E3 10: Unboxing the newly redesigned Xbox 360

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To not much surprise, Microsoft unveiled its new slimmer, quieter Xbox 360 console at its E3 press conference. Shipping now, the $299.99 console will be available on store shelves before week’s end.

But at E3, we’ve have had our chance to get our hands on it right now. Well, not right now. We did it early, and you can get all of my hands on impressions and details after the jump. Check back later for video of the unboxing, along with info on what not to do with your new Xbox 360 that you won’t see anywhere else.

What’s in the box?

The Xbox 360 console; a controller (in a new black to match the console); a power supply; and composite cables. Yes, composite cables. The console does feature an HDMI port, and HDMI cables are a cheap buy — less than $10 online if play your cards right. But for those who need component, you’ll have to take a trip back to retail — the form factor of the A/V plugs are slightly different from previous iterations. Microsoft says it will sell the new component cables at retail, but wouldn’t commit to a price when asked.

The look and finish

The first thing you’ll notice about the new Xbox 360 is how sleek it is. Shall we call it “slim”? Sure, why not. The console has a glossy black finish, designed to match the upcoming look of Kinect. The chrome trim also gives the console a more modern look. The downside? It’s a magnet for fingerprints. After about five minutes of manhandling, there were smears all over the console’s surface. Sure, it’s unlikely that any regular user would be feeling up the 360 like we did during our hands-on. But those who transport their consoles often might want to consider investing in a nice cleaning cloth.

Touch-sensitive buttons, a.k.a. “Cat Touch” technology

Microsoft has also done away with physical on/off and eject buttons. With the new console, you simply swipe your finger to pop out the disc, or turn the console on or off. This kind of touch technology isn’t new — Sony’s launch PlayStation 3 console had similar features. It should be noted that the 360 seems to react a bit faster than Sony’s console to the touch. It’s so fast and sensitive, in fact, that we accidentally turned the console on a number of times while turning it to get a better look at its ports.

We can also confirmed that a cat paw can be used to turn the console on, off, or eject a disc. Yes, “Cat Touch” technology is included in the new Xbox 360.

Wi-Fi dongles were dumb anyway

The redesigned console also features built in 802.11n Wi-Fi. Yup, no more dongles. Did we test it? Nope, but we’d imagine it will connect to wireless access points. For those who’d rather use a physical connection, the console still has a standard Ethernet port, so don’t cry yourself to sleep at night worrying about that.

Five USB ports! Why not?

The new Xbox now has five — yes, five! — USB ports. On the back of the console sit three; on the front, you’ll find two hiding beneath a flat. Why so many ports? Why not? Accessories, USB sticks for memory… it’s up to you. How about to hook up your Kinect? Nope, because…

The new Xbox 360 is “Kinect-ready”

What exactly does that mean? On “legacy” consoles, Kinect users will have to use a power supply for the motion sensing camera itself. With the new Xbox 360, you’ll simply be able to plug it into a small, USB-sized auxiliary power port (marked in orange) on the back of the console. There won’t be any difference between how Kinect works; the only difference for the end user is convenience.

Plenty of space, new form factor for hard drive

Those old, clunky Xbox 360 hard drives are a thing of the past. The new 360 ships with 250 GB of storage in a new, smaller hard drive located under one of the console’s removable grills. The hard drive pops out with a little force by pulling on a cloth tab (that reads “250 GB”). The hard drive is small, a little larger and fatter than most smartphones.

The drive is yet another proprietary piece of hardware — you won’t be able to swap it out with a laptop hard drive like the PS3 — but it is removable and swappable. What would you swap it with? Right now Microsoft isn’t willing to commit to larger hard drives, but admits that it’s an option for the future if users demand it. For now, however, they’re confident that 250 GB is the sweet spot for what users need.

If you’re upgrading and worried about carrying over your data, we’re told that transfer kits will be sold at retail, and Microsoft will offer a number of options to help easily (and selectively) move your data.

Memory Units are so 2009

With the introduction of support for USB memory sticks, Microsoft has done away with those pesky Memory Unit peripherals. In fact, there’s no slot for them at all — the only connections on the front are the two USB ports, and even those are hidden. The alternative is to use any USB stick of your choice, with support for up to 16 GB.

You can’t hear it… well, for the most part

When they say it’s “whisper quiet,” they’re not kidding. Microsoft has moved from two smaller fans to one larger for what it says are “improved acoustics.” When you turn the console on and it remains inactive or you’re just browsing the menus, it’s absolutely noiseless. Even with your ear right up to grill that cover’s one of the console’s fans, it’s hardly noticeable.

Putting a disc in and letting it go to work is a slightly different story. It’s unlikely most gamers will notice the disc noise in the hard drive, but if you listen close enough, you’ll be able to hear it working a bit. But regardless, it’s a huge leap forward from the previous iteration of the console, which often sounded like a jet taking off even when it was sitting idle.

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