The age of next-gen console gaming is upon us. The Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S have finally arrived. I have been enjoying Microsofts gaming products since the original Xbox released in 2001. When it comes to Xbox, I have owned every system and I enjoy Microsoft’s ingenuity with its hardware and software. I will always get behind their mission of connecting gamers and having gamers play their favorite games on their favorite platforms (Console, PC, and/or Android). The Xbox Series S costs $299. When the price was announced, I was elated. All of my games are digital and I don’t own a 4K television, so I was not missing much when it came to specs. The Series S’ price was perfect for my budget.
The Series S is Microsoft’s smallest Xbox. Holding the box it comes in and taking the console out of its packaging, I was very surprised at how light it was. My console before the Series S was the One X. The One X is smaller than the original Xbox One but boy is it heavy. But what makes the new Series S nearly as powerful as the Series X?
Under the hood, there is a 3.6 GHz custom AMD Zen eight-core CPU. Its GPU is a 1550 MHzAMD Custom RDNA 2 DirectX 12 based CPU with 20 compute units. When it comes to memory, it runs on 10 GB of GDDR6RAM, 8 GBs run at 244 GB/s, and the remaining 2 GBs run at 56 GB/s. Last but not least, its video resolutions and frames are shown at 1440p at 60 fps, with the ability to reach up to 120fps. It can play resolutions of 1080p at 120fps and 720p resolution at 120fps. There are HDR10 and HDR10+, Dolby Vision for games and media, and an AMD Free Sync.
Now if you’re like me, reading specs is like reading and trying to decipher a foreign language. When it comes to video games, I love story and intuitive gameplay but I want and need graphics to look amazing too.
Many of your favorite games from last-gen are ready to play upscaled in graphics and resolution. This means that your games look brand new and run smoother while you wait for some new titles to release. Some of your old games and new games that are soon to be released will be optimized for the Series S. These games will run in up to 1440p and up to 120 fps. When I played State of Decay 2 and Gears of War 5, I was amazed at how beautiful my favorite games looked. The gameplay was steady and didn’t become choppy at all. I felt like I was playing many of the games in my library for the first time.
While State of Decay 2 did not get a full graphical upgrade, it has been optimized for the Series S and the changes are definitely noticeable. Launching into the game, I immediately noticed the game running at 60 fps. I noticed how clear the environment was and was able to notice things for the first time, such as the moon and stars. In a zombie apocalypse game, where I always have to be on my toes, I was taking in the scenery. Another upscale, I noticed was the lighting. In-game, one real-time hour equates to the time of day (either night time or daylight). Before playing on Series S, it was hard to see at night. However, now I can readily see with my flashlight and the lighting from whatever the moon touches. It’s simply amazing.
Microsoft boasted the graphical update and overhaul of Gears of War 5 and it did not disappoint. I did not jump into the Campaign but I did check out multiplayer. I was not sure if the game was running 60 fps or 120 but the movement of my character, team, and opponents was clear and crisp. I could not believe what I was seeing. Due to the nature of multiplayer, I could not fully take in my environment but I did notice how defined my character looked when it came to their armor and weapons. You could see things like scratches on metal pieces and the folds/creases in the fabric. Most definitely it looks like developers of these games left no stone unturned to provide a top-tier experience not only in gameplay but for the eyes.
The Series S houses an SSD (Solid State Drive), which means there are no moving parts. I don’t fully understand it when my friends explain this feature to me however I do understand faster load times. When loading up a game, I’m looking at the logos of those the produced and developed the game and then I see the title screen of the game I’m playing. I could not believe that I was playing a game within less than thirty seconds of selecting it. Quick Resume is an awesome feature as well. I have been enjoying Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and I saw a friend playing Tetris Effect Connected. I paused Valhalla in the middle of a conversation and played Tetris. When I was done and went back to Valhalla, I was in the same spot I had paused. Switching between games and getting back into the fun was faster than fifteen seconds.
Additionally, the Series S, notably, has no disc drive which means you can only play digital versions of your games, like the Digital PS5. This may be a hindrance for physical collectors or digital skeptics, but whether you’re new to the Xbox family or the Series S is the next in a long line of Xbox consoles for you, this disc drive-less Xbox does pair perfectly with Xbox Game Pass. With this subscription service, you have over a hundred games at your fingertips, digitally. You also have access to your entire digital library which you can copy from your previous Xbox through network transfer or housing your game on an external USB HDD (Hard Drive Device).
While Memory is a spec, I have noticed talk about the Series S’ storage and how it works when it comes to storing and moving games around. On the packaging of the Xbox Series S, it says that there is 512 GB of space on the hard drive. After setting up the system, unfortunately, you are left with 364 GB of memory. That space goes fast. Initially, hearing about the actual size I was worried. When it comes to games optimized for the console, they have to be played from the internal SSD (Solid State Drive) and cannot be played from your external HHD (Hard Drive Device). Microsoft has stated that games optimized for its new systems will be smaller however when you have games like Call of Duty that reach well over 100 GB, you can see the problem.
Having an external HDD does help. An external hard drive is a peripheral attachment that you connect to your console via USB. Your storage device must be a USB 3.0 connection and have over 128 GB of space in order to move and store games. You can find this at places like Best Buy and Target. Many of times these devices can go on sale and you can use almost any third-party external hard drive. All you have to do is plug the device into your console and the Xbox will do the rest to format and make the storage ready for use.
When I went to try a new game, I can download onto the SDD and move what I am not playing onto my HDD. I am currently playing Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla and Watch Dogs: Legion, both games that can only be played on the Series S’s SSD. Since Valhalla has all my attention, I put Watch Dogs on my HDD, freeing up space for a game like Destiny 2: Beyond Light or a smaller game that’s holding my attention.
You may think that moving games from one device to another is a hassle but it’s not. Destiny 2 now sits at 65 GBs. Moving to and from takes about 10 minutes. Hopefully, in the future, I can pick up Microsoft’s SSD External Expansion when it goes on sale or a third party SSD expansion when someone gets around to making one
Setting up the Series S was quite easy. After hooking up the system to my television and powering it on, you’re greeted by the setup screen. In our day and age, we are always online and always glued to our phones. If you’re an Xbox gamer, you probably have the Xbox App on your mobile device. The console asks you to pull out your phone and open the app. In the top right corner, there is an icon of an Xbox that will bring up all your connected Xboxes. There’s also an option to set up a new console.
After selecting to set up your new Xbox, the mobile app will ask you to input the code you see on your television. After inputting that code, your console will begin to update. So will your controller, which updates wirelessly. Because you are already signed in on your mobile device, there is no signing in on your new console. An added bonus was the Xbox interface knowing that I had a previous Xbox hooked up and asked if I wanted to transfer the settings over to my new console. So once everything was updated, the process took 10-15 minutes, I was ready to game.
Out of all the consoles I own, I love Xbox’s controller the most. It fits my hands perfectly. For this gen, Microsoft went with an ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it approach’. However, they did add a few bells and whistles to the controller. Before jumping into the good, the only bad thing about the controller is that it still needs AA Batteries.
The controller comes with a set of AA batteries but we all know how expensive batteries can get. The upside is that instead of a Micro USB port at the top of the controller, it’s been replaced with a USB-C port, which a lot of phones. This means that if your phone charger cord is long enough, you can use that in lieu of batteries.
When holding the controller, the handles, left and right triggers, have a subtle grip. This is great for long, intense gaming sessions, and if your palms get sweaty. As a whole, the controller feels very ergonomic and comfortable. The D-Pad has an updated look and feel. No longer is the D-Pad up down, left, and right. Microsoft has taken from the design of its Elite Series Controller and enclosed the spaces between the cardinal directions for a more responsive feel.
When sending messages, I use the D-Pad. When communicating with my friends via text, I am sending messages faster as my thumb glides across the buttons. My favorite edition is the share button smack dab in the middle. When in the throes of gaming and I pull off an amazing feat, I can press the button once to take a screenshot. Pressing the button twice will record a minute of gameplay.
The Xbox Series S is an awesome console for those looking to get into next-gen gaming, have only a digital library, and don’t own a 4K television. Everything the Series S’s big sister can do, Series S can do with some limitation. With everyone sporting their Series X, I don’t feel left out for owning a Series S. All games being released can be played on both systems. The only difference from what I can tell is memory, graphics, and frame rate. I don’t own a 4K television and haven’t seen any media in 4K, so the graphics I am experiencing now are still amazing. The Series S is definitely for the gamer on a budget and there is nothing wrong with that. You’re getting everything you paid for.
Xbox Series S is available now, albeit in extremely limited quantities.