Xbox Series S review: a small yet mighty games console

Our Xbox Series S review dives into what Microsoft’s affordable and compact console is like to live with compared to its big brother, the Series X, and the PS5.

Xbox Series S review: a white Xbox Series S console standing vertically, with a green controller and white controller stand in front of it

Our Verdict

Despite being smaller than a shoebox and considerably cheaper than its rivals, the Xbox Series S offers an excellent experience. While it can’t deliver 4K gaming and may force you into some storage space management from time to time, it’s still the best value for money console on the market.

If you’re one of the many gamers out there looking to upgrade your last-gen console, you’re probably seeking out this Xbox Series S review to see if Microsoft’s cheaper and more compact machine is worth picking up – especially when its bigger brother, the Series X, and the PlayStation 5 are vying for your attention too. Well, in a nutshell, the majority of people reading this should absolutely consider choosing the Series S as their new home console, providing 4K gaming isn’t at the top of your list of requirements.

I’ve had well over two years of living with the Xbox Series S, and I’ve been mightily impressed by it. Admittedly, it hasn’t had to do all the heavy lifting, as I’ve also got a PS5 which has split the load a bit, but whatever I’ve thrown at the Series S it has taken in its stride and given a satisfactory experience. Competitive multiplayer titles, open-world live service games, single-player epics, streaming through Xbox Cloud – this little gem is definitely still one of the best gaming consoles. Let’s dive into the specifics though, and see how it stacks up to its competitors.

Xbox Series S design

I’m personally a big fan of the Xbox Series S’ appearance and compact design. Even in the most cramped of gaming setups, the Series S will find a snug place to call home. While maybe not as elegant as the sleek Series X or swooping PS5, I love that the circular black grill on the top of the all-white body makes it look a little like a little record player or DJ deck. It’s cute. It’s the world’s first cute console.

Due to its small size, and the fact it weighs less than two kilograms, it’s also surprisingly portable for a home console. Want to take it over to a pal’s house or bring it along with you on a trip away? No problem. As long as you’ve got a power source, you can even turn it into a properly on-the-go console if you grab yourself a portable monitor, which attaches directly to it.

In terms of functionality, the Series S has most of its ports located on the back of the console. You’ve got two USB 3.0 ports, as well as slots for your power cable, HDMI, ethernet cable, and an external storage drive (more on those a little later). On the front, there is an extra USB 3.0 port, which I’ve found makes plugging in wired controllers or controller charging ports that little bit more convenient.

While it’s becoming less common to buy physical releases as time goes by, it is also worth noting that the Series S does not come with a disc drive. All your games will have to be digital downloads or streamed via Xbox Cloud. The drawbacks to this are that you can’t pick up any second-hand physical copies of games for discounted prices, and that, in my case, your stack of DVDs will sit and gather dust.

Of course, with every new console comes an Xbox Series controller for you to play the best games on as soon as it’s out of the box. It’s a fairly unremarkable controller and doesn’t come with all the bells and whistles of the PS5’s DualSense Edge. However, it’s very comfortable to use and fairly well-made – after two years of fairly regular usage, there’s no sign of stick drift or a sticky button in sight.

Xbox Series S performance

So this is probably the big one – what kind of performance can I expect from the cheapest console of this generation? Well, surprisingly, the only significant gap between the S and its rivals is in the resolution department. For those with 4K TVs or monitors that want to play some of the best Xbox Series XS games at maximum fidelity, you will get a better visual experience with the Series X (and the PS5, if that’s also on your new console radar).

The Series X and the PS5 can both achieve 4K graphics at 60 FPS (and if you drop the resolution down you can also achieve 120 FPS), while the less powerful Series S can only reach 1440p, but can also hit 120 FPS for some titles. While I’m not one to massively obsess over graphics, I’ll say that almost everything I’ve played has looked and felt great on the Series S. Competitive titles like Halo Infinite have felt smooth, while the likes of Forza Horizon 5 have still managed to impress me with its visuals, despite the S not having as much oomph as its rivals.

Storage space is also limited compared to the beefier consoles. The Series S has pretty much half the internal storage capacity as the Series X (512GB for the S versus a whole terabyte for the X). It hasn’t been too much of an issue for me, thanks to how many great titles you can stream through Xbox Cloud, but there have been a few occasions where I’ve had to clear some room to make way for a chunky new game.

If you are someone that has a lot of games on the go at once though, there is a very convenient (but slightly pricey) solution in the form of some official expansion cards from Seagate (available in 512GB, 1TB, or 2TB). These are made to slot effortlessly into the storage expansion slot on the back of the console, and will instantly provide you with additional, hassle-free storage space.

While the 512GB expansion card (priced at around $110/ £185) will bring your Series S up to the Series X’s baseline storage capacity, it’s the only one that will still work out cheaper in combination with the S than just buying the Series X in the first place.

Aside from not being able to achieve a dazzling 4K and having less storage capacity, there are not really any other major differences between the S and the X in the performance department. The remarkable Quick Resume feature, for example, works just as well on the Series S as it does on its big brother, and both consoles provide spatial audio and ray tracing. Playing the best Xbox Series X games on the pint-sized S is still an excellent current-gen experience.

Xbox Series S review: A screenshot of a spaceship passing a large planet in starfield

Xbox Series S games and entertainment

OK, we’ve gone this far without mentioning it, so now it’s time to give you the number one reason to get an Xbox Series S, and that’s the Xbox Game Pass.

While you’ll still have to fork out for most big third-party titles, all of Xbox’s first-party behemoths like Forza Horizon 5, Halo Infinite, or Starfield are available to you as soon as they launch. While it’s safe to say that Xbox’s first-party offerings this generation have been a bit sparse, things are definitely recovering with lots of exciting projects to come.

Game Pass also offers a remarkable back catalog of older titles, including some of the best games of all time. Bethesda greats like Skyrim and Fallout: New Vegas, the Mass Effect trilogy, the Hitman World of Assassination trilogy, Titanfall 2, Deathloop, and so many more are at your fingertips for a monthly subscription and all will run excellently on a Series S. There are also plenty of smaller hidden gems or critically-acclaimed indies for you to pick up and play as well.

You can expect anywhere between five to a dozen new games to also be added to the service each month, ranging from day one release to more classics. Yes, there is a chance that any game on the Game Pass library could be removed, but Microsoft usually gives a fair warning if a game is going to be dropped from the service. If it’s a game you truly love, you will often get the chance to buy it permanently for a discounted price before it leaves the Game Pass library too.

Aside from just the games, the Series S can also become your new entertainment hub – it certainly has in my living room. With apps for all the top streaming services like Disney+, Apple TV, and Netflix, the possibilities are endless.

Xbox Series S review: a white Xbox Series S console standing vertically, with a green controller and white controller stand in front of it

Xbox Series S value

With all of this considered, the Xbox Series S offers amazing value for money. At $299.99 (£249.99), it is $100 less than the PS5 Digital, and $200 less than the Series X and the PS5 with a disc drive, while still providing a very impressive current-gen experience.

You can also pick up a Series S as part of Microsoft’s excellent All Access package, which gives players even better value. For a monthly fee of $24.99 (£20.99) on a 24-month payment plan, you can get a Series S and two years of Xbox Game Pass subscription. This is ideal for those thinking of buying the console for the benefit of Game PassGame Pass anyway and also offers a solution for anyone who hasn’t got the lump sum for the console up front.

There are also loads of great bundles on offer too, which you can find out more about in our Xbox Series X|S bundles guide.

Xbox Series S where to buy

The Xbox Series S is easy to pick up in the US and UK from all the major retailers. We’ve listed them below.

Verdict

Overall, the small but mighty Series S is a fantastic home console. If you value the visual quality of a game over all else or think you’ll need over a terabyte of storage for a vast collection of chunky games, then it’s definitely worth splashing the extra cash and picking up the Series X or a PS5 instead.

However, in almost all other areas, the Series S has got your back. It gives you access to hundreds of amazing games through Game Pass, it still makes blockbuster titles shine even if it can’t push performance to the absolute max, and it squeezes seamlessly into anyone’s living room or gaming setup. The Series S is definitely The Little Console That Could.