Xbox Series S is currently the cheapest next-gen gaming console. And while the deficit for the powerful PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X has not passed, and prices have not decreased, the younger version of Microsoft’s console seemed to be an exciting option. I note right away: this will not be a familiar review for us, but the experience of using a personal console for a month, my own impressions and conclusions.
Why Series S and not Series X or PlayStation 5?
It just so happens that serious PC gaming has not attracted me for a long time. I also didn’t want to assemble a gaming system unit with current prices for video cards, but to play occasionally – why not?
I’ve wanted to try the console for a long time, and quarantine restrictions have finally become a good reason to think about this issue. The prices and the deficit on the PlayStation 5 were not pleasing, it was not known what I didn’t want to wait for, but there was no desire to buy consoles of the previous generation on hard drives.
And by the end of November 2020, the Xbox Series S price dropped to an acceptable level for me, in contrast to the older models, and I decided to try the budget “next-gen” gaming.
Yes, I perfectly understood that the younger Xbox is not capable of full-fledged 4K and is three times weaker than Series X, but it seemed that this would be a good option for a start. In the end, I will tell you if my expectations were met.
Xbox Series S Review: What’s in the box?
Here we have everything we need: a gamepad with batteries, a 2.1 HDMI cable, a power cable (the PSU is built into the console), and a few instructions. The box itself is relatively small.
Xbox Series S Review: Design
Actually, a large box is not needed here – after all, the console itself is quite compact, and in size, it is smaller than the Xbox Series X or One X, and even more so – the PlayStation 5. Series S can be safely put in a bag or backpack and played wherever there are a monitor / TV and a free socket.
The console is a compact box weighing about 2 kg and a thickness of 6.5 cm. One thing can be said about the design – minimalism as it is. Completely white, made of matte plastic with a round black insert on the top panel, stylized as a speaker. But, in fact, a black insert is needed to bring hot air out. There is a cooler under it.
The attachment can be positioned in two versions: horizontal and vertical. For this, rubber feet are provided on the required sides. The air intake is from the side, and the air outlet is from the top through the black circle. The console is quite difficult to position so that the cooling system begins to choke, so the main thing is not to close the hot air outlet.
Xbox Series S Review: Ports
The console has no problems with connectors. The rear panel houses the power connector, storage expansion port, HDMI 2.1, and a pair of USB 3.2 Gen 1 ports, as well as a gigabit network port. There are a couple of mechanical buttons for power and pairing with a gamepad and another USB port on the front panel. Each of the USB ports supports the ability to connect a mouse, keyboard, and drives from which you can play your favorite movies and TV shows.
As a wireless interface, the set-top box has Wi-Fi 802.11ac and Bluetooth for connecting gamepads.
As for the download speeds of games, I got about 200 Mb/s over Wi-Fi and about 500 Mb / s when connected to Ethernet. It also makes sense to connect the console to a fast Internet if you plan to stream games from it to mobile devices, such as smartphones or tablets. Fortunately, there is such a function. But it is not yet possible to stream games to PC.
Xbox Series S | X Controller
Compared to the gamepad from previous generations of Microsoft consoles, there are very few changes. The developers slightly changed the texture of the inside of the grips and triggers. A quick screenshot button has also been added, and the charging connector is now Type-C instead of MicroUSB. Formally, the gamepad has become even a little smaller, but it’s invisible in the hands.
Unfortunately, the gamepad doesn’t have a built-in battery. The situation is the same as the version that comes with the older Xbox Series X. The controller still needs a pair of AA batteries to power the controller. Microsoft explains this decision because, among Xbox users, there is still a request for replacement batteries. That being said, the company sells a separate rechargeable battery and a USB Type-C cable for charging the gamepad.
Otherwise, this is a very comfortable gamepad with a great shape, and thanks to the textured plastic. It now sits more securely in hand. The port for connecting headphones with a microphone has been preserved. There is no basic possibility to connect wireless headphones. For this, you need to purchase a separate adapter.
The set and arrangement of keys in the gamepad remained almost unchanged (except for the screenshot key). A pair of analog sticks, a crosspiece, triggers, buttons above them have not gone anywhere. All this set is very convenient to use, thanks to the convenient texture. Buttons still click cool, just like in previous versions of the controller. The vibration is powerful, shaking hands well at maximum levels.
Before that, I had already used Xbox controllers, mainly on a PC, and in the new gamepad, everything seemed familiar to me. By the way, the Xbox controller is one of the reasons why not a PlayStation? I’m used to it, and it is very convenient for me.
Xbox Series S Review: Processor
I’ll start with dry numbers. The Xbox Series S is based on a custom AMD Zen 2 architecture that includes an octa-core 3.14GHz processor and an AMD RDNA 2 GPU with 4 TFLOPS. Based on the latter, the Series S is 3x weaker than the Xbox Series X and is roughly the same as the Xbox One X.
Compared to the previous top-end console, Series S has the main difference – the speedy NVME SSD. Thanks to this, the console’s cold start takes about 15 seconds, all saves and loads are almost instantaneous. The speed of the menu, I can call ideal fast and smooth.
I would also like to note the Quick Resume function, thanks to which you can quickly switch between games and applications and play immediately without any load. And this is noticeable even in non-optimized games.
Xbox Series S Memory
I will definitely talk about the quality of graphics and performance further, but I will finish my impression of the storage for now. Yes, high speed is cool. But there is one “but” – its volume. The Xbox Series S comes with 512GB of storage, but roughly 364GB is available to the player, and the system takes up the rest. To expand the storage capacity, you can use an external SSD and HDD, which can be connected to USB ports. Formally, you can even replace the pre-installed SSD, but you will have to disassemble it with the console completely. Yes, exactly.
Alternatively, you can use the simpler but faster and more expensive method of purchasing a 1TB expansion card from Seagate. But its cost is comparable to the difference in price between the senior and junior consoles. Therefore, a small amount of memory must be borne in mind before buying. Although for me this is not a problem, since I play a maximum of 1-2 games at the same time.
Xbox Series S Review: Graphics quality
So now about games and graphics. Xbox Series S can output games in 1440p resolution up to 120 fps with upscale up to 4K. In the settings, you can easily select the output of the picture in 4K resolution. Of course, this is all in theory, and practice depends on the developers’ specific implementation of the game.
There are only 24 new generation optimized games available on the Xbox Store at the time of this writing. Optimized means refresh rates over 30 fps, support for resolutions above 1080p and optional support for ray tracing. For 2021, patches for the new generation of consoles were announced by Cyberpunk 2077, GTA V, Metro Exodus, and others. The current list of next-generation games can be seen here.
Speaking of games, don’t forget about the hundreds of games for previous generations of Xbox that will run in Compatibility Mode without any problems. The graphics will not become more beautiful from this, but there is definitely no need to complain about the lack of games.
Formally, by the way, Xbox Series S can output games in 4K resolution, and the difference in quality is noticeable compared to upscaling up to 4K. There is only one such game so far – Ori and the Will of Wisps and it looks just gorgeous on a 4K monitor.
24 optimized games – not a lot, but the ones that are there look very cool. For example, Forza Horizon 4 or Gears 5 run at always stable 60 fps with upscale up to 4K. No subsidence visible is imperceptible.
With good graphics and a stable frame rate, it is a pleasure to play, even when connected to a monitor with a 4K resolution, as in my case. I must note that sometimes the upscale is noticeable, but if you plan to connect the console to a TV that will stand 2-3 meters away from you, then the graphics’ quality, I am sure, will not disappoint. If you play on a FullHD / 2K-monitor or TV and do not plan to change them, then the Xbox Series S can be called an almost ideal console for this.
What else can you do with the console?
Games do not end with the functionality of the console. The Microsoft Edge browser is preinstalled out of the box, and it has enough capabilities to read the news, for example. The Store also has YouTube, Netflix, Spotify, Twitch apps, and third-party players for playing videos from external media.
Xbox Series S Review: Noise and heat
The only noise that can be heard occasionally, only in complete silence, is the fan turning on when the console starts up. Even under load, the Xbox Series S remains very quiet and inaudible, even without playing with headphones or at high volume. The cooling system is efficient and quiet. In operation, warm, almost hot air emanates from the black circle that covers the fan. The rest of the case stays cool. There were no signs of overheating or a drop in frame rate even after 3 hours of continuous play.
Xbox Series S Review: Conclusion
The Xbox Series S is an exciting, inexpensive console with fast hardware and many potentials. If you’re looking to try the next generation of game consoles but don’t want to wait or spend money on top consoles, Series S is a good entry into the world. Of course, if you already have an Xbox One X, then you shouldn’t rush to replace it. There is practically no difference in power. But in operations related to fast reading and writing, the new consoles are out of the competition. If you plan to play at 4K resolution, it is better to consider older models from Sony or Microsoft. Yes, the Series S is a console with compromises. It lacks a full-fledged 4K, and the amount of memory is unlikely to suit many. But as a compact, quiet entertainment car with a handy gamepad and a relatively inexpensive Game Pass, it’s very cool.