The Ouya’s UI (user interface) has been met with mixed reviews. It’s very simplistic and minimal but it gets the job done. For the most part the menus are fast and responsive, and you can get through them or back out with ease. Double-tapping or holding the menu button (or Ouya button) brings you back to the main screen. Let’s take a look through the main items here since this is where the UX (user experience) begins.
The main screen has four options. Play, Discover, Make, and Manage. Naturally the Play section is where you play the games you have downloaded. The layout has a Neflix feel to it, which I think they were going for due to its popularity. It’s just two rows of thumbnail images. When you have moved the cursor over a thumbnail the title of the game appears below it. You can launch the game right there or press U on the controller to bring up the info page. You can also update the game right from the play screen or from the info screen.
There’s not much else to this part of the experience. It gets the job done easily enough I suppose. Personally I think this portion could use a little more TLC. Immediately I’d like to see the games displayed in three rows instead of just two. Also the ability to sort and group the games. Basic customization and organization features. These are nice to have, though, and not need to have. I’m sure stuff like this will make it in future firmware update. For now, though, honestly it’s enough.
Next is the Discover store. Here is where you’ll be finding games to download. This portion of the UI seems to be met with the most harsh criticism. Some of it is warranted, some of it is not. Like the Play section, this section lists games in the same thumbnail format in rows. Some rows make sense while others do not. This section could definitely use some refining (perhaps a complete overhaul) but it’s not dreadful as some people would like you to think.
Each row represents some kind of grouping or categorization of games. For example you have the Ouya exclusives. Some of these lists are kind of pointless like the (few) select developer playlists. There’s nothing wrong with letting me know what some of the notable people in the gaming industry are playing, but they shouldn’t be so close to the top, especially when they are redundant; I think Towerfall is shown three or four times. We get it. It’s amazing and everyone loves it. Let’s discover some new games, shall we? I think these should be placed near the bottom or included in the genre row.
The featured row makes sense, but the criteria for games’ inclusion is a mystery. Likewise with the trending row – no real explanation on what qualifies a game to be “trending”. Is it the amount of downloads? Purchases? Some kind of ratio between the two, or the amount of play time? I’m not aware of the criteria, though it may exist out there somewhere.
The sandbox row is where the new games show up… and for some reason it’s at the very bottom. Shouldn’t this be closer to the top? Isn’t the idea of the console – and this section in particular – to discover new games? Not only that, but there’s no clear indication to what’s actually new or not. I see games in the sandbox that have been there for over a week while others just kinda show up. Would be nice to see new arrivals.
This section is where games have recently exited the sandbox. As before, no real indication as to what qualifies a game to “graduate” from the sandbox to this section. I have heard it depends on the number of downloads and “likes”, but I haven’t been able to determine any kind of pattern.
This row is useful as it breaks the games down into common genres. The problem with this section is that not all games appear in these individual sections. There are over 300 games on the console but there’s no way they all appear here (or anywhere else in the Discover section, for that matter). The only way to find these hidden games is to press Y which brings up the on-screen keyboard. Here you can find all the games but the trouble is, if you didn’t know it existed, you would never find it, unless you happened to accidentally type something in that would show it.
The Make section is pretty bare, but if you do a lot of sideloading or other customization then it will become more populated. Here is where sideloaded apps appear (where you can launch them). This section is also for those who are developing a game for the console to test their builds. There’s not much to this section but there doesn’t really need to be.
As you might expect, the Manage section is where you can manage the console. It has a couple submenus with a number of different options. You can manage your controllers; updates; see information about your console such as build number, firmware version, etc.; check the storage space left on the console; check your network connection and settings; and other useful stuff.
This section of the console is stock Android, so it will look familiar to many, but because of that it’s not tailored to the Ouya or the Ouya experience, so some may be put off of it. But really, you’re in there to do some managing, not play, so it’s not a deal breaker in my eyes, and to be honest, it gets the job done. There are a couple kinks in this section that need to be ironed out, but all in all it does what it’s supposed to do.
Recently a firmware update changed the home screen. Now it shows the last game you played above the main menu, and six other random games that are randomly selected each week. This is a bid to increase exposure to games, since most are buried somewhere in the Discover section. You can download and/or launch these games right from the main screen.
Overall, the UX feels smooth. I think the UI can use some improvements but the experience is more then sufficient and intuitive enough that it shouldn’t give many people problems. It’s really easy to play games, which is the essence of the console. Finding games lacks some polish, but I have no doubt they are working on improving that area of the UX. I have had no problems navigating around and getting things done when I needed to.