Review: Xbox SmartGlass for iOS is a better way to use your Xbox
These days, Microsoft gadgets and Apple gadgets can co-exist happily in the same household—and the companies know that. Hence Microsoft’s free Xbox SmartGlass app for iOS, which lets you interact and control the Xbox 360 game console on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch.
SmartGlass, which began its life as Xbox Live Companion, has a couple of different facets to it. For one, you can sign in to your Xbox Live profile via your Microsoft account; that lets you check your messages, view your friends’ activity, browse recent games that you’ve played, and browse movies, music, and TV shows in the Xbox Marketplace.
That’s pretty handy, in and of itself. I frequently use the SmartGlass app to check and see if any of my Xbox friends happen to be online playing games. The ability to use the iPhone’s keyboard to send them messages is also quite the godsend—nothing encourages me to use text slang more than having to enter it by pointing and clicking on letters one by one with an analog thumbstick.
You can also view and edit your profile and friends list, as well as view your friends’ profiles to see what they’ve been playing; there’s even an option to compare your achievements. Pimping out your avatar—the cartoon representation of yourself—is also available via the app, letting you choose new clothes, props, and outfits.
SmartGlass also supports Xbox Live’s Beacons—which are essentially ways you can broadcast your interest in playing certain games to your friends. That way, when your friends start up a game on which you’ve set a beacon, they’ll be alerted that you’re interested in playing. It’s an interesting feature, albeit one that personally hasn’t ended up being as useful as I’d hope.
Another more-recent improvement to SmartGlass is the ability to control your Xbox console using the app. You need to jump through a few hoops to set this up, but once you have, you can use a gesture-based system to navigate the Xbox’s dashboard, as well as control playback of videos and music. It’s a lot like Apple’s Remote app, which offers control of your Apple TV from your iOS device.
In this mode, SmartGlass can also be used as a “second screen,” displaying additional contextual information about the game or media that’s playing on the Xbox. Not every title features this companion mode—the majority probably don’t—but if SmartGlass can find available content, it’ll download it automatically. For example, I could use SmartGlass to track progress on my Halo 4 character while playing the game on my Xbox.
If you download the Internet Explorer app for your Xbox, you can also use SmartGlass to browse the Web on your TV, including using iOS’s keyboard to enter URLs and text. It may not be an ideal experience compared to, say, just using your smartphone, but it’s handy if you need it.
All in all, SmartGlass provides a pretty good experience for Xbox owners looking to keep tabs on their account, from home or afar, and largely improves navigating many of the non-game-playing interactions of the Xbox experience.