Microsoft’s Surprise $40 Kinect Price Drop: Time to Buy One?

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Microsoft Kinect price, come on down — the company just knocked roughly one-third off the retail price of its motion-control sensor for the Xbox 360, permanently. That’s the official word, courtesy Microsoft PR poobah Larry “Major Nelson” Hryb.

The new price: $109.99, a $40 drop from the former $149.99 tag, and Nelson says the price will also drop (permanently) in North America (read: Canada), Latin America and “Asia Pacific regions where Kinect is sold.” Come October 4, you can add Australia and New Zealand to the party, though it sounds like Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Japan are stuck as-is.

(MORE: Microsoft’s Unveils ‘SmartGlass’, Kinect-Enhanced Sequels at E3 2012)

Do you need a Kinect? Well first up, you need an Xbox 360, so if you don’t have one of those, the asking price just shot up a couple hundred bucks. But if you’re already in the club and on the fence about motion-control, the question to ask is this: How patient are you with tech that works as advertised about two-thirds of the time?

In my PC World review, I wrote that “Kinect’s imprecise, casual approach won’t be for everyone” and noted that, for all its cleverness, it was pretty awful at keeping up with fast, natural body input, misreading or ignoring critical gestures.

Sometimes you’ll pull off a move in a game when it’s clear you goofed, or fail when you should have succeeded, and the sensor often overplays a small gesture or underplays an exaggerated one. Perhaps because of these problems, Kinect’s games tend to be forgiving by design, which has its demographic flip side: Gaming with Kinect is pretty much “casual” or bust.

Despite those misgivings, echoed all but universally, Microsoft’s had no trouble moving units. Kinect launched in November 2010 and quickly set a world record for “fastest selling consumer electronics device,” clocking eight million units in just two months. The last we heard, back in January 2012, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was claiming the company had sold a whopping 18 million Kinect units (out of 66 million total Xbox 360s shipped worldwide at the time).

I haven’t heard a word about Kinect sales since, so — tea leaves time — either they’ve fallen off, prompting the drop, or the company’s hoping to move inventory in anticipation of its next console (and, presumably, Kinect part two).

My recommendation: Drop by your local game store, where they have one setup for demo, and give it a whirl first. Not just the games (though yes, don’t miss Kinect Star Wars to see what a Cloud City rave with disco-dancing Han Solo might be like) — be sure to test drive the Xbox LIVE gesture and voice command interface, too.

MORE: ‘Kinect Star Wars’ Horrifies Fans with Cheesy Dance Minigame