Microsoft told us to expect an announcement much bigger than the renaming of Project Natal to Microsoft Kinect, and while the Xbox 360 Slim is by no means an earth-shattering unveiling, there is more than enough for owners of the more portly version of the console to get excited about.
Since the announcement in June, we’ve been really excited about the xBox 360 Slim or ‘S.’ By losing a few hardware inches, boosting the hard-drive capacity and improving connectivity (including that all important Kinect port for motion-generated gaming) can the hardware finally tackle the Sony PlayStation 3?
Check out the full Xbox Slim video review on the right.
The Kinect isn't out until later this year, but you can read our review here
At first glance it doesn’t look drastically different to the original XBox. The shape is very similar although the finish is now gloss black, with a chrome trim around the side edges. It’s only when you pick it up do you notice the difference. Weighing 2kg it’s considerably lighter and slimmer, but as you can see from our pictures, the footprint isn’t massively different.
Front controls are touch-sensitive: a quick tap and you can pair the controller. The black finish is a haven for fingerprints though, although once you have your Xbox 360 Slim set up, it’s unlikely you’ll be moving it very often.
Xbox 360 Slim review: Connectivity
One of the newest additions is WiFi ‘N,’ a much needed addition that frees your console being chained to the router. On boot-up the console instantly recognises it has WiFi, so simply follow on-screen instructions, enter your WEP key and you’ll be connected within a few minutes.
Downloading Monkey Island 2 Special Edition at 987MB takes around 45 minutes over a 2Mbps connection. A 61MB trailer for ‘Blacklight: Tango Down - Madness of War’ clocked three minutes. Microsoft has retained the Ethernet port, so for full-game downloads it’s probably better to use a wired connection if you're near your router.
Elsewhere there are two new USB ports, totaling three on the back and two on the front. Looking a bit like a USB port, the Kinect port is located at the back. Older consoles are also compatible with Kinect, but this is designed to be the easiest solution, you connect the sensor to the port, without needing extra power.
One of the most welcome changes it the inclusion of a 250GB hard drive, from 256Mb on the Xbox Arcade, although the Xbox Elite comes in 120Gb and 250GB flavours, bringing far more space for storing games and movies. Unlike the Sony PS3, while you can stream content from Windows Media Player 11; you can only store content from Xbox Live Marketplace, not personal files, such as music and movies,
In the past when you’ve swapped between identical consoles (perhaps as a replacement after the red rings of death), it’s just been a question of swapping hard drives. Unfortunately the older consoles aren’t compatible with the Xbox 360 Slim, so much the same as if you are swapping between an Arcade and Elite, in order to transfer files over you need the xBox 360 Hard Drive Transfer Kit, altermatively you can connect a USB drive for smaller files.
Xbox 360 Slim review: Performance
Despite being smaller than its predecessor, the Xbox 360 Slim’s processor has the same specification as its predecessor. So there’s no change to game play. As you’d expect picture quality is excellent, connected via HDMI to a 42-inch plasma, colours are punchy and bold; leaping out of the screen and detail is incredibly intricate. What’s immediately evident is how silent the console is, you can view our noise test here. But rest assured it’s barely noticeable.
Supporting 5.1 sound, we used HDMI to connect the Xbox to an amp, from which we could hook up speakers and our high def television. If you don’t have an amp, hook the telly directly up via HDMI and use the optical audio connector for your speakers. An optional component adaptor is available if you don’t have a HD TV.
Xbox 360 Slim review: Extra features
Many of the features here have been available for the Xbox for a while. The majority are only available to xBox Live Gold members, but currently Microsoft has halved the cost of a three-month trial to £7.50. When you initially launch Facebook and Twitter if you want to keep your gaming anonymous (perhaps you really suck at Call of Duty) you can choose whether or not to display your gamer tag.
Unless you want to invest in a keyboard, the irksome controller text input method means it’s unlikely you’ll be typing more than status updates in Facebook. Although it’s a great way of sharing and viewing photos though, although some take a few seconds to load. Twitter, with its short form messages, is perhaps more suited to the Xbox interface, although you can’t click on web links.
Internet ratio portal Last FM has a decent choice, with something for most people. Including: Radiohead, David Bowie and Florence-alike radio stations, as well as a selection by genre including: emo, indie, new wave, folk and electronic. Sky Player’s been around for a while too. You don’t need to be a Sky customer, just register for a Sky ID to access free content like Sky News and buy single episodes. For Sky Multiroom and Broadband Unlimited customers it’s infinitely more appealing, in effect turning the console into a secondary Sky player
Stream movies on to the Xbox Slim via Zune Marketplace (not to be confused with the flop mp3 player). Among the movies on offer are: Green Zone, Me and Orson Welles and Sherlock Holmes. Movies cost 590 points for HD and 480 for standard definition, obviously it depends on your television, but high definition content is excellent, perhaps not quite as sharp as Blu-ray, but certainly worth trying out. You can also start a virtual party and invite friends by entering their gamer tags.
Xbox 360 Slim: Conclusion
With wireless connectivity, extra storage within a stylish, near silent body, there’s no doubt that this is the best xBox ever. Gameplay is superlative, with fantastic graphics, a huge range of titles and of course xBox Live.
But while Sky Player, Zune and social networking elements are welcome, it still lags behind the PS3 as a multimedia device. You can't store your own content, there’s no BBC iPlayer and although you can playback DVDs as well as Xvid and DivX files burnt to to disc, there’s no Blu-ray drive. Microsoft would argue you can download HD content, so you don’t need it, but we’d really like to have one.
Unless the noise really bothers you, if you’re an Xbox Elite user we see little reason to upgrade, but for anyone replacing their Xbox or thinking of investing in a console, for the overall gaming experience, the xBox 360 Slim is the one to go for.
The Xbox 360 Slim is out on Friday, find out more from Microsoft