Xbox One S review: Prices drop on an ace console

£299
Price when reviewed

DEAL ALERT: If you’ve been waiting for the prices to drop on the Xbox One S, now might just be the perfect time to pounce. The 500GB console is now just £179.99 at Argos, while the 1TB version can be bought for a bargain £184.99 at 365 Games. Meanwhile, GAME is offering the 1TB console in a bundle with five popular games and a two-month Now TV Entertainment pass for just £229.99. You can click the links to get the deals! 

Our original review continues below.

You may be wondering what the Xbox One S really is. It may be marginally more powerful than that of the original Xbox One – largely thanks to its 4K video output capabilities and ability to display in HDR – but this isn’t the power boost you’ll be looking for if Microsoft’s Xbox One wasn’t for you. This is, to all intents and purposes, the same console.

Xbox One S review

When the Xbox One launched, our first impressions weren’t great. It was huge, needed an external power adapter, and came with Kinect – an accessory we knew we’d never really use. Throw in its unforgivably high price at launch and Microsoft’s weird obsession with TV, and it’s easy to see why the original Xbox One has been outsold so comprehensively by Sony’s PlayStation 4. Fast-forward three years, and Microsoft has just launched the Xbox One S.

Simply put, the Xbox One S is a slimline Xbox One that does everything we wanted it to do the first time around, and includes 4K and HDR for good measure. So is the Xbox One S finally a match for the PS4, and is it worth upgrading to one if you already own an original Xbox One? Read our review to find out.

Xbox One S review: Console

The original Xbox One isn’t the most compact, svelte console we’ve ever seen, and, visually at least, the new Xbox One represents a significant upgrade. Around 40% smaller than the standard Xbox One, the new Xbox looks crisp and compact, with simplistic patterns and sharp edges making it look strikingly utilitarian. If you didn’t know it was a games console, you’d be forgiven for thinking the new Xbox One was part of a high-end hi-fi system.

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Take a closer look at the Xbox One S, however, and you’ll soon realise this isn’t just a cheaper, slimmer Xbox One. In several areas, the Xbox One S is superior to the standard model. At the front of the machine, the Xbox One S replaces the Xbox One’s touch-sensitive buttons with positive-feeling mechanical ones, which means you can’t turn the Xbox One S on by accident. What’s more, Microsoft, has also moved the USB socket from the side of the console (why on earth was it there in the first place?) to the front.

This time around, Microsoft has packaged the hulking external power supply of the original Xbox One within the console, which is a big plus, but connections-wise this console matches the original Xbox One. You’ll find HDMI inputs and outputs, two USB ports, an optical S/PDIF out, an Ethernet port and an infrared output.

Significantly, that list doesn’t include a dedicated Kinect port, because Microsoft seems to have accepted that Kinect isn’t something we want or use. While that may be an admission of failure to some, I think it’s great to see Microsoft learning from its mistakes. Oh, and if you’re one of the handful of people still using Kinect, don’t worry. You’ll be able to connect your accessory using USB.

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Xbox One S review: Controller

It’s not just the console that’s been given a tweak, however. Microsoft has also refined the Xbox One controller – already arguably better than Sony’s DualShock 4 – and the result is a controller that is close to perfection. On the outside, it looks much like the original Xbox One controller, but dig deeper and you’ll find a few small changes that produce a subtle but noticeable difference. As soon as you pick up the controller, you’ll notice the slightly textured surface that now appears at the back of the device, and there are other improvements too. Although it’s easy to miss on first glance, the new Xbox One controller comes with a simple audio jack, and that means you can plug any pair of headphones into it – without using an adapter.

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The new controller uses Bluetooth as well as Microsoft’s own Xbox Wireless connection, so it can easily connect to a PC without need for a £19 wireless adapter. While these aren’t major improvements, when added together, they make an already good controller even better.

Xbox One S: HDR, 4K and Blu-ray

The Xbox One S’s other key new features surround its media-playback capabilities. The first is HDR or high dynamic range. This essentially broadens the range of colours the Xbox One S can output, and when the console is hooked up with a compatible television, the effect is amazing.

Currently, no games specifically support HDR, but our selection of test Blu-ray discs – The Lego Movie, and Batman vs Superman – both looked fabulous, with astonishing depth of colour and peak brightness. Lights, lens flares and reflections take on an incredibly real appearance, but rather than simply burning your retinas, they have a more detailed gradient of colours, and therefore show more detail. Despite being brighter and more colourful than standard Blu-ray output, the overall result seemed more natural than a normal TV.

As I’ve already mentioned, no current game explicitly supports HDR, but we already know that Forza Horizon 3, Gears of War 4 and Scalebound will support the technology, and many more will surely follow. And if its performance on Blu-ray playback is anything to go by, HDR gaming will look great.

Although the Xbox One S isn’t capable of outputting games in native 4K – you’ll have to wait for the Xbox Scorpio and PS4 Neo for that – it can upscale gaming content to 4K, and it will output compatible 4K streams in native Ultra HD, too. That means you can take advantage of 4K streaming apps such as Netflix, Amazon Instant Video and YouTube.

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Xbox One S review: Verdict

The Xbox One S is a great console. In many ways, it’s the console the Xbox One should have been the first time round. It’s gamer-focused, compact and stylish, and doesn’t force you to buy Kinect. If you just want an Xbox One, this is the one to buy; at £299 for the 1TB version (the 2TB model has already sold out), it’s also one of the cheapest 4K Blu-ray players on the market, undercutting both the Samsung UBD-K8500 and the Panasonic DMP-UB900.

However, if you already own an Xbox One, the Xbox One S’s proposition becomes an altogether murkier affair. The main difference between the Xbox One S and the One is the addition of HDR and 4K Blu-ray compatibility – and to make the most of this you’ll need a 4K and HDR-enabled TV, which will set you back £800 at the very least.

And the main problem with that? If you’ve got that kind of setup, you’re better off waiting to buy a console capable of native 4K gaming, such as the PS4 Neo or Xbox Scorpio. This makes the Xbox One S a great product, but also a curious stopgap, and ultimately one that’s tough to wholeheartedly recommend.

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