The “S” in the Xbox One S could stand for multiple things. Slim, sleek, smaller, sublime. The console’s all of those things, and it seriously deserves a spot in your living room. It doesn’t matter if you owned the original Xbox One model or not- it’s a good improvement over the original model in subtle ways, and it’s a fantastic device on its own.
The console itself is very aesthetically pleasing. It was designed by Andrew Kim, the same person who landed a job at Microsoft by designing a rebrand of the company, and it looks great. Not only is it smaller than the original Xbox One model, but it manages to mix both functionality and style in its design. The perforated parts of the console might look like just a design at first, but they’re actually a very stylish vent. It’s a great way to hide a vent in plain sight, and it manages to keep the console as cool as it looks.
The only area where the console really fails design wise would be the vertical stand. During my usage, it just didn’t feel secure when attached, and it wasn’t wide enough for me to feel like my Xbox would actually stay vertical. The console is simply too wide (or rather tall, when placed vertically) for a stand that’s barely wider than the system it’s supposed to be supporting to keep it standing. It felt like far too much of a risk, so the stand didn’t get very much usage at all.
Speaking of the controller, its improvements are much larger and much more noticeable than the console. It features double the wireless range, a textured grip, and Bluetooth functionality. In my usage, the increased wireless range is what I’ve grown to appreciate the most, with the grip being a close second. If your PC is in a different room than your Xbox One, odds are you won’t have to even connect it to your PC during Xbox to Windows 10 streaming. This is another case where your mileage may vary, but it’s definitely made my experience much smoother.
The textured grip on the controller is nice, simply put. It’s not revolutionary or a game changer, but it’s a nice little detail that makes it just a little bit harder for me to switch to another controller. You also might not have to switch to another controller for gaming on other devices, as Bluetooth support makes it compatible with a variety of devices, from smartphones to PCs. You can also just go the wired route with a micro USB to USB cable, too.
It’s worth mentioning that the Xbox One S does have slightly higher performance than the original Xbox One model in some games. This isn’t noticeable for the most part and the difference for most affected games is simply fewer frame drops. It does make a difference, but it isn’t one you’ll usually see. The reason behind this? The GPU is overclocked, which is a pretty common practice for PC gamers, and it has the same effect there. You’ll gain some frames here and there, but it shouldn’t be a radical change.
All in all, it’s a worthy upgrade if you already have an original Xbox One, and a must have if you have a 4K TV and use it for media. Microsoft’s commitment to the big screen is big, even if getting the hardware to see its effects is costly.
When it comes to games that are exclusive (or console exclusive) to the Xbox One, there’s a little bit of everything for everybody. Fan of first person shooters with online multiplayer? Almost the entire Halo franchise (the exception of Halo Reach, although it’s available on backwards compatibility) is available, with Halo 1-4 being able to purchase as The Master Chief Collection. You can get Halo ODST’s campaign as $5 DLC for The Master Chief Collection, too. And of course, Halo 5 is available as well, with some of the best multiplayer currently available on the entire system.
Racing games are an area where the Xbox One does seriously shine. The Forza Motorsport/Forza Horizon series has multiple offerings designed just for the system, and some of the older titles are coming via backwards compatibility. If you’re interested in a serious racing simulation, they’re must own titles.
The operating system
The Xbox One runs on Windows 10, and it gets updates regularly. Issues I have with the OS are regularly fixed up within a week or two, and it’s nice to watch the system keep growing and evolving with each update. Since the launch of the Xbox One S just a month ago, multiple issues have been patched up, and a few minor features have been added.
At the system’s launch, I had common crashes with the store. Simply trying to scroll through games too quickly would cause an equally quick crash back to the dashboard, and it was infuriating. A few weeks later and not only are all of my crashes fixed up, but it becomes possible to disable the system’s startup chime, too.
The Xbox One’s version of Windows 10 keeps evolving with time, and it’s something that might become radically different in even just under a year. For people who like change (like myself), this is a really good thing. I can (and have) see(n) it being an issue for some when the dashboard inevitably changes again, but those updates happen only once every few years, so it isn’t a major concern.
One thing that is a major concern, however, is the speed of the Xbox One’s user interface. It’s insanely slow, and there’s often an insane amount of delay when opening the system’s guide menu. Where opening the Xbox 360 guide menu in backwards compatibility is instantaneous, it often takes up to five seconds for the Xbox One guide to appear. Other actions might have some noticeable lag and delay, but no other ones are that bad.
Additionally, opening the guide feels pretty awkward. You need to double-tap the Xbox button on your controller, and that isn’t the easiest thing to do at times. I find myself going back to the dashboard more often than successfully opening the guide, and it’s fairly frustrating. I don’t currently have a microphone that’s compatible with the Xbox One, so I need to open the guide to take a screenshot or record a game clip.
Complaints about the speed of the Xbox One’s user interface have been around for years, but I really do hope that Microsoft begins to address some more of them soon. With the price range of Xbox One S devices ranging from $300 to $400, it feels as if you’d expect a higher quality experience in that area.
When it comes to actual visuals and performance, the Xbox One S adds support for 4K media, as well as upscaling games to 4K, which will likely look better than the upscaling your TV does on its own. For gaming, it’s a situation where your mileage may vary, but if you care a lot about the picture quality on the TV or movies you watch, you might want to start considering the upgrade.
The Xbox One is an excellent media center, and it’s honestly strange that Microsoft didn’t release an upgraded media remote alongside the One S. Its visual improvements are mostly focused on media, and while a new remote isn’t necessary, it would be nice to have one with the improvements that the Xbox One S’ controller has.
On the subject of backwards compatibility, it’s another one of the best reasons to get an Xbox One. If you’re like me and didn’t originally get a 360 because of RROD scares, or even if you have a 360, you’ve got a reason to check it out. Performance in certain games (like Red Dead Redemption) is significantly better on the Xbox One than the Xbox 360, and it’s a great way to boost your library.
There’s currently over two hundred Xbox 360 games available on backwards compatibility, and the list keeps on growing. While it’s doubtful that it’ll ever reach a point where nearly every game worth playing on the 360 is available there, there’s plenty of gems. There’s games like the Gears of War series, Mirror’s Edge, Fable II, Forza Horizon, and way more.
One of the best parts of backwards compatibility is that you don’t have to buy what you already own – games you owned digitally on the Xbox 360 will be available in your games library, and games you own physically just need to be put in the system. After inserting your 360 game of choice, an update will be downloaded before the game boots up. You’ll be good to go from there as long as you keep the disc.
It’s hard to deny that the Xbox One really is missing some titles. This is split into two categories – games that are exclusive to the PlayStation 4 for various reasons (which Microsoft often has nothing to do with), and then there’s Microsoft’s own IPs which deserve some more use. Yes, we have Halo. Yes, we have Forza. Yes, we have Gears of War. Those aren’t the only three franchises owned by Microsoft, though, and they desperately need to bring out some of their other big guns. Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Banjo Kazooie 1, 2, and Nuts & Bolts are available in Rare Replay. Fable II and III are on Xbox 360 backwards compatibility. That doesn’t make up for the lack of new titles in any of these franchises.
Microsoft shot down Lionhead’s original proposal for a fourth Fable game, and the team moved on to the now cancelled Fable Legends. There’s been no word on any of Rare’s old properties getting any use aside from Killer Instinct. There’s so much potential for the IPs owned by Microsoft, and it’s a pity to see them being ignored.
That doesn’t mean it’s all doom and gloom, though. Microsoft is working on bringing new IPs to the Xbox platform, like Scalebound, Quantum Break, and ReCore. Scalebound is a totally new IP developed by Platinum Games, and it also participates in a totally new program Microsoft’s bringing to the Xbox One and Windows 10 – Xbox Play Anywhere.
Xbox Play Anywhere
Xbox Play Anywhere’s an interesting thing. If you buy participating titles digitally, you’ll get both the Windows 10 Store version of the game alongside the Xbox One version. ReCore will be the first title to use this, and it means you’ll be able to take your library with you on multiple devices. Even if you decide to ditch your Xbox One for PC gaming down the line, you won’t be without your library of games. It’s a great idea, and there’s no downside to it at all.
Regardless of some areas in need of improvement, the Xbox One S is still a fantastic device. You do get the quality you’d expect for the price in almost everything. The hardware looks fantastic and seems almost like something you would expect to see in an art museum. There’s plenty of great games available – either ones designed for the system or available via backwards compatibility, and more to come.
Xbox’s future is looking bright with services like Play Anywhere, and it’s an ecosystem that just keeps evolving. Even if the operating system might not be the fastest, the Xbox One S is a highly recommended buy – even if you already own an older Xbox One model.