Xbox Series S review: Microsoft's all-digital new console rated

T3's Xbox Series S review reveals whether digital-only consoles are ready for the big leagues

Xbox Series S review
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T3 Verdict

In many ways I am more enamoured with the Xbox Series S than its flagship bigger brother. It's stylish, affordable, easy to setup and taps into the very slick Xbox ecosystem seamlessly. It also works with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate absolutely brilliantly, as well as today's most popular streaming services, acting as a digital-only entertainment box that will no-doubt appeal to many gamers. With limited storage space out of the box and the inability to play modern or backwards compatible previous-gen games on disc, though, the Xbox Series S in the end likely limits itself to more casual gamers.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Stylish, compact design

  • +

    Very affordable price point

  • +

    Works great with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate

  • +

    Can still play games at 1440p and up to 120fps

  • +

    Storage can be easily expanded

  • +

    Designed to play next-gen games

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Digital only, no disc drive

  • -

    Only 364GB for games and apps out of the box

  • -

    Extra storage space doesn't come cheap

  • -

    Limited backwards compatibility

Xbox Series S review – Specs

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CPU: 3.4 GHz Custom Zen 2  (8 Cores)
GPU: 1.565 GHz Custom RDNA 2 (4 TFLOPS)
RAM: 10 GB GDDR6 (128mb bus)
Storage: 512 GB Custom NVME SSD
Optical drive: No

Over the past few weeks I have producing this Xbox Series S review for T3, and what follows is my considered take on Microsoft's all-digital, next-gen console.

This Xbox Series S review is broken up into a series of key scoring areas, including design, hardware, setup, performance and features, making it easy to consume.

I've also included some information about how T3 tested the Xbox Series S as well as its release date, price and current availability.

Lastly, please consider this T3's launch Xbox Series S review – I will continue to update and add to this over the next weeks and months. The score could also change, so do check back in later for my updated take.

Xbox Series S review: price and release date

Xbox Series S review

The Xbox Series S release date is 10 November, 2020.

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The Xbox Series S price in the US is $299.99, €299.99 in Europe, and £249.99 in the UK. As has been evidenced by T3's Xbox Series S pre-order hub, getting hold of both the Xbox Series X and Series S has been a big struggle for gamers, with both consoles selling out very quickly.

Microsoft is also offering its, in T3's mind, excellent Xbox All Access program, which let's gamers pay for the Xbox Series S on a monthly basis for a period of two years. This costs $24.99 per month in the US, and comes with two years of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate as well, making it an affordable way to get the hardware and plenty of games to play on it, too.

Of course, Xbox All Access is only useful if there are actual consoles available.

More consoles are being made available in the launch week, with the Xbox Series S release date being 10 November, 2020 worldwide. For today's best Xbox Series S deals be sure to check the pricing chart below.

Xbox Series S review: unboxing and design

Xbox Series S review

The Xbox Series S looks rather similar to the Xbox One S, with a mostly white finish.

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As you can see from T3's Xbox Series S unboxing video below, the all-digital new Microsoft console comes in a white cardboard box with a top-opening swing lid. On the box are pictures of the console and games, as well as the slogan "Power Your Dreams".

Open the box and you are faced with the console itself, which is held in place by cardboard supports, as well as an internal compartment which holds the system's controller, cables and paperwork.

In terms of total contents of the Xbox Series S package, you get the console and controller (both white), power cable, HDMI cable to connect it to your TV or monitor of choice, a quick start guide, and console booklet.

In terms of design the Xbox Series S looks a first sight very similar to the Xbox One S, which was also predominantly a white, flattish rectangular prism. The main thing that differentiates both systems is the Series S' lack of optical disc drive, as well as its very noticeable black circular fan vent. 

Xbox Series S review

I am a big fan of the Xbox Series S design. Clean, mature and packing some flair missing from the Xbox Series X.

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The white colorway extends to the new Xbox Wireless Controller, which is the same model delivered with the Xbox Series X. As we discuss a little bit more below, this new controller model comes with a redesigned D-pad and a USB Type-C port for hardwired connections.

In terms of ports, on the rear of the Xbox Series S you get a Ethernet network port for hardwired internet connections, two USB ports, an HDMI port, power port, and storage expansion card slot. On the front of the system is a further USB port.

Xbox Series S review

The Xbox Series S, like the Series X, comes with a storage expansion port on its rear.

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Overall, I think Microsoft has done a great job with the design of the Xbox Series S, which is not something I can say it has achieved with the dull-looking Xbox Series X.

The system is stylish, compact and will easily fit into almost every entertainment setup going, be that either in a horizontal or vertical orientation. It also has a full suite of ports (just digital optical missing in my mind, but hey ho!) and comes securely packaged without loads of extraneous clutter.

Xbox Series S review: hardware and setup

Xbox Series S review

The first screen you are greeted with when turning on the Xbox Series S.

(Image credit: Future)

Setting up the Xbox Series S from a physical perspective couldn't be easier. There's only two cables to concern yourself with, the power cable and HDMI cable, so after you've chosen you console's location just plug both of these in, hit the power button, and you're away.

The first screen you see when setting up the console (viewable above), as I detailed in T3's Xbox Series X review, is a prompt to download and sign-in to the official Xbox app on a mobile device or tablet. This is important as the rest of the console's initial setup is then undertaken through this app.

Xbox Series S review

As part of initial setup your Xbox Series S will update to the latest firmware.

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This setup-via-app works really well in my opinion, with the console seamlessly connecting to your phone and then you using a simple setup wizard to set up things like an internet connection, data and privacy settings, an energy profile, automatic game update and sign-in options and more.

Everything is very visual and in most cases just requires a few button presses. I'd say the whole thing takes less than 10 minutes.

Xbox Series S review

I would recommend instant sign-in as it gets you gaming quicker.

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In terms of hardware, the Xbox Series S cannot match the hardware on offer in the Xbox Series X, but then again that is not its bag. This is a system that is designed, at least in my mind, for more casual gamers who want a way to play the very latest games, as well as lots of games from past generations, but who don't need the very highest resolutions while gaming.

The target performance of the Xbox Series S, according to Microsoft itself, is 60 fps+ at a 1440p resolution, while also technically supporting gaming up to 120 fps (although we'd imagine only indie games and past-gen games will be able to hit this frame rate on the hardware).

Xbox Series S review

An exploded view of the Xbox Series S hardware.

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The Xbox Series S hits these targets thanks to a combination of a Custom 8-Core Zen 2 CPU, Custom 4 teraflop RDNA 2 GPU, 10GB of RAM and a 512GB NVMe SSD. I feel all these specs are on point apart from the latter, which as we shall see affects my score for this console.

Xbox Series S review: performance and gameplay

Xbox Series S review

The Xbox Series S is built for Xbox Game Pass.

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As the Xbox Series S is an all-digital system, meaning that no new or past-gen games can be played on via optical disc, gamers who buy it need to purchase their games from the Xbox Store or, play them via Xbox Game Pass, the latter in my mind being the natural partner for this system.

Xbox Game Pass is, for the uninitiated, a Netflix but for games service that allows gamers to pay a monthly fee ($14.99/£10.99 a month) and then access over a 100 games to play whenever they want. It's a great service and for very little money opens up literally months and months, if not years, of gaming entertainment.

Xbox Series S review

The Xbox Series S home screen. Navigation is super visual and intuitive.

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These games range from modern AAA blockbusters like Doom Eternal, through to indie games and retro classics, so you get a really wide spread and I feel there are plenty of options no matter which genres of games you like to play most.

When I tested the system I went and installed a bunch of these games immediately, such as Gears of War 5, Sniper Elite V4 and Halo: The Master Chief Collection, and after waiting a bit (my internet is poor) I could get stuck in and all the titles loaded incredibly quickly and ran and looked great on the Xbox Series S.

Naturally, I also had access to all my past-gen games, too, as Microsoft makes the transition from Xbox One to Xbox Series S or X 100 per cent fluid. My past collection of games was just listed under the My Games section, ready for download and play.

Xbox Series S review

Only 364GB out of that 512GB NVMe SSD space is available out of the box for games, apps and media.

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However, while the gaming performance of the system impressed me straight out of the gate, what didn't impress me was the amount of space you have for games on the system without a storage card expansion.

Despite the Xbox Series S being advertised as coming with a 512GB NVMe SSD for storage, out of the box actually only 364GB is available out of the box, with system files and software taking up the rest. This felt disappointing on paper, and was really hammered home to me after installing my first tranche of games on the console.

Xbox Series X|S Seagate Expansion Card

You can expand the Xbox Series S' storage space, but it will cost you almost the same as the console itself.

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After installing 6 or 7 games I found myself with just 135GB of room left on my internal Xbox Series S hard drive – roughly enough room for 2 or maybe 3 more modern AAA games with 40 to 60GB installs.

This of course leads to the question of what you can do if you feel you need more space, and the answer is make use of the console's storage expansion slot on the rear. Extra space can be bought, such as detailed in our Seagate Expansion Card for Xbox Series X|S review, but that really costs. For example, that Seagate card, which injects the console with an extra 800GB of storage space for games, costs $219.99 / £219.99.

And, well, what I would say is that you are spending close to the cost of the actual Xbox Series S console there for some extra storage space. Equally, by adding the price of that storage on then you may as well buy an Xbox Series X (which would cost the same money) and then you'd have extra storage space and a more powerful console.

Maybe this lack of room won't be an issue to you, as you only want a handful of games on your system at any one time, and maybe casual gamers will be cool with it. But for me, if I owned this system, it would be a major annoyance, as I would have to keep chopping and changing which games I had installed at any one time.

Xbox Series S review: features and controller

Xbox Series S review

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As briefly mentioned above, the Xbox Series S comes with the brand new Wirless Controller for Xbox Series X|S. This is the exact same controller you get with the Xbox Series X, with its slightly different finish (even more matte than before) and redesigned D-pad.

The D-pad has been reworked to allow smoother and faster inputs, which is much better for combos and longer input strings.

Aside from those changes, though, and the USB Type-C connection, this is the same Xbox controller that you're used to if you have gamed on Xbox, and that really is no bad thing. I specifically liked the textured triggers and bumpers.

Xbox Series S review

The Xbox Series S controller up close.

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As I mentioned in our Xbox Series X review, though, that means the controller is still powered by AA batteries. I won't go back into my issue with this here, as I talk about it at length in the other review, but it is safe to say that I'm not a fan. For you, though, then this may be no issue.

In terms of features, the Xbox Series S shares the X's new Xbox Velocity Architecture and, as such, boasts the super useful Quick Resume feature. Quick Resume lets you open multiple games and then quickly flick between them within seconds. Unlike on Xbox One where every time you started playing a new game the old game would be closed and then needed to be totally reloaded through credits and menu screens, on Series S these games are just cached and can be picked up from where you left off.

I'm a huge fan of unglamorous upgrades like this that really make a product's day-to-day usage much better and more enjoyable, and I think Microsoft has really killed it with Quick Resume on both Xbox Series X and S.

Lastly, I also want to shout out that the Xbox Series S can download and run all today's popular streaming services like Netflix and Disney Plus, making it a great multimedia system, too.

Xbox Series S review: verdict

Xbox Series S review

Overall, I think the Xbox Series S is a great console for many gamers, and a pitch-perfect companion for Xbox Game Pass.

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Overall, then, I feel the Xbox Series S is a really great new console from Microsoft, and one that will no-doubt appeal to countless gamers around the world who, if casual, will like its low price and accessibility, and if hardcore might consider it as a second console.

It is stylish, can run today's games perfectly (and will run next-gen titles, too) and is selling even at launch for a really attractive price point.

It does, though, have a bit of an issue in my mind with stock storage capacity and each gamer who considers it should really weigh up whether 364GB of space will be enough for their needs before pulling the trigger.

Also, I would say that while this system is a great machine for backwards compatibility, its lack of optical drive does limit what you can play on it, as if you just have this system and a massive supply of Xbox or Xbox 360 games, for example, you won't be able to feed them into the system. I am guessing, though, that most of the demographic who will pick up the Series S won't have this need, though.

Most importantly, though, I feel the Xbox Series S is just a pitch-perfect companion for Xbox Game Pass Ultimate and Xbox All Access, which in these troubled and financially unstable times, is brilliant news for gamers.