The Xbox Series X utilizes its powerful specs to significantly reduce load times and improve game performance and visual fidelity. But while features such as Quick Resume and extensive backward compatibility give it an edge, it’s lacking in key areas – notably, significant UI improvements and captivating exclusives.
SSD grants super-fast load times
Dolby Vision and Atmos support
Supports up to 4K/120Hz
Best-in-class backward compatibility
Exclusives lacking without Game Pass
Minimal UI improvements
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Xbox Series X one-minute review
When the Xbox Series X launched, it felt as though a lot of features were missing. Of course, the hardware is incredibly impressive, but even that didn't stop it from being a hard sell at first. However, the console has come a long way since its initial release, and several updates along the way have drastically changed the console for the better.
The lack of exclusive games made it feel like you would struggle to get the most out of the Xbox Series X, especially with the competition from PS5 and a number of Sony-exclusive titles being thrown into the ring. Additionally, this wasn’t helped by the console’s continued use of the Xbox One interface. On the other hand, its UI was largely functional and in no need of a drastic overhaul. Quite refreshing, actually, given Microsoft's tendency to switch up its UI regularly in the Xbox 360 days.
So, when you first boot up the Xbox Series X, it’s easy to feel a little underwhelmed. It's not until you explore the console's array of features that it truly begins to shine. The improved library of games that showcase what Microsoft’s new hardware can do is a great starting point. Games like Halo Infinite, Forza Horizon 5, and Microsoft Flight Simulator are prime examples of what the Xbox Series X is capable of, and that’s hardly scratching the surface.
We've always been impressed with the Xbox Series X from a hardware perspective. It's lightning-fast, practically silent, and delivers comparably exceptional performance to that of higher-end gaming PCs. This ensures that games – both old and new – look and perform better than they ever have before, providing a solid foundation for Microsoft to build upon as the generation progresses.
We've updated our Xbox Series X review to reflect our impressions after using the console for over two years. 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 can 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 competitively priced and technically advanced console providing drastically reduced load times and significantly improved visual fidelity.
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 Switch 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 new-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 also plans to acquire Activision Blizzard, which means series like Call of Duty and Diablo will hit this service in the future, if the long-fought-for deal goes through.
As such, the Xbox Series X represents the ideal time to jump into the Xbox ecosystem for the first time. It's also above and beyond the quality long-time Xbox fans have come to expect. And with console availability better now than ever, it's an ideal time to pick up Microsoft's powerhouse flagship.
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, launched on the same day, 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 also discontinued Xbox One X. Both 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’d be hard-pressed to find a good PC at that price.
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 cuts a little off the yearly cost). 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, Xbox 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 new-gen console available, and it’s also worth checking out the PS5 and PS5 Digital, which initially launched at similar price points. However, we've recently seen the PS5 get a price hike with Sony blaming this on soaring inflation globally. Thankfully, Xbox won't follow PlayStation with price hikes but as it stands, Xbox doesn't rule out future price hikes.
We won’t delve too much into that here, though, but it currently makes the Xbox Series X the cheaper powerhouse option.
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 Xbox Series X design 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 clever and 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 Xbox One X models.
Still, the matte black design does mean the console is easily scuffed and scratched, though it doesn't get dirty. While we've seen Logitech show off a white Xbox Series X console in a recent advert, Microsoft has confirmed there's no plans to release the base console in additional colors at this time.
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.
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 PUBG 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 new-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 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.
We can expect further changes to come for the UI. If you're an Xbox Insider, Microsoft recently rolled new Xbox Series X homepage layouts but fans aren't happy. While this introduces some quality of life changes, some players weren't so keen on the "tile clutter" this introduced, while others aren't fond of ads still taking up homepage space. As a feature currently in beta testing, this could change, so we'll keep this updated as we learn more.
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 roughly 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. 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 Wireless Controller feels familiar in the hand yet subtly different. Compared to the Xbox One Controller, it's got improved tactile textures and refined geometry which makes 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 bulky, 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 had 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. Unlike most consoles, there's active support for using a keyboard and mouse on Xbox Series X, while the 4K Blu-ray drive and access to entertainment apps means the console doubles up as a home entertainment system. We've even seen Discord become available for all Xbox Series X players.
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.