Xbox Series S Review: Compact but Powerful

Performance: 8
Features: 10
Design: 9
Value: 9

Overall Score: 9

Price: From $379

Positives
  • Compact design
  • Completely silent
  • Game Pass offers impressive value
  • Surprisingly powerful
  • Quick resume feature

Negatives
  • Limited storage
  • Lacks disc drive

The new console generation is here. Newer, shinier toys that allow us to play all our favourite games in 4K resolution, with ray-tracing, online features, and whatnot. We’re no longer talking about the next-gen, as it is here, and it’s incredibly exciting.

Sony has launched PlayStation 5, while Microsoft decided to go with two different consoles – Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S. Today, we will be focusing on the smaller, more affordable of the two. In our Xbox Series S review, we’ll go over the features of the tiny console, analyze its performance, and check whether it’s worth buying this console over the Series X.

Console’s Design

xbox series s games on offer

One look at the Series S could make you mistake it for a speaker at your local drive-through or some kind of space-age grill. The all-white, rectangular design is accentuated by a prominent black grill covering the console’s cooling unit. Microsoft’s decision to make both its next-gen consoles look like monoliths from a sci-fi movie sure is bold, but that helps with positioning the Series S anywhere in your living room.

But, the real kicker is the size of this console. The Xbox Series S is small, tiny even. It is, in fact, the smallest Xbox ever made, smaller than the trimmed-down Xbox One S console. This console measures 10.83 in × 5.94 in × 2.50 and weighs just 4.25 lbs. That’s half the weight of the Series X.

The console can sit on your entertainment system either horizontally or vertically and, thanks to rubber feet, will stay perfectly stable in whichever position you decide to display it. Although it doesn’t matter how the console is oriented, we recommend leaving some space between its grill and other furniture and devices for proper airflow and cooling.

What also surprised us while working on our Xbox Series S review is how Microsoft managed to install quite a selection of ports on this console. The front panel features a single USB and a button for synchronizing the Xbox controller with the console. On the back, you’ll find two more USB 3.1 ports, an Ethernet port, an HDMI 2.1 port capable of outputting 120 Hz 4K images, and a storage expansion slot.

New Xbox Controller

xbox series s controller

The controller you get with this console follows the overall design – white with black accents on analog sticks and the d-pad, with standard coloured ABXY buttons. It’s very similar in design and dimensions to Xbox One controllers but slightly tweaked and enhanced just enough to make it worth switching to.

The most obvious change is the d-pad. It’s a platter instead of a cross, which makes it easier to enter diagonal inputs in, say, fighting games. There’s an extra button, too. The share button on the Xbox Series S controller allows you to quickly capture your best gaming moments, either as screenshots or videos, so you no longer need to pull up a menu to start recording.

It’s also a nicer controller to hold. Parts of its underbelly are textured for improved grip. The triggers are also textured and don’t create too much resistance, so your fingers won’t cramp up even after long gaming sessions.

Yes, you’ll still need to put in two AA batteries, although the battery life has been extended to around 25 hours. You can also purchase rechargeable battery packs and use the USB-C port to charge your controller that way.

While you get only one controller with the console, you can also use your Xbox One controller and accessories as the console is fully backward compatible.

Under the Hood of the Xbox Series S Console

Microsoft continued its collaboration with AMD for this console generation. The heart of the Series S system is a custom-made octa-core processor based on AMD’s Zen 2 architecture, running at 3.6 GHz.

For graphics, AMD developed an RDNA 2 chip that runs at 1.565 GHz and can process data at four teraflops. Compared to the Xbox Series X hardware, it’s just a third of the power of the bigger console, at least on paper. The Series S also has weaker memory, and less of it – 10 GB instead of 16 GB on Series X and the modules also run at half the speed. Simply put, the Xbox Series S hardware is exactly what you can expect for such a low price point.

Of course, you’ll need some space to store your games and other media. In this generation, all console makers moved from slow hard drives to super-fast NVMe SSDs. In the Xbox Series S, you’ll find the latest Gen 4 SSD with 512 GB of storage space. In reality, you’ll only have 364 GB available, as the rest is reserved for the console’s operating system, its new quick resume feature, and just backup space for working with system updates.

Storage has been the most significant downside for this console. Games like Call of Duty Warzone and the latest Assassin’s Creed titles easily surpass 100 GB install size each. Even the big Xbox exclusive Halo Infinite was 70+ GB on launch, with a tendency to bloat further as the shooter gets more content.

Luckily, you can connect external USB storage for Xbox One titles and older games. The other option is official storage expansion cards. These add 1 TB of fast SSD storage and are plug-n-play but cost over $200 a pop.

Additionally, due to its size, this console doesn’t have a disc drive. That means no playing disc-based games from any of the Xbox consoles, music CDs, DVDs, or Blu-ray movies. Xbox gamers that collected discs over the years are better off going with the Xbox Series X instead. Yes, it’s a more expensive entry into this console generation, but if the presence of the disc drive is a dealbreaker for you, the price jump will be worth it.

Xbox Series S Performance

Theoretical specs don’t mean a lot if the gaming experience isn’t up to snuff. Despite its size, the Series S is quite a powerful console, and we were pleasantly surprised by how well it works. Moreover, the cooling unit stayed silent even during the most intense gaming sessions, making this console one of the quietest ones we’ve ever tested. Oh, and it runs nearly all previous generation Xbox games, yes, even the ones from the original Xbox.

Xbox Series S Benchmark Tests and Gaming Experience

First, let’s look at the gaming performance, as that’s what most of us buy these devices for. Microsoft aimed for 1440p resolution with this device, and, in most cases, the console manages to perform as designed.

When testing popular Xbox games, we noticed some titles like Ori and the Will of the Wisps ran at 4K, while a few games struggled to reach resolutions above 1080p.

As for the smoothness of the gameplay, it was completely dependent on whether the games had any optimization done by the developers for the next-gen Xbox. Games like Gears 5 and Doom Eternal can run in 120 frames per second on 120 Hz screens, for example, while The Witcher 3 stayed locked to 30 fps as its developer CD Projekt Red has yet to release the next-gen patch that’s supposed to improve the performance.

Some next-gen games, like Resident Evil Village and Halo Infinite, even let you choose between a high-frame-rate performance mode and a graphics-intensive mode where ray-tracing and other effects kick in. Meanwhile, the Series S struggled with maintaining a constant framerate in the Elden Ring. Granted, it’s not entirely due to Xbox Series S specs, but also the game’s code, as it has certain performance problems on all other platforms.

Of course, HDR image enhancements are fully utilized, as are Dolby features for audio enhancements. If you have good audio equipment, you can even enable Dolby Atmos for that immersive 3D soundscape. Microsoft also offers an official wireless headset with DTS support and deep bass, so do check it out if you prefer playing with your headphones on.

Boot and SSD Features

Boot times on this little console were impressive. After being completely shut down, the “cold boot” gets the console to the main menu takes about 10-15 seconds. When we enabled the Instant On feature (putting the console in standby mode), the boot times were trimmed down to barely five seconds or so.

There is a third option called Energy-saving, which is another standby mode, but the console can’t install game and system updates before it turns on. It also makes boot time a few seconds longer than with Instant On. The upside is that your Xbox will spend way less energy in this mode.

Getting into games is equally fast, and it’s evident that Microsoft did the right thing by deciding to make the Xbox Series S consoles. One new feature the SSD tech brought into play is Quick Resume, and it’s, pardon our pun, a real game-changer.

With this option, you can have multiple games sitting in the background and switch between them with ease. It takes just a couple of seconds before you’re back into your game, exactly where you left it.

Obviously, this doesn’t work with online multiplayer games and any other title requiring a constant internet connection, like Forza Horizon and Warzone. But it sure helps to skip all those intros and loading screens before you’re back as the Doomguy, ripping and tearing through those demons. This is what, in our opinion, makes Series S a true next-gen console.

Xbox Series S Interface

xbox series s interface

Continuing our review of Xbox Series S, we move onto the software side of things. While Microsoft spared no expense for its hardware R&D department, a few corners had to be cut somewhere. New consoles did not come with significant upgrades to the UI, and if you’ve ever used an Xbox One, you’ll be immediately familiar with how it all works.

It’s not a bad UI, though – far from it. You can still snap your favourite games and apps to the main menu, and navigation is really quick. The Xbox guide button opens up the left-hand menu with various shortcuts. You can customize many moving parts here, from the colour palette to backgrounds and certain parts of the layout.

After all, why change something that works really well and the audience has already embraced.

Multimedia Features

Just like its predecessor, the Xbox Series S allows you to install various multimedia apps, either for playing local content or streaming over the internet.

All the popular streaming apps are available in the store – Netflix, Plex, Spotify, Disney+, and Hulu, among many others. Since the console runs on AMD technology and sports an HDMI 2.1 output, it also supports the FreeSync variable refresh rate technology, so the output will match the framerate of the media you’re playing.

It should go without saying, but if you have a modern TV that supports HDR, Dolby Atmos, or Dolby Vision, you’ll be able to unlock the full potential of the streaming apps via this console. Honestly, the only thing missing is some Xbox Series S accessories like a remote control to make the multimedia experience sublime.

Believe it or not, you can use this console for work, not just to play games. As the Xbox supports keyboard and mouse input and USB webcams, this is a fully capable tiny PC that can be used for internet surfing, streaming on Twitch, and even light office work in Google Docs, Dropbox, and similar cloud-based apps.

Xbox Game Pass

xbox game pass interface

Since the Xbox Series S is a fully digital console, Microsoft is offering a subscription called Game Pass that instantly unlocks a vast collection of Xbox Series S games. Often dubbed the “best deal in gaming” and even “Netflix for games,” Game Pass is a library of 400+ digital games spanning four console generations.

The Xbox titles in this collection are available to download or stream over the Xbox Cloud to your Xbox, PC, or even a smartphone. Microsoft has put a lot of effort into making Game Pass attractive to gamers, so a lot of Xbox exclusives, original Xbox titles, and indie games are available on this service on the day of their global launch.

Subscribing to Game Pass, or its upgraded version called Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, grants a bunch of additional benefits – free items for multiplayer games, exclusive discounts, free games to keep via Xbox Live Gold, and even free memberships to services like YouTube Premium and CrunchyRoll.

Considering Xbox Game Pass costs less than $15 a month, and you get your first three months for $1 with a Series S purchase, it’s a service well-worth subscribing to.

Xbox Series S Reviews: Competitor Comparisons

Now that we’ve seen why it’s worth getting an Xbox Series S let’s check how this little console fares against the competition. For this, we’ll compare it to Xbox’s biggest competitors – the PlayStation and the Nintendo Switch.

Xbox Series S vs. PlayStation 5

Ah, the age-old war of PlayStation vs. Xbox, the blue vs. green team. Just looking at the specs, it’s clear that the PlayStation 5 has the upper hand in this duel – it’s a fully capable 4K machine much like the Series X.

The PS5 also has a slot for an additional SSD, making the storage upgrade cheaper than on the Xbox. There’s also the matter of games – PlayStation is known for its amazing first-party titles like God of War and Uncharted, titles that simply aren’t available for any Xbox console.

On the other hand, Xbox offers better services due to Game Pass and is also significantly more affordable and much more portable. As we already mentioned in this Xbox Series S console review, there are very few smaller consoles on the market, but the one in our following comparison is precisely that.

Xbox Series S vs. Nintendo Switch

Nintendo has made quite a commotion with its hybrid console. The Switch, albeit not nearly as powerful as the most affordable Xbox, has been selling like hotcakes ever since it was released in 2017, and there are numerous games you can’t experience on any consoles but Nintendo’s.

Feature-wise, Xbox takes the cake here. Yes, playing games on Switch is way more fun thanks to the touch screen and motion controls, but the console still has very bare-bones multimedia features. It also doesn’t offer as crisp an image as the Series S due to the less powerful hardware.

Pricing is similar for both of these consoles, though, especially after Nintendo recently launched the more expensive Switch OLED model. When factoring in the lack of a Game Pass-like subscription and the tendency for Nintendo games to retain high prices even years after launch, the Xbox S is probably a winner in the budget aspect.

Conclusion

Testing the Xbox Series S was a ton of fun. This console was honestly a big surprise in such a small package! It is the most affordable entry into the world of next-gen gaming and offers a lot more than you may think at first.

As an all-purpose entertainment device or even just a Game Pass rig, it’s really an unbeatable deal. While it doesn’t reach the potential of the current console generation in full, the low price and high portability make it a must-buy for any gamer that appreciates a compact but powerful gaming machine.

Is Xbox Series X worth buying?

Yes, the newest Xbox system is a significant improvement over the last generation of consoles. It supports higher resolutions and refresh rates than the Xbox One and runs games much better. On top of that, it’s a great value considering the Game Pass and previous-gen compatibility.

Is the Xbox Series X better than the PS5?

The two consoles are nearly identical hardware-wise. They use the same processor and GPU, come with similar storage solutions, and many games are available on both platforms. It’s really up to you which system you prefer based on the game selection and which console your friends prefer.

Is Series X better than Xbox One?

Yes, the Series X is considerably better than Xbox One in terms of processing power and features. It also runs all the Xbox One games and supports all the accessories from that console, but it will get even more great titles in the upcoming years.

Can Xbox Series X run 4K?

Yes. According to Xbox Series X specs that you can read more about in our review, the console achieves 4K resolution at up to 120 frames per second thanks to an HDMI 2.1 connection. Of course, you’ll need to connect it to a TV that supports such a high resolution and refresh rate.

Also, don’t expect the most demanding games to work in both 4K and at 120 fps – not even top-end PC rigs can achieve that in every title these days.

xbox logo

Overall Score: 9

Price: From $379

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