The Microsoft Xbox Series X is an excellent gaming console — there are no two ways about this. It makes no fuss about fitting into the tightest crevices beside your TV, looks boring and spunky at the same time, and offers enough firepower to give you as good a new generation gaming experience as you could demand from your console. In many ways, it’s a bit like a naturally aspirated straight-six engine somehow fit inside the body of a Suzuki Swift — a car that you wouldn’t exactly call a hot hatch, but not a pushover, either. However, amid all that praise, Microsoft has somewhat played it quiet and cool about one feature in the new generation console that definitely deserves more attention — Xbox Remote Play.
Standing separate from xCloud, Microsoft’s truly remote game streaming platform, Xbox Remote Play essentially allows you to game on your console anywhere, provided both your phone and the console are on the same Wi-Fi network. In other words, you are no longer tethered to your TV screens for being able to play on the Xbox, and while you’ll still need to be home and under the same internet umbrella to enjoy playing remotely, it’s still a bigger boon than what many might imagine. This is further combined with a number of key strengths when using Xbox Remote Play, albeit having quite some room for improvement.
Setting up: Annoying glitches that tend to fix themselves
Remote Play isn’t the first advertised feature of the Xbox Series X, and for good reason, too. For one, it isn’t new or intrinsic to the new generation consoles, which makes it a continued feature from the previous generation. More importantly, with the Xbox Series X, Microsoft wants you to use your 4K, 120fps television to be where you see how gorgeous the newly optimised titles look. However, a big part of the new generation Xbox Series X is its updated connectivity and processing chops, which automatically lays the foundation for better Remote Play performance than the Xbox One era.
However, if you’ve had an Xbox before, or if your Microsoft ID was ever used to sign in to a friend’s Xbox console at some point, the app throws up a strange glitch where you reach the final setup screen on the Xbox app on your phone, and then the setup fails to complete. The same issue may also occur if a different Microsoft ID was signed in to your Xbox console before your presently active one. While Microsoft does not have an official fix for the issue, one recommended workaround across forums is to allow remote connections through the Xbox only for the account presently signed in to the console — which appears to avoid some algorithmic confusion here.
The initiation glitch finally got resolved after a mix of attempting various recommended fixes and checking and unchecking boxes, but the final resolution really occurred on its own, when the console simply got synced and connected by itself through the Xbox app on my Android phone — without me really doing anything. This setup process is what will bug you the most, and is something that Microsoft must fix soon if they intend to take Remote Play seriously. Before this, ensure that you connect the console to a 5GHz Wi-Fi network, and from the console’s settings, enable remote features and instant-on power mode. The latter allows the console to quietly switch on without making any noise or lighting up the power button.
Another gaffe from Microsoft is the confusing number of apps on the Play Store for the same purpose. There is an Xbox Game Streaming app, an Xbox Game Pass app and an umbrella Xbox app, all of which claim to offer Remote Play. It is the ‘Xbox’ app that you are to use, and the features of the other two have now been integrated into this super app. For some strange reason, Microsoft does not mention this until you download all the three apps and see which really works.
On overall terms, the setup is not complicated per se — you enable remote features on the console, connect it to a 5GHz wireless network that offers more than 10Mbps bandwidth, connect your phone to the same network, download the Xbox app on your phone, sign in with the same ID as you have on the console, and pair the controller to your phone by long-pressing the tiny button at the top that initiates Bluetooth pairing. However, the two most common errors — ‘Try again in a bit, something went wrong’ and ‘We found your console but couldn’t connect to it’ are still persistent, despite new generation connectivity.
Consistency of usage: A mixed bag
Remote Play on the Xbox Series X is not a straightforward gig. For one — it does need a 5GHz network to run smoothly, but will still work on a 2.4GHz network. Interestingly, playing remotely faced multiple network drops — in the middle of a game, you may end up with the reloading/buffering icon in the middle of your screen, if the consistency of your network is anything less than very good. The drop in connectivity with the main console also does not automatically pause a game — the latter continues on its own pace instead. This ends up causing you to lose considerable track of what you were playing, unless you fortuitously paused just at the right time, before the network dropped.
The Xbox app also does not support any other activity in the middle of Remote Play, including sending quick replies to important messages while playing on your phone. Replying to messages in between Remote Play sessions ends up reloading the connection and this caused me to lose an in-progress game round quite a few times. Microsoft says on its website that this should not happen unless you’ve been away for about 15 minutes, which is when the console will automatically power off — but it still freezes in 5-minute gaps.
Remote Play also does not support touchscreen inputs as of now, so for anything at all (including sifting through the console’s system menus to adjust settings), you need to use the controller. The feature, however, works like any other remote device access service. As a result, Remote Play only works for one user at a time right now. The feature will also work only when you are playing remotely, and doesn’t work simultaneously on the console and on phone for two different players. Where you can use it, though, is in games that support the split-screen view in co-op and multiplayer modes — while both will still see split-screen views on their TV and phone respectively, they can still be in different rooms and yet enjoy playing the same game through one console. It’s a niche use case, but a fun one without doubt.
Gameplay experience: A hidden trump card?
All things said, once I succeeded in getting Remote Play up and running, the quality of remote gaming under strong connectivity is a pleasant surprise. For the most part, as long as your connectivity remains consistent, you will not face undue game buffering, and the visuals of the game streamed from the console to your phone are as crisp as you’d expect them to be. Our test mule was a Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, which helped thanks to fast refresh rate and deep colours from the display.
The overall gameplay experience is surprisingly good, and makes all the struggle for connectivity worth it. You also get in-game audio through earphones connected to your smartphone, giving you a way to enjoy your quiet corner of gaming, even when the only TV in the house is being viewed by others. Most games run smoothly and without any hiccups, although the occasional, inexplicably drastic drop in quality of visuals cannot be ignored, yet.
However, Remote Play really is one of the hidden treasures of the Xbox Series X. The console offers plenty of dough in terms of its performance, and Remote Play makes the most of it with better consistency and superior visuals, among others. The initiation bugs can be worked around with, and as long as you have a good enough internet connection at home, it is more than playable. You end up finding it nifty in the most unexpected of situations, and it is this that makes Xbox Remote Play a very useful and underrated trump card in Microsoft’s umbrella.
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