For years I’ve been waiting for Microsoft to finally ditch the drive and allow us Xbox gamers the chance to embrace a fully digital life. In fact, when the original Xbox One, then Xbox One S, and then Xbox One X released, I was ready to make the jump with each iteration. I haven’t bought a physical copy of a game in years, and with one less thing to go wrong, removing the drive seemed like a sensible idea. However, the only hint that they were ready to make the move was with the launch of the Xbox One S All-Digital Edition in 2019, and by that time it just felt like one console variation too many. I mean, why ditch the more powerful Xbox One X just to have an aesthetically pleasing front face?
It’s only now with the launch of the fourth generation Xbox console where Microsoft are looking to up the ante a bit. Coming in alongside the behemoth that is Xbox Series X, is the smaller, more delicate, more petite Xbox Series S – a glorious looking, proper all-digital Xbox. And you know what, it’s pretty much the perfect console. For a second room. For now.
The Series S is the little brother to the bigger, brasher, bolder Xbox Series X, and whilst it lives in the same ecosystem as the huge, black monolithic structure that is taking the next-gen gaming world by storm, it’s tackling the next-gen leap in a different way. For instance, it can in no way match the Series X’s 12 Teraflops of processing power, having to make do with a measly 4 Teraflops instead. “WHAT?!?”, I hear you cry. Well, don’t let that ruin your day because those 4 Teras are more than capable of pushing this machine along.
If that is an instant deal-breaker to you, then you won’t want to hear that it also fails to deliver true 4K visuals too, working natively at 1440p instead. Further to that, and as it is obviously bereft of that disc drive, no form of physical media can be used with it; no physical games bought from your local high street and no watching of blu-rays of your favourite movies for the umpteenth time. For me though, two of those three lesser features are neither here nor there – I don’t watch films, I don’t buy discs and, honestly, I couldn’t really give a damn about 4K. Here and now, my only concern surrounds the lower processing power. Surely dipping two consoles into an early market, with one a much lower spec than the other, is going to be holding the entire Xbox system back longer term?
What is in its favour though is the design of the console. At first glance it seems to be a bit of a cross between a beefed up Xbox Adaptive Controller – all white in design with just a few black cues to break up the snow – and that of a travel hob, ready for cooking up greatness. You see, on the top – or the side should you wish to store this vertically – is a huge round side plate of a vent, with Microsoft obviously intent on pushing home some brilliant black/white colour combo during their design process. Aside from that though, the Series S covers a much smaller footprint than the Series X, coming in at pretty much half the width and a good deal shorter in length. It’s pretty lightweight too, and this should mean it’s easily transportable should you ever feel the need, or are ever allowed, to head away from your usual gaming space. Considering movement of that fridge is going to require all of your strength, that’s another little plus point for the baby Xbox.
With a controller/headset sync button in place alongside the USB-A input on the front, it’s only left to the bright white Xbox logo to shine. More vents adorn either end, and then round the back the magic happens; 1Gbps ethernet, power port, HDMI 2.1 and two more USB-A 3.1 Gen 1 options are ready for action. Would it have been a hassle to future proof a little more with some USB-C drops in there too? I don’t think so.
All good then, eh? Well, yes, and the Xbox Series S pretty much covers the bases required of an all-digital device. But there’s an issue, and what is of rather considerable concern is that Xbox Series S comes out of the box with half the Series X’s storage space – the real deal-breaker. You see, in any other walk of life, if you’re removing one thing it makes sense to beef up other elements, but Microsoft have taken it upon themselves to remove two things here – the drive itself (not a problem, let it die, I won’t miss it) and the storage space (a big problem when you ditch that drive). That combination just doesn’t sit right.
This means that only 512Gb of custom SSD Internal Storage is in place (with even less than that actually usable) and even though we see the install files for Series S goodies coming in slightly lower than Series X – Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War and Forza Horizon 4 come in at 118.9GB, 71.4GB respectively on Series S, whilst the fuller fat versions take up 130.7GB and 80.9GB of space on Xbox Series X – that’s just not enough to allow this Xbox to shine longer term. Those storage numbers need to be bigger, on a par at least with the more expensive console, as without it it probably means that anyone serious about gaming should discount a purchase of this console immediately, spending the extra time and cash on the market leader – Xbox Series X.
Of course, you can expand this storage via a 1TB Seagate Storage Expansion Card should you so wish – but the price of these seriously needs to drop first; in time that’ll happen I guess. Your other option is to just lead an Xbox Game Pass lifestyle, utilising Series S as a proper digital console and making the most of Xbox’s Netflix of Gaming subscription service; a subscription service that is absolutely chock-full of stunning indie games that take up little of that precious space – Knights and Bikes being one that immediately springs to mind. Do that, and I’d say there’s certainly room for a Series S in your, or your kid’s, life. Don’t, or if you’re one of those gamers who has to be playing the latest, greatest, very best triple-A titles each and every month – or are looking to enjoy the big hitters included in EA’s Play service that has recently merged into Game Pass – then you will need to be prepared for a world of installs, deletes, and re-installs in order to find your personal goals.
As it stands, at launch, Xbox Series S is the perfect console, at least for now, and at least for the second room; a bedroom, a gaming cave, an office. Oh, and at least if you’re happy to embrace the indie scene. You see, it quite easily handles the next-gen gaming options that are in place at this time, it’s swift enough to navigate through, games load without too much of a wait and, most importantly, play just as you would expect them too. Granted, some may miss the 4K buzz, but my old eyes are more than happy with the lower resolution display in place.
But remember, here and now we’re right at the early stages of this new generation of gaming, the birth of next-gen, and going forward it’s hard to see the Xbox Series S holding a place as the primary console in a gamer’s life, or managing to keep up with the massive next-gen games that will roll out over the years.
It may be cheap and it may have ditched the drive, but without at least double the storage space, the Xbox Series S is not the console Microsoft, nor you, should be relying on. And those words are coming from an ageing man who can’t wait to adopt an all-digital lifestyle.