Xbox Series S review: is this budget console an ideal starter pack for the idle gamer?

An all-digital, next-gen console delivering next-generation gaming, is the Xbox Series S a smart addition to Microsoft’s console range?

January 04, 2021 04:51 pm | Updated January 06, 2021 10:10 am IST - Hyderabad

The new Xbox Series S and the new controller

The new Xbox Series S and the new controller

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Last year was a transformative year for the video games industry, particularly for console-manufacturers who have had to learn and adapt to new gaming trends and demands. Microsoft has delayed the launch of the much-awaited Xbox Series X and S apparently due to the time taken to integrate AMD technologies into the consoles’ chips.

  • Design: 6.5cm x 15.1cm x 27.5cm; 4.25 lbs
  • CPU: 8-core AMD Zen 2 CPU @ 3.6GHz ; 3.4GHz w/ SMT Enabled
  • GPU: AMD RDNA 2 GPU; 20 CUs @ 1.565GHz
  • GPU Power: 4 TFLOPS
  • System on a Chip (SoC): Custom 7nm Enhanced SoC
  • RAM: 10GB GDDR6 RAM; 8GB @ 224GB/s , 2GB @ 56GB/s
  • Performance Target: 1440p @ 60f/s, Up to 120 f/s
  • Storage: 512GB PCIe Gen 4 NVME SSD; 2.4GB/s uncompressed, 4.8GB/sec compressed
  • Ports & connectivity:HDMI: 1x HDMI 2.1 port ; USB: 3x USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports ; Wireless: 802.11ac dual band ; Ethernet: 802.3, 10/100/1000 ; Accessories radio: Dedicated dual band, Xbox Wireless radio
  • Expandable storage: 1TB expansion card
  • Display out: HDMI 2.1
  • Sound capabilities: L-PCM, up to 7.1 ; Dolby Digital 5.1 ; DTS 5.1; Dolby TrueHD with Atmos

Finally, the Xbox Series S and X launched globally in early November and while the Series X has been an in-demand success, we decided to get our hands on the little brother, Series S. The Series S is the smallest Xbox console yet, fairly light at just under two kilograms, and its Robot White design makes it a stylish addition to your media showcase at home. It can be placed vertically or horizontally, as per your liking, there are small rubber feet to suit both orientations.

Smooth starts

It is easy to set up the Series S; but you will need to be watchful of what you agree to in terms of privacy policy and data sharing with Microsoft: you need a Microsoft Account and have to agree to Microsoft’s terms of service, you must agree to send diagnostic data to Microsoft in the case of game or app errors, and you must agree to share usage data with game or app publishers. However, it is optional to share usage data with Microsoft itself, so I will leave that up to you to decide.

The new Xbox controller – best used with rechargeable batteries — has much better ergonomics, Microsoft’s new hybrid D-pad, helpful textured grip on the triggers, bumpers and back for stability, as well as the new dedicated Share button. The introduction of the Share button makes gaming that much more social, but I was not too keen to share my endeavours just yet. I did, however, save some stunning screenshots.

The new Xbox controller

The new Xbox controller

I kicked off gaming with Control, Watch Dogs: Legion and Remnant: From The Ashes. While I purchased the Game Pass (first three months collectively costing ₹50, followed by roughly ₹700 a month), I did have to separately buy some games. The Xbox dashboard is universal, regardless of which console version you have, but navigation grated a little on my nerves, despite the customisation options.

There is much to praise for Xbox’s new Velocity Architecture. It aims to deliver more than 40 times the I/O bandwidth of an Xbox One. This meant faster load times, steadier frame rates and the ability to seamlessly, thanks to Quick Resume, switch between multiple games, which was my favourite feature of the Series S (and X, most likely). I was also quite pleased to see not much overheating from the console itself.

But then...

Chances are, if you have already planned to invest in the Series S, you are already aware this console has its intentional compromises to justify its smaller number of features. First, forget gaming discs; the Series S is all-digital so if you have gaming discs or plans to buy them in the future, this variant is not for you.

The Xbox Series S’ internal structure

The Xbox Series S’ internal structure

Also, do not expect 4K gaming experiences from the Series S. What you get is the somewhat okay native 1440 pixels teamed with a maximum GPU processing speed of 4 teraflops at 60 frames per second, which can be supported for upscaling to 4K at up to 120 frames per second. I did not experience any bugs or glitches during the review period. Some games such as Watch Dogs: Legion look fairly decent on a 4K TV but other games may not reach such clarity.

To the quick
  • Surprisingly, the Series X and S do not support Wi-Fi 6, unlike its launch rival PS5. Theoretically, Wi-Fi 6 offers a maximum download speed of just over nine gigabytes per second, and Wi-Fi 5 caps off at just under seven gigabytes per second… but let’s be realistic and acknowledge that achieving such speeds at any time – gaming aside – would be a shock.

The RAM is much lower in the Series S (10GB) than the Series X (16GB). For those households keen to have a collection of games at the ready, know that though the Series S’ internal storage comes at 512GB, you may find investing in the Seagate storage expansion card (ranging from 1TB to 500TB, compatible with the Xbox Series X and S) useful through the additional port in the rear of the device. However, if you are willing to buy this pricey (starting from around ₹16,000) add-on, you might as well save up and buy up the Series X to make up the difference. Just know, finding a retailer for this in India at the moment may not be so easy. This particular choice may just make more economical sense, given one can either opt for a monthly Game Pass subscription, or buy and install games in sequence to build up a collection over time.

With the ‘starter pack’ mentality in mind, I loved my time with the Series S; it deserves a lot of the mileage it is getting as an ideal starter pack for the curious or non-committed gamer who still wants to shell out the ₹34,990 for this console. I see this variant doing well in India for those who want to hop on 2020’s gaming Zeitgeist and sail along with it into this year and beyond. I strongly feel, however, that if Microsoft upped the visual ante more for the Series S, it might have more buyers’ pull.

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