The launch of Xbox Series X was a difficult one. With the spectre that Xbox One’s weak support was hanging over it, it was difficult to get gamers to switch from PS5. Two years later, Xbox Series X is a powerful console that can be bought if stock runs out on the PS5.
While at launch on November 10, 2020 things felt muddied – it launched with the less powerful Xbox Series S and Xbox One was shared its games roster, time has been kind to Xbox Series X. The design of the PS5 took us by surprise (read my PS5 Review for more). However, Xbox Series X was a small black box that failed to capture our imagination. It has been a great console and has proven to be a good value over the years.
The lack of exclusive titles was a problem at launch. Although the best Xbox Series X games can be played on PS5 and Xbox, Elden Ring, for example, is not available on either platform. However, Microsoft has made exclusive titles since launch and plans to release Starfield in 2023. However, when it comes to games, Game Pass – the subscription model for getting monthly free games – remains unmatched. Unlike PS5, Xbox Series X works with hundreds old Xbox games.
Inside the black box is the kind of tech you expect from a state-of-the-art games console; a super-fast SSD loads and reloads games in under a second, plenty of internal storage and the kind GPU and CPU combo you’d get in a high-spec gaming PC or one of the best laptops for gaming – the eight-core Zen 2-based AMD processor with AMD’s RDNA 2 GPU can handle everything thrown at it.
Below I will go over the reasons why Xbox Series X has proven to be a reliable, great games console. Below is a comparison of Xbox Series X vs Xbox Series S. They were launched together and are very similar but slightly different.
Xbox Series X review: two models
Xbox Series X, which is slightly more powerful than the other consoles, features a 4K Blu Ray disc drive. Although Series X has a slightly better performance, you won’t notice any difference in terms of performance. It can output 4K at 120Hz and 8K.
The games libraries, UI and storage, as well as other technical features, remain unchanged. You should also note that an Xbox games collection Series X can be preferred if you have a disc drive. This will allow you to fully backwards compatible.
The Xbox Series S model is slightly more expensive than the Series X. It is a digital-only unit that does not have a disc drive. It’s not worth the cost if you don’t plan to play Blu-ray movies and old Xbox games.
The other area it lags behind Series X is in output – this console has less powerful graphics performance so displays games at 1080p and 1440p. This is fine for a few years but developers will soon target 4K, 8K and possibly Series S.
Xbox Series X review: design
The Xbox Series X was underwhelmed in its launch. It’s a rectangular, black box with tricks that reinforces the perception that Microsoft’s console is a gaming computer with few innovative features.
After spending two years with the Xbox Series X, I have come to appreciate its simplicity. The Xbox Series X measures just 15.1x15x30.1 cm and is much smaller than PS5. It’s a small, black box that can easily be placed beside, under or behind a television. The Xbox Series X is a simple console that looks great, despite initial impressions. Design should be as practical as it is beautiful, and Xbox Series X has proven to be a great example of this.
The inclusion of the textured top ventilation, which breaks down the rigid lines and provides a secret area to explore, is a design highlight. The design of Xbox Series X looks great in hindsight. It’s slightly textured with one narrow slit for the disk drive. This gives the console a modern, industrial, and smart look.
The console has all you need: a HDMI 2.0, two USB 3.0 ports, and a storage expansion card to increase the memory. There’s another subtle design idea here too, as each rear port features raised dots so you can judge by feel which port is which – why has this level of accessibility never been done before?
It is also extremely quiet. The top and rear vents disperse heat really well and when turned on you won’t notice at all – it’s near silent. Xbox Series X has redesigned its design to be discreet and offers a more sophisticated gaming experience.
Xbox Series X Review: Performance
Xbox Series X is, technically, the most powerful games console on sale right now – yes, it’s slightly more powerful than PS5. It features an eight-core AMD Zen 2 processor at 3.8GHz, a custom RDNA 2 AMD graphics card with 12 TFLOPs of processing speed, 16GB of GDDR6 storage and a 1TB Custom SSD NVMe SSD to facilitate fast loading.
While loading and reloading time for most games is less than a second with SSD, some may take longer. This is great for jumping straight back into games with no loading, and you can skip between games and start right where you left off – you can juggle between multiple games from the dashboard. Elden Ring is a great example of a game that uses the SSD. You can start and stop instantly.
Xbox Series X specifications
CPU: 8x Cores, 3.8 GHz Custom Zen 2 CPU
GPU: 12 TFLOPS, 1.825 GHz Custom RDNA 2 GPU
Internal storage: 1TB Custom SSD NVME SSD
Expandable storage: 1TB Expansion card
External Storage USB 3.2 External HDD Support
Optical Drive Blu-ray Drive 4K UHD
Performance target: 4K / 60fps / 120fps, 8K / 30fps
When playing I really notice frame rates more than ever these days, and Xbox Series X delivers 4K at 60fps and can manage 120fps – only really necessary if you super-competitive in Halo Infinity or Gears 5 – this shooter supports 4K at 120fps online, which is, frankly, incredible.
This is also a testimony to Microsoft’s backwards compatibility, as Gears 5 (an end-of-life Xbox One title) shines on Xbox Series X. Some games will reduce resolution to 1080p in order to run at 120 frames per second. This will eventually mean that you will need the best 4K TVs.
It is worth exploring the Xbox Series X’s backwards compatible features and compatibility. This really sets this console apart. As well as offering automatic HDR support to boost the colour depth and contrast of older games there’s also FPS Boost that can quadruple the frame rates of older games – classic Xbox games (X360, Xbox and Xbox One) can get boosts from 30fps to a locked 60fps, some can reach 120fps. These older games have a more refined look and feel. While the look and feel of older games may vary, many older titles can be modified.
Xbox Series X review: UI
The downside to Xbox Series X is its UI – it launched with a mere tweak to the older Xbox One dashboard and hasn’t changed too much in two years. It feels old-fashioned, though the tiled approach is acceptable. Each tile can be connected to games collections, Game Pass and the Xbox Store. You can also connect to apps, party chat, and other services. You can drag the tiles around or pin them, so you always have your favorites.
The Xbox Series X UI is likely to feel functional and okay if you have been using Xbox for years or Windows. However, if you are new to the consoles, it can be awkward and obtrusive. There are some weird quirks too, particularly in Game Pass, where it regularly shuffles focus – for example if you just want to find the newest added games they can be harder to find than needed.
The Xbox Series X UI has not changed or evolved in the past two years, unlike PS5. It’s faster and more stable than older Xbox consoles. But, the layout has a unique personality. Microsoft plans to overhaul the UI by 2023.
My favorite feature is the Quick Resume, which I already mentioned. This allows you to play up to five different games simultaneously. You can access the UI at any time. It automatically saves and records your progress. Although it can be difficult to track what games you have played and when you can return in, the feature is fast, smooth and instant. It takes only seconds to launch and relaunch.
Xbox Series X review: controller
The Xbox Series X controller, which is not a new design but an improvement on the Xbox One controller, is an iteration of the Xbox One controller. This controller is more ergonomic, textured, and feels great to hold. It’s also quite lightweight. The original launch colour was black and white (Series S), but now there are many vibrant colours such as Electric Volt and DayStrike Camo.
This is a premium controller that feels solid and functional, and has the off-set sticks and button layout that many prefer over the PlayStation controllers – for shooters and racing games, the Xbox layout is a better design. For Xbox Series X, there are more third-party controllers than for PS5. There are many fun and sophisticated controllers now available for Xbox Series X, which is two years earlier than the PS5 and offers more variety than the PS5.
The Xbox Series X controller is made with two AA batteries. This means that you will eventually need to purchase a Charge and Play Kit. It feels like a relic from a previous console generation.
The controller is solid but outdated tech. It lacks adaptive triggers, touchpads, haptic feedback, and other progressive design choices Sony made for the DualSense Controller on the PS5. These features are not missing if you haven’t played on a PS5 yet, but switching from PS5 to Xbox Series X may feel like a downgrade. Full disclosure, I own both consoles and make deliberate choices to play some games on PS5 only – Deathloop, for example, feels more immersive on PS5.
However, Xbox Series X has the new Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2 at its disposal. This new controller was released since the console’s launch. While it does not have the same features as the DualSense Controller on PS5, the new gamepad has fully customizable triggers and sticks and can be programmed to play multiple games. It is also less expensive and lasts longer than the DualSense Edge Controller, which will be coming to PS5.
Xbox Series X: games
The Xbox Series X was a powerful device that didn’t have anything to showcase its tech at launch. Microsoft used third-party publishers to fill out the games lineup. The launch games were lackingluster. Worse, the exclusive games, which included Gears 5, Forza Horizon 4, and Ori and the Will of the Wisps were only available for Xbox One. This made it difficult to justify investing in a new console.
The future outlook and games library are far better than they were two years ago. Xbox Series X exclusive games include Halo Infinite, Microsoft Flight Simulator and Forza Horizon 5 – and all three are outstanding titles.
The future is looking promising for Xbox Series X. Microsoft has spent two decades buying and investing into new studios such as ZeniMax Media. Bethesda will be releasing blockbuster games like Starfield and The Elder Scrolls 6. This will only happen on Xbox Series X (and PC). Microsoft is also in long-term talks to purchase Activision Blizzard (home of Call of Duty and Diablo, as well as Crash Bandicoot).
Game Pass is the biggest advantage Xbox Series X offers. The monthly subscription service is free and includes exclusives and day one releases. This meant that in 2022 Xbox Series X was given A Plague tale: Requiem and High On Life. In addition, Football Manager 2023 was available at no cost. Redfall, Atomic Heart, and Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty are new games. Subscribers have access to the EA and Ubisoft collections as well as classic Xbox 360 games.
Xbox Series X Review: Should I Buy One?
I would have recommended that the Xbox One be kept, aiming for a PS5 in 2020. Or, if you are pressed, get an Xbox Series S as it’s cheaper. The Xbox Series X console has been around for two years. Costing $499 / £449 It is cheaper and more accessible than the PS5, plus many of the launch issues have been solved.
The Xbox Series X was the first console to offer exclusive games. It offered no reason to purchase a new console. The next-gen console now has exclusive games. This is an advantage for budget-minded gamers who can access Game Pass on the same day as they are released.
Game Pass costs $14.99 / £10.99 a month, but you can always get offers – for example there’s a $1 / £1 a month deal for new subs and after that you can even get three months for free on a 12 month sub. When a single new game can cost as much as $69.99 / £69.99, Game Pass is great value.
While the Xbox Series X design was never my favorite, its minimalistic, box-like style can seem underwhelming when used alone. But, when you have it in your hands and in your own home, this simplicity shines. The UI is a bit outdated and unchanging, and the controller lacks the tech and flair of the DualSense Controller on the PS5.
To an extent Microsoft played it safe with the Xbox Series X, from the design to the UI and controller – it’s all simple and effective and at a lower cost. The Xbox Series X’s games and performance are now a priority. This is especially true since it is fully compatible with older Xbox games. With exclusives like Starfield, Fable, and Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 arriving in 2023, there are plenty of big games that will sustain the console.
The Xbox Series X is a great value for money, and it has a bright future. PS5 is slightly ahead, thanks to the DualSense Controller (and its exclusive games), but the gap between them is very thin.