With Microsoft banking so heavily in Xbox Game Pass and other services in the long-term, it makes sense that they’d want to provide a cheaper way into the next-generation of gaming. That’s where the Xbox Series S comes into play. It’s a cheaper, smaller, yet still insanely powerful box that is almost a one for one carbon copy of its bigger brother, the Xbox Series X internally.
In saying that, that is the best part about the Xbox Series S. For the most part, it’s an uncompromised entry point into the next-generation of Xbox. As far as we know, any game that plays on the Xbox Series X now or in the future (or Xbox One/360 for that matter) will run on the Xbox Series S. It has exactly the same super fast SSD, which means that you can be in a Dirt 5 race in under 15 seconds, or loading into your Gears 5 save in under 10 seconds. Quick Resume is still here too, and that has been one of my favourite parts of the Xbox Series X|S experience, which you can read about more here.
Microsoft has obviously worked insanely hard at ensuring that the experience is almost identical, and it is. I had been using the Xbox Series X for about three weeks when I moved over to the Xbox Series S, and it was like I never left my other console. After plugging in the Xbox Storage Expansion Card, all of my Xbox Series X optimised games were right there ready for me to play, with my saves downloading right from the cloud. One of the major concerns is definitely going to be storage. It only comes with about 360GB of space, so you’ll almost certainly need an external hard drive, or the Storage Expansion Card to fit more than a handful of games.
That is Xbox’s greatest strength and an area that they’re still dominating PlayStation in. Regardless of what console you’re playing on, for the most part, you are getting a very similar experience with things such as Xbox Game Pass and the UI, and just an overall solid and reliable experience from a service point of view.
The biggest difference between the two consoles is the size, and let me tell you, the Xbox Series S is tiny. It’s probably the most versatile little console that we’ve had in a long time, and it’ll go nicely in your entertainment unit, or perfectly goes next to your monitor in the study. You can easily move it between areas as well given how small it is, and I do seeing this being an Xbox that can be taken with you, or moved between the office and home.
I had wondered given the size of it if it would be noisier than the insanely quiet Xbox Series X, and it isn’t. Similar to the larger console, it was whisper quiet the entire time that I was putting it through its paces. It does get quite hot, and you probably feel it a little bit more given the smaller size of the console, but still nothing to be concerned about.
Playing games on the Xbox Series S is largely the same experience as it was on the Xbox Series X. Although our sample of titles for review was quite small (Gears 5, Forza Horizon 4, Gears Tactics, Dirt 5 & Yakuza: Like A Dragon), I was impressed in how the Xbox Series S delivered. Obviously, games are running at 1440p/1080p instead of 4K, but in terms of frame rate/visual options, it was mostly the same as what I experienced on the Xbox Series X. I’d argue that probably nine out of ten people that go hands-on with the Xbox Series S wouldn’t even notice a different in terms of the visuals that its pushing out.
Dirt 5 was still able to go between three modes (visuals/performance/120hz), Gears 5 could still pull off its 120Hz mode and looked absolutely stunning and Yakuza offered me the 60FPS option as well as the visual option (but was lacking the performance mode). I definitely noticed more frame rate drops on the Xbox Series S than I did on the X, but again, it’s to be expected and still impressive for a box this small.
This brought up the biggest question that I had about the Xbox Series S, though. It’s only $250 cheaper than the Xbox Series X, and obviously quite a bit more expensive than the Xbox One S was. It’s a great little console, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not quite cheap enough that a family might go and pick one up on a whim. Also, that family that probably wants to pay a little bit less for a console, is the same one that wants a disc drive. I wonder how Microsoft can knock off maybe another $100 or so in the near future and make this an undeniable force of a console, because in my opinion, it probably sits in that space where most people will just pay the extra to have the best, or won’t find it cheap enough and will wait for it to come down.
Regardless, the Xbox Series S is another win for the Xbox brand. It’s a mighty nice console, it has all the next-gen features that we’ve been hearing about for months, and any console that has Xbox Game Pass is worth the price of admission. I think it has a bit of work to do in terms of finding out its target market, but I can guarantee that you won’t be unhappy if one lands in your lap.