Beginning with the introduction of Narrator on Xbox One consoles in 2015 as part of the New Xbox One Experience, expanding with features including CoPilot (allowing two controllers to have their inputs rendered as those of a single one), the company's focus on gaming for everyone has gone from strength to strength.
The latest effort in this field comes in the form of the Xbox Adaptive Controller (XAC for short), a unit specifically marketed to those with physical disabilities. Having had the opportunity to see one at E3 before it released, I was interested not necessarily to see how it would help me directly, but what the implications might be for unique approaches to controlling experiences with this rather unorthodox device.
Now, let's unbox the XAC and find out if the packaging is just as easy to work with as the promotional materials implied.
Were I trying to do this one-handed, I'm not sure what I'd have used to hold the box steady. Having the use of both hands was beneficial in getting past this first section in my case, though I'm sure there are easy solutions.
Now we've got through the shipping box, the retail box is revealed beneath.
The retail box Look around the box and position it so that the two circular holes connected to the adhesive tab are placed facing up, with the bottom edge of the box facing directly towards you.
Place a finger in one of the circular holes and pull gently. This removes the adhesive seal and reveals a ribbon.
Lay the box flat so that the bottom of the box is towards the floor/surface. Grip this ribbon with a hand and pull upwards. The adhesive should unseal and the top should lift up easily.
The adaptive controller itself is revealed, resting on a holder and with a tab with a whole in it facing you. Put your fingers through the tab and lift.
The tab itself actually contains instructions as to the basic setup of the device (in print). With the unit itself still sitting on the plastic holder, put a hand underneath the front and lift the controller free.
After removing the controller, you'll find a second tab with a hole. Use the same procedure to lift this free and you'll find that it contains the USB cable.
To remove the cable, find the small cardboard piece folded into the tab and push. The cable should come free on its own. Make sure you find it if you drop it, as it's integral to charging the device.
To complete the unboxing, lift the holder at the front and you'll find a leaflet underneath. Remove this and you can put the box aside.
I unboxed the product virtually one-handed as a rough test of how easy the process might be for someone with a physical disability or a temporary condition and found it to be very much as straightforward as the promotional articles suggested. Before I get on to testing the unit, I'd like to congratulate the individuals responsible for designing the packaging and everyone who helped out with the testing process for making it as easy to work with as possible.
Hopefully similar design principles are utilised in other Microsoft packaging going forward for consoles and the like, even if the products aren't designed specifically for those with physical disabilities.
I was interested to see what the device would do when first connected to a console, so I just plugged in the micro USB cable (which slotted in with ease) and started moving around the Xbox guide, encountering no issues. Playing Killer Instinct, even without plugging in any additional devices, felt smooth and responsive, even if the DPad did feel a little unusual in terms of the amount of pressure required. I didn't expect this much resistance from a device designed to assist those who might have trouble with fine motor execution, though at least it's not so sensitive that you have to be careful when navigating.
As much as connecting devices via 3.5mm port is straightforward (as with most aspects of this new and deliberately accessible device), the issue came when I attempted to figure out just where I should plug my additional accessories (a pedal and a switch) in. There are no markings readable without sight to indicate what port is equivalent to what function.
The only way to resolve this without sight is to have the instructions up and feel along the back of the controller at the same time. An unwieldy prospect, but one that seems to work relatively well. However, given my unfamiliarity with switch-based interfaces, I wasn't entirely sure where it would best suit me to put my various devices, as the XAC was not mounted either. The switches did work, however, as well as the stick (a Nunchuk-like device for those familiar with the WII peripheral). This meant were I to find a game that I could configure the controller correctly for, I could play via input methods that I'd never really tried before.
Speaking of configuration, I read that like the elite controller, there are numerous settings you can change and work with to get your XAC playing just the way you want. As a result, I loaded up the Xbox Accessories App and took a dive into the interesting world of controller configuration.
Fortunately though, there is a potential for rectification on the software side, so it'll be interesting to see what happens over the coming months and years as the controller is picked up by more gamers in need of such a device, with community profiles possibly being created for it as well to improve the experience still further.
Along with the XAC and the additional accessories I also received some game codes. An issue that I've previously raised in my Gears of War review is that of being unable to redeem codes without sighted assistance.
Having a QR code with a raised edge around it would be a great help, as it would allow for scanning apps to be more easily placed in the correct area to read the code and, theoretically, take less time to redeem than using the website or a console. There are even easier methods as well, including having codes emailed, but having an accessible standard for physical redemption would be very much appreciated.
The reasoning for this stems from the Gameboy Colour's (GBC's) only having up, down, left, right, A, B, Select and Start buttons, which is essentially what the XAC possesses. As a result, I kept this idea in mind for just such an occasion as this, where I could put my theory to the test.
I won't go through the process of configuring the emulator to work with the XAC, as any frustrations there weren't the fault of the unit but instead of the emulator itself. However, after a little while, I had it working just as intended, with the tactile and responsive large buttons on the face of the controller serving as my A and B buttons and the DPad working for navigation.
Should I find greater success with controlling Xbox One or PC games with this device, I'll update this review further.
The XAC is a great device for those with physical disabilities or a temporary condition that impacts their movement. Moreover, the ability to integrate the device within existing setups at a relatively low price point makes it stand out from other more expensive equipment. However, the ease of use and intuitiveness or lack thereof of the Xbox Accessories app won't be much help to newcomers or those setting up the device for friends/relatives etc.
I'm pleased to say that Microsoft has delivered not only a worthwhile product, but also one that comes in the most accessible packaging that I've seen to date. I hope that all the lessons learnt in designing and testing the device can be carried forward, even if future products aren't directly marketed towards those with physical disabilities.
Back to the main reviews and guides page