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Xbox Series S review: Stunning console with just one problem

Xbox Series S unlocks the latest generation of games without breaking the bank. Although you might struggle with its diddy hard-drive

What We Love

  • Sleek, Modern Design
  • Plays The Latest Xbox Games
  • Incredible Price Tag
  • Game Pass Is Unmatched
  • Netflix, Disney+ and Sky Go Apps
  • Great Controller

What We Don’t

  • 500GB Storage Is Not Enough
  • Storage Expansion Isn’t Cheap

Xbox Series S

This budget-friendly console shares a number of features with the Xbox Series X, despite being almost half the price. As well as playing the same library of games, the Series S supports 120 frames-per-second gaming and Quick Resume. It also unlocks streaming from Netflix, Prime Video, and Sky Go.

Microsoft kickstarted its latest generation of games consoles with two all-new boxes – the all-powerful Xbox Series X and the Xbox Series S. While the former arrives with every bell and whistle Microsoft can muster (and a price tag to match), the Series S cherry-picks a few of the best features to keep this console as wallet-friendly as possible.

If you’re interested in the all-singing, all-dancing Series X, read our in-depth thoughts on this flagship console in our Xbox Series X review.

Meanwhile, at just £239.99 (and sometimes under £200 during sales), the Xbox Series S is a ludicrously affordable way to access the latest blockbuster games. Even better, Microsoft offers a 24-month pay monthly deal that combines the console with its Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription for just £20.99 per month. Now that is seriously enticing.

PlayStation fans looking to spend a similar amount on a console will need to resort to the PS4. Sony was forced to restart production of this outdated console in the wake of its PlayStation 5 announcement so that it had something to offer gamers who didn’t want to splash at least £359.99 to spend on a new console.

Xbox Series S is compatible with the latest batch of games from Microsoft and third-party studios, it supports cloud gaming so you’ll be able to stream the latest blockbuster titles without waiting for a download to complete, boasts apps for your favourite streaming services, and supports 120 frames-per-second gameplay.

All of this in an elegant package that fits perfectly underneath any telly – something that we bemoaned in our PS5 review due to that console’s humongous frame, while the sleek white appearance ensures this new Xbox won’t look out of place in the most style-conscious of homes.

So, what’s the catch? The Xbox Series S is a digital-only console, which means there’s no disk drive. If you want to play games you’ll need to download them from Microsoft, but with just 500GB of internal storage out-of-the-box, it’s not long before this diddy console is fit to burst. It’s possible to connect an external hard drive or buy an official expansion card, but these options all add to the price tag of the console. Streaming games from the cloud is another solution, but you’ll need a speedy Wi-Fi connection for that to work.

If you’re not much of a games hoarder, and only want to juggle between a handful of titles at a time (or are happy to splash out on a 1TB expansion card within the next year) the Xbox Series S is a brilliant way to experience the latest generation of games and play with friends online …without breaking the bank.

Xbox Series S

This budget-friendly console shares a number of features with the Xbox Series X, despite being almost half the price. As well as playing the same library of games, the Series S supports 120 frames-per-second gaming and Quick Resume. It also unlocks streaming from Netflix, Prime Video, and Sky Go.

JUMP TO…

  • Design
  • Speed and Performance
  • Xbox Controller
  • Storage
  • Game Pass
  • Final Verdict
  • Xbox Series S review

    Let’s be honest, the Xbox One wasn’t the finest hour for the Xbox team.

    Coming off the back of the blockbuster Xbox 360, it seemed like Microsoft could do no wrong – and was set for total domination in the console wars. Oh, Icarus.

    With the Xbox One in the rearview mirror, Microsoft has kickstarted the ninth-generation of video game consoles with an interesting twist. Instead of one new console, Microsoft launched two boxes: Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S. While the former is an all-singing, all-dancing flagship console that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the PlayStation 5, the Xbox Series S is something we haven’t seen from the brand before. It is a selection of some of the best features from the top-tier console and some compromises to keep a low price tag.

    This approach is something we’re more accustomed to seeing from smartphone brands, with the flagship model arriving with a £1,000 price tag and all of the latest tricks, while a more reasonably priced phone has a pick ‘n mix of the features that most people will care about. Series S is the iPhone 14 to the Series X’s iPhone 14 Pro.

    Xbox Series S launched with a £249 price tag, but that regularly drops to an incredibly wallet-friendly £239 these days.

    Better still, there’s also a 24-month deal from Microsoft that bundles the console with its Xbox Game Pass Ultimate (which is a Netflix-like subscription for the latest games and unlocks the online multiplayer benefits of Xbox Live too!) for just £20.99 per month.

    With that single subscription you’ll never need to splash-out on a game, be able to join friends online (even those on PlayStation thanks to the widespread support for cross-play across the industry) and use the console to stream from the likes of Netflix, Prime Video and Disney+ to your telly too!

    There’s nothing available from PlayStation that comes close to matching this incredible deal, with last-generation’s PlayStation 4 still setting you back a cool £259.99 in most stores.

    https://www.youtube.com/embed/KHLfCFMKxPg

    Design

    We’ve been using this compact console since its launch, and we’ve grown incredibly fond of it. The Xbox Series S boasts a compact, neat design that’ll fit perfectly next to your telly or underneath in any media unit. The sleek white appearance and clean lines ensure this console won’t look out of place in even the most style-conscious of homes. Unlike the colourful toy-like design of the Nintendo Switch, the Xbox Series S looks like a sophisticated piece of kit. Maybe even more so than the bulkier, Darth Vadar-like stylings of the Series X.

    And don’t think for one minute that its small size means the Series S can’t keep pace with the latest titles. This diddy gaming machine packs plenty of power. Under the plastic casing, Microsoft has packed a 3.6GHZ CPU with eight cores, which supplies enough oomph to make all the latest games feel silky smooth on the screen. If you’ve seen a next-generation title – from Elden Ring to StarfieldHalo to Forza Horizon 5 – advertised for the latest PlayStation or Xbox, the Series S will be able to play it.

    Of course, since the Xbox Series S is limited to 1440p video resolution, you won’t be able to experience the visuals in crisp 4K Ultra HD (like the PS5 and Xbox Series X) but you will enjoy fast-paced action at the same 120 frames-per-second as the flagship consoles. That’s the compromise that Microsoft has made to keep the Series S price tag affordable.

    Speed and Performance

    Packed inside the Xbox Series S is a custom-designed solid state drive, SSD, that works together with Microsoft’s Xbox Velocity Architecture to ensure load times are kept to a minimum. If you’re accustomed to a console from last generation slowing chugging on a disc to load your latest playthrough, the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it load times of the Xbox Series S are a game-changer. Even behemoth titles, like Forza Horizon 5, load in a flash.

    In our time with the console, we found these short load times meant that we played more games. Not just because of the time saved, although that helps to maximise any time you do get with the console, because the short load times mean there are more opportunities in the day to play something. A 10-minute wait while something cooks in the oven is now a feasible window for a quick match on Rocket League or a team deathmatch on Call Of Duty …whereas in previous generations, you’d be through to the lobby when the timer goes off.

    The other incredible technology inside the Xbox Series S that lets you jump back into your favourite games in seconds is Quick Resume. This allows you to jump between titles and resume instantly where you left off. So you can pause mid-jump in the middle of Shadow Of The Tomb Raider, switch across to Doom Eternal to blast through a horde of enemies, and then switch back to Tomb Raider complete the jump seamlessly. Up to six titles can be held in stasis with Quick Resume at any one point.

    Even better, the feature continues to work when the console is switched off, so games with dedicated locations to save (here’s looking at you, Resident Evil) are no longer such a headache. Microsoft lets you pin certain titles in Quick Resume so that, no matter how many other games you decide to play in the weeks or months, your chosen game is guaranteed to still be paused in the same spot. It’s incredibly clever stuff and a real quality-of-life improvement for players.

    Even the PS5, which starts from £389.99, hasn’t got anything like the ground-breaking Quick Resume feature.

    One final thing to mention about the brilliant Series S is how quiet the console manages to stay …even when intensive next-generation games are running. It’s almost impossible to hear the fan whirling inside. In fact, the only way you know it is working is to place a hand above the console and feel for the hot air being pumped out from the black mesh circle.

    Xbox Controller

    Away from the machine itself, you’ll find a slightly updated controller. This is the same controller design that ships with the pricier Xbox Series X. It’s no bad thing that Microsoft hasn’t made any major changes to this much-loved accessory and it performs incredibly well. Things are refined via superior grips, thanks to a new tactile texture, a dedicated share button to quickly save clips of your best moments to the hard drive ready for social media or twitch, and a better D-pad for more responsive gameplay.

    The Xbox controller still takes AA batteries, which has always been a divisive decision. For some, this is a genius move that means that you’ll always be able to play wirelessly …not tethered to the console with a charging cable as recharging is as simple as a quick battery swap. It also means that, without a lithium-ion cell to go awry, the lifespan of your controller should be much longer than other console accessories. Microsoft does sell a rechargeable conversion kit, but that’ll cost you an extra £19.99.

    We’d prefer if this was included in the box and players had the choice between AAs or rechargeable – without incurring an extra cost. But this is a minuscule nitpick with the console.

    Storage

    We’ve only got one proper complaint with the excellent Xbox Series S and that’s related to the measly internal storage. Microsoft’s Series S is a digital-only console, which means there’s no disk drive for games or Blu-rays. As such, if you want to play a new game, you’ll need to download it from the Xbox Game Pass storefront (free of charge, since everything is included in your monthly subscription, like Netflix) or as a digital purchase.

    However, with just 500GB of storage under the bonnet, in our experience, it’s not long before the Series S starts to fill up.

    While 500GB might sound like a lot – your laptop might have a similar amount of room – the Xbox system install takes up a fair chunk of the hard disk, meaning you are only left with about 350GB of usable space to begin with. Fortnite requires 40.51GB for the base game, Grand Theft Auto V needs 96.84GB on your SSD, and the latest entries in the Assassin’s Creed and Forza series both require north of 100GB to install. If you installed everything in this short list, your Xbox Series S would be full.

    Thankfully, there are a few workarounds. First up, you can add extra storage via a clever custom-designed port on the rear of the machine. The Expansion Card slot lets you add anywhere from 512GB to 2TB to the console. These SSDs, created by Seagate in collaboration with Microsoft, offer the same speed as the internal drive, so games installed on the Expansion Cards still support 120 frames-per-second, Quick Resume, and more.

    It’s a brilliant system and really future-proofs your system. The bad news? These Expansion Cards are expensive. The 1TB model costs £219 from the Microsoft Store, although there are sometimes deals available. However, at full price, that’s dangerously close to the cost of the Xbox Series S console itself. Ouch.

    You can plug-in any external hard drive with a USB, but the slower data-transfer capabilities of this connection means you’ll only be able to use this extra space for older games, like Xbox 360 or Xbox One titles that you’ve got in your collection to revisit.

    Fortnite requires 40.51GB, Grand Theft Auto V needs 96.84GB, and Assassin’s Creed and Forza series both require north of 100GB. If you installed all four, your Xbox Series S would already be full

    Microsoft offers a number of its biggest titles, including Forza Horizon 5, which requires 119.44GB to install on your Xbox, using its Cloud Gaming feature. This streams the title from Microsoft’s servers, so you won’t need to install anything on your Xbox Series S. In our time with the feature, it works ridiculously well. Performance is pretty stable and the visuals look great – it’s a great way to road-test (no pun intended) a new game before you commit to downloading the whole thing. However, we’re not sure we’d use it to complete an entire campaign as, should the worst happen and your home broadband goes offline, you’ll lose any progress in the game.

    You’ll also need to ensure you have a speedy broadband connection to enjoy Cloud Gaming but, after a few months of paying for speedy Wi-Fi, you might as well have forked out for a Seagate Expansion Card and kept everything installed locally on your Series S anyway.

    Game Pass

    Game Pass is a bombastic, disruptive new imitation from Xbox that it hopes will give it a lead over the competition this generation. For just £7.99 per month (or £10.99 per month if you opt for an Ultimate subscription, which also bundles online multiplayer access traditionally sold separately as Xbox Live), Xbox Game Pass unlocks dozens of must-play games from Xbox Games Studios, Bethesda, EA, and many more.

    Unlike comparable subscription services on PlayStation, Game Pass includes access to all Xbox Game Studios titles on release day. And you can even pre-load titles, so you can start playing as soon as the clock strikes midnight.

    Many of these games cost between £60-£70 each when bought separately – so players who buy two games per year will already be saving roughly £45 by playing these two titles on Game Pass rather than heading to their local shop.

    There’s also a dizzying catalogue of games from the original Xbox, Xbox 360, and Xbox One generation from in-house Microsoft studios.

    Unlike comparable subscriptions on PlayStation, Game Pass includes access to all exclusive Xbox games on the day of release

    As if that wasn’t enough, Microsoft is bundling all games included in the standalone EA Play subscription (usually £3.99 per month) as part of Game Pass too, so you’ll be able to download and play titles like Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, It Takes Two, Mass Effect: Legendary Edition, Battlefield 2042, Grid: Legends, FIFA 22, Need For Speed Hot Pursuit: Remastered, Anthem, Unravel Two, A Way Out, The Sims 4, Battlefield 1, Star Wars Battlefront II, SSX, the list goes on…

    With the acquisition of Bethesda under its belt, Game Pass also arrives with hundreds of existing first-party games in the flat monthly subscription too. This includes must-play releases like Sea of Thieves, Gears 5, Halo Master Chief Collection, Forza Horizon 4, Doom Eternal, Fallout 76, and Elder Scrolls Online, not to mention future games on the day of release – the next Elder Scrolls, Fable, Redfall, Starfield, Perfect Dark reboot, and the inevitable Fallout sequel, for example.

    Microsoft allows customers to spread the cost of Series X with an interest-free repayment plan combined with a Game Pass subscription – offering a huge catalogue of games and the console itself for a single flat monthly fee. For those who want to upgrade to the latest generation of home console and experience the latest titles, this is comfortably the most affordable way to dive-in.

    Using the clever xCloud streaming service bundled with Game Pass, players can stream games from Microsoft’s servers to test-out a title without committing to download gigabytes and gigabytes of data, save space on their hard-drive by streaming everything (your progress is saved, even if you never install the game on your console), or play from other devices, including a iPhone, iPad, Android phones and tablets, Samsung Smart TVs, Chromebook, Windows PCs, and many more. All of your progress is synced across gadgets, so you’ll be able to pick-up your campaign in a hotel room using an iPad and an Xbox controller, before jumping back in when you return from your trip on the sofa with your Series S.

    If that sounds futuristics, trust us, using xCloud and Game Pass to enjoy the puzzler you’ve been enjoying from a hotel resort or simply another room in the house feels like the future is here. And it all works remarkably well.

    Get one-month of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate for just £1

    £10.99 £1 View Deal

    Unlock dozens of exclusive titles from Xbox Games Studios as well as must-play games from EA, Bethesda, and other developers. With Game Pass Ultimate, you’ll also be able to take part in online multiplayer on any game on your console, phone, Samsung Smart TV, PC, and much more… 

    Final Verdict

    After months playing games on the Xbox Series S, there’s no question that this budget-conscious console is a brilliant buy.

    It’s unlike anything else on the market – it offers a way to play the latest blockbuster games from Microsoft and third-party developers, while still getting change from £250. For that amount of money, PlayStation fans will be stick with a console from last generation and PC builders will be looking at an empty case. Of course, this isn’t just a way to access games, since the Xbox Series S also supports all of your favourite streaming services, from Netflix to Disney+. There’s even a Sky Go app to access live channels and boxsets.

    The Series S has a gorgeous design, next-generation features like Quick Resume and 120 frames-per-second gameplay, and plenty of power for ludicrously fast load times. The slimline design also means it’s easy to hide away, which is not something that can be said about the towering Series X and gargantuan PS5.

    Don’t be fooled by the price tag, Xbox Series S still packs next-generation features like Quick Resume and 120 frames-per-second gameplay

    The tweaked controller improves on what was already a great accessory and we can expect plenty of games to be revealed in the coming months which are bound to look better on the Series S, especially for those with a Game Pass Ultimate subscription, who enjoy launch day releases from Microsoft’s empire of studios (soon to include Call Of Duty maker Activision Blizzard, bringing even more must-play titles to the Netflix-like service).

    It’s a shame that, since Microsoft is pitching this console as a digital-only device, it has only fitted the Series S with 500GB of storage. But if you’re ruthless with deleting games after you’ve finished the campaign, use the Cloud Gaming feature included with Game Pass, or splash out on an Expansion Card …this pitfall can be overcome.

    Xbox Series S

    This budget-friendly console shares a number of features with the Xbox Series X, despite being almost half the price. As well as playing the same library of games, the Series S supports 120 frames-per-second gaming and Quick Resume. It also unlocks streaming from Netflix, Prime Video, and Sky Go.

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