Xbox Series X one-minute review
The Xbox Series X wasn't an essential purchase at launch, but Microsoft's powerhouse console is coming into its own after more than a year on sale. It’s always been a fantastic piece of hardware, mind you, one which can solidify itself as an incredible next-gen console in the future.
But until now, the new Xbox has been missing the initial wow factor we've come to expect with each new console generation. There'd been a distinct lack of games that truly make the most out of Microsoft's new system, and the feeling that things are more of a continuation of what we've had before isn't helped by the same UI from the Xbox One. It's easy, then, to feel slightly underwhelmed at first when you boot up the flagship Xbox, but soon the improvements begin to make themselves known.
Thankfully, the Xbox Series X now has a library of games that showcase what Microsoft's new hardware can do. Halo Infinite, Forza Horizon 5, Psychonauts 2, and Microsoft Flight Simulator are now available. Microsoft has also upgraded numerous older Xbox One games to take advantage of the new console's impressive technical specifications.
And that's good news, because we've always been impressed with the Xbox Series X from a hardware perspective. It's super-fast, practically silent, and delivers the kind of exceptional performance that we've previously only seen from high-end gaming PCs. This ensures that games – both old and new – look and perform better than they ever have before, and provides a solid foundation for Microsoft to build upon in the years to come.
We've updated our Xbox Series X review to reflect our impressions after using the console for over a year. Microsoft has rolled out a few welcome improvements to the Series X, and now finally has the exclusive titles that take full advantage of the hardware's power like Halo Infinite and Forza Horizon 5.
But unlike the best gaming PCs, which tends to cost thousands of dollars, Microsoft has packed a considerable amount of power under the Xbox Series X's monolith-esque frame for just $499 / £449 / AU$749. The end result is a technically advanced console with drastically reduced load times and significantly improved visual fidelity in games, that's competitively priced.
The deal is sweetened further thanks to numerous quality-of-life features enhancing your gameplay experience, like Quick Resume and FPS Boost, which we'll discuss in further detail below. However, even though the Xbox Series X’s raw hardware power cannot be understated – and its new time-saving features are most certainly welcome – it's lacking in some critical areas.
The Xbox Series X still doesn't have the same library of ‘must-have’ exclusives that PS5 or even Nintendo can offer, but it does have Xbox Game Pass. It's a subscription service that lets you access hundreds of games for a monthly fee – and if you're someone who loves to play new titles each and every month spanning multiple genres, it's the best deal in gaming right now.
Even though Xbox Game Pass is mostly populated by older titles, many are optimized to take advantage of Xbox Series X's hardware, such as Gears 5, Forza Horizon 4, and Sea of Thieves. So, it's a great place to experience next-gen games for less. What's more, all first-party titles hit the service on day one, and thanks to Microsoft's acquisition of ZeniMax Media, Xbox Game Pass is now home to a bunch of Bethesda titles - with future titles like Starfield and The Elder Scrolls 6 landing on the service on day one. Microsoft has also agreed to acquire Activision Blizzard, which means games like Call of Duty will hit this service in the future.
Microsoft’s flagship console is as powerful as you’d expect, then, but we’d hold off on buying an Xbox Series X unless you’re already heavily invested in the Xbox ecosystem. Or, if you simply want the best Xbox console experience possible right now. For everyone else, it may be worth waiting until the next-gen library of games becomes more substantial. Read on for our full Xbox Series X review.
Xbox Series X review: price and release date
- Xbox Series X release date: Out now (released November 10, 2020)
- Xbox Series X price: $499 / £449 / AU$749
The Xbox Series X launched globally on November 10, 2020, giving Microsoft a two-day head start against Sony's PS5, which was released on November 12 (in select countries and November 19 for the rest of the world). Check out our PS5 review if you're interested in Sony's console
The Xbox Series X is priced at $499 / £449 / AU$749. A lower-specced, digital-only version of the console, the Xbox Series S, also launched on November 10, priced at $299.99 / £249.99 / AU$499. If that price point sounds more appealing, read our full Xbox Series S review.
While this isn’t exactly pocket money, it’s a decent price for the new Xbox. It’s the same price as the (now discontinued) Xbox One was at launch, also matching the MSRP of the similarly discontinued Xbox One X. Both of these are nowhere near as powerful as the Xbox Series X. Considering that the Series X has specs similar to a gaming PC, the $500 mark is pretty great – you’ll be very hard-pressed to find a gaming PC at this price tag.
However, as mentioned, if you want to get the most out of your Xbox Series X we recommend picking up an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription, which costs $15 / £10.99 / AU$15.95 a month (annual subscriptions are also available, which shaves a little off the cost for a year). While this is an additional outlay, that grants you extra access to hundreds of Xbox Game Pass games (including Bethesda and EA titles), Xbox Live Gold, cloud gaming, and monthly free games, which should save you money in the long term compared with buying games separately.
If you’re not fussed about the bells and whistles of Game Pass Ultimate, then it may be worth picking up a regular Game Pass subscription instead, which costs ($9.99 / £7.99 / AU$10.95). That only grants access to the service on console (rather than both PC and console) and does away with cloud gaming on mobile devices.
It’s worth pointing out that the Xbox Series X is also available on Microsoft's Xbox All Access subscription service in select regions, including the US, UK, and Australia. Xbox All Access bundles together the console with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate on a 24-month plan (giving you access to the latter for the duration) at a price of $34.99 /£28.99 / AU$46 a month, with no upfront costs – which feels like a very good deal.
But the Xbox Series X isn’t the only next-gen console available, and it’s also worth checking out the PS5 and PS5 Digital, which come in at similar price points – though the PS5 Digital is $100 less. We won’t delve too much into them here, though.
Xbox Series X review: design
- Modern, sleek design
- Extremely quiet
- Emits same amount of heat as Xbox One X
- Minimal UI and dashboard updates
The design of the Xbox Series X is a major departure from its predecessors – the upright tower design is more reminiscent of a desktop gaming PC, though you can position the console horizontally, too.
Measuring 15.1 x 15 x 30.1cm and weighing 4.45kg, the cuboid-shaped console is matte black all over, apart from a green hue inside the indented cooling vents on the top – it’s a clever optical illusion that elevates the console’s design.
The design of the face of the console is pretty straightforward, with the signature Xbox power button at the top-left, a disc drive (and eject button) at the bottom-left, and a pairing button and USB 3.2 port at the bottom-right (the pairing button also acts as an IR receiver). The back of the console has some cooling vents as well as an HDMI 2.1 output port, two USB 3.2 ports, one networking port, a storage expansion slot, and a power input port.
An interesting accessibility feature on the back of the console is that all the ports have tactile indicators (little, raised dots) which indicate which port you are touching. For example, the USB 3.2 ports have three raised ports, while the power input port has just one. This aims to aid reach-around cabling and to make the console more accessible to the visually impaired.
The sides of the console (when it’s upright) are blank, save for a discreet Xbox logo in the corner of the left side and four rubber pads on the right, which allow for the console to sit horizontally. On the bottom of the console is a slightly elevated disc-shaped stand, along with some more vents for cooling – as mentioned, the top of the console is designed to help with ventilation, as this is where the Xbox Series X exhausts any heat it generates.
The console itself looks minimalistic, sleek… monolithic even. Despite its weight and fairly large size, it looks considerably smaller than its measurements would suggest. We found it slotted with ease into an Ikea Kallax shelving unit (39cm x 39cm), when oriented either horizontally or vertically, and comfortably blended in with its surroundings.
The Xbox Series X design is something you’ll either love or hate – we found it a welcome change from the previous low-profile Xbox consoles. It's sleek, modern, and looks like something a grown-up would actually want to own, and it's a nice evolution from the flat-but-compact Xbox One S and One X models. Still, the matte black design does mean the console is easily scuffed and scratched, though it doesn't get dirty.
Quiet as a whisper – but pretty toasty
A major upside of the Xbox Series X is how unexpectedly quiet it is. We've almost become accustomed to consoles revving up like they're about to take off when running games that really put them through their paces; but the Xbox Series X is the quietest Xbox we've had the pleasure of playing on, even if we need more next-gen-specific games to truly make a call on this.
When you're on the home screen, the console puts out around 30dB of sound – that's about the audio level of a whisper – and this changes very little when you actually load up and play games. When playing Sea of Thieves, No Man's Sky, and PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, we found the decibels never exceeded 33dB.
That said, when installing a larger update we recorded levels up to 45dB, which is roughly as noisy as a printer in action. Even then, that's not too loud, and it barely registers over the sound of actually playing a game. This was also the case when sampling various new-gen titles.
It's welcome news for those who don't want their gameplay interrupted by the whirring of a struggling machine – but with this quietness comes some heat. The Xbox Series X is on a par with the Xbox One X for heat emission, with heat dispersed through the cooling vents at the top, which we advise leaving ample space for. The console itself does get toasty, too, but we didn't find that this impacted performance when running more intensive next-gen titles.
Xbox Series X UI and dashboard
While the external design of the Xbox Series X is a considerable departure from its predecessors, the console's UI and dashboard contain more subtle changes.
The Xbox Series X dashboard is pretty much the same as the Xbox One’s. The main reason for this is because Microsoft rolled out a meaty update to the Xbox One back in August 2020 to make its UI more streamlined, and to converge it with that of the Xbox Series X.
That means the Xbox Series X UI still has a tiled layout with customizable pins. So, you can choose which games and apps you want to see first on your home screen, and offers easy access to games, apps, party chat, and other features via the Xbox button on your controller. It's a pretty streamlined interface that allows for plenty of customization options and easy navigation.
Customization seems to be at the heart of the Xbox Series X UI. In addition to moving around your pinned games and apps, Microsoft is also letting players express themselves a bit more with the inclusion of new profile themes, acting as a background for your profile page. Players can also now finally use dynamic backgrounds, which offers a more personalized home screen option for those who are bored of the Xbox One's static offering.
The Xbox Series X dashboard is quicker to navigate than previously, too, but we did find that there were some pop-in issues when content was being pulled in from the internet. We also found ourselves a bit underwhelmed generally by the UI and dashboard, as it’s lacking any real next-gen flair. We would have liked to see an overhaul that really distinguished the Xbox Series X from its predecessor and made it look new, with easier ways to navigate to media outside of having to add your streaming apps to a pin group.
Xbox Series X review: performance
- Significantly faster loading times and more stability
- Easily expandable storage
- 4K/60fps gameplay (up to 120fps support)
- Auto HDR
The Xbox Series X is an absolute powerhouse, rocking an eight-core AMD Zen 2 processor running at 3.8GHz, a custom RDNA 2 AMD GPU that puts out 12 TFLOPs of processing power, 16GB of GDDR6 memory, and a 1TB Custom NVMe SSD.
CPU: 8x Cores @ 3.8 GHz (3.6 GHz w/ SMT) Custom Zen 2 CPU
GPU: 12 TFLOPS, 52 CUs @ 1.825 GHz Custom RDNA 2 GPU
Die Size: 360.45 mm2
Process: 7nm Enhanced
Memory: 16 GB GDDR6 w/ 320b bus
Memory Bandwidth: 10GB @ 560 GB/s, 6GB @ 336 GB/s
Internal Storage: 1TB Custom NVME SSD I/O Throughput: 2.4 GB/s (Raw), 4.8 GB/s
Expandable Storage: 1TB Expansion Card (matches internal storage exactly)
External Storage: USB 3.2 External HDD Support
Optical Drive: 4K UHD Blu-ray Drive
Performance Target: 4K @ 60fps, Up to 120fps
So what does that mean in terms of real-world performance?
Shorter loading times
Well, for a start, the Xbox Series X is super-fast thanks to its NVMe SSD. We've seen the Xbox Series X shave tens of seconds off the load times in games, compared with how they run on the Xbox One S. The Xbox Series X always loaded quicker – in some cases by a few seconds, and in others almost halving the load time.
To give you an idea of how much faster these load times are, we timed how long it took to load into a game from clicking the 'Continue' button on the menu screen, for the same games on the Xbox One S and Xbox Series X.
While some titles benefit more than others from faster load speeds, even a few seconds saved is welcome. While games such as Ori and the Blind Forest load fairly quickly anyway, meaning the difference is less noticeable, it's with titles like Sea of Thieves where the power of the SSD really shines – we saw the loading time for Sea of Thieves cut down from 100 seconds to just 35.
When it comes to next-gen titles, we found the few loading screens we were presented with lasted mere seconds. The speed advantage was really shown off by Yakuza: Like a Dragon's fast travel, which comes in the form of a taxi ride. It took around 4.7 seconds to fast-travel to a different district from the moment we accepted the ride, a big improvement over our experience on Xbox One.
4K at 60fps (up to 120fps)
The Xbox Series X’s RDNA 2 GPU allows the console to target 4K at 60fps, however, it also means there’s support for up to 120fps.
To make sure we could experience Series X gameplay the way it was intended, we hooked the console up to a 55-inch Samsung Q80T QLED 4K HDR Smart TV. We made sure the TV's game mode was enabled, and configured the Xbox's TV settings to allow for 4K UHD and 120fps, which is only achievable on an HDMI 2.1-compliant display like Samsung's here, and which is recommended for enabling the best visual experience possible.
Unless you’re fussy about your frame rates, we would say that getting an HDMI 2.1-compliant display isn’t necessarily essential. The Xbox Series X’s native 4K at 60fps means you get the best of both worlds, minimal frame rate drops (resulting in a smoother experience), and pretty stunning visuals. However, it’s worth noting that for this you do require a 4K-ready TV for 4K resolutions.
While 120fps feels buttery-smooth in games such as The Falconeer, these games do sacrifice resolution as a result. So, for example, the Falconeer can be played in 4K at 60fps. But if you choose the 120fps option, you’ll notice fewer frame drops and better response times, at the expense of sharpness as resolution drops to 1080p. It’s all about compromise and personal preference.
That being said, the likes of Gears 5’s multiplayer allows for 4K at 120fps (thanks to Xbox Series X optimization) and, as a result, offers a smooth and visually impressive upgrade over its Xbox One predecessor. If you enjoy fast-paced competitive multiplayer, then you’ll notice a huge difference from the Xbox One family.
To enable 120fps, you can pop into your console’s audio and visual settings, where you can choose from various frame rate and resolution options. It’s pretty straightforward, and we're pleased to see just how many Xbox Series X games with 120fps support there is, including The Falconeer and Gears 5’s multiplayer, Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War, Halo Infinite multiplayer, and more.
Auto HDR on Xbox Series X
Like the Xbox One, the Xbox Series X allows for calibration of HDR for games. We'd advise setting this before playing any games, as it ensures the balance of contrast is spot-on, giving you the best visuals possible.
For our initial review, we primarily had access to a selection of backwards-compatible titles which are the best indicator of the boost in performance the Xbox Series X delivers over its last-gen counterparts. With the above settings enabled, we found that the games immediately looked better on the Xbox Series X – which isn't particularly surprising, given that Microsoft has implemented native HDR for these titles.
We go into detail as to how this performance boost improves Xbox Series X Optimized titles further down, but in short, when playing backwards-compatible titles on the Xbox One S and Xbox Series X versions side-by-side we could clearly see the visual upgrade.
FPS Boost on Xbox Series X
Microsoft has added a new feature to Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S post-launch called FPS Boost, which has the potential to quadruple the framerates of older titles. It means that games that were previously locked to 30 frames per second can now hit 60fps - some games can even hit 120fps.
At present, FPS Boost only applies to a specific selection of Xbox One games. The list is extensive but unfortunately, Microsoft's not adding any further games to this. Still, FPS Boost is a fantastic upgrade, particularly for those with an Xbox Game Pass subscription, as it allows Xbox One games to utilize the power of the Xbox Series X. So, for compatible games, it feels less of a technological step back when you decide to revisit some of your favorite Xbox One games.
If, for some reason, you don't want to play these games at a higher framerate, you can also turn it off on a per-game basis. However, we'd recommend leaving it on as it makes games look visually smoother and feel far more responsive.
We've included some of the Xbox Series X/S games that support FPS Boost in the linked list.
Xbox Series X Storage
The Xbox Series X's 1TB Custom NVMe SSD translates to 802GB of usable storage, with 198GB reserved for system files and the Xbox operating system. We were able to download 18 games of varying sizes before having to utilize the console's expandable storage.
That's a fair chunk to play through, then, but we'd advise picking up the Seagate Storage Expansion Card if you really want to take advantage of features such as Quick Resume and the plethora of titles available through Xbox Game Pass. It’s important to note that true new-gen titles will likely take up more storage space once their optimizations have been rolled out.
Along with our console, we were able to test Seagate's 1TB expansion storage card for the Xbox Series X, which also comes in 512GB and 2TB options. The 1TB card doesn't come cheap at $219.99 / £219.99 / AU$359, but we found it extremely easy to use – when we were running out of storage, we simply slotted the card into the back of the Xbox and accessed the extra terabyte. When the console detects that it's approaching its storage capacity, it asks if you want to install on the card instead, while also offering a straightforward option for freeing up space by deleting games.
If the expansion storage card runs a bit expensive for your taste, you can always attach an external drive HDD or SSD via the console's USB 3.1 port. However, these can only play Xbox One and backward-compatible games (with the SSD allowing for faster loading times). You can store your Xbox Series X games on the external HDD or SSD, but only an NVMe SSD can play Xbox Series X Optimized titles.
The process of adding an external hard drive works in the same way as it did on Xbox One: you simply plug the storage into one of the system’s USB ports, and the Xbox will detect it. If the drive needs to be formatted, you’ll see a prompt asking you to do this. It’s a plug-and-play solution that works just as you’d hope.
What's good about the Xbox Series X's storage is that, when you’re installing (or uninstalling) games, you can select particular parts of games to install rather than the full thing. So, for example, you can download Doom Eternal's multiplayer but not the campaign, or vice versa. We're curious to see how many games will support this kind of installation functionality in the future because it's a welcome feature and should help with storage management.
Xbox Series X review: controller
- Feels familiar in the hand yet subtly different
- Works on a range of devices
- Improved tactile textures and refined geometry
- New ‘Share’ button
The Xbox Series X Controller feels familiar in the hand yet subtly different. It's got improved tactile textures and refined geometry making for a more ergonomic, and more comfortable, playing experience.
On the surface, the Xbox Series X controller doesn’t look like a particularly drastic departure from its predecessor. It sports a similar shape and keeps the traditional button and trigger layout. On closer inspection, though, you begin to notice the subtle differences Microsoft has implemented.
The gamepad’s exterior now sports a matte finish that closely matches the console’s design. While this certainly looks sleek, there's a few drawbacks – the black controller that comes with the console easily picks up noticeable scuffs and scrapes, and considering the amount of hands-on time controllers are subjected, you may find it hard to keep yours looking in tip-top condition for years to come. Other color variants are available though (you'll need to buy these separately), including Electric Volt, DayStrike Camo, and Pulse Red, and some may be less prone to scuffs.
That's a minor quibble, though, and overall we found that the Xbox Series X controller resembles a more premium controller, both in look and feel. The revised pad now has a tactile texture on the triggers, grips, and bumpers, which we found made the controller feel more secure in our hands.
In addition, while the controller is the same size as its predecessor, the bumpers and triggers have been rounded and reduced in size by a few millimetres, which makes the gamepad feel less bulky. If you're someone with small hands, past Xbox One controllers have felt quite tanky, but this simple change improves comfort levels in a subtle but noticeable way.
Perhaps the most notable changes to the controller are the addition of the ‘Share’ button and the hybrid D-pad. The Share button essentially acts as a capture button, allowing you to easily snap screenshots of your game – a single click takes a snapshot while holding the button down for longer records a 15-second video by default (you can adjust the video duration in the Capture settings).
This is much easier than on the Xbox One, where you have to press the home button and then X or Y. Still, we did find it a bit fiddly to quickly take a screenshot – your experience may vary depending on how big your hands are.
The hybrid D-pad, on the other hand, aims to provide a middle ground between the Xbox One controller’s classic D-pad and the Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2’s changeable disc-shaped, faceted D-pad. What results is a kind of traditional D-pad, laid over a disc. Again, this is a small but welcome change and is intended to give more control and leverage over the D-pad – while generally feeling more comfortable.
But there’s a lot about the controller’s design that hasn’t changed. It keeps the 3.5mm audio jack and expansion port at the bottom, its USB charge port and pairing button at the top, and its View, Menu, and Xbox buttons on the face.
In addition to the cosmetic changes, the Xbox Series X controller brings improvements in functionality too. We found the controller to be more responsive, which is likely down to the lower latency Microsoft has boasted about (paired with more frame rate stability), while connecting the gamepad wirelessly via Bluetooth to a range of devices – including the Xbox One, an iPhone 11, and a Mac – was straightforward.
The Series X controller again runs on AA batteries (regular or rechargeable), but if you want to avoid the hassle of changing or charging batteries constantly then you can invest in a Play and Charge Kit (a rechargeable battery back that you can use to charge the controller while you’re playing or between sessions), or connect your controller to the console via USB-C (although this will, of course, limit your freedom of movement).
Xbox Series X review: features
- Quick Resume is pretty seamless
- Great backward compatibility with games and accessories
- 4K UHD Blu-ray drive
- Dolby Atmos and DTS support
The Xbox Series X has a number of useful features and meaningful quality-of-life improvements, while the inclusion of a 4K Blu-ray drive and access to entertainment apps means the console can double-up as a home entertainment system.
Quick Resume on Xbox Series X
Perhaps the most welcome of the Xbox Series X’s features is Quick Resume. The purpose of Quick Resume is to allow you to continue a game from a suspended state pretty much instantly. So, within seconds, you can jump back into the game where you left off, as if you never stopped playing, without having to sit through loading screens again. Not only that, but you can jump between multiple games that have been left in this suspended state in no time at all.
We could seamlessly jump between gameplay in seconds, as long as the games you're hopping between have already been booted up at some point beforehand. We were able to jump from being in a timberyard as Alan Wake to being Alyson Ronan in Dontnod's Tell Me Why within 11.4 seconds, by pressing the Xbox button on the controller and selecting the game from the sidebar. That's from gameplay to gameplay – no loading screens. If we wanted to access Tell Me Why from the Xbox dashboard home screen, selected as the current game we were playing, the time from the dashboard to gameplay was 2.7 seconds.
Online multiplayer games work a bit differently from other titles. Naturally, it wouldn't be feasible to allow players to suspend mid-play during online gameplay, or we'd just have a bunch of AFK players on the servers. For example, if you're mid-game in Sea of Thieves, and then decide to jump into another game, you’ll be removed from the game – but you can Quick Resume from the title screen.
Since its launch, Quick Resume has received an update that makes the feature more reliable, makes it easier to see which games you have stored in a suspended state. That also identifies which games actually support the feature, with the ability to simply select each game from the My Games and Apps menu. It's a very welcome quality-of-life feature that simply makes using Quick Resume a little bit easier.
Backward compatibility on Xbox Series X
Another of the Xbox Series X's best features is the breadth of its backward compatibility. There are well over 1,000 backward-compatible titles available, meaning you’ll be hard-pressed to find an older game you have that isn’t supported on the Series X.
As mentioned previously, we found these titles loaded faster and simply played better; improved stability means fewer frame rate drops, which makes older games feel nicer to play, even if they're otherwise a little outdated by the standards of modern blockbusters. Sadly, Microsoft has confirmed it's unlikely that we'll see more added in the future.
This backward compatibility also extends to Xbox accessories. We found that we could easily connect the original Xbox Wireless Controller and the Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2 to the Xbox Series X with no issues, and we were also able to connect our headsets.
Any officially licensed Xbox One accessory that connects either wirelessly or via a wired USB connection should work on the Xbox Series X, such as the Xbox Wireless Headset; however, it’s worth noting that optical port connections aren’t supported, although some of these products may work with a firmware update.
Xbox Smart Delivery aims to allow players to always have access to the best possible version of an Xbox game, whichever console they’re playing on. Essentially, it’s a bit like forward compatibility and backward compatibility combined.
We found that we could access the games we had access to on Xbox Series X on the Xbox One S without issue, and without having to purchase two versions of the same title. So, for example, we could play The Falconeer on Xbox Series X – with its optimizations – then jump onto the Xbox One S and continue playing the game there, just without the Series X optimizations.
Save data is carried between consoles, so we could easily jump between playing on both. Likewise, our Xbox One games were easily accessible on the Xbox Series X, with upgrades becoming immediately available for those that currently have Series X optimizations, such as Gears Tactics and Gears 5.
Multimedia on Xbox Series X
The Series X also offers a range of multimedia features. For one, the console boasts a built-in 4K Blu-ray player that’s simple to use.
You also have access to a range of streaming services: there’s Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney Plus, and others that are available on existing Xbox One consoles, plus some that are new to the platform, including Apple TV Plus and region-specific apps such as Hulu in the US and Sky Go in the UK. All of these can take advantage of the console's 4K UHD capabilities, although some require a decent internet connection.
While all the most popular entertainment apps are available, we did find that there are still some (more regional apps) that we wish we had access to, such as ITV Hub and BBC iPlayer in the UK.
Dolby Vision support
Microsoft is also the only new-gen console maker to support Dolby Vision, a more exacting HDR format that allows for superior contrast and color accuracy. In terms of content, you can watch shows and movies in Dolby Vision with Netflix (if you shell out for the premium subscription tier).
The advantage Dolby Vision has over standard HDR10 is that it supports 12-bit color, enabling the console to display more than 68.7 billion colors, far more than the 10-bit HDR format could show. Of course, how good those colors will look ultimately depends on your TV – which also needs to support Dolby Vision, although that’s par for the course. You can now enjoy Dolby Vision gaming too.
It's worth noting that the 4K Blu-ray player in the Xbox Series X doesn't yet support Dolby Vision, though we could see this changing in the near future with a firmware update.
DTS and Dolby Atmos support
While the default headphones setting for Xbox Series X is Windows Sonic, as on the Xbox One before it, the Xbox Series X also supports Dolby Atmos and DTS headphone: X sound – though you need to purchase a separate license for each.
Windows Sonic is fine for those who aren’t too fussed about their audio, but Dolby Atmos and DTS provide a fuller spatial sound experience. This means, for example, that you can tell from an enemy’s footsteps exactly where they are in relation to you. If you’re someone who plays a lot of online multiplayer then it could be worth picking one of these up, especially as you don’t need a specific headset for either to work – though to use Dolby Atmos you require a compatible soundbar.
It’s also worth noting that these only work with games that support Dolby Atmos or DTS sound, which include the likes of Gears 5, Forza Horizon 4, and Rise of the Tomb Raider.
The new Xbox App for iOS and Android is an upgraded version of the companion app that gives you more control than before. It allows you to specifically manage storage across your Xbox consoles, voice-chat with friends on either Xbox or PC, and easily share clips and screenshots from games and granting easy access to remote play.
You can even use the app as a remote control for your console, which is very handy for multimedia services. Overall, we found the companion app made it easier than ever to access and manage our Xboxes on the go.
Xbox Series X review: library
- Launch title lineup is a bit disappointing
- Combined with Xbox Game Pass, offers plenty to play
- Plenty of backward-compatible games to play
The Xbox Series X game library is perhaps what lets the new console down the most. For a start, there were only a handful of new big-name games that landed on the console at launch – Assassin's Creed Valhalla, Watch Dogs: Legion, Dirt 5, and Yakuza: Like a Dragon, none of which were Xbox exclusives.
In fact, every Xbox Series X launch game was already available (or would be available) on Xbox One – and many were released on PS5 too. The launch titles that were Xbox exclusives, such as Gears 5, Forza Horizon 4, and Ori and the Will of the Wisps, were all optimized versions of Xbox One titles.
The Xbox exclusive situation has thankfully improved, with Halo Infinite, Microsoft Flight Simulator, and Forza Horizon 5 bolstering Microsoft's lineup. However, there's still a distinct lack of games that can only be played on Xbox Series X|S, like Bloober Team’s psychological thriller The Medium. It’ll be a while yet before we get our hands on big hitters like Everwild, Redfall, and Fable.
While the next few months for Xbox games still look a bit uncertain, Microsoft has a major ace in the hole: its acquisition of ZeniMax Media, the parent company of Bethesda, and Activision Blizzard. This is a huge move by Microsoft that could seriously bolster that lackluster exclusive offering, meaning that future Bethesda titles like The Elder Scrolls 6 and Starfield will come exclusively to Xbox and PC. Now that’s a prospect that makes Xbox Series X very interesting and could give it a serious advantage over the PS5.
Xbox Game Pass
The saving grace, in terms of the games available, is that Xbox Series X players have access to thousands of backward-compatible games, so you'll have plenty of older games to play.
If you’re picking up an Xbox Series X, we would strongly advise picking up an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription to bolster your library. As previously mentioned, Xbox Game Pass Ultimate means you get access to hundreds of Xbox One games off the bat, including first-party Xbox games on day one. So, in terms of money-saving, pairing your Game Pass subscription with your new console means you won’t have to shell out for brand-new games – unless they’re not included on Game Pass.
In the past six months, we’ve seen even more titles added to Game Pass, including a large number of Bethesda titles, with Microsoft confirming we will see future first-party Xbox games hit the service on launch day - that includes Bethesda games. Activision Blizzard games will also come to the service.
Xbox Series X optimized
A handful of Xbox One games have been optimized for the Xbox Series X. These titles have been upgraded or built with the Xbox Series X in mind, in order to make the most of the console’s power – and boy, do they show it.
We tested a few Optimized titles including Gears 5, Yakuza: Like a Dragon, The Falconeer, and Dirt 5, and found that these games boasted minimal loading times, improved stability, and considerably enhanced visuals.
For example, Gears 5 on Xbox Series X boasts ray tracing and 4K at 60fps, making the campaign mode look better than ever before, and load faster. It’s immediately more immersive, thanks to more stable frame rates and a lack of loading screen walls. The difference is even more noticeable in Gears 5’s multiplayer, which allows for 4K at 120fps, resulting in buttery smooth performance that feels much more responsive – and which is critical in online multiplayer. With Dolby Atmos support as well, the game is a brilliant showcase for the Xbox Series X’s unbridled power.
Should I buy the Xbox Series X?
Buy it if...
You want minimal loading times and smoother gameplay
The Xbox Series X’s super-fast SSD drastically decreases load times for games – both old and new – while its custom RDNA 2 GPU allows for 4K/60fps gameplay (and supports up to 120fps). So if you’re tired of having to compromise when it comes to frame rates vs visual fidelity, you’ll be glad to know that you can have both here.
You want a great audiovisual multimedia experience
A built-in 4K Blu-ray player, access to an abundance of streaming services, and support for Dolby Atmos and Dolby Vision make the Xbox Series X great for those who use their console as a home entertainment system and want strong audiovisual specs.
You want to keep access to your older Xbox games and accessories
The Xbox Series X is backward compatible with three generations of Xbox games, meaning you won’t have to worry about accessing your older titles on your new hardware. There are more than 1,000 backward-compatible games available at launch, and many Xbox One accessories will be backward compatible from launch too. In addition, Smart Delivery means you can hop between your old and new console with ease.
You want more control over your storage
With the ability to manage which parts of games you choose to install, via either the console itself or the Xbox app, it’s never been easier to manage your console storage. In addition, while expensive, the Seagate storage card makes expandable storage quick and hassle-free.
Don't buy it if...
You want an exciting exclusive game library
The Xbox Series X exclusive game library leaves a lot to be desired – it’s primarily made up of optimized versions of Xbox One games, and titles that are available on other platforms. We’re expecting the library to grow over time, but don’t expect to be wowed from the off.
You don’t intend to buy at least a 4K TV
While the Xbox Series X offers reduced loading times and plenty of quality-of-life features, without at least a 4K TV you won’t be able to get the most from the console’s visual upgrades – you won’t get those 4K visuals, and without an HDMI 2.1-compatible display you won’t have access to 120fps.
You’re expecting a full next-gen UI overhaul
The Xbox Series X interface doesn’t differ greatly from that of its predecessor so, aside from dynamic backgrounds and improved speed, don’t expect a huge difference from the Xbox One.
Xbox Series S (opens in new tab)
The smallest Xbox ever made, if you're looking for a gateway into next-gen gaming, the Xbox Series S offers excellent performance for an affordable price. Make sure you pick up Xbox Game Pass, too.
PS5 (opens in new tab)
If you're interested in playing some of Sony's fantastic exclusives like Gran Turismo 7 and Horizon Forbidden West, you'll need a PS5 to do so. We're a big fan of the PlayStation 5, especially its clever DualSense controller.
Nintendo Switch OLED (opens in new tab)
Nintendo Switch OLED is the best version of the Japanese company's hybrid console to date. An incredible library of games and a gorgeous screen makes the Switch OLED well worth considering.
First reviewed: November 2020.