Is Xbox Series S still relevant a year later?

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Does this cheaper setup compromise on too much to be a real next-gen experience? Could this be an ideal purchase for PlayStation gamers who want to dip their toes into Xbox Game Pass? I bought one a year ago, so let’s find out. Going in the opposite direction of my thoughts on the PS5’s hardware design, I initially thought the Xbox Series S looked weird. This small oblong with a giant black circular grill on top reminds me of the drive-thru speaker box that I’d use to order a Quarter Pounder with cheese.

I grew up with PlayStation, but it’s evident to me after a year that the Xbox Series S will turn some heads. If you’ve been living under a rock, the Series S is the less expensive of two consoles Microsoft released in November. At $299 (£249), this is a significantly more reasonable price than the $500 expected of those wanting for the best 4K experience in the Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5.

Highlights

  • A quick shout-out to one of my favourite elements of the Xbox Series systems, which is the versatility of play. Plugging in my USB keyboard and mouse has been a breath of fresh air across games like Halo Infinite and Gears Tactics that do work with controllers, but can feel a little clunky. It means you can turn your console into a low-cost gaming PC.

  • Over the last 12 months, however, it’s grown on me. The small size and weight is so much more convenient, the box shape is surely a little more durable than Sony’s wing-tipped system, and it’s restrained approach to design makes the box blend into any TV stand or desk with ease. It doesn’t draw attention to itself, and let’s be honest, that’s all you want from a games console.

In real-world use, however, that difference is not as drastic as the numbers suggest. Sure, there are some variable resolution changes (Forza Horizon 5 runs at 1440p at 60 frames per second on the Series X, compared to 1080p 60 fps on the Series S), and you can notice some slight visual downgrades upon closer inspection. But, for typical gameplay without stopping to look at wall textures, this is good enough.

As for what you’ll find under the hood and how it performs, the custom AMD 7nm CPU and RDNA 2 GPU with 10GB GDDR6 video memory produces 4 teraflops of visual power. Compared to the 12 teraflops of the Series X, that sounds paltry, even to those who had no idea what a teraflop was until they bought the console (me).

One problem I’ve ran into constantly this year is a lack of space. For this new generation, 512GB is simply not enough and the use of proprietary storage expansion cards drives the cost up drastically for extra room. To put it into context, if you bought a Series S ($299) and a 1TB memory card ($219), that ends up being $18 more than just buying a Series X. I get that Microsoft may be tactically twisting your arm into getting the more expensive machine, but that imbalance needs to be addressed. I think everyone on all sides of these so-called console wars can agree on one thing: the PS5 had stronger launch titles than Xbox Series X/S, but the tide is starting to change.

While Sony started strong with the likes of Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Demon’s Souls, the pre-installed Astro’s Playroom and even Bugsnax, Microsoft’s library consisted of the standard launch array of third-party titles and upgrades to pre-existing exclusive games like Forza Horizon 4. The huge selection of games available to play on Xbox Game Pass did a great job of making up for this shortfall, but the lack of games that felt “next-gen” was apparent. But in the space of just a few short months towards the end of 2021, Xbox Game Studios have exploded out of the gates with hit after hit — all playable on Game Pass.

Starting from July, we got Microsoft Flight Simulator, Psychonauts 2, Forza Horizon 5, Grounded and Halo Infinite, to name but a few. This monthly subscription service is starting to come into its own with AAA experiences like these, covering a wide swath of genres. Oh, and did I mention the ease of accessing developer tools and unlocking your console’s capabilities further? Earlier this year, I wrote about turning my Series S into a retro emulator, which took around an hour to do and goes beyond the incredible level of backwards compatibility Microsoft has made available on the Series S; to become an all-round game preservation machine.

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