The Xbox Series S is, hands-down, the cutest console of the next generation. It’s also the least powerful. The Series S can hit resolutions above 1080p, but it doesn’t support 4K gaming and it has significantly less storage than the Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5. And, of course, it doesn’t have a disc drive.
That said, the Series S is a formidable next-gen console that happens to be wrapped up in an adorable package.
- Compact design
- Improved game performance
- Huge backward-compatible library
- No 4K gameplay
- Limited storage capacity
- Lower-quality backward-compatible games
Let’s start with a deep dive into those cute guts. The Series S has a 4 teraflop GPU, 10GB of RAM, and a 512GB internal SSD. In practice though, the console has 362GB of free space out of the box, with the difference lost to pre-loaded software and background functions. The Series S is capable of hitting resolutions of 1440p and supports variable refresh rates up to 120 fps, though don’t expect many games to do both at the same time. For most titles, the sweet spot is going to be 1080p and 60 fps.
The console is roughly the size of a shoebox: 10.8 inches long, about six inches wide, and 2.5 inches deep, weighing about 4.25 pounds. It’s meant to lay horizontally, with a large black circle covering the fan on top and two additional vents on its small side panels. Notably, the fan itself is whisper-quiet, especially when compared to the PlayStation 4, my main console this generation.
There are four tiny pads on one of the short sides of the Series S, ostensibly for vertical storage, but this arrangement feels like a bad idea. Not only does it make the base precariously thin, but this actually places one of the vents on the bottom of the console, where it’s sure to generate extra heat.
The Series S shares design DNA with the Xbox Adaptive Controller, and that’s really no surprise. Microsoft’s goal with the Adaptive Controller was to build a stylish, functional gamepad for people with disabilities, one that seamlessly blends in with traditional gaming hardware. Design-wise, the Series S is essentially an Adaptive Controller cut in half, meaning they’ll look natural together in anyone’s living room.
Speaking of controllers: The gamepad that ships with the Series S is a slightly tweaked version of the wireless Xbox controllers we know and love. It runs on two AA batteries and holds a charge as long as existing Xbox gamepads, lasting three-ish days with regular use for me. Microsoft added a small share button to the center of the gamepad, and the D-pad is a complete circle, similar to the Elite. Otherwise, it’s fully matte, with light texturing on the grips and the bases of the triggers and bumpers. The new Xbox controller is sturdy and light, and if anything, the rumble power has been turned up a half notch compared with current models.
On the rear of the Series S, there are ports for ethernet, HDMI 2.1, a Seagate expansion card, the power cable, and two for USB 3.1 connections. There’s an additional USB 3.1 port on the front of the console, beside the Bluetooth pairing button. Each port on the back of the console is placed above a unique set of Braille-like bumps, making it easier to tell them apart by touch alone. It’s incredibly convenient.
Storage expansion is critical to the Series S, considering the relatively low amount of space built into the console. Microsoft partnered with Seagate to release a custom, 1TB expansion card that mirrors its next-gen architecture, allowing players to boot up games directly from the card and still take advantage of its fresh features, including Quick Resume, faster load times and performance enhancements on old games. The expansion card also works with the Series X, which ships with 802GB of free space.
The Series S also supports external HDD storage via USB 3.1, but only for backward compatible titles, and games played from these sources aren’t optimized for the new console. Basically, if you have an HDD filled with Xbox One games, they’re going to look like Xbox One games on the Series S, too, unless you install them to the box’s internal SSD.
The Seagate expansion card costs $220, which is just $80 cheaper than the Series S itself. But, it works as advertised. There’s no discernable difference between playing a game from the Seagate expansion card or internal storage.