Microsoft Xbox SmartGlass: what you need to know

Use your phone or tablet as an Xbox media controller

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Microsoft busted out its Xbox SmartGlass initiative at the 2012 Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), promising "new ways to interact with your Xbox 360".

While Nintendo incorporates a 'second screen' into its Wii U controller, Microsoft's solution was to use the devices you already own - mobile phones, laptops and tablets. Initially restricted to Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8, SmartGlass is now available for iOS and Android.

With Sony's PS4 announcement heavily touting second screen support, SmartGlass might be basic but it's undoubtedly here to stay.

Read on for everything you need to know about SmartGlass. Alternatively, you can check out our video below:

What is Xbox SmartGlass (and how does it work)?

Xbox SmartGlass is an app that you download and install onto a compatible mobile device. Once SmartGlass support has been enabled on your Xbox (via Console Settings > Connected Devices), you simply fire up the app on the aforementioned mobile device and sign into your Microsoft/Xbox Live account. You can then ditch the joypad and use your mobile device to view and interact with SmartGlass-friendly applications, games, music and video.

Microsoft Xbox SmartGlass: what you need to know
This is the controller layout on the iPad. Touch the screen to move between menu options and tap to select one

What features does Xbox SmartGlass have?

Each Xbox SmartGlass app has five main menu options on a familiar tile-based dashboard. 'Bing' is the built-in search function, while 'Home' features various Quickplay options for Xbox Video, Xbox Music and any games you've played.

There's also a Remote option here, which turns your mobile device into a touchscreen controller. It's certainly responsive and works better on a mobile phone than a tablet. If you haven't got a wireless controller (or an old Media Center remote kicking around), it's a great way to control your console from the sofa.

The third menu option is 'Social', which displays your Friends list and shows information about who's online, what they're doing and playing, and their Gamerscores.

You'll also see your Xbox avatar displayed here, together with one-tap options for messaging, avatar customisation, setting gaming Beacons and editing your Xbox Live profile. 'Recent' shows your previous activity, such as the games you've played and services you've used, while 'Discover' is a gateway to more SmartGlass-enabled content on Xbox Live.

Microsoft Xbox SmartGlass: what you need to know
You can also use the SmartGlass app to control Xbox Music, queuing up tracks and reading artist info

What can you do with Xbox SmartGlass?

On a basic level, SmartGlass offers an easier way to browse through Xbox Live content or to send messages to friends. Anyone who's spent time slowly selecting letters for a message using an Xbox joypad and the onscreen keyboard will be overjoyed by the ability to simply type words in. No need to buy the old Chatpad Keyboard attachment.

SmartGlass also works with a number of Xbox apps in the UK, including Internet Explorer and Now TV. Again, the advantage of using SmartGlass with IE is that you can flick to scroll through web pages rather than moving the onscreen cursor with a joypad. It's also easier to type in URLs and search queries.

But when your mobile device already has a built-in web browser, it's difficult to see the point of using a second screen. Only a few entertainment apps support SmartGlass functionality and Now TV's 'smart' features are similar to Xbox Video below.

Microsoft Xbox SmartGlass: what you need to know
The 'Social' menu shows you who's online and is an easier way to message friends.

How does SmartGlass work with video?

During its E3 2012 demo, Microsoft showed off Xbox SmartGlass with Game of Thrones. As the episode played on an Xbox, a connected iPad displayed an interactive map of Westeros, moving as the locations changed in the show. At the moment, the reality is less inventive. While The Dark Knight Rises offers time-synced information, storyboards, and a database of vehicles, gadgets and characters, most titles include an IMDb-style 'video guide', displaying basic cast/crew information.