Xbox One S console review

xbox one sLike many of my fellow Xbox gamers, I was very excited to hear about the impending launch of the Xbox One S at this year’s E3. I have been a fairly early adopter of a 4K TV and I have been watching native 4K content through my TV’s applications on Netflix and Amazon Prime Video but the one thing I was greatly missing was the 4K content on my Xbox. Well, no more. It’s finally here and the early experience has been very positive.

The Console Design

The design of the Xbox One S is fairly similar to the vanilla Xbox One with the one big exception, it is very small! Smaller than a PlayStation 4, as a matter of fact. I was immediately struck by the weight of the console for its relatively small size. They have crammed a lot inside this version of the console.

It now has an integrated power supply which really adds to the overall effect of cleaning up the overall presentation of the console. This being the 2TB version I expect just adds a little more to the weight. In my opinion, on first picking it up, it gives off the impression of a much higher quality console than the version before it. I have always felt that when something has a little bit of weight behind it that it’s just a better quality.

Personally, I really like that the power button and disc eject are now physical buttons. They each have a nice feeling and sounding click to them. Overall, the Xbox One S itself is a very nice and clean upgrade to the previous version. The back of the console has been cleaned up and the inputs for the HDMI, USB, power cord and digital out are nice and flush with the case so it’s easier to plug them in. Some HDMI cables were tricky on the previous version to get completely plugged in as they were recessed into the case a slight bit. That is no issue here.

There are two USB ports on the back of the console and one directly on the front. That is the only nitpick I have, is that they put one USB port on the front. Personally, I don’t like that design. I would rather see all the ports on the back of the console but this is a very individual taste issue. I don’t feel it detracts from the overall design one bit.

Microsoft also decided to include a nice stand so that if you want to display your console vertically, you can do this as well. A very thoughtful addition. All in all, its very hard to imagine how this design could get any better. I consider it to be pretty much perfect. A fantastic combination of form and function.

The Controller

However, it’s not quite all roses. I have one very big nitpick here. The controller that comes with the system. During E3, Major Nelson did an unboxing video and they very specifically stated that the new controller had the “nice textured grip” on the controller. I have the Xbox Elite controller and have also owned the very nice Lunar White version controller and they both have a very nice textured grip. Naturally, this is what I was expecting with the new controller. That could not be further from reality.

This new controller has an almost imperceptible, hard molded texture on the backside of the controller. It’s so minor and unnoticeable that I had to take the controller into a well lit room and squint to see the “texture”. It also feels like it is cheaper made than even the Lunar White version that released last year. The one positive thing I can say about it is that all the buttons and bumpers do feel much better than past versions of the controller and this version does come with Bluetooth so it can easily be paired to your PC.

xbox one s controller

I really don’t know what Microsoft was thinking about when they passed this off as a decent option for the bundle. Overall, I would say that if you are looking for an additional controller, go buy the Lunar White. This one really is not up to par in my opinion, not considering all the great versions they have released before and it absolutely pales in comparison to the Elite controller.

The Headset

Well, there isn’t one…..A bit of a puzzling exclusion from Microsoft as this could be the first Xbox console for some folks. Granted, I think most of us buying this console already have a headset so I imagine this is also what Microsoft felt as well but it still feels like a bit of a short stick, considering the $399 price tag on this console.

The Performance

This one really shocked me. Back at E3, Phil Spencer made it a point that the Xbox One S would play your games exactly the same way as the vanilla Xbox One. Phil Spencer is quoted as saying, “…..everything’s not always pegged at exactly the same number, but honestly, do not buy this box if you think you’re buying it to play your Xbox One games better, because it was not designed to go do that. It was designed to play your Xbox One games exactly the way your Xbox One does.”

While this is philosophically correct, it is technically incorrect and we now know exactly why. The GPU in the Xbox One S is up to 914MHz. The previous Xbox One ran at 853MHz. The ESRAM bandwidth has now increased to 218GB/s. Though it’s not a massive jump percentage-wise over the previous version, about 7%, in some games it has made a very noticeable difference.

Many early tests have seen frames per second jump by as much as 5 per second in some scenarios. A few have seen even more. I am actually puzzled that Microsoft did not discuss this before the Xbox One S released as I think it might have been a really nice selling point, but I get it; you can’t go around throwing around performance increase numbers when some folks may feel that they might never notice the difference.

xbox one slim xbox one s

In today’s society that it just opening yourself up for class action lawsuits. Perhaps Microsoft wanted to keep it quiet and let us, the gamers, be the ones that spread this really nice surprise. I can tell you that in 24 hours I have noticed this difference. I set about to testing load times on games like Fallout 4, Forza Motorsport 6, Ryse and Rainbow Six Siege. I noticed the most decrease in load times in Fallout 4. I would have to estimate that my loading times have been cut in half on Fallout 4. Individual results may vary though.

The dashboard is a bit snappier as well. Navigating from tile to tile and section to section takes less time. Getting into applications also takes less time. I have to tip my hat to Microsoft in this area. This increase has really made the experience of using the Xbox One S better in my opinion. While some of the performance increases can be subjective, I would have to say that overall you will notice the difference straight away.

The “4K”

This is the “elephant in the room”. This is what you came here to read and I can say that some of you will be thrilled and some of you will not be happy by what I have to report. First, the 4K UHD Blu-Ray player, I tested it using Batman Versus Superman: Dawn of Justice. This works exactly as Microsoft advertised that it would. It works very well. That is all I can say because individual results such as color and picture quality will be subject to how you set up your 4K TV. No issues here. I was very happy.

I have to apologize ahead of time for going all “tech” in this next section but there isn’t really any way around it. Unfortunately, when it comes to playing games and watching streaming content in 4K things get a bit more….complicated. Microsoft was not entirely forthcoming with what we would need to play games in upscaled 4K HDR or stream 4K HDR content. Here is where it gets tricky.

Having a 4K TV is not enough on its own. In order to use any 4K content, the TV must have an HDMI port capable of displaying 4K@60hz or the system will tell you that it cannot display 4K content at all, period. The system will not even allow you to select 4K as an option. This could be a problem that Microsoft is working on fixing with an update but as of now this is where it stands.

Again, no 4K@60Hz HDMI port then no 4K content at all. I have one 4K@60Hz HDMI port. The others on my set are 4K@30Hz and when I switched to one of these HDMI ports, the 4K option on the console was locked out. If you are thinking of buying an Xbox One S, make 100% sure that the set you have or will have can display the required resolution and has the correct HDMI port.

Now, yet another exclusion. To upscale games in 4K, the Xbox One S must detect a TV that is capable of displaying a 4K@60hz signal using 10 bit color. As a general rule, if your 4K TV does not support HDR then chances are that it is not a 10 bit color display. My personal 4K TV is a Vizio that does not have HDR but it can display 4K@60hz but only at 8 bit color, so according to the console it will not upscale all of my games to 4K all the time. However, not all is lost.

If your 4K TV, like mine will display a 4K@60Hz signal then it will still utilize a constant 4K signal on the dashboard and it will play 4K native content like the 4K Blu-Ray and it will still stream 4K content through Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and YouTube. I can assure you that this does work very well and it does look wonderful. The one caveat that I haven’t mentioned is that if your TV has a top notch upscaling engine on its own, it can still pick up where the Xbox One S does not and will still try and upscale the games for you.

I noticed this when using the vanilla Xbox One while playing games. All in all, I don’t think this is really a loss as it relates just to the games as this Xbox still will never display games in a native 4K. That will be an honor reserved for Project Scorpio next year.

Gears of War 4 Xbox One S bundle

Overall, with regards to this issue of having very specific requirements for displaying 4K content I have to say that I am a bit disappointed with Microsoft that we can’t just have a 4K TV and view the content in 4K. I understand having to have a set that supports HDR to use HDR. That makes sense but for Microsoft to require a 4K@60Hz signal to display any 4K content seems like it’s leaving some 4K TV owners out in the dark and I really don’t agree with that.

Let me reiterate. This could simply be a problem with detecting specific TV sets and could be fixed in the coming months with an update but right now this is where it stands, as unfortunate as it is.

Final Thoughts

My overall impressions with the Xbox One S after 24 hours has been very positive. If you are an individual that does not have a 4K TV set this console could still be a very valid option for you just based on the performance increase, storage capacity and design alone. The 4K upscaling and 4K UHD Blu-Ray is a really nice bonus if your TV will support it. While there are some puzzling exclusions and puzzling requirements this is a very solid console overall and one that I feel you would have a hard time regretting purchasing if you make the jump. It is my opinion that this is exactly the right console for Microsoft to release at exactly the right time.

[Review and unboxing videos provided by Seán Gearhart]

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