Xbox Series X and S review: Newest Microsoft consoles won’t disappoint dedicated gamers but feel safe and boring compared to the PS5
- Serious gamers will not be let down by the high-end Series X console
- Casual gamers and Netflix-lovers will enjoy the new ‘Quick Resume’ feature
- £249 for the Series S, a fully-fledged game console, is excellent value
Microsoft has recently launched the Xbox Series X, the latest high-end iteration of its famed gaming console, and the Series S, its digital-only baby brother.
On the surface, there are some obvious and simple differences between the two, the X is more expensive, black, and has twice as much internal memory.
But they both pack a punch for gamers and offer a smattering of new features. MailOnline got hold of both consoles and put them to the test.
The X costs £449, the same as the comparative version of the PS5, whereas the S costs an astoundingly reasonable £249, £100 less than its PS5 equivalent.
In a coronavirus-ravaged 2020, consoles have to be able to offer enough to satisfy hardcore gamers while also being a do-it-all entertainment hub for the family.
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Cuboid in shape, the X (left) is Microsoft’s most powerful ever console ever made while the cut-price Series S (right) is a digital-only console which is the smallest ever Xbox
Series S specs
Frame rate: 120FPS
Processor: 4 Teraflops
Gaming resolution: 1440P
Disk drive: None
Video: Up to 8K HDR
Height: 27.5 cm
Weight: 1.93kg (4.25lbs)
Series X specs
Frame rate: 120FPS
Processor: 12 Teraflops
Gaming resolution: True 4K
Disk drive: 4K UHD
Video: Up to 8K HDR
Weight: 4.45kg (9.8lbs)
Two consoles, two different looks. The Series X is a monolithic beast, a black cuboid best suited to being plonked upright and shoved in a corner.
Its 12 inches tall and won’t win any beauty pageants for its unimaginative appearance – a plain block with a grill on the top with neon green embellishments.
The Series S, as the smallest Xbox ever made, is a more traditional set-top box shape with a circular black vent on the top.
Compared to the enormous and futuristic Playstation 5, they’re not ugly ducklings, but they are, effectively, boring.
The story is much the same for the controllers.
In the 90s, a variety of console controllers were being tested out, and both Sony and Microsoft struck gold with the eventual designs of the Playstation and Xbox.
And since then, they’ve scarcely changed in two decades. They’ve got upgrades, incousing improved haptic feedback, but they’re almost identical to look at.
When unboxing both the S and the X, the lone controller that comes with each is from the exact same mould, but with the addition of a share button and a hybrid D-pad.
And this is, essentially, fine. But it feels safe and easy, especially compared to the space-age appearance of the new controller of the PS5.
Considering it has been more than 20 years since Microsoft started developing consoles, it is high time it started investing more in the visuals.
After all, it will sit on the TV table, stand on the carpet or live in the lounge cabinet for several years, it may as well look the part.
Nobody with any common sense is paying hundreds of pounds for a games console if they don’t intend to use it for gaming, to some degree.
While the console tribalism runs deeper now than it ever has between Playstation and Xbox, there is no such predetermined bias between the S or the X.
The numbers reveal the X is clearly superior on paper. The S has four teraflops of processing power – which is similar to a PlayStation 4 Pro. Series X has 12 teraflops.
Gaming resolution for the X is True 4K, whereas the S reaches 1440p, known as Quad HD.
Unless you are a hardened gamer with a trained eye it is unlikely you will tell the difference as both handle the demands of high resolution gaming very well.
For people who can discern the difference, they probably weren’t even debating buying the S anyway.
But both consoles come with key improvements, notably Xbox Velocity Architecture and DirectX Raytracing.
The latter improves the lighting of gameplay and makes for a more realistic visual experience compared to previous models.
Xbox Velocity Architecture is a big win for Xbox fans and allows for rapid loading of games.
The delay in opening a game and being able to play it was frustrating on previous models, whereas now it is much slicker, and far less irritating.
Games load up rapidly and Velocity also powers ‘Quick Resume’, a feature that allows more than half a dozen games to be paused and users can then flit between them and instantly pick up where they left off.
The Series X is a monolithic beast, a black cuboid best suited to being plonked upright and shoved in a corner. Its 12 inches tall and won’t win any beauty pageants for its unimaginative appearance – a plain block with a grill on the top with neon green embellishments
Now, for online gaming, Microsoft will still charge £72 a year. But, Game Pass Ultimate costs £11 a month and this gives access to online gaming as well as the ability to download a number of games from an impressive library.
For anyone who likes access to a variety of different games who would pay for Game Pass already, the extra £50 a year is worth every penny.
This includes games from classic franchises like Halo, Gears and Forza.
However, the ability to download this many games will soon eat up the storage available on the console.
People who are prone to downloading games on whim will find the S soon fills up, with the X and its 1Tb of storage more suited to this type of gamer.
Both the S and the X are much quieter than their predecessors. This, admittedly, is not something to particularly brag about considering the racket from old machines.
The One and the 360 made such an egregious whirring sound when booting up that it often sounded like a hair dryer was trying to make the console levitate.
But for the latest generation Xbox switched from a traditional hard-drive to a solid-state form of storage.
This, as well as Velocity, make both consoles spookily fast and quiet, which is a nice, and overdue, improvement.
This however, is where the memory restrictions of the S come into play. The standard 512GB of storage sounds a lot, but soon wittles away when installing today’s enormous games.
For example, the installation of just four games (Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Gears 5, Madden 21 and Marvel’s Avengers) as well as just one app (Netflix) takes up 58.5 per cent of the available storage.
This does not leave much in the way of extra space, with one game and maybe a handful of apps squeezing in before it reaches capacity.
The issue is compounded by the lack of a disc drive because although Xbox brought in backwards compatibility through four generations, they will have to be digital versions.
People wanting more memory can opt to buy an official 1Tb storage-expansion card for £220 which fits into either the X or S.
But the price difference between the S and the X is only £200, so if expanded storage is something you may need on the S, you might as well stump up more originally and buy the X.
The numbers reveal the X is clearly superior on paper. The S has four teraflops of processing power – which is similar to a PlayStation 4 Pro. Series X has 12 teraflops
The Series S, as the smallest Xbox ever made, is a more traditional set-top box shape with a circular black vent on the top. Compared to the enormous and futuristic Playstation 5, the X and S are not ugly ducklings, but they are, effectively, boring
There is not a great deal between the two games when it comes to performance, with only the very high end improvements going to be noticed by people who consider gaming to be their principle hobby.
If that’s you, the X is your only option, as much due to the 1Tb storage as the 4K visuals and disc drive.
For people who think more than half a dozen games is a likely scenario on their console, considering the enormous size of games and the likelihood they, and their updates, will continue to bloat in the coming years, the X is probably the best option.
However, the Series S is exceptional value, packed with elite technology. It is fast, powerful, quiet and smart and perfect for casual gamers who want their console to be more of a jack-of-all trades that doesn’t hit the wallet as hard.
Microsoft have avoided rocking the boat and both consoles feel like a slicker version of the familiar Xbox experience.
The US firm has kept costs for both the X and S reasonable and have delivered two well-rounded consoles that will not disappoint well-established Xboxers.
It is clear the priority of Microsoft was to enhance and consolidate all aspects of the Xbox experience that already were popular with consumers, and it has done an excellent job for that.
But, they do lack an element of wow-factor despite delivering on all aspects of performance, with it feeling like Microsoft has avoided pushing the envelope.
Everything you need to know about the Xbox Series X and Series S
Xbox Series S
Priced at £249 and measuring in at 6.5cm x 15.1cm x 30cm with a weight of 1.9kg, the Series S is compact in every sense.
It is in fact the smallest Xbox ever, but it packs a punch, with four teraflops of processing power – which is similar to a PlayStation 4 Pro.
In terms of performance, it can run games at 1440p resolution, better known as Quad HD, and at 60 frames per second, but with support for up to 120 fps for even smoother visuals.
Xbox has also confirmed there is support for 4K resolution if developers choose to render games in such high resolution.
Content from platforms such as Netflix, Amazon and Disney can be streamed in 4K Ultra HD.
Elsewhere inside the device there is 512GB of storage, but both the Series S and Series X support storage expansion.
Crucially the Series S is a digital-only console which means there is no disc drive so all content must be downloaded digitally.
But it does share a number of key features with its bigger sibling, including the harnessing of DirectX raytracing technology, which greatly improves how games can render light, making them look more realistic.
It also offers Quick Resume, enabling players to jump between and back into games in seconds, drastically cutting load times.
Xbox Series X
The new flagship of the Xbox family, the Series X, has been described as the most powerful device the gaming giant has ever made.
Priced at £449, the Series X comes in a surprisingly compact package at 15.1cm x 15.1cm x 30.1cm, although it does weigh 4.4kg.
That is because inside is a range of technology normally found in a high-end gaming PC.
Part of what Xbox calls its Velocity Architecture in both consoles, the Series X houses 12 teraflops of processing power, which is double what can be found in the current generation Xbox One X, a powerhouse in its own right.
With those processing capabilities, the Series X will run games in 4K resolution at 60 fps, with further support for 120 fps too.
But thanks to its high-tech fan and cooling system, which involves the eye-catching black and green vents on the top of the console, the device stays very cool and makes little noise.
It also comes with one terabyte of storage.
Like the Series S, it too uses Quick Resume to rapidly launch games and has a disc drive which supports 4K UHD and Blu-Ray discs.
Both consoles also support Dolby Vision enhanced video technology, as well as Dolby TrueHD with Atmos audio for better all-round sound output.
Owners of either console can also choose to join Xbox Game Pass, where a library of more than 100 games can be streamed instantly.
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