The Xbox Series X is the quintessential Xbox device, a gaming console that embraces its lineage as much as it lays groundwork for the future. The promise of Microsoft’s latest gaming hardware innovation is to deliver speed in every way possible and pair it with four generations of Xbox game libraries.
This juxtaposition between old software and new hardware puts the timing and offering of the Xbox Series X, and its less powerful sibling, the Xbox Series S, in a rather peculiar space. What good are these next-gen features and sheer power if there are no new software applications that can truly take advantage of it? There are, after all, zero Xbox Series X exclusive games available at launch.
The vision of the Xbox Series X is a longer-term and broader one and while it will take time to see what innovation and visuals come from the higher standard of power the next-gen Xbox offers, there’s still much value in the short-term to be had. The Series X builds on what the Xbox One’s iterations (namely the Xbox One X) shifted toward in embracing 4K console gaming. In some cases, up to 120 frames per second and DirectX Raytracing are supported on the Series X, opening so much potential for the next generation of Xbox gaming even if it’s not here yet and won’t be for a while.
The Xbox Series X Is An Investment in Speed (and the Future)
The best and most important things that Xbox Series X can do can be felt immediately, and all console gamers, not just just long-time Xbox players, will be impressed by how fast it is. There are several ways the Xbox Series X accomplishes this to become the fastest console on the market.
The first and most obvious is the Xbox Series X’s custom 1TB NVME SSD, a solid state hard drive that enables super fast loading and booting up of the console and its OS. Combined with an 8-core custom Zen 2 processor running at 3.8GHz (3.66GHz with simultaneous multithreading), 16GB GDDR6 memory, and optimized software integration, Microsoft has crafted what they’ve dubbed the Xbox Velocity Architecture. Buzzwords aside, together this speed is the most “next-gen” feature of the Xbox Series X. From the Xbox home screen and all of the interfaces finally working as fast as an Xbox user would want, to every aspect of using the console being slick and smooth, this is the foundation for everything the Series X begins to offer.
But the speed comes from elsewhere too, and the Xbox Series X takes this technology above and beyond in two ways. The first being the brand new Quick Resume feature, which lets users switch between applications and games, and then back again, immediately and picking up right where they left off. This only works for compatible titles and will be hindered by online-only games requiring check-ins, but in testing this with the likes of Forza Motorsport 7, Mortal Kombat XL, and Ori and the Will of the Wisps, along with various apps, we were able to enjoy this amazing feature in action. We’ve bounced in and out of Ori in the same level several times throughout the week without a hitch. Even when unplugging the console and re-plugging it in a day later, the Series X let us jump exactly to where we had last paused.
Adding to that, the Xbox Series X has the fastest download speeds of all consoles we’ve tested thanks to what Harrison Hoffman, Xbox Principal Program Manager, calls “brand new advanced networking hardware.” This is absolutely crucial as to keep up with the rest of the performance upgrades, and more importantly, to help combat the storage limitations of the next-gen Xbox consoles. The Series X only has 800 GB of usable free space to install games and apps. For context, if you install Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, its Warzone battle royale mode, and the new Call of Duty: Black Ops – Cold War, you’ve used over half of this space. By comparison the Series S is even worse off with only 346GB of usable space, a relative step back generationally in terms of available console storage versus increasing game file sizes.
The ability to remove and re-add games on the fly is therefore essential, and the Xbox Series X does this at an exceptional rate. While downloading Assassin’s Creed Valhalla which was listed at 47.48 GB, it took only 30 minutes to download and install, hitting speeds between 200 Mbps and upwards of 320 Mbps on a 1 GB internet plan. It took less than 20 minutes to download and install Mortal Kombat XL at 41.78 GB.
The Xbox Series X and S will realistically require the purchase of additional storage. Xbox recommends the very pricey Seagate Storage Expansion Card which plugs directly into a specially designed port in the rear of the console, adding 1TB of space at the same speed as the internal SSD. This added cost should be factored in for users planning to take advantage of the Xbox Series S | X.
Xbox Series X’s Console Design & Wireless Controller
The Xbox Series X is presented as a premium product and and it feels that way from the packaging to the solid and sturdy design of the console itself. It weighs in at just under 10 pounds (9.8 lbs to be exact), a bit heavier than the Xbox One X’s 8.4 pounds. The monolithic black form factor maintains a simple yet powerful presence, well-designed with a slick aesthetic even if it’s less practical for traditional home entertainment setups due to its odd dimensions.
The Series X, unlike all prior Xbox systems, seems built to stand vertically and has a non-removable base stand which emphasizes that point. It can sit horizontally of course, and there are little grips to set it down that way, but given its proportions there may not be a reason to.
While running, the Xbox Series X is virtually silent but it does get very warm on top due to its cooling system venting out hot air through the fan at the top, pictured above. An innovation here, to deal with heat, is the Xbox Series X’s split motherboard, a first for consoles which helps keep the internals temperature controlled.
The Xbox Series X ships with a single black wireless controller (the white Xbox Series S comes with a white controller) that require a pair of AA batteries (included). At a glance this new controller appears the same as the standard Xbox One controller, and with good reason, since Xbox has been nearing perfection on the fundamental form factor for years – so much so that the PlayStation 5’s DualSense controller even leans into that general shape.
The changes with Xbox’s next-gen controllers however, are more subtle. The bumpers and triggers are more rounded and the grips more carefully sculpted to be ever so slightly more comfortable. There are tactical dot patterns on the triggers and grips as well. The most notable changes come from the D-Pad and the one additional button added.
The Xbox Series X controller’s D-pad is now a hybrid of the simply defined 4-direction classic D-pad and the diagonal-friendly round dish design to support players who prefer either format. This was inspired by research from how the Xbox One’s Elite Controller – which had a swappable D-pad – was utilized.
This next-gen controller uses the same Xbox Wireless Radio as Xbox One controllers so is cross-compatible with the Xbox One family of devices, but with reduced latency. It can also be used on PC and mobile (Android and iOS) and since it’s built with Bluetooth Low Energy, it’s easier and quicker to pair with other devices (that it will remember for switching between them). The Xbox Series X controller also makes the upgrade to a. USB-C port to use modern cables.
Xbox Series X Usability & Accessibility
Setting up the Xbox Series X is rather painless and quick, and it can also be done by pairing with a mobile device using the updated Xbox app. Since the console downloads so efficiently, the first update only takes a minute and updating the controller’s firmware is done wirelessly and quickly.
The layout and aesthetic of the Xbox Series X’s home screen will be intimately familiar to Xbox One users, just more vibrant and speedy. The Xbox Series X also features an Auto-HDR function which is turned on by default and helps improve the visuals of SDR games if you have an HDR screen to play on.
The Xbox Assist app is listed on the home screen when starting up, providing quick tips on how to use the console, from payment notifications to capturing and sharing. Here, players can instantly check the status of the Xbox Live service as well. The tiles can be customized, from including certain games or even other players from your friends list.
Like the Xbox One, the Games & Apps button (accessed from a tile on home screen or from anywhere by pressing the Xbox button on the controller) is likely where you’ll go first. The library is better organized, with games categorized into what titles are owned on the account, which were acquired through Gold, and what games are available to install from Game Pass.
Given the hard disk space limitations on next-gen consoles, the Manage tab will be handy. Here, storage devices and updates will be listed, alongside a button to free up space – where players can see leftover add-ons to remove and games that can be shrunken down to conserve precious space. It’s also here where users can plug in a USB drive to access other media (requires a Media Player app download to play the files).
Xbox also stays true to adding accessibility options. Holding down the Xbox button brings up Magnifier and Narrator options for the menus, and when arranging the home tiles there’s an Ease of Access high-contrast option as well to make on-screen features more readily visible. They even went the extra mile of adding tactile indicators for the blind over the rear ports of the console. The Xbox Series X, since it supports all Xbox One peripherals, also supports Xbox Adaptive Controller.
Xbox Series X Is The Most Backward Compatible Consoles
With a lack of next-gen exclusive experiences, the Xbox Series S and X will rely on what came before and what many users already own from previous Xbox generations. And so much of this is well-supported, much like controllers and accessories from the Xbox One are. This consumer-friendly approach is a key selling point for players embedded in the Xbox ecosystem.
Going forward, that cross-generation support will be bolstered by the Smart Delivery system that ensures that any Xbox Game Studios game purchased for Xbox One or Xbox Series X will be available for both, with the upgraded version available on the Series X with no additional cost. All developers can and should take advantage of this.
It may seem obvious, but in testing multiple Xbox One versions of game, there is a noticeable improvement in performance and substantially improved load times. Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege and Call of Duty: Warzone are great examples of games that were pushing it on last-gen systems but benefit greatly from the power of the Xbox Series X.
Should You Buy An Xbox Series X?
The concept of thousands of games from four generations of Xbox being available and playable on the Xbox Series X at launch is mind-bending, and this is one of the key selling points of joining or sticking with the Xbox ecosystem. The Series X supports nearly all games a long-time Xbox player may have (keep those old discs!) and makes this access a normal part of the experience. A place to have everything “Xbox” in one compact system, to play the most Xbox games ever in the best possible way, is a big part of the Series X appeal.
The Series X is familiar and superior, but it currently serves essentially as another iteration of the Xbox One versus something totally new and different, for better or worse. It’s an adequate starting point for Xbox to build on for years to come, but its long-term prospects depend on Xbox Game Studios supporting it in a way they failed to support the Xbox One. The Xbox Series X needs legitimate top-notch exclusive content to go with its highly impressive speed and power.
At the moment the Series X is held back by its limited storage and constraints of the 7-year-old Xbox One and because of it, modern multi-platform games on the next-gen Xbox still don’t offer some the basics of what PC users should expect in terms of visual and graphics options. Until the games catch up to the console, users can at least benefit from everything the console does so well on its own in terms of improving the general experience and being consumer-friendly on older hardware and game support.
The Xbox Series X offers all the standard must-haves for a home entertainment unit, from all the streaming apps to being able to play 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Discs, and your own media via storage, but some of the features are more marketing buzzwords than widely usable features (120 FPS).
The Xbox Series X may be the most powerful console ever made but there’s nothing that demonstrates this yet and all of its games can be played on older hardware. It’s the best way to play what you already have and what’s coming up, but it’s even more of an investment for the future where games can be built from the ground up to take advantage of what only next-gen consoles can offer.
The Xbox Series X releases worldwide on November 10, 2020. Xbox provided a console for review.
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