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Microsoft Xbox Series X
What we like
What we don't like
Microsoft Xbox Series X
The new Xbox is finally here. Called Xbox Series X, Microsoft’s flagship system is an elite gaming machine bursting with bleeding-edge technology that’s looking to blow away the competition in the ninth console generation.
As with the Xbox One family, Microsoft is doubling down on its console business. It’s offering powerhouse hardware for its flagship Xbox and a more affordable alternative with its sister console — the Xbox Series S. You can check out our review of the Series S here. In this review, we’re looking exclusively at the main event.
It was easy to see the company’s last elite console — 2017’s Xbox One X — as a stealthy course correction. After the catastrophic launch of the original Xbox One back in 2013 something needed to change. If the One X was a soft reset for the console line, the Series X looks primed to be the hard reboot — a bold statement of intent that Xbox is truly back and ready to dominate.
Thanks to Microsoft’s buttery smooth promotional work prior to launch, we already know the Series X is technically the most powerful console ever made but is raw power enough? Have enough lessons been learned from the Xbox One? And, crucially, should you buy an Xbox Series X?
Find out in Android Authority‘s Xbox Series X review.
Design: Space commodity
The Xbox Series X is a big black cuboid beast that’s unashamed of its monolithic design. You’d be forgiven for expecting Also Sprach Zarathustra to play as the start-up chime (it doesn’t, sadly).
I liked the bold, almost brutalist re-envisioning of the Xbox design blueprint from the initial reveal, but in person, it looks even better. There’s plenty of DNA from mini PCs in the Series X’s design, which is appropriate considering the specs on offer.
The Series X is a chunky, almost brutalist gaming monolith — and it looks great.
The matte black finish envelopes the entire console, save for a light-up power button emblazoned with the Xbox logo and some subtle green accents that decorate the large convex air vent at the top of the console. Other interruptions are kept to a minimum. There is just a single USB 3.2 port next to a small pairing button and a thin 4K Blu-ray disc drive flanked by an eject button on the front, and a debossed Xbox stamp on the side.
The aesthetic quality of a home console is kind of irrelevant really. However, the Series X strikes an effective balance of being bold and recognizable enough to forge a new look for the Xbox brand, while also adopting an unassuming profile when positioned alongside your TV or monitor.
This is only really true if positioned vertically, however. You can put the Series X on its side, but it just looks like it’s fallen over. While Microsoft has added some pressure pads to protect it when positioned horizontally, this feels like a begrudged concession. Tellingly, the logo is vertically aligned and the plastic stand on the base of the console doesn’t come off. Plus, the console is quite a chonker. Even if you have a decently sized TV unit, its tubbiness may force you to rethink your setup.
Related: The best Xbox deals
The vertical position also places more emphasis on the aforementioned grill, which will haunt trypophobes, but delight anyone who likes smartly designed heat ventilation. After a heavy gaming session, the Xbox Series X gets fairly toasty. Thankfully, that heat is expelled via a fan through all those holes, up and away from the core of the machine. There’s further ventilation on the rear. While I could feel the heat through both with my hand, it was never blazing hot to the touch.
Even when running games at full resolution for hours, the console remains near silent. Of course, many noise issues tend to arise from internal quirks that aren’t apparent at launch, so this could change. Yet despite this, and some slight concerns about long-term dust build-up through the top vent, the Series X’s cooling appears to be on point.
Next to the rear vents sits the rest of the Series X’s ports. Here you’ll find the expected HDMI 2.1 in port and an ethernet socket, as well as two more USB 3.2 ports. I’d have liked to see at least two of the USB ports on the front, however. The current positioning creates a bit of cable soup when stretching connected accessories around from the rear.
Notably, there is no room for an optical port or HDMI out ports like the Xbox One family. However, there is a new slot for proprietary storage expansion cards. We’ll get into the storage situation a little more later on, but from a pure design perspective having an easy-to-access slot for storage expansion is great. No need to pull out a screwdriver here.
Setup is fast and simple, especially with the handy Xbox smartphone app.
In another nice touch, Microsoft has added tactile markers next to each port to help the visually impaired gamers differentiate between them. The Xbox brand has been blazing the trail for accessibility in games for some time now, and it’s small touches like this that really make the difference.
Finally, a word on the setup in general — it’s incredibly easy. This is especially the case if you download the Xbox app and run the setup via your phone (Android or iOS). Setting up or logging into an existing Xbox account is infinitely simpler using a touchscreen. If you’re coming over from an Xbox One you can transfer your games via an external drive or redownload them.
Controller: Familiar and functional
The new Xbox Wireless Controller is an exercise in iteration over innovation. It looks and feels like you’d expect an Xbox gamepad to look and feel — simple, tactile, and a bit chunky.
Like the console itself, the bundled Xbox Series X controller has a matte finish and comes in black. The body and buttons scuff quite easily. My two-year-old took a liking to the pad and took some of the coating off of the RB button with only a slight drop. I’m also not a huge fan of the textured grips on the rear of the pad. These are fine on the triggers and bumpers, but they feel a little too textured on your palms, especially as your hands get warmer.
See also: The best Xbox Series X accessories
The biggest change is the new D-pad. It combines the traditional cross-shape with the rounded diagonals found on Microsoft’s Elite controllers. It’s tactile and responsive, though the clicks are very loud.
There’s also a new dedicated Share button for quickly capturing gameplay clips. This was an expected addition as we’ve seen similar on pads from Sony and Nintendo, but it’s a welcome one too. With just a quick tap for a screenshot or hold for video capture, you’re now far less likely to miss those clutch gameplay moments.
Otherwise, it’s business as usual — four face buttons, the View, Menu, and Xbox buttons, two bumpers, two triggers, and two thumbsticks. There’s also the expansion port and a 3.5mm headphone jack on the bottom, as well as a USB-C port and a pairing button on the top.
There’s also still the battery enclosure. Despite it being 2020 Microsoft is still asking players to power their gamepads with two AA batteries. It’s a bizarre choice, and while technically it means your gamepad won’t run out as often, you’ll need to buy and dispose of batteries every few months. Alternatively, you can run power from a cable to the USB-C port, get some rechargeable batteries, or buy a Play and Charge Kit for an additional $24.99.
The new Xbox Wireless Controller is pleasingly straightforward, but lacks any wow factor.
In summary, the Xbox Wireless Controller for Series X (and Series S — it’s identical bar color) is a safe bet. It’s marginally more streamlined than its predecessors but almost mirrors them in form and function.
I hope there’s a new wave of Elite controllers in the pipeline. As it stands there’s not a lot to get excited about — which is doubly disappointing when you consider the hubbub around the PS5 DualSense and its magical haptics.
The upside of this “ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach is that all previous Xbox One controllers — including the Xbox Adaptive Controller — are all compatible with the Series X. There’s a real effort here to make sure that your existing Xbox stuff makes a painless transition to the Series X. It’s just a shame it comes at the cost of innovation.
Performance: PC-grade power
Microsoft is touting the Series X as the “fastest, most powerful Xbox ever.” That’s absolutely true, but it also happens to be the most powerful console you can buy full stop. Yes, even more so than the PlayStation 5… at least in theory.
To start, let’s talk specs and the big numbers. The Series X is powered by the Project Scarlett system-on-chip which is built on TSMC’s 7nm process. The SoC combines custom versions of AMD’s eight-core Zen 2 CPU (3.8GHz peak) and AMD’s Navi-based RDNA 2 graphics chip, with a meaty 12 teraflops of GPU power. This is paired with 16GB of RAM (GDDR6) and a custom 1TB NVMe SSD designed around Microsoft’s Velocity Architecture.
Sounds impressive, but how does it actually translate to gameplay? Very well, it turns out. However, if you’re expecting a generational leap as we saw with, for example, the original Xbox to the Xbox 360, you’re going to be disappointed.
The Series X builds on the Xbox One X to offer as close to a PC-like experience as possible from a home console. That plays out through the focus on three key areas — resolution, frame rate, and load times.
Load times are the simplest to explain. They are rapid. NVMe SSD adoption is a revelation for console gaming speeds, whether you’re booting up a game or actually playing it. The initial start-up for almost every cross-generation game I tested was halved compared to the Xbox One family. Copying data via the optical drive is also much faster. However, the real advantage is in-game, where games with fast travel are finally just that: fast. Zipping across the entire map in Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla took barely more than five seconds for each journey.
Load times are rapid thanks to the custom SSD and Quick Resume.
The much-vaunted Velocity Architecture also comes into play with the console’s Quick Resume feature. As the name suggests, this lets you switch to a game you were already playing ultra-fast. However, Quick Resume also caches save states, meaning you can seamlessly jump between several games at once, skip all the loading screens, and get straight back to playing. Jumping between supported games took an average of 6-10 seconds in my testing.
There’s no official limit, but I found that you can have around five games on the go at once. While not every game is supported, Microsoft’s first-party titles like Halo: The Master Chief Collection, Forza Horizon 4, and Gears 5 all do, so expect future exclusives to follow suit.
The improvements in resolution for the Series X aren’t quite as game-changing. Nevertheless, if you’re coming from anything but the Xbox One X you’ll get to experience native 4K on a console for the first time… sometimes.
While many first-party games target native 4K (2160p), this isn’t always the case. Gears 5, for example, runs in dynamic 4K at up to 120fps. Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla also runs in dynamic 4K (1440p at the lowest according to Digital Foundry) but targets a 60fps refresh rate. If you’re pixel peeping you might be able to tell the difference, but in general gameplay, it’s a non-factor.
The Series X’s implementation of Auto HDR is stunning too and is incredibly easy to customize. Likewise in selected games, you’ll get to experience the magic of ray-tracing for rendering realistic shadows, lighting, and reflections.
Frame rates are the real ball game, though. 60fps is swiftly becoming the expected standard for the new console generation. The Series X-optimized Gears 5 runs at locked 60fps in the campaign mode, and it’s a joy to play with beautifully fluid animations (even with all the gore). Switch over to multiplayer and this shoots up to 120fps thanks to 120Hz support. However, the difference isn’t quite as noticeable as going from 30 to 60fps.
Gears 5 is something of a special case at launch, though. Many games that do support 120Hz drop the resolution from a 4K target to something much lower. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, for example, occasionally falls to 1080p. This will be a fair trade-off for some, especially online where improved animations can be the difference between hitting a headshot or heading back to spawn. For offline games, expect 4K 60fps to be the benchmark, at least until later in the console’s life-cycle.
The catch is you’ll need a fairly new TV if you want to take full advantage of the Series X’s complete package. Variable refresh rates (VRR) and 120Hz support are all reliant on having a TV with HDMI 2.1 support, which is standard for 4K sets from the past year or so, but not before. You’ll also need an HDMI 2.1 cable, so props to Microsoft for including one in the box.
Related: The best 4K TV deals
Beyond the current tech, Microsoft has also done some future-proofing. The Series X technically supports 8K TVs, Dolby Vision, and Dolby Atmos, though none of these features are available at launch for gaming. Yet weirdly, despite all this future-proofing, the Series X doesn’t support Wi-Fi 6.
As for the storage, the Series X’s 1TB SSD offers up to 802GB of usable space. This is more than the PS5, but it’s still a fairly small total when you consider the sizes of some modern games. For example, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War takes up a whopping 136GB. This is an extreme case though. Gears 5 and Forza Horizon 4 both weigh in at ~80GB, while Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla drops to 47GB.
You'll need a lot of expensive tech to take advantage of all of the Series X's features.
SSDs are expensive, so overall 802GB is a fair total considering the price of the console. Those that want more at least have an easy option to expand via the proprietary cards if they want to splash the cash. The one available at launch adds an extra 1TB (920GB usable) for $220. Ouch!
Another option is using an external drive. You can’t play Series X-optimized games from one, but you can store them for later if you want to free up space without having to redownload data. What you can do is play non-optimized Xbox One and backward compatible titles from any USB 3.0 drive.
Features and software: Just get Game Pass already
The Series X interface will be immediately familiar to anyone who’s recently used an Xbox One console. This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. After all, Microsoft only just revamped the Xbox dashboard back in August for all of its hardware.
Unfortunately, that’s not necessarily a good thing. The Xbox UI can best be described as tile-aggedon. Almost every element of the UI is a tile — some are static, others change dynamically based on your usage.
The Xbox Series X dashboard is functional, but uninspiring... and it's in 1080p.
The UI is extremely quick and responsive, with the sluggishness of the original Xbox One interface a distant memory. There’s still some weirdness with the location of some important features, however. For example, it takes a lot of taps and swipes to get to the core Settings menu. Thankfully, Microsoft included a system-wide search feature which feels like a very Windows-like option, but a welcome one too.
Additionally, you can customize and pin tiles so that specific games and apps always stay right at the top of the dashboard. Dynamic backgrounds are another new feature, though there’s only the default available at launch. Microsoft is planning to roll out more in the future.
The worst thing about the UI, however, is that it only runs in 1080p. It’s not a deal-breaker by any means, but not having a fully crisp dashboard is baffling considering the power simmering inside the Series X’s chassis.
Game Pass and Xbox Live Gold
Right up top in the dashboard sits a tile for Xbox Game Pass, and it’s fully deserving of its top billing.
For a complete rundown of Game Pass be sure to check out our guide. In summary, it’s a Netflix-style subscription service that gives you instant access to a huge library of big AAA titles, indie hits, and retro classics from first and third-party developers. This includes every Xbox Game Studio title on the day of release.
Read more: Everything about Xbox Game Pass Ultimate
The highest tier available is Game Pass Ultimate for $14.99 a month, which gives you all that plus an additional game library for PC and cloud streaming to Android devices. It also bundles in Electronic Arts’ EA Play subscription for immediate access to big sports franchises like Fifa and Madden, as well as games based on the Star Wars license.
Additionally, it adds Xbox Live Gold to your account. This is mandatory if you want to play with friends online, and it gives you free games to keep every month. Normally Xbox Live Gold is priced at $9.99 a month, so the $14.99 for Game Pass Ultimate combined with the rest of the perks is frankly an obscene offer. It’s without a doubt the best deal in gaming right now — possibly ever.
Cloud and remote streaming
As noted, part of the Game Pass Ultimate tier includes cloud streaming to Android devices via the Xbox Game Pass app (and soon iOS via a browser). It’s still in beta right now. That means it isn’t the most stable version of cloud gaming when compared to Google Stadia, but it is an infinitely better value package as the xCloud project platform can stream any title from the Game Pass library.
There’s also Remote Play for those that want to stream directly from their console to mobile devices. This is far more stable, though you’ll still have to suffer through some hefty input lag when playing. Nevertheless, it’s a handy option to have when someone else wants to take over the TV and you’re not quite ready to quit.
Apps and screenshots
The former can be used for voice chat and messaging, as well as a bunch of remote features. You are able to play remotely and download new games to your console with a few quick taps. It’s also near essential for the setup unless you want to use the controller to type out your email address (the horror).
The Game Pass app, meanwhile, lets you browse the Game Pass library across console, cloud, and PC. It also tracks quests that can be cashed in for Microsoft points to spend on the Microsoft store.
Another feature of the core Xbox app is being able to see and share all of your screenshots as these populate from the Series X’s (or Series S’) library. You can capture screenshots in 4K and video at up to 4K HDR for a maximum of 30 seconds. This duration can be prolonged by up to three minutes at lower resolutions.
While the Xbox Series X is primarily a games console, it also offers a ton of media apps and features. The most obvious is support for 4K Blu-Ray via the disc drive. All of the expected streaming apps are all here too, such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, Disney Plus, HBO Max, YouTube, Spotify, Twitch, and more.
One extra that I really appreciated was support for Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. My house is packed with Google Nest devices, so it’s nice to be able to launch the console, start a game, take a screenshot, or even boot up the Netflix app with simple voice commands.
Games: Greatest hits tour
A game console’s legacy is defined by its games, not its specs. Microsoft learned this the hard way with the Xbox One — a great console that ultimately never fulfilled its potential due to the dearth of must-play, Xbox-only titles.
Read more: The best Xbox Series X/S games
The Redmond giant recognized this a few years back and set about filling the gap in its portfolio by acquiring a handful of talented studios. It then went beyond expectation, pushed the nuclear button, and bought Bethesda Game Studios — the makers of the Fallout and The Elder Scrolls franchises — and the rest of the ZeniMax family too.
So, how does this push for unique and ambitious new experiences manifest at launch for the Series X? Well, it doesn’t. At launch, the Series X is woefully underserved by Microsoft itself. The delay of Halo Infinite – intended to be the big launch title — to 2021 leaves a massive gap in the lineup that was always going to be impossible to fill.
Instead, the big third-party games are doing the heavy lifting to show off the power of the Series X, with Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla and Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War being the most high-profile releases. The biggest “exclusive” is Yakuza: Like A Dragon, which doesn’t launch on PS5 until next year.
Looking beyond the launch into 2021 doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence either. There are currently no firm release dates for all of the key titles from Xbox Game Studios, including Halo Infinite, Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2, Everwild, Avowed, and the long-awaited Fable sequel.
What we do know is that Xbox Game Studios is stacked with an incredibly diverse group of developers. Those include Double Fine, Ninja Theory, Rare, Obsidian, Playground Games, and more. When they start firing on all cylinders the Series X’s library could be incredible, especially when combined with Microsoft’s support for indie studios through the ID@Xbox program.
However, that doesn’t change the fact that it’s painfully disappointing that there is no showcase game for Series X from the company that actually makes it. Of course, Microsoft does have a secret weapon: Game Pass.
At launch, Game Pass is stacked with some really strong Series X/S-optimized games like Gears 5, Halo: The Master Chief Collection, Forza Horizon 4, Sea of Thieves, No Man’s Sky, and Tetris Effect Connected. There are other non-optimized titles that are still great too, like Destiny 2: Beyond Light, Battlefield V, Spiritfarer, Doom: Eternal, Dead Cells, Streets of Rage 4, and many, many more.
Gears 5, in particular, is as close to a full display of what the Series X is capable of as you can get right now. Up to 2160p dynamic resolution scaling, ray-tracing reflections, a 60fps-locked campaign, 120fps in multiplayer, and Quick Resume. It’s reborn on Series X, and it will hopefully get the love it deserves this time around.
Backward compatibility is another huge advantage the Series X has over the competition. While others stick with one generation back, the Series X spans four console generations all the way back to the original Xbox. Being able to buy, download, and play Xbox classics all from the Microsoft store is kind of crazy. The games also get a graphical boost, with auto HDR applied to even unoptimized titles. Likewise, more recent Xbox One games with unlocked framerates are now often much smoother. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, for example, is a whole different game when played at a silky smooth 60fps.
Accessories: Nothing but the essentials
There aren’t a lot of Xbox Series X accessories at launch. However, those that are there are worth your money if you want to upgrade your overall experience.
The obvious one is the new Xbox Wireless Controller. Additional controllers are priced at $64.99 MSRP and come in Carbon Black, Robot White, or Shock Blue.
If you don’t want to replace controller batteries, the Xbox Play and Charge Kit is another essential purchase for $24.99.
Alternatively, there’s the Universal Xbox Pro Charging Stand for $39.99 which acts as a dock for your controller when not in use.
Finally, the Seagate Storage Expansion Card for Series X/S is priced at a whopping $219.99. However, it gives you an extra 1TB of storage to bolster the Series X’s storage capacity.
|Xbox Series X|
8x cores @ 3.8GHz (3.66GHz w/ SMT) Custom Zen 2 CPU
12 TFLOPS, 52 CUs @1.825GHz Custom RDNA 2 GPU
1TB Custom NVMe SSD
Resolution and frame rate
4K (2160p) at up to 120fps
Optical disk drive
4K UHD Blu-Ray drive
Dolby Digital 5.1
Dolby True HD with Atmos
Up to 7.1 L-PCM
1x HDMI 2.1
3x USB 3.1
Wireless 802.11ac dual band
Ethernet 802.3 10/100/1000
151mm x 151mm x 301mm
Value and the competition: The ultimate showdown
The Xbox Series X is priced at $499 in the US, £449 in the UK, and €499 in Europe. This is the same launch price as the Xbox One X back in 2017, which is pretty impressive considering the hardware upgrades on offer.
The console’s biggest rival is undoubtedly Sony’s PlayStation 5. It launched two days later than the Series X on November 12 with an identical price tag for the version with a disc drive. An all-digital variant of the PS5 with the exact same specs is also available for $399. We’ll be comparing the two ninth-generation consoles in-depth very soon, but there are some key differentiators you should know about before buying.
The PS5 is a gargantuan, sci-fi-like machine that dwarfs the Series X and is far more ostentatious. It does, however, have several killer exclusives already. Those include a stunning remake of the legendarily hard Demon’s Souls and Spider-Man: Miles Morales, a shorter spin-off from Marvel’s Spider-Man that stars the titular Brooklynite. The biggest difference, though, comes with the DualSense controller with its widely-praised haptics and adaptive triggers.
The PS5 and Xbox Series X are both powerhouse consoles, but only one has Xbox Game Pass.
Ultimately, both machines are the most powerful gaming consoles. The Series X is a simpler, more versatile proposition with amazing backward compatibility support and an ace in the hole in Xbox Game Pass. The PS5 lacks a compelling subscription service but comes out swinging early with innovative hardware and two immediate exclusive hits.
Those after a slice of next-gen gaming without the high price should also consider the $299 Xbox Series S. It doesn’t have a disc drive and caps out at 1440p resolution, but it’s the cheapest and simplest gateway to Xbox Game Pass and 120fps gaming.
There’s also the Nintendo Switch — the home-handheld hybrid console from Japan’s beloved game-maker. It won’t ever match the Xbox Series X for power, but if you’ve only got the budget for one new console then instant classics like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Smash Bros Ultimate, and Animal Crossing: New Horizons make it a compelling choice for $299.
Finally, there’s the venerable gaming PC market. Put simply, if you already have a high-spec PC, you don’t need a Series X. All of the exclusive games are playable on Windows 10 and you can already get Game Pass for PC. Likewise, you’ve also got access to other storefronts like Steam and the Epic Games Store. However, if your PC is lagging behind and you don’t fancy going through the pain and expense of upgrading it, the Series X is as close to PC-power in a console as you can get.
Even with a lower price tag than a fully kitted-out PC, the Xbox Series X still isn’t cheap at $499. Microsoft’s Xbox All Access program is designed to spread the cost out over a finance plan, with the Series X costing $34.99 a month for 24 months. This also includes 24 months of Game Pass Ultimate, so if you were already planning to subscribe, you’re essentially getting the Series X for $20 a month. It’s worth considering if you don’t want to pay a big one-off fee.
Xbox Series X review: The verdict
The Xbox Series X is a fantastic gaming machine that, when paired with Xbox Game Pass, represents arguably the best balance of raw power and value for money of any new console ever released. For a vast majority of players, though, there isn’t a compelling reason to buy one… not yet at least.
As a statement of intent, it comes off as soft-spoken reassurance rather than a grandiose proclamation. However, the Series X lays the foundations for a resurgent Xbox brand. It’s willing to play the long-game with its industry-leading game subscription service, its newly formed army of talented first-party studios, and core specs that (on paper at least) offer peak potential beyond even the PS5.
Microsoft is clearly hoping this is a foundation for greater things in the future. However, the lack of any real feeling of instant gratification — be it exclusive games, unique controller elements, or even a fresh UI — is a huge knock against the system at launch. This is compounded by the fact that Microsoft has confirmed it’ll support the Xbox One family with cross-gen exclusives for a while yet.
The Xbox Series X feels like a classic console, but it's missing classic games at launch.
With all that said, if you don’t own an Xbox One and are willing to buy into the Xbox ecosystem, the Series X is the ultimate choice. I’ve seen it described as PC-like, which I don’t think is completely fair. If you look at the iterative progression from Xbox One X to Series X and the increased ubiquity of graphical options then there’s some crossover. Nevertheless, the Series X is also an incredible example of why consoles are perfect for plug-and-play lovers.
Be it the fast, smartphone app-assisted setup, the Netflix-esque experience of Game Pass, or the rapid, almost cartridge-like loading times of Quick Resume, there’s very little getting in the way of you and the game you want to play. It feels like a classic console. Now it just needs some essential next-gen games to kickstart its legacy.
That’s our in-depth Xbox Series X review. What do you think of Microsoft’s elite console?