on the big screen. And open-road racer Forza Horizon serves up a world map via SmartGlass, so you can see routes and events without leaving the driver's seat.
Meanwhile, media apps also make stellar use of SmartGlass. In the Xbox Music subscription service, playing a song or music video brings up a slick artist profile that also points you towards similar acts, while movies and TV shows let you find out more about the on-screen actors and discover other content. But the video feature is inconsistently applied: I bought a recent episode of a top TV series and rented a newly released film, and neither offered support.
With no way to tell if a video supports the feature, you're taking a gamble on SmartGlass functionality, plus apps like ESPN and Netflix still don't support it as of this writing. At least for now, the game-related features are more decent perks than essential features, while elsewhere the support is too scattershot to warrant keeping your device handy for every play session.
The bottom line. SmartGlass is intriguing, but it needs more uniform execution and support to make it an essential part of the Xbox 360 experience.
Phone, iPad, or iPod touch running iOS 5.0 or later
Supplements Xbox 360 games and media apps. Enhances web browsing on your TV. Easy to sync up and free to use.
Slim number of supported games and apps. Game features are largely minor. Unclear which movies/shows support it.