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Microsoft Xbox Series X Review: Tons of power and potential at a price

Daniel Howley
·Technology Editor
·8 min read

It’s been seven years since Microsoft (MSFT) launched its Xbox One . But now following months of anticipation and leaks, Microsoft’s next-generation console, the Xbox Series X, is nearly upon us. Available Nov. 11 for $499, the Series X is the most powerful console Microsoft has ever produced, and it packs a heck of a punch.

Featuring a beastly AMD (AMD) processor, a 1TB solid-state drive, and the ability to play thousands of games from Microsoft’s prior Xbox consoles, the Series X is a massive upgrade for gamers. It’s also pricey, and coming out just two days before Sony’s (SNE) own PlayStation 5.

So should loyal Xbox fans ditch their old Xbox One and snag a Series X? If you can afford it, absolutely. As a console, the Series X is a winner. Yes, many Xbox titles will be available on PC. And while high-end gaming rigs are capable of even better visuals, those will cost you far more cash than the Series X.

Make room for this monster

Microsoft’s consoles have never been small. Whether it was the original Xbox, the 360, or the One, each system took up plenty of space in owners’ entertainment cabinets. But my God, Microsoft seems like it didn’t even try to constrain the size of the Series X. This hulking black box is so large at nearly a foot long, it will completely dominate your TV stand.

And though the physical design of the system has been ridiculed for looking like a refrigerator, I actually prefer the styling. Microsoft seems to have said, “Look, you’re buying this for the power. It’s a literal box. Deal with it.”

Living room with a Microsoft Xbox Series X home video game console alongside a television and soundbar, taken on October 9, 2020. (Photo by Phil Barker/Future Publishing via Getty Images)
Living room with a Microsoft Xbox Series X home video game console alongside a television and soundbar, taken on October 9, 2020. (Photo by Phil Barker/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

The sole design flourish is the slightly indented fan grill on top of the console, which features Microsoft’s signature Xbox green between the air holes. Of course, the Xbox Series X’s design is as functional as it is huge. That top section is home to the system’s gigantic, whisper-quiet fan. That, along with the console’s split motherboard design, helps keep the Series X cool without sounding like a jet engine like, say, Sony’s PlayStation 4 Pro.

Beyond the console, Microsoft has made changes to its Xbox controller. This generation’s iteration has a more buttoned up look than the Xbox One version, and features a better overall feel and upgraded direction pad with more touch points.

The controller also gets Bluetooth Low Energy support and Dynamic Latency Input. That more or less means the Series X’s controllers will work with more devices via Bluetooth and that it’ll recognize button presses faster and have a lower risk of inputs being missed.

This time around, Microsoft has added a share button to the Series X controller. Tapping it allows you to capture screenshots and video clips of games, which you can then share on social media. It’s a solid move, and one that both Sony and Nintendo have already adopted with their own existing consoles.

Importantly, if you’ve already got Xbox One controllers, Microsoft has made them cross compatible with the Series X. So you can use the controllers across consoles without issue. That should save you the $60 it costs to buy a second controller.

Microsoft is known for this kind of customer-friendly move, and should be commended for it. I mean, the company also makes backwards compatibility between every generation of Xbox games and the Series X a priority, so your existing library will play nicely with your new system.

Scrolling the interface and streaming shows

Microsoft’s Xbox interface is certainly an upgrade over the initial interface that rolled out with the Xbox One, but it’s still cumbersome and takes time to figure out. Unlike, say the Nintendo Switch or PlayStation 4, which have a straightforward horizontal scroll bar containing your frequently used apps and games, the Xbox’s Dashboard features different pages and rows of tabs that make jumping in for the first time feel overwhelming.

Thankfully, you can customize your Dashboard to more or less fit your needs, but it takes some time to get it just right, and you may not want to have to spend moments you could be playing games to arrange your app and game tiles just how you like them.

The Series X gets an updated controller with improved latency, Bluetooth Low Energy, and a share button. (Image: Microsoft)
The Series X gets an updated controller with improved latency, Bluetooth Low Energy, and a share button. (Image: Microsoft)

I still find myself switching through different menu screens in search of things like the download status for games or apps, even after using the system as my primary console for a number of days.

To Microsoft’s credit, though, the team at Xbox did create one heck of a mobile app that not only speeds up the set up process for the Series X by getting you logged into your account, but lets you manage games on your system and even take advantage of remote play on your smartphone or tablet.

Since I’ve been using the Series X, I’ve been able to access all of the standard streaming apps I need without issue. That’s to be expected from any console worth its stripe, but the fact that i was able to do it ahead of the commercial launch emphasizes how much of the system Microsoft has gotten nailed down prior to it reaching consumers’ hands. Sure, you’re going to have to do an update or two when you get the system setup, but it’s been flawless for me so far.

Enough about that, what about the games?!

Okay, yeah, let’s talk games. The Xbox Series X is launching with a slew of titles including “Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla,” “Watch Dogs: Legion,” “Dirt 5,” and 27 other games. Microsoft is also branding certain titles like “Dirt 5” as optimized for Xbox Series X, meaning they’ll be able to run at up to 120 frames per second, providing an especially smooth experience.

The big promise of the Series X is that they offer hardware accelerated DirectX Raytracing, incredibly fast load times, and instant resume, which lets you quickly jump out of one game and resume playing another in, well, an instant.

'Assassin's Creed: Valhalla' is one of the biggest launch titles coming to the Series X. (Image: Ubisoft)
'Assassin's Creed: Valhalla' is one of the biggest launch titles coming to the Series X. (Image: Ubisoft)

DirectX Raytracing allows for more realistic lighting in games, which makes a surprisingly big difference in terms of creating a sense of realism. Nvidia’s RTX graphics chips have offered ray tracing for some time, but the Series X, and Sony’s PlayStation, are the first consoles to include the visual upgrade.

You’ll notice the feature in games like “Watch Dogs: Legion” where light from buildings glows and reflects off of wet surfaces as you’d expect it to do in real life. Something like that can really take games to a higher level, and it’ll be worth following how developers take advantage of ray tracing in this new generation of consoles.

As far as load times go, the Series X is leaps and bounds faster than the Xbox One thanks to its solid-state storage. Say goodbye to waiting for what feels like ages for games like “Forza 7” to load. Instead, you’ll hold on for a few seconds and get rolling. If you’ve had a gaming PC, you’ve likely experienced the benefit solid-state drives offer already. But for consoles, this is a huge step up.

'Watch Dogs: Legion' features DirectX Raytracing, which creates a far more realistic visual experience. (Image: Ubisoft)
'Watch Dogs: Legion' features DirectX Raytracing, which creates a far more realistic visual experience. (Image: Ubisoft)

Of course, the Series X also promises 4K and up to 8K graphics and HDR capabilities, which, when coupled with the jump in performance, promises to make for seriously impressive looking games in the future.

For now, you’ll definitely see upgraded graphics and better resolutions, but as with all consoles, it will take a few years for developers to become more familiar with crafting games for the Series X. When they do, though, you’ll really see big visual improvements.

Should you get it?

If you’re an Xbox fan, the Series X is a no-brainer kind of buy. It’s pricey, sure, but it holds the promise of some incredible graphics and unique ways to play. Don’t forget, Microsoft is also pushing its Xbox GamePass as part of the reason for opting for its latest system.

That service gets you access to more than 100 games that you can play at your leisure for $10 per month. Opt for the $14 per month GamePass Ultimate and you’ll even be able to stream games from the cloud to any mobile device.

That said, a console is only as good as the games that are made for it. And Microsoft’s first-party titles are lacking out of the gate. “Halo Infinite” was originally slated to be available at the launch of the Series X, but was delayed until 2021. Still, with plans to acquire Bethesda parent company ZeniMax Media by the second half of 2021, Mirosoft’s console future is certainly looking brighter than it has in some time.

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