Microsoft Xbox One S review: Updated for 2020
Quick verdict: Despite its age, the Xbox One S remains a versatile and powerful games machine that also doubles as a 4K Blu-ray player.
- Compact design
- In-built 4K Blu-ray player
- Backwards compatibility
- Not many exclusive games
- Not as powerful as Xbox One X
- Nearing end of life cycle
In 2001, Microsoft launched its first Xbox video game console in a bid to take on Nintendo and Sony at their own game. Fast forward to the present day and the Xbox brand is still going strong. There are currently two Xbox models to choose from: the Xbox One S and the souped-up Xbox One X. (This review concerns the Xbox One S. Click here to read our Xbox One X review.)
- Available in black, white and 'special edition' colours
- Shallow height fits into most TV cabinets
- Can also be stood vertically
- In-built ultra 4K Blu-ray player
- You're going to need an extra hard drive
The Xbox One S's appearance is a bold departure from the original Xbox One. Gone are the boxy black chassis and cumbersome PSU, replaced with a much sleeker design that comes finished in striking white.
Since its launch in 2016, Microsoft has released a range of additional colours, including a Minecraft limited collector's edition. Apart from the colour, all versions of the console are identical with the exception of the All-Digital Edition which lacks an optical Blu-ray drive. Whichever version you plump for, it's an attractive console that is also highly compact – at under 7cm high, it should fit into pretty much any cavity.
In terms of connectivity, the Xbox One S comes equipped with more ports than the average console. This includes two HDMI ports (an HDMI-in and HDMI-out), three USB 3.0 ports, an IR receiver, an ethernet port and SPDIF digital audio. One slight annoyance is the rear placement of two of the USB ports – this makes accessing them unduly difficult, particularly if you keep your consoles stored inside an entertainment unit.
The Xbox One S now comes with a 1TB hard drive as standard. This is double the capacity that was offered at launch but it remains insufficient for modern games. Unless you relish the idea of constantly uninstalling games to make room for new ones, you will need to boost the available storage space with an external hard drive.
Naturally, you can't talk about a video game console's design without mentioning the controller. (After all, this is your primary way of interacting with it.)
Fortunately, the Xbox Wireless Controller remains one of the best examples in its field, having drawn on close to two decades of improvements and evolution. If you're new to gaming, the mass of different buttons can initially feel daunting, but it becomes second nature after playing a few games. On the downside, Microsoft is still using removable AA batteries for its controllers. This is pretty disappointing considering that Sony has been using a sealed, rechargeable controller battery since the PlayStation 3.
If you're serious about video games, there's a premium version of the controller available dubbed the Xbox Elite Wireless Controller. It boasts completely redesigned components including adjustable-tension thumbsticks, customisable buttons, shorter hair trigger locks and a larger battery. The Xbox Elite Wireless Controller is sold separately, retailing for $249.95 (Get it from the Microsoft Store.)
- 4K Blu-ray playback looks great
- Works with all Xbox One X games
- Backwards compatible with previous Xbox games
- Not a huge amount of exclusives
The Xbox One S originally launched in 2016 as a slimmer alternative to the Xbox One. Being four years old, it is beginning to show its age when compared to mid-range gaming PCs. It has also been superseded by the Xbox One X, which received a significant boost to memory and processing power.
Despite this, its graphical capabilities remain highly impressive when connected to an HDR-capable 4K TV. While games do not look as vibrant as on the Xbox One X, the difference doesn't affect gameplay in the slightest. Microsoft has committed to making all games compatible across both consoles, so you don't have to worry about missing out on "Xbox One X only" titles.
When it comes to online multiplayer gaming, Xbox Live continues to be the best available platform. This is an important consideration given the increasingly online nature of console games today, such as the ever-popular Fortnite and Minecraft.
Accessing your XBL friends list to see which games are being played, to create a party or to send a message is all an Xbox logo press away. And it's offered in overlay form these days, meaning you don't have to bounce back to the dashboard to interact. It's a cinch to create or join a party and, assuming the party members have the right equipment and connections, chat is both clear and responsive.
Xbox Live does require an annual fee to access, but as a sweetener the service comes with a handful of free games each month via its Games with Gold menu.
In addition to its gaming credentials, the Xbox One S also doubles as a 4K Blu-ray player. While physical media is definitely on the wane, 4K Blu-ray discs remain the best way to watch ultra HD content – especially if your home Internet struggles to cope with 4K streaming. This is a feature that competing consoles lack, including the high-end PlayStation Pro.
Like most modern consoles, the Xbox One S can get pretty noisy during operation. This is especially noticeable during graphically demanding games like Halo 5: Guardians and Gears 5. While not essential, a good pair of gaming headphones is therefore recommended.
If there's a downside to the Xbox One S, it's the small number of first-party games available. Compared to the PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch, there simply aren't a lot of exclusive AAA titles available. (Halo, Gears Of War and Forza are the main standouts.)
With that said, there's still a colossal number of games available for the console. It would take literally years to play through every available title. And that's before you take backwards compatibility into account. Microsoft has gone to pains to make thousands of Xbox 360 and Xbox games available on its current console – simply load up your old discs and away you go.
Another neat trick offered by the Xbox One S is its Play Anywhere program. This gives you free access to the PC version of Xbox One games published by Microsoft. (The same applies in reverse if you buy a Microsoft-published PC game.) Save game data is automatically shared across devices via Xbox Live, meaning you can play a game on your Xbox One S and then pick up where you left off on your PC.
The Xbox One S also has access to EA Pass and Xbox Game Pass. These are subscription-based services that offer a rotating roster of Xbox One games for a monthly fee.
- Still great, but waiting might be smarter
Should you buy it?
Despite its age, the Xbox One S remains a brilliant games console and all-round home entertainment unit. The HDMI-in port, 4K Blu-ray player and Play Anywhere PC program are features you won't find on competing consoles. It's also excellent value for money. The Xbox One X is currently around $150 more expensive – money that could be put towards games or an extra controller.
The only reason to hold off from purchasing the Xbox One S is the impending release of the next-generation Xbox. This is expected to launch in late 2020 or early 2021. With that in mind, it might be worth waiting to see what the new console offers. (In any event, the Xbox One S will almost certainly receive a significant price drop at this time, so waiting definitely makes sense.)
Pricing and availability
Where to buy
Black, White, Various 'Special Editions'
4K UHD Blu-ray
8-core Jaguar CPU (1.75GHz)
8GB DDR3 RAM
12 CUs (914MHz) 1.23 TF GPU
HDMI-in, HDMI-out, one front-facing USB 3.0, two rear-facing USB 3.0, IR receiver/blaster, SPDIF digital audio, ethernet
Buying guide FAQs
What is the Xbox One S?
The Xbox One is the third console range from Microsoft following the Xbox (2001) and the Xbox 360 (2005). The term "One" was chosen as Microsoft believed it to define the console as being your "one" entertainment solution, providing film, music, Internet, apps and other multimedia features beyond simply gaming. The "S" may stand for "Slim" or "Small", as it's 40% smaller than the original Xbox One. The Xbox One S is the current entry-level Xbox model.
What are the Xbox One's main competitors?
The Xbox One's direct competitor is the Sony PlayStation 4 (PS4).
Outside of exclusives made, primarily, by first-party developers (studios that work for the manufacturer), both systems tend to get the same library of games at the same time.
The PC is also a competitor but is generally played from a desk rather than a couch or beanbag, which makes for a different kind of experience. The PC also tends to receive many of the games later than the PS4 and Xbox One – often months later.
The Nintendo Switch is another key player in the console space. However, its portable form factor and emphasis on family-friendly games are arguably aimed at a separate demographic altogether.
The Xbox One's catalogue of games is primarily targeted at adults, with a heavy emphasis on racing, sports, action, RPGs and shooters. There is also a focus on online play, with a number of key titles not offering offline multiplayer at all.
In comparison to its main rival, the PS4, the Xbox One offers less exclusives from Xbox-owned or affiliated developers. It also has less downloadable titles from independent developers.
What are the unique features of the Xbox One?
Unlike previous console generations, in raw power, the Xbox One S and PlayStation 4 are more-or-less like for like.
Instead, the consoles mainly differentiate themselves through their catalogue of available games and user features. Here are the most notable breakaway features of the Xbox One S.
- The in-built Blu-ray player allows users to play ultra Blu-ray discs when connected to a 4K TV via HDMI. Regular Blu-rays can also be "upscaled" to 4K.
- The Xbox One S has pass-through capabilities for TV viewing. This feature allows you to run a service like Foxtel through your console to your TV, which means you can switch between gaming and viewing in an instant.
- The Xbox "snap" feature allows you to have more than one viewable screen open on your console simultaneously. You can be playing a game in one window, while having a website open, or a Skype call, or Twitch stream, or even Live TV, playing in the other.
- The Xbox One S features backwards compatibility to previous Xbox consoles. This allows you to play selected Xbox 360 and original Xbox games on your Xbox One S. Not all titles from the existing Xbox library work, but the majority of bestselling and critically acclaimed titles are supported.
- Xbox provides Skype call integration.
- You can play Xbox One S games on a PC or laptop that is running Windows 10. The Xbox App for PC connects to your Xbox One and streams the content over your Wi-Fi network. It's called Remote Play, and you can connect an Xbox One controller to your PC so you can play your games as you normally would.
Here are some of the biggest brands to appear only on the Xbox One:
|Forza Motorsport||Gears of War||Re:Core||State Of Decay|
|Crackdown||Dance Central||Sea of Thieves||Sunset Overdrive|
|Quantum Break||Killer Instinct||Scalebound||Titanfall|
|Viva Piñata||Banjo-Kazooie||Alan Wake||Zoo Tycoon|
|Dead Rising||Dance Central||Condemned||Ori|
The Xbox One S is a high-performance console and should be paired with a large 4K monitor or flatscreen TV. To make the most of the experience, a 7.1 channel sound system or gaming headset is recommended.
An Internet connection is also essential, particularly if you plan to download games, watch Netflix and game online. You want as low a ping as possible (definitely less than 40ms) and if you plan to buy a lot of large games online or stream your play through services like Twitch, you will definitely benefit from a fast Internet speed. You will need a significant download quota, too, as a single game purchase can exceed 100GB.
You may also need to invest in an external hard drive. The internal hard drive is limited to 1TB which fills up a lot faster than you might think. (Every game must be installed to play, even if you're playing off a physical disc.)
An external hard drive means you don't need to start deleting old favourites to make space for new downloads. Any USB 3.0 external hard drive can function as a storage extender, but be mindful that some hard drives require their own power supply, which can be tricky to find plug space for once everything is plugged in behind your TV.
There are a number of different versions of the Xbox One console available (termed SKUs), each iterating on the last to get closer to meeting the market's demands, but also to enhance the device as technology improves. When it originally launched, the Xbox One S came with a range of storage options – this has since been simplified to 1 terabyte across the board.
The Microsoft Store currently sells five different Xbox One S bundles with prices starting at $349. If you have an eye on a particular games, it's worth checking these bundles to see if they're included.
When shopping for any new console, it's worth comparing third-party retailers to see what bundles they offer. Sometimes they provide extra goodies or a lower price tag than the official Microsoft Store in a bid to sweeten the deal. In short, do your research before clicking that "buy" button.
The Xbox One isn't aimed at a young demographic, and while there are some notable games available for younger players such as Minecraft, Viva Piñata and the Lego series, it more consistently delivers on mature content for those aged 15 and above.
For children under 10 we recommend the Nintendo Switch, and for those aged 10 to 15 we recommend the PlayStation 4, which has a wider variety of crossover games for kids entering their teenage years.
These are the best video games available for Xbox One, according to the average professional review scores on Metacritic:
|Red Dead Redemption 2||97||2018|
|Grand Theft Auto V||97||2014|
|Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain||95||2015|
|Forza Horizon 4||92||2018|
|Divinity: Original Sin II - Definitive Edition||92||2018|
|What Remains of Edith Finch||92||2017|
|The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt||91||2015|
|Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice||91||2019|
|Forza Horizon 3||91||2016|
|NieR: Automata - Become as Gods Edition||90||2018|
|Monster Hunter: World||90||2018|
|Destiny: The Taken King||90||2015|
|Ori and the Will of the Wisps||90||2020|
|Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin||89||2015|
|Destiny: The Taken King||89||2015|
|Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus||88||2017|
|Divinity: Original Sin Enhanced Edition||88||2015|
|Forza Motorsport 6||88||2015|
|Ori and the Blind Forest: Definitive Edition||88||2016|
|The Banner Saga 3||88||2018|
|Minecraft: Xbox One Edition||88||2014|
|Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition||88||2014|
|Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice||88||2018|
The most powerful console ever made, but with a serious lack of killer-app games.Read more…