The Dashboard sucks

So I finally got the box to send my broken 360 back today. (sigh)

The most surprising thing about using the PS3 is that I realized how completely crappy the Dashboard UI on the 360 is. The PS3's UI is the "Cross Media Bar" they used in the PSP, basically you have a horizontal row of icons that indicate modes: Pictures, Music, Movies, Games, Net and so forth. As you select each icon options from that category appear above and below. So left and right change category while up and down selects items. The X button selects the item, and the Triangle button pops up a detailed menu for the item. The PS button on the controller turns the system off. That's it. That's the whole UI. The Playstation Store uses the web browser which is a tiny bit more complex but nothing beyond understanding.

Now the Dash - the Dash is a whole 'nother beast. I'm working from memory here since I can't look at the Dash but I'll give it a spin. It has "blades" which are like tabs, only horizontal. Each blade is a rough category - I don't know what they call that first page, then there's Games, Media, System and so forth. Each blade has a series of on-screen buttons that you drive around with the dpad. There is also a menu along the bottom of the screen listing which controller buttons do what. Want to switch users? Oh that's simple, you just hit Y to sign out, then drive the Dpad over to the "sign in button" on screen, push it, wait for a NEW blade to slide in that lists the accounts available and pick one.

Want to play a downloaded game on PS3? Select game and scroll down until you find the game. Want to play a downloaded game on 360? Select the Game blade, find the Arcade button, push the arcade button, wait for the Arcade "blade" to appear, select the button to pick how you want to sort the Arcade titles, then get a list of titles and select the game you want.

But there's still more. There are two special blades on the 360. One you get by pressing the "Guide" button (which isn't labeled as the Guide button on the controller, mind you) and contains your "user options". This is where you set skinning options, your online status, and play custom soundtracks. Notice that you can play music with only a half dozen presses inside the "Media" blade but you can't start a custom soundtrack there and have it carry to a game.

The other special blade? You get there by HOLDING DOWN the guide button. This is how you turn the console off.

But we're still not done. The 360 has these little popup "toast" messages that tell you when a friend signs on, or when you unlock an achievement or whatever. The Guide button goes to whatever that toast references when you push it. So the Guide button is context sensitive and it's not even your context - the machine changes contexts at will.

So in review - the PS3 XMB has the following verbs - Left/Right, Up/Down, X Button, Triangle Button, and PS3 button. The 360 has Left/Right, Up/Down, A Button, B Button (this backs up from say the Arcade screen back to the top level Game blade), X Button, Y Button, Guide Press, and Guide Hold.

Have you tried to browse the Xbox Video Marketplace recently? It's six levels of menus - Marketplace to TV to Channel, to Show, to Season, to Episodes.

Now in all fairness, the XMB won't scale reasonably. I have 20 or so Arcade titles on my 360, navigating a single list of games will eventually be unreasonable (although I have to note that the 360 STILL gives me that list, it's just buried three levels deep). Already my video list on the PS3 seems long - and I still have plenty of space on my 60 Gig PS3 drive.

But the 360 Dashboard is crazily over-engineered. I've tried explaining it to people. Nobody assume the Xbox button thing is even a button - much less it's the "Guide" button. Nobody assumes it would have two different functions for press versus hold. I once showed Karin that I could use a picture as my Dashboard wallpaper, and then realized the Dash was barely readable over the picture of Heisenberg. It took me 10 minutes (no exaggerating) to find the option to remove the picture - in a completely different tab. (The trick is you pick a picture from the Media -> Pictures interface, but what happens is that it makes a custom "theme" (skin) for you. To get rid of it you have to go to your personal options and select a different theme.)

I went over to Lee's recently and brought Guitar Hero II. I also brought a memory card with my save-game and Live account so we could access songs I had unlocked. Both Lee and I took several minutes to figure out how to sign his account out in order to sign mine on. You have to be on the right blade and hit the Y Button. On the PS3? You go to Users and select "Sign out".

The Dashboard is really a mess. It's flashy, but it's not very functional. Which is very odd, but I'd really expect to hear that Microsoft focus tested the hell out of it. Somebody screwed the pooch though, because it's got terrible usability.

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