Xbox One Hardware Review: Xbox One S

In the almost three years since the Xbox One’s release, the console has seen many ups and downs. The original Kinect requirement alienated many, and when it was dropped as a mandate from the versions being sold, sales skyrocketed. Since then, a great many bundles have been released offering up more value for the money and increasing consumer demand for the product. The Xbox One has been criticized for its less-than-sleek appearance and rather bulky design – something that Microsoft has addressed with the Xbox One S.

This redesign is one of the best ever and nearly on par with the PS2 to the PS2 Slim in terms of going from something that was big and boxy to then making it sleek and sexy. The white color stands out on many entertainment centers and the smaller design has many benefits that may not be readily apparent. While having something that is less weighty is handy, it doesn’t always translate as a benefit for people. However, the second you want to move a console around from room to room or take it to someone’s house, it becomes a factor.

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The original Xbox One is a beast and something I have had no desire to move in about three years because it’s so gigantic. Beyond the size of the console, the power brick is enormous and a pain in the neck to carry around too. There’s just no easy way to move all of it and the piano black finish on some of it makes it easier to scuff and scratch.

For console-centric home entertainment centers, the Xbox One remains the go-to device – and now you can move it around far more easily. The Xbox One is still the only current-gen console with the UFC Fight Pass app, and has the FXNow app for those wanting to go on Simpsons World binge-watching. The One S’s size makes it much easier to move around the house with you and to take it to friends and family’s houses for holidays.

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The One S also harnesses a bit more power to smooth out some framerates, but the big graphical overhauls will be noticed by those rocking 4K TVs with HDR support. If you have that, then the One S is the console to buy because it will ensure you get richer, truer colors for every game. This should make games like the upcoming Forza Horizon 3 look better than they could on the original Xbox One – but it probably won’t be an Earth-shattering difference like playing the game on a super-powered gaming rig outputting a 4K game.

The pricing of the Xbox One S does warrant some discussion. The original Xbox One can be had for around $200 refurbished and for $250-$300 with different games. A One S costs $300 for 1TB with the Halo Master Chief Collection and Halo 5 – an excellent deal except for the fact that the included games will fill up around half of the available storage right away. A $350 1TB option gives you far more space, and comes with Madden – so if that’s your game of choice, it’s the right bundle for you. The $400 2 TB variant is a limited-time offering and something that you might want to snatch up while you can if you really want to avoid having to go with an external drive or delete and either re-install or re-download a ton of games.

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The Xbox One S excels when it comes to bells and whistles. The power brick is included in the console itself – so the gigantic power brick is a thing of the past. Instead, you just have a small connection cable and everything just looks nicer. It’s far friendlier for those with small amounts of room to work with, and makes moving it room to room that much easier. The controller has been revamped a bit too, with a slightly smaller form factor and Bluetooth connectivity. This means that you can now use the Xbox One controller on a phone or tablet – instead of just trying to use an Xbox-style pad that costs just as much.

From a home theater perspective, the addition of 4K Blu-Ray playback is huge. While physical media is on the downswing, and one can’t realistically expect this to do for 4K Blu-Rays that the PS2 did for DVDs in terms of bringing them into the house with a trojan horse console, it should still help. The Xbox One S is bound to be a huge hit for the holiday season, and that means that millions more households will have 4K-capable Blu-Ray players and see movies in the best quality currently available. 4K content as a whole is a bit lean, with Netflix leading the pack by providing many of its shows in 4K – something Amazon also does, but 4K streaming requires beefy internet and will likely have dips in quality. With a 4K Blu-Ray, you get a consistently-crisp picture without having to worry about heavy pixellation being an issue at any point.

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With a wide spectrum of versions available, the Xbox One S should have at least one variant that appeals to someone in your family. The most tech-savvy will probably want the slightly more future-proof 2TB version, while many will be satisfied with the Madden bundle if they love football. The Halo bundle is an amazing value, but its meager 500GB drive isn’t going to support many games – making it a good thing that one of them is at least on a disc so you can readily delete at least some of the data while still having a quick way to re-install it. For $450, Gears of War fans may want to wait for the GoW 4 version with a limited edition blood red color scheme for both the console and controller. It has 2TB of storage, a download code for the game, as well as the entire Xbox 360 GoW entries as well – which all retailed for $60 brand new.

With packaging that just reads “Xbox One” and not One S, the Xbox One S looks to be replacing the original Xbox One in stores, and will likely be the new primary version of the device sold – with some stores probably having a bit of back-stock to last them a little while. With Project Scorpio on the horizon, the One S may not be something that existing Xbox One owners absolutely need – but if you’re in the market for a 4K Blu-Ray player, it’s probably your best overall option. It costs about the same as most of the models on the market, and you can just use your existing Xbox One as something for a spare bedroom.

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The Xbox One S is an evolutionary step for the Xbox One – and an important one. By making the system sleeker,  Microsoft is addressing many concerns people had with the original console and making it more user-friendly in the process. A smaller device appeals to more people, which in turns means that more people can enjoy the console’s wide selection of top-shelf games – and partake in some 360 gaming as well. If you’ve waited this long for the Xbox One, you might as well grab a One S – especially if you have a 4K TV with HDR support.

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