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Xbox Series S review: Entry level next-gen gaming

The Xbox Series S still makes for a good console to get in on the ground floor of next-gen gaming (AFP)Premium
The Xbox Series S still makes for a good console to get in on the ground floor of next-gen gaming (AFP)

  • The console is significantly smaller than older Xbox consoles and doesn’t have the DVD drive, meaning you will be downloading all your games
  • Games like Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla did look better on the Series S, but we’d be hard pressed to say the difference is significant

While Sony delays the India launch of its PlayStation 5, Microsoft is ready with both its next generation gaming consoles — the Xbox Series X and Series S. The Xbox Series X is the company’s true “next-gen" console, but the Series S is arguably more important for India. It’s meant to be the digital console, eliminating DVDs forever and while it suits Indian buyers in many ways, it’s also easy to argue against the Xbox Series S.

The console is significantly smaller than older Xbox consoles and doesn’t have the DVD drive, meaning you will be downloading all your games. If you have a metered Internet connection, this might drain your data limits when you're shifting from older to the newer console. Unless you kept all your games on an external storage drive, you will have to redownload your entire library on the new console.

Speaking of your library, that’s where the first big problem with the Xbox Series S comes in. The console has 512GB base storage, with less 364GB for you to use. In practice, that means less than 10 games at a time on the device’s internal storage. And that upper limit is assuming you somehow don’t play large AAA titles. For a digital only console, it’s mighty unfair of Microsoft to cap the storage at such low levels.

Why is internal storage so important? Because one of the highlights of this new console is that it’s faster where it matters. To use a term commonly associated with smartphone interfaces, apps are ‘snappier’, games load noticeably faster and there’s a “quick resume" feature, which allows you to freeze multiple games in the background and pick up where you left off. How many games you freeze at a time will depend on whether the games you’re playing support the features. Forza Horizon 4 is one game that doesn’t.

But quick resume works only when the games are on the console’s in-built storage. The Series has ports for an external drive, but it won’t take full advantage of the new stuff.

Microsoft’s solution for this is to sell storage cards, a slot for which is available on the back of the Series S. This is a tiny memory card-like device that will essentially become part of the console’s internal storage and take advantage of all its features. These cards don’t seem to be available in India right now, but the Xbox website does direct you to Flipkart and Amazon, suggesting that they will sell here. A 1TB storage card sells for about $220 in the US and we didn’t get a response from Microsoft on how much they will cost here.

All this is essentially meant to force you towards Microsoft’s other idea for this console — GamePass Ultimate. This is the company’s game subscription service, where you pay Rs. 699 per month to gain access to over 200 games. It almost seems like the company expects people to pay for GamePass and download a game or two at a time, instead of maintaining a library of games they own. While that may be the future of gaming, it really seems forced for those of us who have built libraries over the years.

From a performance point of view, the Xbox Series S supports gaming at 1440p, which is a weird choice. Televisions today either do 1080p resolution or 4K, so you’ll be hard pressed to really use the Series S’ best resolution. In fact, most games also run on 1080p, so one can only assume Microsoft chose to market 1440p since it makes the console sound more powerful.

It’s worth noting that the Series S can support 4K playback for videos though, so it won’t let you down if you want to use it as a video streaming device too.

But the resolution doesn’t matter as much. 4K TVs are cheaper now, so you can certainly buy the Series X if you want better resolution, but the Series S is the cheapest way to get access to Ray Tracing technology on consoles too. This enhances lighting effects on consoles, making games look much better than on an older Xbox One X or S. Games like Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla did look better on the Series S, but we’d be hard pressed to say the difference is significant. The Series S also supports 120 frames per second (fps) for some games.

Essentially, the Series S is only noticeable improvements are in boot times and game load times. Pretty much every game we tried — whether off the internal storage or an external SSD — launched faster on the Series S than on an Xbox One. But games will mostly run as they did in the One S.

But the Xbox Series S still makes for a good console to get in on the ground floor of next-gen gaming. In fact, this fits perfectly for the casual gamers who care just enough to spend on a dedicated device for gaming. In a country growing up on mobile gaming, that might be the perfect device to enter a more serious yet casual gaming ecosystem. For existing Xbox users, you don’t really need to hurry to “upgrade" to this one, but you can definitely pick one up during the online sales.

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