Xbox One S review

The Xbox One S sets a new high point in console development

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Our Verdict

The Xbox One S is the pinnacle of what Microsoft set out to create three years ago. But being sleeker, cheaper and more powerful than its predecessor, the One S could also rub early adopters (who shelled out for Kinect) the wrong way.

For

  • Vastly reduced physical footprint
  • 4K & HDR streaming
  • HDR gaming
  • Xbox platform is steadily improving.

Against

  • Needs adapter for Kinect
  • Could fragment Xbox One audience
  • 4K gaming limited to upscaling.

In the years  since the original Xbox's launch, 4K has turned from a niche high-end resolution into the hottest new technology in town, and the Xbox One S is Microsoft's attempt to catch up without alienating those who have already bought into the Xbox One ecosystem. 

The One S does this by being able to play exactly the same range of games as the existing Xbox One, but adds the ability to upscale them to 4K. It also works as an Ultra HD Blu-ray player for any of the futuristic discs you've got lying around. 

It's upscaled content might not look as good as native 4K, but it's much better than non-upscaled games. The addition of HDR is also a great inclusion for the console. 

The past week with the Xbox One S has been spent testing out its 4K capabilities – both native 4K streaming on Netflix and up-resed versions of games like Fallout 4 and Rise of the Tomb Raider – as well as navigating the updated user interface.

Using Xbox One S has made me reevaluate how I see the platform as a whole, the good and the bad. The good news is that, overall, the Xbox is the healthiest it's ever been. It's added plenty of first-party exclusives in 2015, and the interface – thanks to the recent summer update – has made the platform even more accessible for first-time users.

The week has also been spent pouring over every inch of the console itself. From its porous white exterior to its reconfigured front panel, it feels more well-constructed and solidly built than its predecessor ever was. Around the back, an HDMI 2.0a port supports HDCP 2.2 allowing for 4K video streaming and HDR in games and movies.

However, all of these features that we've been craving for have come with a trade-off: the new Xbox One S forgoes a standard Kinect port on the console. In order to use the Kinect, the Xbox One S requires you to pick up a USB adapter – which, to its credit, Microsoft has said it will provide free of charge to any original Xbox One owner who asks for one.

While the lack of Kinect capabilities will affect very few gamers, the removal of a Kinect port is one last kick in the pants for all the gamers forced into buying the more expensive console bundle two short years ago.

Xbox One

The other thing to consider is that now the Xbox userbase is slightly fragmented. The gamers who own an Xbox One S will get to play system-exclusives like Gears of War 4 and Forza Horizon 3 in HDR, while owners of the original hardware will only get to see them in the standard color range. That will mean the difference in conversations about which games are beautiful or, more frightening, how games handled loading times and lag.

Microsoft has said that there's no real difference between the hardware inside the Xbox One you own today but others, including Rod Ferguson, studio head of Gears of War 4's The Coalition, said the Xbox One S can "leverage the additional power to reduce the frequency of the frame rate or resolution penalties."

Whether a discrepancy between systems will be a boon for Microsoft or a curse, however, the Xbox One S is quite easily the best system, hardware-wise, since the Xbox 360 Elite that Microsoft released back in 2007, especially when you consider its price – $399 (£349 / AU$549) for the 2TB version that's available in early August, $349 (£299 / AU$499) for the 1TB version and $299 (£249 / AU$399) for the 500GB model that's coming sometime later this year.

To put that price in perspective, you can get a brand-new Xbox One for $279 (£199 / AU$399). So, is the Xbox One S worth the extra $120 (£150 / AU$150)?

Here's the good – and not so good – of the first official refresh of the Xbox One.

Oh, and how does it stack up against the PS4 Pro? Watch this video to find out! 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nick Pino is the senior home entertainment editor at TechRadar and covers TVs, headphones, speakers, video games, VR and streaming devices. He also occasionally writes about Pokemon when no one is watching.

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