Xbox Music (Preview)

PROS: Works with Windows 8, Windows Phone, and Xbox 360; online service gets key enhancements; Zune Music Pass will continue

CONS: Unclear if Microsoft plans to charge for this service (or make it part of Xbox LIVE Gold) and continue compatibility with legacy Zune devices

RATING: Four out of five stars

RECOMMENDATION: Zune Music has always offered several key advantages over competing online music services from Apple, Amazon, and others, not the least of which is the excellent and affordable Zune Music Pass subscription service, which provides access to about 20 million songs. Microsoft is relaunching it as Xbox Music and plans include expanding the library to 30 million titles; new native apps for Windows 8, Windows Phone 8, and Xbox 360; and a new cloud-based playlist. But Microsoft hasn’t come clean on what it will do with Xbox Music, and a poorly worded description of the service suggests that the company will charge for it by making users subscribe to Xbox LIVE Gold for $60 per year. And it’s not clear if legacy devices such as Zune will be compatible with the revamped service. But it looks solid for music lovers betting big on Windows 8/RT, Windows Phone 8, and/or the Xbox 360.

CONTACT: Microsoft

FULL REVIEW: Xbox Music Preview

 

Xbox 360 SmartGlass (Preview)

PROS: Lets Apple iPhones and iPads, Android devices, Windows Phones, and Windows 8/RT tablets interact with Xbox 360 in unique new ways.

CONS: Capabilities are unclear, won’t be universal across content types

RATING: Four out of five stars

RECOMMENDATION: Xbox SmartGlass was one of the most widely touted and least-understood Microsoft announcements at the E3 trade show this year. It's basically a mobile app and associated platform, and the 2.0 version of an existing app called Xbox Companion. It allows compatible mobile devices to act as a remote control for the Xbox 360. You can also use it to discover games, TV shows or movies, or music to play on the console. What’s new in SmartGlass, aside from the cross-platform support, is that it’s a mini-platform of sorts, letting you use the device as a semi-connected second screen. Whether SmartGlass lives up to its lofty prerelease hype remains to be seen, but even if it’s just a warmed-over Xbox Companion, that’s not too shabby either.

CONTACT: Microsoft

FULL REVIEW: Xbox 360: Xbox SmartGlass Preview