Xbox One S review

Xbox One S sets a new high point in console development

Xbox One S review

Our Verdict

Xbox One S is the pinnacle of what Microsoft set out to create with the original Xbox One. Despite releasing over two years ago, the One S is everything a game console should be: sleek, powerful and well-stocked. It's not quite at Xbox One X's level in terms of performance, but the Xbox One S makes a compelling argument in how it balances power and price point.

For

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

Against

  • Needs adapter for Kinect
  • 4K gaming limited to upscaling

Update: Microsoft is set to go one step further in the evolution of game consoles with the new All-Digital Xbox One S, a system without a disc tray that can only play downloaded games from the Xbox Live Store that launches on May 7, 2019. Dropping the disc tray will help you save around $50 off the standard sticker price of the Xbox One S, and could be a telling sign of what's to come for Microsoft's next console.

The Xbox One S arrived three years on from the original Xbox One, offering a smaller, quieter, higher-quality gaming machine that shows what the current console generation can do. It's now the de facto Xbox system.

While a little piece of us was sad to see the original Xbox One sail into the sunset, the Xbox One S brought a host of technical improvements, making the transition from HD to Ultra HD (aka 4K), and taking up a lot less shelf space too.

To that end, games are upscaled to the new, higher resolution – though it isn't quite on the level of 'native' 4K that the Xbox One X offers – but movies and TV shows will happily make the most out of the extra pixels, whether you're streaming 4K Netflix or else playing an Ultra HD Blu-ray. 

Beyond 4K, the addition of HDR is also a great inclusion for the console. It's more powerful than it was when the system came out three years ago, and more spacious thanks to a larger 2TB hard drive that can be found in many of the special editions of the console.

Not to mention the added support for Amazon's Alexa smart assistant, which lets you control power, volume, and playback features through connected Alexa devices (you can read our full article on Alexa coming to Xbox here).

While Microsoft has since launched the Xbox One X – a more powerful version of the Xbox One that's capable of playing games in native 4K resolution, without an upscaling workaround – we still feel that the Xbox One S is the better overall pick, if only because it's significantly cheaper (and you really need a seriously big TV screen to notice that 4K anyway).

Xbox One S review

Xbox One S review

The other thing to consider is that now the Xbox userbase is slightly fragmented. The gamers who own an Xbox One S or an Xbox One X will get to play Xbox-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 (perhaps more frighteningly) how games handle loading times and lag.

Microsoft originally said that there wasn't any real difference between the hardware inside the Xbox One S and the original console, but performance analyses conducted after the console's launch have found that certain games will run slightly more smoothly on the new console. 

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.

This is especially true when you consider its price: $399 (£349 / AU$549) for the 2TB version that first went on sale in early August of 2017, $349 (£299 / AU$499) for the 1TB version, and $299 (£249 / AU$399) for the 500GB model that resides on most store shelves.

If you're a gamer reading this, you're probably wondering how the Xbox One S stacks up against the PS4 Slim that was released around the same time. For you guys and girls we put together a special guide that should answer all your questions: Xbox One vs PS4

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

Xbox One S FAQ: quick questions answered

Can the Xbox One S do 4K? Kind of, yes. For those not in the know, 4K is a resolution for your TV. It packs in four times as many pixels as a 1080p HDTV, which makes the picture sharper and a lot more detailed. To be able to watch 4K and the video technology HDR, you need a 4K TV and an Xbox One X or Xbox One S. 

If you set your console resolution to 4K UHD, some things on the console, like Home and apps will display at 4K. But games are a bit different. Games on the Xbox One S get upscaled to 4K. What that means is that although the picture tends to be smoother and more detailed than native 720p or 1080p, upscaled 4K isn’t as rich or detailed as native 4K. 

Do you need a 4K TV for Xbox One S? No. You can use any modern TV with your Xbox One S console, all it needs to get you up and running is an HDMI cable. But, to take advantage of the 4K elements, and the 4K game upscaling, you’ll need a 4K TV.

What's the difference between an Xbox One and Xbox One S? The Xbox One S is slimmer than the Xbox One and runs quieter. But the main difference is that the XBos One S offers HDR and 4K blu-ray support. Although you’ll need a 4KTV to make use of these features.

What's better Xbox One S or PS4? The short answer is: it totally depends. Both pieces of hardware have their strengths, and which console ends up being the one for you will come down to what matches your specific needs. The PS4 Pro's games look better, but the Xbox One S is the better-equipped media player. Read our detailed head-to-head to find out more: Xbox One S vs PS4 Pro: which is better?

Is Fortnite free on Xbox One S? Yes. Not only is it free, but Fortnite is one of a few games that gamers in the Insider Program will be able to use special Xbox One peripheries, including a keyboard and mouse, to play with too. 

What is the All-Digital Xbox One S? The All-Digital Xbox One S is the new disc tray-less console from Microsoft. It plays all the same games as the Xbox One, One S and One X, but can only play games downloaded via the Xbox Live Store. Despite having the same specs, it's cheaper than the standard Xbox One S by about $50 or so.