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Is the XBOX ONE S Worth the Upgrade? (Review)

It’s finally that time in a console generation where current hardware gets a newer, usually slimmer redesign. Microsoft has made the first move by releasing the Xbox One S, which was announced back at this year’s E3. The new machine ditches the Xbox One VCR look for a smaller, more discrete design that’ll fit into any media room. Though the S boasts a bunch of new features to go along with the slimmer design, the question at the end of the day is: Is it worth ditching the bulky Xbox One for? Lucky for you, we’re here to bring some clarity!

What is it?

The Xbox One S is, simply, the new Xbox One with a few extra bells and whistles to make it worth the upgrade. Usually a mid-cycle redesign like this doesn’t fundamentally change the functionality of the hardware, and the Xbox One S is no exception. You’ll still be able to play all your Xbox One games (Halo, Gears of War, etc.), and it even runs the same operating system (that recently added background music, and several other big features).

The biggest change is, of course, the slimmer look (which we’ll get into in a bit). It also supports 4K Ultra HD video, which unfortunately doesn’t apply to the gaming side; you’ll have to wait for the launch of “Project Scorpio” next year for that. That said, it’s still a nice addition for those who already have a 4K television.

On top of the slimmer body, the S also packages in a brand new controller. The peripheral is almost the same as the original controller, except for the fact that it now features bluetooth capabilities, and a few subtle design choices. It also has longer range, which ensures that you never lose connectivity with your Xbox One S. For more on the new controller, and how you can customize it, head on over to our review of the Xbox Design Lab here.

You can nab the 2TB Launch Edition Xbox One S in “robot white” for $399, starting today (August 2). But if that’s still too pricey for you, there will also be a 1TB console available for $349 and a 500GB one for $299 coming very soon. All of them share the same build outside of the hard drive space. Considering Microsoft has made it easy to use external hard drives to supplement your Xbox’s storage, you may be better off going for the least expensive one.

Xbox One S Vent

Less is more

Now it’s time to talk about the new design! The console itself is actually 40% smaller than the OG Xbox One, and Microsoft was finally able to replace the dreaded power-brick with an internal power-supply. Huzzah! Replacing that pesky brick is a standard-looking power-cable, and I couldn’t be any happier. It’s nice to see the Xbox One catch up to PlayStation in this department.

Whether or not the Xbox One really deserved all the hate for looking like a VCR, even the console’s most staunch defenders will admit that it was way too big. Shedding the bulk and losing the power-brick is some sort of engineering magic. Plus, the console is definitely much sleeker while maintaining the the same general design of the original Xbox One. When looking at it from above, half of it looks like a giant vent, while the other half looks like matte plastic.

Despite shedding some bulk, the S still includes the same number of ports as the original One… that is, except for the often forgotten Kinect port. Again, I’m glad Microsoft finally found a way to go with a slim console that doesn’t compromise the experience. As for the Kinect port, few used the voice peripheral, so it makes sense to lose it for the sake of keeping the new hardware as tight as can be. But if you’re a fan of the Kinect, and end up grabbing the S, go to this site to get a free adapter. Aside from that, one of the USB slots has been moved to the front of the console, making it much more convenient to reach. It was always such a hassle getting to the back of the console. The controller sync button has also been pushed to the front, along with the new IR blaster.

For those looking to save even more shelf-space, the console can be placed either horizontally or vertically. That may not sound like a big deal, but the bulkier Xbox wasn’t able to stand vertically, which meant sacrificing a whole lot of space in your media setup. Being able to stand the S up vertically is a feature someone like myself, who already has two other home consoles hogging up space, has been begging for since day one. So yeah, it’s sort of a big deal.

Best of all, even when running, the Xbox One S is absolutely silent. Of course, the Xbox One is silent, too; it’s just nice to see the S retain that considering the console is working off internal power in a smaller package. And let’s not forget that this still plays some of the best games on the market, like Inside and Ori and the Blind Forest.


4K movie nights

Outside of the design, supporting 4K video is the biggest new addition to the Xbox. The console will play your 4K blu-ray movies (I watched Star Trek, the original Ghostbusters, and Independence Day in glorious 4K this weekend), and will even support the ultra HD playback from streaming services like Netflix. While I think this absolutely incredible, the drawback is that you obviously need to have a television that supports this resolution to even enjoy the feature, and at the moment, the adoption rate for 4K isn’t high (important note: you don’t need a 4K TV to use the Xbox One S). Just know that it is the next step in resolution, so even if you have no use for it now, one day soon enough, the system’s 4K playback capability will come in handy. That said, the difference in resolution between HD and 4K isn’t a big deal for some, so if this is you, it would be easy to get by without upgrading your tv, or upgrading to the S in the first place if you don’t have the optimal setup.

The new Xbox does support high dynamic range (HDR) for both video and gaming, which is a plus. Basically what it means is that there’s a higher contrast ratio between lights and darks, which in turn provides a better picture.

With all of that said, the Xbox One S has positioned itself as the best media player/console combo in the business. Sure, to most the resolution spike isn’t a big deal, but it is indeed the next step in high definition movie experience. With the S, Microsoft is providing a 4K player, and I definitely dig that.

Xbox One S

The verdict

Now we can revisit the original question: is the Xbox One S worth purchasing, even if you already own an Xbox One? My answer is a big fat Yes! That is, if your funds allow for this sort of luxury spending. I get that Project Scorpio (a more powerful console) is set to launch next year, but Microsoft has stated that it’s slated for a holiday 2017 release, and that’s a long time to wait. So if you want to get the best Xbox experience, why wait? And we don’t even know what the Scorpio even is at this point. The Xbox One S is the best Xbox experience yet.

Look, the slimmer body and loss of the power-brick will be a good enough reason for someone (like myself) to upgrade to the S, but this does feel like a great home media center hub—and that’s why I’m recommending it. Sure, this will never have any exclusive S games launching on it, but it’ll still play all of the Xbox One’s best, like Halo, Quantum Break, and Gears of War.

This review was completed using a review console provided by Microsoft. 

Images: Microsoft

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