Xbox Series S review: The smallest Xbox ever punches above its weight

The hardware specs combined with improved data speeds in India offer a compelling gaming experience.
Xbox Series S
Xbox Series S

It’s not all gloom in 2020. Some sectors are bucking the trend and booming. Gaming certainly ranks high on that list. Lockdowns and WFH have seen playtime surge on gaming consoles. The launch of Sony’s new PlayStation 5 and Microsoft’s new generation of Xbox consoles in the last quarter is likely to accentuate the upward trajectory of gaming console sales. One of the major trends this year has been the redefinition of the casual gamer. Not long back, a casual gamer was someone who spent less than 10 hours a week; that might have changed with gaming providing a ready escape from WFH pressures. It’s also why the Xbox S - the smallest ever Xbox, assumes significance as a great option for the 2020 version of a casual gamer. 

Pictures don’t always tell the story. That was the first thought on my mind as I unboxed the Series S. It’s remarkably portable (weighs under 2 kg) and compact for a console. It’s also designed to look good in both horizontal or vertical positions; it should fit into the slimmest TV cabinets. The most striking design feature is a black circle that takes up a large chunk of space; this is not a speaker grille but a heat exhaust. The device comes loaded with multiple ports including two USB 3.2 ports and a storage expansion slot. It’s disappointing to see no USB-C port in the mix. The controller might look familiar but it feels much nicer in the hand with a new matte finish that offers a better grip. The D-pad gets a tweak, it’s a full 360-degree pad with better control. 

The Xbox Series S is likely to build a strong case for Microsoft’s Game Pass subscription option. It’s the first thing I added after setting up the device. The setup process is hassle free with the Xbox companion App that you can install via your smartphone. The Game Pass monthly subscription comes at Rs 699 in India. You get instant access to over 100 popular titles in an OTT-style subscription model. But you might only be able to install about 6 or 7 games (depending on your preferred titles) with the available storage. The Series S comes with 512GB but the effective storage (aside from the System usage) is about 364 GB. We wish Microsoft could have stretched the device storage to 1TB for the Series S. There is a workaround – a 1TB Seagate external storage device, but it doesn’t come cheap. You’re probably better off paying the 15,000 premium for the Xbox Series X if storage is a deal-breaker for you. 

While the device storage might leave some users craving for more, the device is certainly not short of firepower. At its heart is a Zen 2 CPU core (that also powers the Series X) and comes with a Teraflop GPU and 10GB of RAM. The hardware specs combined with improved data speeds in India offer a compelling gaming experience. I checked out Sea of Thieves (that has been optimised for the Xbox Series S), Batman: Arkham Knight and the old-school Ashes 2019 cricket game to test this console. Sea of Thieves downloaded in under 30 minutes and loaded in about 15 seconds; impressive!

Like the majority of users in India, I set up on a (Samsung) TV with a 1080p resolution. You’re bound to experience sharper visuals with a 4K TV where the Xbox S’ upscaler will kick in. It will max out at 1440 p though. The great news for 4K TV users is that you will experience 4K quality on other apps (like Netflix). It’s one of the many cool touches (which also includes a new Quick Resume feature that allows you to switch games) that makes the Xbox Series S a compelling option for casual gamers. The Xbox Series S is priced at Rs 34,990.

Views expressed by the author are personal

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