[Review] Xbox Series S

  • Product: Xbox Series S
  • Created by: Microsoft
  • Release Date: 12/11/2020
  • Price: £249.99
  • Review unit provided by Xbox UK

The Xbox Series S is an entry-level next-gen, all-digital gaming machine. With a sub £250 price point, it’s clearly positioned as a value package to supplement the beefier Xbox Series X (£499.99). But does the budget machine offer value for money or is it worth saving some pennies and picking up an X?

Introducing: The Xbox Series S review

Firstly, we really need to talk about just how small the Xbox Series S is. Before getting my hands on my own, I’d read plenty of coverage, but nothing had really depicted just how dinky the delectable box is. It’s not much longer than a Nintendo Switch Lite and has a solid brick-like appearance. It does, however, weigh just shy of two kilos, which considering its small form factor, is a fair amount. That being said, a handheld it is not and in all honesty, its sturdier disposition gives me faith that its innards are dependable. Obviously, the lack of a disc drive frees up some prime real estate inside. Even so, especially more so once you actually start stress-testing the console, it’s a real marvel just how minuscule it is.

Please enjoy the slideshow in which I compare the Series S to other things, for your reference.

Let’s talk about SeS, baby!

Straight from the box, setting the Series S up is incredibly simple, even more so if you own an Xbox One and the Xbox App. The app does all the work and simply clones all of your settings from your previous console. It’s as simple as ABC!

Unlike the Series X, the Series S doesn’t offer native 4K resolution but instead opts for 1440p, or what is more commonly known as Quad HD (QHD), with 4K upscaling available, should your screen or monitor support it. For most, this won’t even likely be discernable, and only the most ardent of resolution enthusiasts will even be able to see any difference. Once again, the Series S distinguishes itself as an all-encompassing option for the family. 

While the Series X offers 12 Terraflops (the scariest type of flop) the Series S offers just four. In layman terms, Terraflop (henceforth TFLOP) is the unit used to measure the power of a computer. A computer with a TFLOP can handle one trillion calculations per second ergo the Series X can make a staggering TWELVE TRILLION calculations per second. While more moderate, the four trillion that the Series S can handle is still a heady amount. The Xbox One, our go-to comparison for this review, offers 1.4 TFLOP.

The Series S can call upon an admirable 10GB of GDDR6 RAM (random access memory) compared to the 16 on offer with the Series X. Again, to compare it with the Xbox One, which has 8GB of GDDR3 RAM, it’s a vast improvement that improves the overall efficiency of the console’s performance. More RAM, and of equal importance, higher quality RAM, means more functions and programs can be run consecutively without slowing the computer down. It essentially serves as short term memory, meaning that it deals with the immediate needs of the computer, and once a program is no longer required or not in use, neglects it to focus on what is required.

To summarise, as an entry-level next-gen machine, the Xbox Series S packs A LOT into its tiny chassis. While the techno mumbo-jumbo above may be baffling and confounding, what it clearly shows is that, although the Series S is an incredibly competent machine, it pales in comparison to the Series X. As a parent, it’s apparent who this console is aimed at. In much the same way that the Wii was an affordable option that Nintendo wanted in as many people as possible able to access, the Series S adopts a similar philosophy.

Game Pass: an IP for the digital age

Paired with an Xbox Game Pass subscription – Microsoft’s most valuable IP – and any doubts that the Series S is all about accessibility are thrown out of the window. It’s all about getting Game Pass into as many homes as possible and with that, emphasising the ability to just jump into a game and play quickly, affordably and maybe most importantly, diversely. The real beauty of Game Pass is the ability to try out titles that you might not usually pick up if you were paying full price. Not enjoying a game, delete it from your library and try something else. This is also an extremely important point when talking about the Series S’s place in the market. Being able to manage your digital game library so effortlessly will be an incredibly important and equally infuriating exercise that you’ll quickly become a master of, once you have had a Series S in your hands for a weekend. The SSD really does fill up in the flash of an eye.

The Series S just screams out to absolutely every imaginable demographic. Got a PS5? Maybe we can tempt you with an affordable entry into our gaming infrastructure! Looking for something to put under the tree this Christmas? Boy do we have something for you (provided there is stock…). Love playing Nintendo games but interested in checking out some more technically superior experiences? Why not take a chance on a Series S?

The same philosophy applies to their PR department and the company’s approach to promoting the console. By putting the Series S in the hands of so many outlets for review, the Xbox Series S will hold its own in the conversation surrounding the next-gen, certainly in the early days. The really refreshing aspect is how it isn’t just the usual suspects being given a seat at the table but the small outlets too (ourselves very much included) and again, stock allowing, the Series S is such an ideal Christmas present that will delight every member of the family. 

I’m living in the future so my present is the past

Questions remain about quite how much of a shelf life the Series S has. At the time of writing, it plays everything on the market with aplomb; offering graphical fidelity, spectacularly solid framerate and an almost inaudible experience, while never becoming overly hot, certainly no more so than the Xbox One X. 

There are, however, caveats to consider. Firstly, the dongle-sized elephant in the room. With just half a Terrabyte available on the Series S’s custom SSD, and AAA games often in-excess of 100 GB, you’ll likely only have room for four or five such titles on your box at any one time. You can plug in any old portable SSD, or USB HDD, but there are compromises to consider. Games run far better on the custom SSD. Should you wish to utilise Optimised for Series X|S titles, however, you will likely wish to purchase an additional unit of storage at some point. Which, until third-party brands join the party and saturate the market somewhat, will set you back around £170 for a storage upgrade. 

If you can afford to do so now, it might be an idea to negate the immediate need and pick up a Series X instead, as, for a similar financial difference you get an infinitely more competent console, an optical disc drive and an extra half-terabyte of custom SSD storage goodness. More importantly, you also future proof yourself.

Testing

The left-hand image depicts the noise made by the Series S, whereas the right-hand side shows the amplitude of the Xbox One.

I performed extensive testing of the console during my time with it and on average it ran at 32 decibels which is the equivalent of a whisper. For comparison, the Xbox One runs at 63 decibels which is the same as an average conversation. This is really noticeable, especially if, like myself, you often play at night while the young family is sleeping. My significantly better half picked up on it almost immediately one evening, as we were cuddled on the sofa streaming some utter drudgery on Netflix. While she hadn’t noticed that there was a smaller white box atop the larger white box (Xbox One), the difference in operating noise was apparent. Even when running NBA2K21, a monster of a title with a file size of over 120GB, and a title that was built for next-gen consoles, the Series S only hit, at its peak, 42 dB.

Even with a resource-heavy title, the Series S runs near-silently.

Despite its dinky demeanour, the Series S must be a technological marvel inside. Its runs significantly cooler than its predecessor with temperatures on the Series S clocking at around 48 C after half an hour of constant use, whereas on the Xbox One X, it would reach temperatures of 55 C. Full disclosure, I measured this simply by using the probes on a thermocouple thermometer and daintily navigating the vents of the consoles in order to place them in a central location. 

Optimised for Series X|S

While the Series X|S didn’t launch with a system selling title like Breath of the Wild or Miles Morales – due to the delay of Halo Infinite – it’s safe to say that choice isn’t limited with the sheer amount of content available from the outset. The Series X|S consoles were designed not only to play the heavy-hitting new titles but also to improve the performance of thousands of legacy games. While these enhancements are often just improved loading times and sharper textures, for certain titles; the ones that blur the lines between the last generation and this bold new one we are entering, the range of games designated optimised for Series X|S are exponentially enhanced. The difference is night and day. Not only are you experiencing the lightning-fast load times afforded by the custom SSD, but you also reap the rewards of all of the extra grunt provided by the console, even with the Series S. You can find my thoughts on a selection of Optimised for Series X|S titles here.

Quick resume

There is a massive compromise, however, which we will touch upon imminently. First, let me briefly talk about a game-changing feature of the Series X|S, its ability to jump in and out of games on the fly. By returning to the home menu from your active game and selecting another title, you can pick up exactly where you left off, in the previous six titles. It’s like sleep mode on the Nintendo Switch, but juiced up to the eyeballs on steroids. It really is a marvel to behold in action and I feel the below video above an effective job at demonstrating the feature.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this section, the price of gaming opulence is the loss of quick resume. At the time of writing, it simply doesn’t work with next-gen content. Even so, it’s still a phenomenal feature for use with legacy content. Switching from Dark Souls 3 to Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, to PES and being able to jump into these high-end experiences instantly feels like the most next-gen experience that the Series S has to offer. It’s just a shame that it takes so much away from next-gen titles, by way of actually having to wait for the experiences to load.

Control is in the hands of the beholder

The Xbox Series X|S has an odd feel about it, in that it hasn’t tried to reinvent the wheel, and therefore doesn’t feel like a shiny new next-gen toy, but rather a refined version of the current (previous, I guess) gen. Like a mobile phone upgrade! This isn’t an inherently bad thing either but does too much familiarity breed contempt? The new controller for example is so similar to the controller that has shipped with the Xbox One for seven years, providing the same light/intense rumble options via the Impulse Triggers. Unfortunately, it seems a little bit archaic when even compared to the HD rumble found in the Nintendo Pro Controller, let alone the truly next-gen wizardry of the PS5’s Dual Sense Controller.

Regardless, it’s a delightfully comfortable controller and the matte finish and all-white hue make it a fetching number, despite it being a case of – if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it. Refinement over reinvention. Iteration over innovation. It does feature a nifty new share button that allows on-the-fly capture of screenshots and video content. The triggers also now have the same matte finish as the rest of the controller now too. The D-pad is now what they call a hybrid D-pad, as opposed to a regular D-pad, so that’s nice. And that’s about it for new features. It even still requires 2xAA batteries (or a power pack of sorts) to power it.

The same can be said for the Xbox Series S dashboard which, if you’ve ever navigated the menus of an Xbox One, you’ll have no troubles finding your way around. Once more, it’s absolutely fine and perfectly functional, but deep down, it’s a little underwhelming. At the time of writing, dynamic themes have recently been added but they do little to elevate the overall experience.

We are living in a digital world and I am a digital girl. Wait!..

With a base price of £249.99, the Series S provides an incredibly tempting price point. However, with the option of an interest-free payment plan of £20.99 per month over 24 months with an Xbox GamePass Ultimate subscription included, it’s hard to look past this in terms of value. That being said, in for the here and now, it’s perfectly cromulent but should your Xbox go offline for any reason, you simply won’t be able to play any games you have obtained through the service. The lack of an optical drive is certainly stifling, despite the smaller form factor it affords the Series S. 

A word of warning – if you’re upgrading from an Xbox One, make sure that you set your Series S (or even Series X) as your Home console ASAP (Settings – General – Personalisation). I didn’t do this and when the internet went down here at BDG Manor, one fateful Saturday evening, I was unable to access my content until it came back online on Sunday. Even the content that I had paid for outright and not downloaded as part of my GamePass subscription was unavailable to me. To make matters worse, I couldn’t set up my Series S as my Home console without being online, making my console pretty much dead weight for 14 hours or so. It seems somewhat incongruous of the Series S to be so inaccessible in this respect when the whole ethos of the console is to be all about accessibility. Regardless, once set up as your home console, your owned content is accessible, but a word of warning for anyone with multiple consoles.

As an all-encompassing digital console, it goes without saying that the Xbox Series S has all of your favourite video streaming apps readily available and be it the latest hit TV series on Disney + (another perk of Game Pass Ultimate being a month’s subscription included), or one of Amazon Prime’s quite spectacular original series, it all runs with the utmost clarity. BBC iPlayer inexplicably doesn’t load and instead advises you to access the app on the Xbox One.

Final thoughts

The Xbox Series S is many things, some truly wonderful, some not quite so. It’s approach to accessibility and affordability really provide it with a platform and a market to make it’s own. It could essentially be this generations Wii. With game sizes exponentially growing, the space provided on the internal SSD, or the lack thereof, is a cause for concern. Paired with the extortionate cost of upgrading the system’s super-fast SSD, it does ask the question of whether it’s a safer bet to buy a Series X instead? With more power, an optical drive and a larger SSD, the Xbox Series X might actually provide the best value for money, not the Series S. If you’re happy to chop and change the titles you have downloaded at one time, or even if you’re looking for a competent machine to fill with a plethora of smaller indie games, the Series S is definitely worth your attention. 

At the end of the day, it comes down to whether you’re simply looking for a budget gateway into next-gen. As a standalone, with all the compromises and caveats it brings, fully accepted and understood, it represents astounding value. Once you start factoring what it can’t do and contemplating upgrading storage, it takes on a wholly different complexion. It’s a double-barreled sword in every sense of the totally real metaphor. Essentially, if you’re looking for something affordable and accessible to occupy the kids or play a few rounds of FIFA with friends, you can’t go wrong. If, however, you’re looking for something to push the limits of next-gen gaming with and experience ethereal, titanic titles – and the initial financial outlay isn’t a factor – it’s hard to recommend the Series S over the Series X. Well, the concept of the Series X at least. I haven’t actually tested one yet so can’t speak for anything other than the specs and information available. Note to self, get my hands on a Series X ASAP.

Pro

  • An affordable and approachable next-gen console
  • Small, near-silent and cool box
  • Game Pass Ultimate is the Series S’s MVP
  • Quick Resume is a game changer
  • Optimised for X|S titles look and play sensationally

Cons

  • Quick resume doesn’t work with Optimised for X|S titles (yet)
  • The custom SSD is criminally small and will hold just four AAA games
  • No optical drive so reliant on digital titles

Verdict

The Xbox Series S is an excellent entry-level next-gen gaming machine. It’s not without fault but achieves what it sets out to do spectacularly.

1 thought on “[Review] Xbox Series S

Join the conversation!!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Big Coffee Energy!