Thanks to Xbox ANZ, Gaming Australia has been lucky enough to experience one of Microsoft's next generation gaming consoles: the Xbox Series S. The Xbox Series S is the smaller, less powerful version of Microsoft's flag-ship console, the Series X. Having already ordered a Series X and a PlayStation 5 myself, I was really intrigued by the Series S and how it would stack up against the much more powerful competitors/options.
Initially, I had notes for this review that mainly focused on the technical specs of this console and how it compared to the PS5 and Series X; but I think I was missing the point. It's not meant to outperform the other consoles. Microsoft, to be fair, has been quite open about that. Instead, what it is, is a lower priced gateway into the next generation. While it only runs at 1440p, it still supports the likes of ray tracing and advanced textures that the Series X supports. This means that for most people, games will still look just as good as they do on the more powerful Series X.
My initial impression of the Series S was just how small it is. I’d read the dimensions online and imagined it’s size, but I don't think you can fully grasp just how small it is until you hold it in your hands and see it for yourself. I mean, this thing is tiny! The black and white design, (despite my initial reservations from online images) is actually really sleek and clean looking. However, I still don't quite understand why they didn't just opt for an all white or all black design?
The biggest issue I have with the Series S is it's hard drive size. Coming with only a 512GB SSD, and almost 140GB of that being taken up with OS and what not, you're left with only 380GB or so of usable space. Considering that games like COD Black Ops Cold War are almost 200GB, that's not a lot of wiggle room. Upgrading this SSD will cost you a pretty penny, coming in at a whopping $360. So, if you're considering getting a Series S and pairing it with an expansion drive; I would instead recommend buying a Series X, that way you'll get a 1TB SSD with all that extra power, and still have $100 change to spend on games or accessories. Having said that, the SSD featured in the Series S is awesome. Featuring the same speeds as the Series X, the thing packs a punch and the load times for the console are dramatically cut; compared to those on older consoles, or even games stored on an external HDD. This for me is the most noticeable difference between generations so far. The Series S, while being a next gen console, does possess considerably less processing power than the XSX and PS5. The Series S has only 4 Teraflops compared to the Series X and it’s 12 Teraflops; and while on paper that seems like a massive downgrade, in reality, it doesn't seem to make a whole lot of difference due to the SSD doing most of the heavy lifting in terms of performance.
The new UI felt a little messy at first, but once you get used to it, it actually flows quite well and everything is relatively easy to find. Both the store and your game pass subscriptions are displayed nicely on your home screen, which makes looking for your next title a breeze. One new feature I did struggle with was Quick Resume. Quick resume is supposed to be this new feature that allows you to exit out of multiple games and for them all to remain idle in the background. This means that when you enter back into that game, the console will pick up where you left off in no time at all. This for me however, only worked sporadically, and in fact I couldn't get it to work at all with any of the new Ubisoft titles.
Xbox Game Pass:
Let's talk about Xbox Game Pass. Xbox Game Pass is a subscription service for both Xbox and PC players; for $15AUD per month, you get access to over 100 high quality games. With a healthy mixture of big name AAA and some equally as entertaining indie titles, game pass has something for everyone. In the last week (at the time of writing this review), EA Play has been added to their already stellar line-up, including games such as Need For Speed Heat, Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order and many more HUGE titles. Game Pass truly is the best value for money subscription service in gaming.
Coming from a PlayStation background, at least in the last generation, I must say that the Xbox Series S/X controllers are great. Perfect size, shape and weight. It truly is a bit of a masterpiece. Pairing it with my windows laptop for gaming was also a breeze. Simply hold down the pairing button until the light flashes and a notification pops up on your screen asking you to pair. 1 click and you're paired and ready to go. Probably the biggest surprise for me was how much I loved the fact the Series S/X controllers are battery powered. Being a DualShock 4 user, I constantly hear the negativity online surrounding Xbox using batteries in their controllers, and honestly, I used to agree. However, since using both these controllers and the DualSense controller, I have swayed to removable batteries being the way to go. My DualSense gets about 9 hours of gameplay and I have to charge it before continuing, whereas my XSX controller has racked up over 30 hours of usage and according to my Xbox, still has about 70% battery left. Once it does eventually die, I am happy to simply swap the batteries knowing the lifespan I'll get, and away I go.
Capable of only 1440p rather than the 4K the others are able to run, the Series S is obviously a downgrade in resolution. This downgrade however, is a seemingly fair trade off in order for the Series S to still hit the higher 120fps frame rates the other consoles also boast. Whilst on paper this lack of resolution fidelity sounds like a big deal, in reality it's hardly even noticeable. Below is a side by side comparison of Assassins Creed on both the Series S and the Series X.
Not a whole lot of difference….
The Xbox Series S is a great value for money way to enter the next gen market. Boasting frame rates of up to 120fps and smooth 1440p graphics, this console is definitely not to be underestimated. So far it’s holding its own against it’s 2 bigger brothers, and is the perfect machine paired with Xbox Game Pass. It’s price point places it at a similar level to the Nintendo Switch, which quite frankly is not even in the same galaxy as the series S, never mind ball park. If you're looking for a cheap way to step into the next generation of console gaming, then the Series S is for you. If you're looking for something a little more future proof then I'd recommend the Series X. Both are fantastic consoles and both are a force to be reckoned with.