As a PC gamer, I’ve always defended the idea that there are plenty of reasons not to switch from PC to console gaming. However, when the next-generation of consoles were announced, especially the Xbox Series X, even I was eagerly expectant.
After spending a few weeks with Microsoft’s new console, I was expecting it would do well to significantly change my mind. And it has. The Xbox Series X is everything it’s advertised to be and more.
Before we begin, it’s worth pointing out that the review won’t be covering the aspect of next-generation gaming graphics just yet. The list of games provided will be receiving its optimisations from today, over the next week or two as they become publicly available.
Xbox Series X Design and Build
With the upcoming battle of the console wars still a rumour at the time, Microsoft was the first to show its hand. They unveiled the design of the Xbox Series X to the world well before the expected release date.
The new design approach had many talking, with varying opinions on the end result.
When Microsoft first released the Xbox One, the earmarked entertainment system was designed to blend in with the surrounding devices you have alongside your TV. While it could be set upright, it was clear that the design was based on a horizontal layout. And so it was for each of the updated designs for the Xbox One series.
But that script has been well and truly thrown out the window. This time, the horizontal layout is a side requirement, with the Xbox Series X meant to stand upright, displayed proudly in your living or entertainment rooms.
The design is minimalistic, to say the least. Its matte black finish oozes elegance without any over the top frills. In fact, I believe if the design team could’ve gone with a fully wireless setup, we would’ve seen a solid, monolithic slab with no inputs.
The unit has squared edges, with the only curve being that of the ventilation system featuring a curvature as the holes line-up to the outside. This is also the point where the monochrome colourway is broken. The vents feature a two-tone approach, with the top portion of the hole being an extension of the matte black finish, with the bottom half featuring the iconic Xbox green. As a result of this, it creates the effect of light being emitted from the inside, without that actually being the case.
The symmetry and clean design are extended to the dimensions. The Xbox Series X measures 151x151x301mm. It carries a height only fractionally higher than a standard ruler and has its sides about half of that. I’m amazed at how small it is, as well as bemused as to how tightly compact it must be to fit such a powerful system inside.
Xbox Series X Ports and Connectivity
In keeping with the minimalist approach, the Xbox Series X front has an almost clean design. There are only three interactive elements here. This includes the 4K UHD Blu-ray drive, a USB 3.2 port, as well as the power button.
The remaining physical inputs are all on the rear. There’s no port for the HDMI in this time around, with the optical audio and IR port for remotes also receiving the boot.
Keeping things simple, the connectivity options include an additional two USB 3.2 ports, a gigabit Ethernet port, a storage expansion slot, the HDMI 2.1 port, as well as the power-in.
Setting it Up: Cool Runnings
When Microsoft started to seed the final products to reviewers, creators, YouTubers, techies and other well-known persons around the world, there was an immediate spike in reports about the overheating. And, to be fair, it wasn’t without merit.
Having received my review a few days before the embargo lifted on the unboxing reveals, after I had unboxed, I had placed the unit next to my TV in preparations for the review. Knowing full well that I wasn’t going to be doing much with the console prior to receiving content, I had just left it in its powered-off state. At this stage, it was nothing but an ornament. A good-looking one, mind you.
The temptation was too much to bear and after a full day, I gave in to the urge to power on the unit. After having connected all the cords, which is just the power cable and HDMI cable, I still didn’t turn it on.
Staring at the button for a few seconds, I made the plunge.
I wasn’t sure of what to expect pressing the rounded button with the Xbox icon. But it was satisfying when I did. The depress of the button is great. It’s not too hard or soft, and has a nice click to it when you’ve pressed and released it. And then comes the power on sound, directly from the console.
Upon first boot, I entered in all my credentials to be signed into the OS. Before setup was completed, however, there was a request to update, which I selected without a second thought. It was brisk. Within a few seconds, I was back and presented with the Xbox UI.
After fine-tuning all the settings, I decided to configure it using the quick start option. This means that the console powers down to save power, but is not completely off – like an advanced standby mode. This is known as the Instant-On feature.
The next morning, I had gone to pick up the controller to use the console again, and found the Xbox Series X was running quite warm. At the time it worried me a bit.
The next day, however, a new update arrived. This was a schedule patch of the firmware. As stated by the Microsoft team, the update would be more in line with performances at launch. Given that the review would hinge more on the latest launch day firmware, it was a no brainer to update. While I had not picked up any of the bugs listed as part of the update, it made a significant difference in the standby mode.
Immediately after the update, the excess heat issue was gone. The firmware optimisation resolved the issues and while I could still notice the fan spinning on the inside during standby mode, the unit was cold to the touch. This was good news.
I did a few additional tests while the Xbox Series X was operating under load playing games and the likes, it ran almost nearly as cool as it did during standby. This is great. My concerns about the compact packaging and ventilation have been put to bed.
Xbox Series X UI
As an avid PC gamer, the limitation of the console OS was always a factor for me. The flexibility provided on Windows, Linux and MacOS would always surpass that of the singular-focused OS of the console. When I reviewed the Xbox One back in 2016, it was clear that Microsoft attempted to evolve the console into an entertainment system. Unfortunately, the team had to revert on the early promise and focus the majority of its efforts on gaming.
This time around, the launch isn’t preceded by this confusion. The focused has clearly shifted for the Xbox team, even more so in recent months. Gaming is at the forefront of the Xbox Series X experience and the OS has been designed to usher you in.
The UI is a no-frills presentation, which largely resembles that of the previous Xbox One UI. That said, the Xbox One UI itself has been updated to match that of the new Xbox Series X|S overhaul. The layout makes it easy to navigate, with many of the technical requirements hidden behind additional menus, which you don’t really need to see on the main menu.
The top row has a recently-played and opened games and apps, allowing you to jump straight back in whenever you pick up the controller again. The main menu tiles include My Games & Apps, Xbox Game Pass and Xbox Store. These have always been the most important tiles on the console and continues in that vein here.
The UI has also been geared towards the more social aspect, with new features in the People tab. This also includes the recent screen grabs, etc. – which you can share from your console directly and even picks up within the Xbox mobile app, allowing you to download it onto your smartphone and share from there instead.
As part of the Xbox Series X optimisation updates in the coming weeks and months, many games currently don’t support the Quick Resume feature. This new feature isn’t an isolated development by Microsoft but requires updates from the game development team. This optimisation is already available in certain titles, providing a great boot-up speed.
How it works is simple on paper. Once you start a game for the first time, you’ll go through the standard credits and introductions by the developers and all those associated. You’ll then encounter the first load screen before hitting the main menu.
Once you’re in the game, you’ll then be able to jump out at any time simply by hitting the Xbox button on the controller and selecting the option to return back home. You can then turn off the console, switch to another game or anything else you wish to do. When you’re ready to jump back into the game, simply select it and you’re right back in from where you left off.
For some games, you will be entered into the pause menu, and hitting unpause will allow you to proceed as if you’ve never left. No more credit screens and main screen loading once a title receives the Quick Resume feature update.
Speaking of the load time, this too has been improved massively. With the high-speed, 1TB NVME SSD powering the internal storage, the support for decreased load times is massive. This works hand-in-hand with the Quick Resume as well, allowing you to spend much less time waiting around and a lot more time playing games.
Xbox Series X Wireless Controller
As mentioned in the unboxing coverage, the Xbox Series X wireless controller is very similar to that of the previous Xbox One controller. For the most part, the shape is near-identical to that of the previous unit. In fact, even if you go back to the Xbox 360, the similarities are still there. But there are some small updates to the new controller that makes big differences.
For starters, there is a textured finish on the back end of the grip, as well as on the triggers. This not only provides additional grip but also assists for longer gaming sessions where sweaty hands may be a factor. It feels great, too.
Another of the small changes on the controller is the new D-pad. It has now evolved into a more complex 8-way directional click. The edges of the four main directions are more pronounced. This makes the centre more hollowed out, providing a better resting position for the centre of your thumb. While it feels more solid overall, it’s also somewhat easier press down, requiring a bit less effort than before. There’s also a lot less play, so it doesn’t move around as much within its housing, giving it a more premium feel.
Other tweaks to the design include deeper and slightly smaller analogue triggers. The deeper depression requirement means that there is more play room. What this means is that developers will have more wiggle room for accuracy on the triggers in the increased length of the trigger path.
The only new physical inclusion on the Xbox Series X wireless controller is the dedicated share button. This is pretty self-explanatory and works very well.
Another inclusion on the controller is the Bluetooth option to connect to other devices, more specifically to your smartphone. This will be used to make it easier to enable features such as Remote Play without requiring an additional controller.
What’s really nice about the controller, which is a feature that comes across from the Xbox One, is the option to remap almost all buttons and triggers. If I’m honest, this isn’t something that would intrigue me given the default mappings for games. However, if you have specific preferences where the games don’t allow you to remap, it’s great that the feature is available.
There are other ports within the controller that also return. The 3.5mm auxiliary jack and a port on the bottom end, as well as a new Type-C port on the rear. This can be used to charge rechargeable batteries. It’s worth pointing out that the AA batteries included in the contents aren’t rechargeable, and shouldn’t be used as such.
With all the minor changes on the controller, it adds to the improvements overall. However, while this may be the case, there’s still some room for improvement. We’ve all heard about the updated haptic feedback and touchpads on the PlayStation 5 in recent weeks, and we’re left wondering why such additions haven’t been made on the Xbox Series.
Yes, Microsoft has decided to stick to the tried and tested, but at some point, they need to look at going beyond this. It may be too radical a move right now, but hopefully something on the cards in future updates within this generation.
The Entertainment Factor
I may have stated earlier that unlike the Xbox One, the Xbox Series X was not designed to be the all-in-one entertainment system. This holds true, but it doesn’t mean that the console doesn’t offer any such features.
With 4K UHD Blu-ray optical drive, you’ll have the support to play all your movies, etc. that are available in this format. That said, it also supports the older DVD format.
The Xbox Series X is geared from the onset to be used as a 4K platform, so having a supporting TV or monitor will be essential for the full experience.
Exploring the UI support online shows a different experience depending on the region. Many reviewers from the North American regions have reported on a list of apps pre-loaded onto the Xbox Series X under a dedicated tile as part of the entertainment options. However, this isn’t the case for South Africa. Instead, users will be required to download all the apps required for streaming that are available in the region. This includes apps like YouTube, Netflix and the likes.
There are also a few other options away from streaming. This includes the option to load your OneDrive account to access your videos and photos in the cloud – if you have shared any. You can also have playback directly from your USB-enabled storage, whether it be a flash drive or portable harddrive. It also includes support for streaming via DLNA via the Media Player app. And then there’s a host of music streaming services that also have their own apps, which can be downloaded.
I’ve already discussed the removal of the HDMI-in, which is a clear sign that the unit was not designed to be the central entertainment system connecting to all your other devices. Instead, it’s a more streamlined experience. So, while there are options for entertainment it’s not the main focus of the Xbox Series X.
Microsoft unveiled the Xbox Series X console design very early. The design was met by mixed reactions from fans, experts and the general public. As a result of the unveiling, a few memes started floating around. None were more popular than the Xbox Series X fridge meme. Microsoft embraced the public trolling by creating a full-sized fridge in the shape of the Xbox Series X and presented it to a long-time fan, Snoop Dogg.
And this pretty much sums up the brand’s rigid mindset and an attitude of telling the consumer what is best for them. The team has partnered with its fans to bring in a new era of gaming, switching focus from selling hardware to that of selling the experience.
It’s clear from all the efforts, both behind the scenes and from a marketing perspective, has paid off. I love the ecosystem, even as it extends to my gaming PC and now my smartphone. There’s just so much to enjoy about the Xbox Series X launch, even without touching on the internal hardware and gaming side.
I mentioned in the previous Xbox One review that there were sufficient changes to make me consider switching to the console over PC gaming. But Microsoft isn’t asking me to do so even with the launch of its new Xbox Series X console. And I appreciate that. I’m still able to game on either platform with different experiences to love.
It remains to be seen what the impact is of the Rand-Dollar exchange rate over the past four years since the release of the Xbox One. With pricing nearly doubling on the Xbox Series X to R11,999, there’s a lot to consider. The recent pre-orders and hype in the build-up to the release would have me believe that there’s still a significant market for it within the borders of South Africa.
Many early predictions had the view that the next-generation Xbox console wouldn’t be the evolution over the predecessor than many would want. In some instances, that does ring true. However, with the major overhauls to the hardware, the Quick Resume and massively decreased load times, the AI-enhanced upscaling (to be discussed in upcoming reviews), it definitely puts those early predictions to bed. There’s a lot of great new additions and tweaks to make the Xbox Series X deserving of the “next-generation” moniker.
Note that due to the fact that not all games were optimised for the Xbox Series X prior to the review being completed, the games and graphics will be covered in a separate review. I will also be discussing the internal specifications in that review. In addition to this, the Remote Play and Backwards Compatibility features will also be covered separately. So, stay tuned for all the updates and extended coverage of the Xbox Series X.
Microsoft provided a review unit to Fortress of Solitude for the purposes of this review.
Xbox Series X
There’s a lot to love about the Xbox Series X, both on the surface and under the hood. With a host of new features, the overall experience of the Xbox console has changed to streamline everything you need at a moment's notice. It’s geared to keep you playing and spend less time waiting, putting the control back in your hands.
- Fast. Very fast.
- Expert minimalistic design and build
- Quick Resume
- Backwards Compatibility
- Bluetooth on controller to connect to smartphone
- Silent and cool in operation and standby
- Surprisingly heavy, but not an issue after unboxing
- UI updates may not be the overhaul many wanted
- No significant changes on the wireless controller
Ease of Learning
Ease of Use
Value for Money