In a world in which 2020 seems to be looming over us like a dark cloud, the launch of the next-generation of consoles is a breath of fresh air. While the launch titles for both the Xbox Series X|S and the PlayStation 5 frankly leave a lot to be desired, the sheer horsepower of the new consoles – especially the Xbox Series X – is truly exciting.
The new beefy Xbox Series X is what Microsoft claims as the fastest and most powerful Xbox to date, and well, after a few days playing around with the console, it’s hard to argue otherwise. Games, both old and new, look stunning with improved graphics, load times have been obliterated, and there are new ways to play games on the go. Regardless of whether you’ve always been a fan of Xbox consoles or not – the Series X is a next-gen console that really packs a punch.
It’s a console that’ll play games in 4K resolution with ease, while improving the frame rate across the board. But like the Xbox One X before it, these improvements are largely locked to premium gamers who have top-notch TVs or monitors at home, and let’s be honest, that’s not everyone.
However, that being said, there’s something for everyone with Microsoft’s latest and greatest system.
Xbox Series X design
But before we get into the nitty gritty details, let’s talk about the Xbox Series X design. Just like its competitor, the PlayStation 5, the Series X is a big old unit. Although it’s the same height as the Xbox One X, it’s much wider and will take up a lot more space. As such, it’s much heavier too, weighing a kilogram more than its predecessor. Of course, if you’re looking for a smaller next-gen console, the Xbox Series S is your best bet – but expect to lose out when it comes to overall performance.
That being said, the design is simple and will fit with the aesthetics of most living rooms – something that can’t be said for the bold PS5. Like consoles before it, the Series X can be placed horizontally or vertically and will run pretty quietly whichever way you set it up.
In terms of ports and connectivity, the Series X carries three USB 3.1 Gen ports (one on the front, and two on the back), an ethernet port, and a HDMI 2.1 port. If you’re planning on downloading a lot of games, then you’ll probably become well acquainted with the storage expansion slot, which can be found at the rear. The Series X also has a disc drive for all your physical gaming and film needs.
It might be a while before we see the console pushed to its absolute limit
While all of the above is fairly standard, the components under the hood are what make the console really interesting. Packing a 3.8GHz processor, 12-teraflop GPU, and 16GB GDDR6 memory, the full Xbox Series X specs really make it the most powerful Xbox console to date, possibly even of the next-generation.
But despite packing some powerful components, the console itself doesn’t run very hot. After playing games in 4K for several hours, the system, which is in an open shelving unit, only gave off a very low audible hum and a lukewarm blast of air – a noticeable improvement over the previous generation.
Xbox Series X performance
While the spec list sure is impressive, does it stack up to the hype? The short answer is yes, but it might be a while before we see the console pushed to its absolute limit.
You see, while the Series X can offer 4K gaming at up to 120 frames per second, DirectX Raytracing, faster loading, and spatial audio, there aren’t many games currently available that really push the console to its limits. Gears 5, which was optimised for the Series X|S, looks stunning with its most recent next-gen upgrade, but while I was able enjoy 120 frames per second attacking the Swarm in multiplayer, it still felt like I needed more to test the console’s true potential.
I think a lot of that is down to the Xbox Series X titles available on launch. While games like Forza Horizon 4 put the graphics card to task, the majority were available on the Xbox One – a fact that’s put a dampener on the launch period for me. Regardless, the optimised titles that were available to play were good. And, if you’re a competitive gamer looking for that little bit extra, then the Series X can definitely offer that.
Online multiplayer games like Gears 5, Rocket League, and Rainbow Six Siege felt buttery smooth and I experienced them all without any screen tears or stutters. The added benefit of having an FPS boost with the Series X, together with the console’s HDR reconstruction technique, meant games, especially those available through backward compatibility, looked and played surprisingly well.
The best thing to come from the Series X is the new Quick Resume feature
And while the performance of games has clearly improved with this new generation, by far the best thing to come from the Series X is the new Quick Resume feature. While Quick Resume doesn’t abolish loading screens altogether, it does obliterate the time you spend staring idly at them. A switch from Sea of Thieves to midway through the campaign of Gears 5 took us just eight seconds for example, but the time can vary anywhere between a handful of seconds to 45-50 seconds depending on the game.
While on paper that might seem like a lifetime, you’ll be surprised at how smooth the process is and how quickly you’ll be able to jump back into your favourite games right where you left them.
Of course, Quick Resume doesn’t really work for multiplayer games since you’ll be chucked out of lobbies if you’re away from the game for too long, but the feature will minimise the amount of loading screens you see. So, in that sense there’s an advantage for you there if you spend most of your time playing processor-heavy games like Call of Duty: Warzone.
Xbox Series controller
One of the most overlooked changes to the new generation of Xbox consoles is to its controller. While at first glance it doesn’t look like the pad has changed all that much from the previous generation, it’s the perfect reminder that looks can be deceiving.
For those that say size doesn’t matter, it really, really does
I’ve always struggled with the Xbox controller. Its big, bulky form has always felt weird in my relatively small hands, but with the Xbox Series controller, I was surprised by how well I took to it. To appeal to those with smaller hands, Microsoft has changed its form factor slightly, and it’s noticeable. For those that say size doesn’t matter, it really, really does.
Its smaller form now means that it can sit snug in my hands, and the added bonus of having tactile grips on the back of the pad only adds to that comfortability. The grips extend over the long arms of the controller and onto the trigger buttons. This makes long gaming sessions even better, since the plastic won’t slip in your hands during sweaty sessions.
The biggest change to the controller is to the D-pad, which is now based on the hybrid one used in the Xbox Elite Series 2. Its circular, concave shape makes it a natural resting position for your left thumb, and allows you to hit combinations in games with a deadly accuracy. However, it is very loud and emanates a sound similar to that of a mechanical keyboard. If you’re not a fan of the clickity clack of those, then chances are you’re not going to be a fan of the controller either.
In addition to the changes to the D-pad, a share button has also been added to the controller to capture all your crazy 360 no scopes in all their 4K glory. It’s fairly easy to use and will import all your screenshots and videos to the Xbox app so you can share them online or with friends with ease.
While, on the whole, I was impressed by the controller and the subtle changes made to make more gamers comfortable, there was one thing that disappointed me – the rumble. The vibrations from the Xbox Series X controllers are feeble and often mistimed with the game you’re playing. Next-gen is meant to bring you closer to the action, but I can’t help but feel that the Xbox Series X has missed out on a trick by not investing in the same sort of technology that Sony has with the PS5 controller.
It might be a small thing, but in the battle to be the best next-gen console on the market, the small things matter the most.
One of the added benefits of the new wireless controller, regardless of its lack of true next-gen features, is that it can be connected to your phone or tablet via bluetooth for remote play. It’s fairly painless to set up through the Xbox app providing, of course, you have a good mobile data plan or internet connection.
I used remote play on a couple of occasions and found it to be a good experience. My internet connection isn’t the best by any means, but it still allowed me to play Sea of Thieves on my phone without much latency at all. Of course, this won’t be the same experience for everyone, but the Xbox Series X does a good job at levelling expectations by testing your network during the setup process.
It also goes without saying that if you’re playing the best Xbox Series X games away from home, just be aware that it’ll eat into your data plan quickly.
And while gaming is at the core of Xbox Series X systems, it’s still a one stop shop for all things entertainment. Consoles for so many of us now are much more than gaming systems and the Series X caters to exactly that.
Subscription services like Netflix, Disney+, and Apple Play, are all available in 4K through the app store, as are specific on-demand services like BBC iPlayer and 4OD. I could list them all, but realistically speaking, there’s not much missing on the Series X.
If the TV and film apps can’t satiate your boredom during 2020 and the everlasting lockdown, then you’ll no doubt be able to find something through the incredibly well stocked store, which lists all the latest films and TV series to buy and rent. There are also countless apps for music lovers to stick on the background too.
But all these apps take up vital space on the system’s storage. If you’re planning on using the Xbox Series X as your hub for all things entertainment, then you’ll need to think about getting one of the approved Seagate expansion drives that look and feel like the old memory sticks from years gone by. This is because, from the get go, you’ll lose 19% of your storage space to the operating system.
At the time of writing, the Xbox Series X’s operating system takes up 198GB of the internal 1TB NVMe SSD. While it’s not as bad as the storage space problems facing many Xbox Series S owners, if you’re used to having a load of apps installed at the same time as a handful of games, then your storage options are starting to look a little slender.
While I’ve not had time to test all of the new features of the Xbox Series X, I have been impressed with the console and its offerings so far. The launch lineup might not scream next-gen, but the raw power of the Series X certainly does. Providing you have a TV capable of 4K gaming at home, you’ll get everything you’ve ever dreamed of and more from the console.
Although that capability is still tapped to the premium market, the graphical and frame rate improvements across the board – and for backwards compatible titles – help usher in a new age for console gamers.
If you’re not fussed about the performance and the launch titles don’t tickle your fancy, I’d stick with the Xbox One X for the time being. However, in the not too distant future, I’m confident that the raw power of the Xbox Series X will quickly become Microsoft’s flagship system – and for all the right reasons.