I’d describe myself as a casual gamer. Someone who’s more likely to spend time with my console during weekends. That definition might have changed somewhat in 2020. With WFH, disruption to travel and dynamic routines, casual gamers like myself have spent more time with their consoles. The sustained lockdowns and restrictions across the world have also seen a spurt in sales of consoles that are likely to peak in Q4 with holiday sales and the new PlayStation and Xbox launches adding to the frenzy. It’s casual gamers like me (even those whose console time has seen a marked increase this year) who should be particularly interested in the all-new Xbox Series S.
The first thing that pleasantly surprised me as I unboxed the Xbox Series S is the form factor. I dig the industrial design and its surprisingly small footprint. It weighs just under 2 kgs (you could pack it into your backpack if you’re travelling anytime soon) and looks good in both vertical and horizontal positions. It’s designed to fit snugly into your most compact TV cabinets.
The most distinct design element is a black circle that might remind you of a speaker grille but is actually the fan or the heat exhaust. You’ll find two USB 3.2 ports, an Ethernet port, a storage expansion slot, an HDMI 2.1 output and an AC input. Surprisingly, there’s no USB-C Port. When it comes to the controller, it’s almost like your favourite pair of sneakers got a facelift. The matte finish offers a more firm grip while the D-pad gets an upgrade – it’s now a full 360-degree pad and offers greater control. There’s also a share button that allows you to grab and share content.
Let’s get the big elephant out of the room – Storage. The Series S comes with 512GB but with about 148GB utilised for the OS and system extras, the effective storage is about 364GB. That’s about 6 to 8 games depending on your list of favourites. You have the option of adding an additional 1TB via a Seagate external storage device, but it’s an expensive proposition and might push you to making the upgrade to the more formidable Xbox Series X that costs an extra Rs 15,000.
Set up is smooth. I used the Xbox App on my iPhone to set up the Series S and it was a breeze. I also added a Game Pass subscription (Rs 699/month in India) that gives you access to over 100 popular titles in a Netflix style subscription model. This subscription is ideal for the Series S and I think most folks who buy this device will opt for this subscription model. Microsoft hasn’t really rolled out too many exclusive titles for Game Pass subscribers but you do get access to popular titles that are on many gamer wish lists.
The one thing that has changed with this new generation of Xbox devices is network speeds in India. It’s easy to forget those times when you ran games off a disc (the Series S does not have a disc drive). I managed to download Sea of Thieves in under 30 minutes. This is one of the games that has been optimised for the Series S and played out really well in our tests. This game loaded in quick time (about 15 seconds). The device features a Zen 2 CPU core (same as the Series X) and comes with a Teraflop GPU and 10GB of RAM. It’s enough firepower for an immersive gaming experience.
I set this up on a Samsung TV with a 1080p resolution. The Series S is likely to be the ‘go to’ Xbox console for those who don’t own 4K TVs, that’s still a large number of gamers in India. You’re likely to experience better visuals if you own a 4K TV where this Xbox will use an ‘upscaler’. While your gaming experience ‘maxes out’ at 1440p, you will get 4K quality visuals on Apps like Netflix or Apple TV+. I noticed a significant difference on Netflix versus my current streaming solution even on the 1080p display on my TV.
The Xbox Series S isn’t just a great option for casual gamers but is also a great advert for Game Pass. Aside from Sea of Thieves, I also checked out another game that’s high up on the popularity charts – Batman: Arkham Knight. We wish Microsoft had upped the storage to 1TB but there’s a whole bunch of new features that we dig including a useful Quick Resume feature that allows you to flit between games. And then there’s the form factor. This is the smallest Xbox ever and it packs a punch.
The Xbox Series S costs Rs 34,990.