SmartGlass Is Here, Well, Sort of
– Easy Navigation Makes It a Great Remote
– Good Second Screen Functions
– But Not Quite An Entertainment Hub
Microsoft’s highly anticipated entertainment app is finally
here, but it’s not quite what we expected. The company quietly
released this month the SmartGlass app it talked up at the E3
conference earlier this year.
SmartGlass was pegged as an aggressive advance in the battle
for the living room between smart TV makers, Blu-ray players
and gaming consoles. The free app is currently available for
Windows 8 phones and tablets, iOS devices and some Android
devices. We at The Online Reporter decided to download the app
and give it a whirl, to see if it lives up to our earlier
Interactive Content Is Cool, but Limited
Interactive, second screen features are what sold the idea of
SmartGlass to audiences at E3. Microsoft partnered with HBO
for an awe-inspiring demo of the second screen capabilities
using “Game of Thrones.” The app offered companion content,
maps of the world, and character biographies. The app tracked
along, in sync, with the show and surfaced relevant content
when appropriate. Microsoft also demo’d the app with the film
“School House Rock.” The app identified actors as they
appeared on screen and users could pull up additional
information about the film, director, cast and crew through
To Microsoft’s credit, those demos were spectacular. But it’s
unclear how many other titles with which SmartGlass can get
interactive. Most content doesn’t include the level of
interaction and companion content as “Game of Thrones,” at
least so far.
Content accessed through Xbox Video comes with some perks via
the Video Guide. The video guide offers cast and crew info and
allows users to browse scenes. There is also a “Related” tab
that lists similar titles, for a bit of video discovery.
The app only gives the viewer some basic TV listing-style plot
summaries for most of the content, with some nice graphic
displays, for content accessed through the other video apps,
such as Amazon, Netflix or Hulu.
SmartGlass also has some interactive gaming features,
specifically with the racing game “Froza.” SmartGlass turns
the second screen into a virtual GPS for the player, tracking
the player’s car through the course.
Controlling the First Screen with the Touchscreen
SmartGlass’s function as a remote to control the first screen
is impressive, by far out-performs any of the other remote
control apps we’ve used.
In terms of navigation, the app moves between an icon-based
touchscreen and a replica of the controller, with large
buttons located in the corners, which make it easier for the
fingers to navigate without looking down at the tablet too
much. The users can navigate Xbox on the tablet screen. For
example, the user can swipe his or her way over to the YouTube
app, and tap to select. The TV screen will then launch the
YouTube app. From there, the app reverts to its controller
interface, and the user can scroll through rows of videos by
swiping across the tablet screen. The movements are intuitive,
the only problem is that the viewer has keep looking up and
down to keep the fingers aligned to the buttons. To make a
selection, the user just taps the touchscreen.
Though the app does have a keyboard feature, it seems to be
reserved for in-app search and navigation. In our tests of the
app, we couldn’t use the keyboard to type in the title of a TV
show or movie in either the Netflix or the YouTube apps.
Instead, we had to use to the one-line alphabet scroll, which
is exceedingly difficult using the touchscreen, and leads to a
whole lot of disconnected swiping.
The Xbox Music allows users to access playlists and tracks
that are then played on the TV set, much like Apple’s Airplay.
The album art interface is navigated on the TV screen, as
opposed to the touchscreen, which means even more disconnected
It’s Not Like Airplay
SmartGlass seems to have gone from multi-screen entertainment
hub to glorified remote control app.
At the E3 conference, Microsoft said SmartGlass could stream
content from the Xbox to the connected device, and vice versa.
It was billed as a better version of Apple’s Airplay. But the
app that launched in October seems to be missing a lot of that
We were unable to stream content to a tablet from the Xbox, or
vice versa, and we haven’t read any other reviewers who did
so, or even if that function is planning to be included. At
earlier demos, Microsoft said the app would sync content
between computers, tablets, smartphones and the Xbox, but
after using the released app for a few hours, we still haven’t
figured out how to do that.
SmartGlass is also not available on Windows 7 phones. The
Android app appears to be only available for Android’s 4.0
version, and can’t be downloaded onto Google’s latest Nexus
tablets, which use Android 4.2.
As a second screen app, Smartglass is a very slick and
experiential app – but it isn’t much more than that, not in
its present form.