Microsoft copped a lot of flak after E3 for hyping the Kinect as an accessory that must be connected to the Xbox One at all times (and for insisting that the Xbox One must be online at all times). However, Redmond backpedalled on these issues, and now the system functions without being online, and without the motion sensor being connected. The Xbox One still comes with the Kinect bundled, though, and while you can disable the camera and voice recognition features, that might not be enough to satisfy users worried about their privacy.
We've been testing the Xbox One and Kinect, and we've found that you can use the system without plugging in the camera. You can simply unplug it from the console, and while you'll lose a lot of features by doing this, the Xbox One remains a fully functional game system and a relatively functional media hub.
First, an irritating detail: A "Kinect is unplugged" message will stay in the top right corner of the dashboard at all times, and it won't go away. Ironically, you can only tell the Xbox One to ignore the Kinect by having it plugged in; if it's unplugged, it will think there should be a Kinect connected. It's a small nuisance, but it will plague your view when you're looking through the Xbox One outside of a game. Now, besides that message, here's what you can and can't do with the Kinect unplugged.
Play games and use apps
The lack of a Kinect has no effect on the games you play (unless, of course, the games use Kinect). Any game you have downloaded or those in disc form can be played normally without the Kinect watching you. Obviously, you can't launch these games via voice or use any Kinect features, but if you want to play Killer Instinct without a camera watching you, this isn’t a problem. You can also use different apps and features on the Xbox One, such as Netflix and Internet Explorer, but obviously enough, Skype is right out.
The Watch TV feature stays functional, and you can even see what's on the OneGuide – when it launches in the UK next year, that is – and use it to launch content in your app channels. Your favourite channel lists and app channels will all be there on the screen, and the HDMI passthrough will show whatever your cable or satellite box is showing in full-screen or in the Dashboard.
However... You can't change channels with the Xbox One. The infrared blaster the system uses to send commands to your TV and set-top box is built into the Kinect, so while you can see what's on in the OneGuide, you can't actually change channels with it. You'll have to use your old set-top box remote to manually change channels.
The Snap function still works, and you can still have TV or Game DVR or Internet Explorer on the side of your screen while you play games. Just manually select Snap on the Dashboard and select the app you want snapped.
However… Unsnapping and switching between apps is tricky, because you can't do it by voice. You need to press the Xbox button on your controller to bring up the Dashboard and select the snapped app to control it or unsnap it. Using snapped apps without voice commands is definitely a more clunky experience.
You can use Game DVR as a snapped app to record up to five minutes of gameplay even without the Kinect to let you control it by voice. You need it snapped to your screen to record, but you can still capture gameplay, edit it, and upload it.
However… You need to manually begin recording before you play. Since there's no voice control, you can't say "Xbox, record that" and save the last 30 seconds of gameplay. This means that any huge upsets or unexpected stunts risk being lost. Also, you can't play in full-screen while capturing, because the Game DVR app needs to be snapped to the side of the screen.
The Xbox One is still pretty functional as a game system minus the motion sensor, but without voice commands and Kinect's infrared blaster you're going to miss out on the system's more interesting and useful features.
For more on the Xbox One, see our article on whether Microsoft's console is a true living room revolution in the making, or a mere box of gimmicks. We've also got a piece detailing 10 things that you should know about Microsoft's Xbox One.