When I first heard and saw the little brother to the Series X, I thought it look like a speaker or something that you could mount to your wall, and you don’t get an actual sense of the size of it until you have it right in front of you. The Xbox Series S is a big box in a small package that can pack quite a punch! The first thing you notice when you take the Series S out of the box is just how small it is. I mean, I knew it was small, but had no idea that it could fit so easily into your hand. It’s like holding a book, a Sky Q Mini box or even a small box of dog treats (random, I know).
The Series S is what it’s meant to be, an affordable version of it’s bigger brother. It can do everything the Series X can in terms of playing new games, load times being super quick and running games at 120fps where available. You will also notice that there is no disc tray in the front, making it a digital-only console. It also has three USB 3.1 ports, a HDMI 2.1 port, Ethernet port and it comes with a much-improved 5th Gen WIFI 802.11ac. Which will give you a better and stronger signal than the Xbox One S, from my own experience and it’s an improvement that is welcomed. Thankfully Microsoft has continued with the PSU being built inside the console. You also get a Storage Expansion slot for an optional SSD card to increase your storage, much like the Series X. What you will notice on the rear of the Series S is that there is now no HDMI input (again much like the Series X) as they have left out the use of controlling your TV box.
The only minor issues with the Series S that I have is the size of the internal SSD, which sits at about 512GB (more on this in a bit) and the heat grille where the fan blows out all that warm air. It really stands out and I would have preferred if it was white like the rest of the console. Yet once you turn it on, you will forget all about it and just start enjoying what it has to offer.
The Xbox Series S also comes with the new Xbox Wireless Controller and some AA batteries. I am not sure how I feel yet about the batteries in the Xbox controllers, as there are both advantages and disadvantages to having rechargeable battery packs built in. The new controllers on the Series consoles are improved over the previous gen controllers with better a new ‘Share’ button in the centre, making it easier to capture your moments of glory. The D-pad is more ergonomic and circular, but it does have a kind of clicking response to it that I am not too fond of.
The back of the controller is covered in tiny dimples which will give you better grip when playing and the triggers also have the same texture on them too. You will also notice a USB-C connection for when you want to charge your battery packs or if you want to attach it to the Series S itself. I also found that the controller feels slightly smaller in your hands than last gen, but it may be just down to my own perception of it. The triggers still have their response and rumble features to them, but when it comes to the rumble or vibration features, I always turn them off when gaming. I find them to be a wee bit of a distraction at times, especially in first-person shooters.
With the design of the console being so compact and much smaller than the Xbox One S, it’s the beating heart of the Xbox Series S hardware that most will be impressed with, especially when you consider the size of the box and what it can do. I won’t bore you with the technical side of things like the CU cores and Teraflops etc… The Xbox Series S hardware is a trimmed down version of the Series X, yet it’s still capable of running games at 60 to 120 fps, but at a lower resolution than it’s beefier brother. While most games may not run at a full 4K resolution with 60 fps, it can run them at 4K, but with a loss to the frames per second it can output. The sweet spot for the Series S would be 1440p resolution at 60 fps, which is still an amazing feat at what you get. Like with most hardware out today, it will be down to the developers to choose what they want out of the box.
Loading times for your games are super quick, like fast traveling in Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla is almost done in an instant. Games like FIFA 21, where you normally have a kick about in the arena before each match is also fast enough that you feel the arena is just not needed in the game anymore. You will find that our games load around 30-70% faster and in some cases even faster than that. The Xbox Series S also has ‘Quick Resume’, which is a feature that lets you pause your game and then return to the exact moment where you left it. Even if you experienced a power cut or had to move your Series S into another room, the system will load up your game to where you left it. The feature also allows you to have around four to five games available for this feature and you can switch between them within an instant.
This can vary as it depends on the size of the games you are switching to and from and this is all thanks to the extremely fast SSD that Microsoft has chosen for their Series consoles. Since we are talking about load times and the SSD, the only negative point is the amount of space on offer. The SSD in the Series S is only 512GB and with todays games and even games that are coming out over the next few years, you will be wanting more space to hold all your favourite games. While you can plug in most external hard drives/SSDs, and still get the benefits of ‘Quick Resume’ and the Auto-HDR features. You will need to have your games on the internal SSD to get the most out of your games. Especially when you want to play those games that are optimised for the Xbox Series S|X.
The official Xbox expansion card that you can buy does everything the internal SSD drive does in your Series S, but for what it costs, you can pick up the Xbox Series X to get the fuller experience. It’s not all doom and gloom though, as there are 3rd parties working on their own expansion cards for the Xbox Series S|X and prices should start to fall in 2021/22 and be a much more affordable option for storage.
Another cool feature that I love in the Series consoles that Microsoft/Xbox has added is the Auto-HDR feature. This feature adds in HDR to games that were previously released without that feature or before HDR became a feature in most games today. While it’s not a native HDR upgrade the games receive, the Series S offers up an enhanced performance in terms of visuals, better contrast and a wider colour gamut. This is great to see in older titles that you loved playing and you will get to see your old favourites in a new light. This feature is possible thanks to the combined efforts of the SSD, CPU and GPU of the Series S which has been named the Xbox Velocity Architecture. There is also a nice feature that when you bring up the guide, a little bar on the right hand of your screen will show up saying *AUTO-HDR to show that your older game is running with HDR
Games coming to the Xbox Series S|X in the future will also support Dolby Vision and they will also be the first consoles to offer both Dolby Atmos and Dolby Vision in gaming, for now. While there are no games using these features in full, it’s great to know that this feature will be coming soon to our games.
When you first setup your Series S or X for that matter, it’s all very straightforward and concise. If you have the Xbox app installed on your mobile device, you can sign into your Xbox account and just follow the on-screen instructions. An added bonus is that if you already have an Xbox One console, you are given the option to transfer your setup, settings etc… using the app. If you happen to have an external drive, you can plug that straight into the Series S and it will pick up your games on it. Not only that but you will have access to the faster load times and ‘Quick Resume’ feature too.
When it comes to the games themselves, or those that have been optimised that supports features like DirectX raytracing which handles lighting, reflections and more in a much more realistic and immersive way than before. With higher framerates that the Series S offers in games you will now be able to experience your favourite racers or first-person shooters at their maximum performance. While there may be a slight dip to the resolution or graphical details in these games, everything runs buttery smooth. Again, this will be down to how the developer chooses to use the hardware inside the Series S and whether they want peak performance or quality.
In some of the games I play, like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, my Xbox One X fan would be having a panic attack trying to keep up and sometimes felt like it would take off. Thankfully on the Xbox Series S and X the fan barely makes a flutter and sits there quietly while you play. It’s so quiet that my clock ticks louder than it in the room (of course with the TV muted…).
While at this moment in time there is not many titles that scream next gen, or current gen at this point, with games like Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla and Gears 5 probably the best-looking games out on Xbox right now. It’s exciting to wonder what the games of 2021 and beyond will look and play like.
If there is anything that I would say I dislike about the Xbox Series S is that the size of the internal SSD is too small, especially for the newer games coming out over the next few months that will eat their way through it quickly. While it is understandable that the size reflects the cost of the overall system, it does sting slightly, more so when you consider the pricing of the expansion cards. In time, this will be less of an issue when the price of these cards starts to fall and hopefully it will be sooner rather than later.
Another issue I have and it’s the same on the Xbox eco-system as a whole regardless of console, is the Game DVR on the Xbox. Every time you want to capture your moments in HDR, your gameplay captures are washed out and I was hoping that this would have been resolved on these new systems. For me, I use my Elgato device for recording gameplay but not everyone will have a capture device and may just prefer to have everything neatly done via their Xbox console. Hopefully this can be fixed in an update, but who knows.
The Xbox Series S is a brilliant device to have in the home, as I’ve got two now. I do feel that it is aimed more towards the gamers who love their streaming services and digital only content like Game Pass but want to dip into the new generation of games and features, to see what the Series S has to offer. It’s whisper quiet when in use and can handle almost everything you throw at it. It has the capability to run games up to 120fps and load times are almost a thing of the past. For those of you looking to jump into the new generation of gaming at an affordable price, then there is not better place to start than with the Xbox Series S.
GoG Rating: 9/10
**Review unit supplied by Microsoft/Xbox UK**