Xbox Series S review: Power your mass market dreams

FINALSVIDEOXBOX SERIES X|S

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As technology has progressed, home consoles have become increasingly high-tech and subsequently more expensive. In its peak, Sony Corp. charged $599 for the PlayStation 5 60GB SKU. Rather than cost-reduce a new console over time, Microsoft Corp. has taken an unconventional approach to introduce both an entry-level product and core product simultaneously. The result is Xbox Series S, a small yet powerful all-digital console that shares the same architecture as the Xbox Series X at only $299.

For under $300, the XSS is remarkable. The console includes an 8-core AMD Zen 2 CPU clocked at 3.6Ghz and 3.4Ghz w/ SMT Enabled (.2 to .24Ghz lower than the Xbox Series X), AMD RDNA 2 GPU with 20 Compute Units at 1.565Ghz and 4TFLOPS of GPU power, 10GB GDDR6 RAM, and a 512GB PCIe Gen 4 NVME SSD. All of this is packed in a small, matte white brick that is compact in horizontal or vertical status.

On paper, the performance gap between the XSS and XSX is massive. However, as XSS targets 1440p resolution instead of 4K, it requires much less computing power to achieve identical frame rates as the XSX.

Titles that achieve frame rate parity include the addictive puzzle title Tetris Effect: Connected to the dynamic RPG Yakuza: Like a Dragon. Even core titles like Gears of War 5 and Forza Horizon 4 match the 60 to 120FPS fidelity as their XSX counterparts. Playing Yakuza: Like a Dragon on the XSX, I stopped the game, continued my save on the XSS, and the experience was the same – 60FPS fidelity, depth-of-field, bloom, ambient occlusion, screen-space reflections were all held in its 900p/60FPS Normal Mode. It’s incredible.

In addition, the XSS can improve fidelity from backward compatible titles. Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown, which yields an unstable frame rate of 30FPS to 60FPS on Xbox One S, is locked to 60FPS on the XSS.

To be fair, there are XSS titles that do not achieve parity to their XSX counterparts. Ubisoft Inc.’s Assassin’s Creed Valhalla can run at 4K/60FPS on XSX, and only runs at 1440p/30FPS on XSS. However the 50 percent reduction in frame rate is likely due to developer choice not to reduce resolution rather than a referendum on the power of the XSS.

Also, XSS images can be soft on a 4K TV. It was built to excel on non-4K sets and the lower quality software assets can stick out on a large 4K set.

Load times have been reduced to seconds due to the quick SSD built into the XSS. Because of cost, the console only includes a 512GB drive, of which only 364GB is available for software. While it may seem bleak, many XSS game file sizes are lower than the XSX, and users can offload game titles to a USB 3.0 external hard drive. For those willing to splurge, a 1TB Seagate Expansion Card that matches the speed of the internal drive sells at $219.99.

The new Xbox controller is improved with a smaller size, textured back, updated d-pad, and matte finish grips and triggers. However, it doesn’t add any innovation to the standard controller from the prior generation and is the least interesting part of the new console.

One part of the Xbox experience that remains under construction is the Xbox UI. The UI can skip back to the Home page when queuing update and download information or remain unresponsive after input execution. System updates will undoubtedly fix post-launch quirks, but if Microsoft intended to build a console more like a PC, it’s succeeded.

The best argument for the value proposition of the XSS is its ability to serve as an entry-level box for Xbox Game Pass. For only $10 a month, XSS owners can have a library of more than 100 games titles to download, including all new first-party releases from Microsoft like Halo: Infinite. In addition, Microsoft’s purchase of Bethesda and inclusion of EA Play offer a bulk of third-party titles to choose from.

For $299, the Xbox Series S is simply the most powerful console ever built at this price point. Its performance is exceptional, perfectly packed in a minimalist frame, ready to power mass market dreams.


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