Xbox Series X review: Can this monolithic console compete with the PS5?
Xbox Series X is a workmanlike console with power to spare, but undoubtedly feels more evolutionary than revolutionary
What We Love
- Supremely Powerful
- 4K HDR Gaming At 120FPS
- Quick Resume Is Incredibly Useful
- Supports Dolby Vision
- Supports Dolby Atmos
- Backwards Compatible
- Blu-Ray Player Built-in
- Xbox Game Pass Is Unmatched
What We Don’t
- Almost Unchanged Controller
- Almost Unchanged Dashboard
- Lack Of Must-Have Exclusives
In many ways, the Xbox Series X is superior to the PlayStation 5. It’s immensely powerful, surprisingly compact compared with the latest console from Sony, and available at a lower price tag.
But there’s no doubt that Series X lacks the flair of the next-generation PlayStation, which looks like something you’d find in the Tate Modern (for better and worse), but it packs a punch where it really matters.
If you’re trying to decide between these two consoles, our Sony PS5 review has everything you need to know about the competition.
With Xbox Series X, Microsoft gaming chief Phil Spencer and his team have returned to their roots – this console is an absolute powerhouse designed exclusively to play video games at the best quality available. That’s it.
The misfires of the previous generation, which saw Microsoft pitch the Xbox One as a one-stop-shop designed to control your satellite receiver, surround sound system, and Blu-Ray player using voice controls and face recognition, are nowhere to be found here. Sure, the Series X has a built-in Blu-Ray player and includes apps for streamers like Prime Video, Disney Plus, Sky Go, and Netflix – but this is a games console first and foremost.
Powering the Series X is an eight-core AMD Zen 2 processor – capable of outputting an astonishing 12 teraflops of power – coupled with 16GB of RAM and 1TB custom-designed SSD. The result is an astonishing amount of power, which enables next-generation features like 120 frames-per-second, 4K picture quality, and ray-tracing ..although, not all at the same time. If you’ve got a 4K TV with HDMI 2.1, you’re in for a real treat with the Xbox Series X.
If you’re not planning to upgrade your HD TV anytime soon, check out our Xbox Series S review, as that more affordable twist of the new console generation could be a better fit.
Load times are incredibly speedy on the Series X. Got a spare few minutes? You can boot-up the console, jump into your favourite game, and be back in the campaign before the kettle boils for your cup of tea. Seriously, it’s that fast.
If you’re juggling between a few games, the sensational Quick Resume feature on Series X is as simple as hitting the Xbox button, picking between half a dozen different games from the menu, and waiting milliseconds to jump back into another title. Think of this feature like having multiple tabs open on a computer and switching between them. There’s no need to save (or even pause a game) – you’ll be dropped back into the action as if nothing happened. It even works after turning off your Xbox Series X.
Quick Resume isn’t as sexy as some of the headline features in the PS5, but it guarantees that playing games on the Series X is a complete joy.
And that’s the Xbox Series X in a nutshell: supremely powerful, with thoughtful software that’s designed to get out of your way and prioritise gaming above everything else.
From the design to the reworked Xbox dashboard that greets you when it powers on, it’s not very sexy. However, it’s a superb way to enjoy the best titles of this new generation of home consoles …and ultimately, that’s all we really wanted from a new Xbox.
Inside the cooling vents at the top of the monolith, Microsoft has added a flash of trademark green
Xbox Series X review
If we had to summarise the Xbox Series X in a single word, we’d opt for “workmanlike”.
After all, it’s not the sexiest, flashiest console on store shelves …but it is solid, dependable, and seriously powerful. It can play the latest generation of games in 4K Ultra HD, Dolby Vision and 120 frames-per-second with Dolby Atmos and Spatial Audio sound rounding out the immersive experience.
Alternatively, the Series X plays nicely with thousands of Xbox One, Xbox 360 and original Xbox titles – building on the impressive backwards compatibility the brand has become synonymous with. And the stunning Quick Resume feature lets you bounce between all of these titles with a couple of taps.
No distractions, no gimmicks… Series X is a powerhouse designed to get out of your way and immerse you in the world of your favourite video game.
If it helps, think of the Series X like the Ricky Steamboat to the PS5’s Ric Flair; the Niki Lauda to Sony’s James Hunt; or the George Foreman to PlayStation’s Muhammad Ali. Come to think of it, George Foreman was actually pretty charismatic too, but nevertheless, you get the point…
In so many ways, the Xbox Series X is superior to the PS5. However, there’s no doubt the PlayStation 5 has a certain X-factor that makes it feel like a more revolutionary next-generation console – the cumbersome space-age design, haptic feedback in the controller, upcoming PS VR 2, the list goes on…
Meanwhile, the Xbox Series X doesn’t look particularly futuristic and its controller is virtually indistinguishable from the previous generation. But don’t let any of that fool you: this is a powerhouse designed to ensure the best gaming experience possible, and it absolutely delivers.
It may have gotten a lot of stick when it was revealed, but for our money, the Series X is the better looking of this current crop of consoles, sporting a towering design that looks like a dark monolith dedicated to the gods of gaming. Unboxing the Series X for the first time, it’s easy to imagine Stanley Kubrick shouting at dozens of actors in apes costume, ordering them to excitedly throw themselves at the base of this console.
PS5 has oodles of design flair, but at ultimately, we prefer the no-nonsense look of the Series X
Depending on your setup, you might have a tough time fitting the Series X console under your telly – even when it’s lying on its side, it’s a pretty bulky box – but it’s still more compact than the curvaceous shell of the Sony PS5.
The Series X measures 15.1 x 15 x 30.1cm and tips the scales at 4.45kg.
While it works perfectly well on its side, we prefer the appearance of the Series X when it’s standing upright, highlighting the splash of trademark green inside the cooling vents at the top of the console. It’s a fun splash of colour on an otherwise matte black cuboid and works really well, although it would’ve been fun if Microsoft had popped a few LEDs in there instead of just luminous paint.
On a purely practical level, that top-firing grate ensures this powerful next-generation device doesn’t overheat – or make much noise. The trade-off is that it pumps out more hot air than all of our elected politicians combined.
Seriously, if you’re central heating ever goes down and you need to warm your hands, just switch on the Xbox Series X, boot up a 4K/60fps stunner and use it as a fan heater to warm yourself in seconds.
There’s no reason to be concerned about the amount of warm air being funnelled out of the top of the latest console from Microsoft, it’s all by design, but for safety’s sake, it is worth keeping the top clear and unobstructed when you’re playing.
The vents at the top of the Series X pump out more hot air than all of our elected politicians combined
Microsoft has fitted a single USB-A port on the front of the console, perfect for plugging in a charging cable for any accessories.
On the back, you’ll find a dizzying array of ports, including two more USB 3.1 slots, an HDMI 2.1 port, gigabit-capable ethernet, a power cable connector, a Kensington lock slot, and last but not least, a proprietary port for the expandable storage cards created in collaboration with Seagate.
The latter works extremely well and lets you expand the storage of your Xbox Series X without any loss in performance. Plug in the small drive from Seagate, which looks like a PS2-era Memory Card, and that’s it. Games stored on this card load just as fast as the internal SSD thanks to some clever tricks from the Xbox design team. You can even use Quick Resume for any title stored on the external card.
The only issue? These external drives from Seagate are pricey, and despite assurances from Microsoft that it would work with other manufacturers to expand the number of options available to console owners… there’s no sign of these other collaborations on the horizon, leaving Seagate with a monopoly.
For a more affordable way to expand your storage, you can plug in any USB hard-drive. However, due to the demands of the latest generation of games, you’ll only be able to store older titles on this drive to avoid a huge impact on performance.
Series X Controller
Just like the rest of the console, nothing sums up Microsoft’s evolutionary-over-revolutionary approach to this generation more than its all-new controller, which is basically just an Xbox One gamepad with a handful of small tweaks.
In fairness to Microsoft, there was very little wrong with the Xbox One controller, which is one of the most shapely and comfortable around. Particularly suited to modern shooting and racing games, Microsoft has clearly gone down the “if it ain’t broke…” route with this latest overhaul.
The overall size, shape, and layout of the Xbox controller that ships with the Series X (and Series S) is indistinguishable from previous efforts from Microsoft. However, the most exciting change is the new D-pad, which despite being a bit loud and a tad clicky, is now fit for purpose when playing arcade classics and 2D fighting games.
Gone is the mushy squelch that greeted players when using this crucial input on the Xbox One generation.
Like the Series X, the new controller is perfectly refined …but not revolutionary
If you’d rather plug in an arcade stick for your brawlers, the Xbox Series X is also compatible with all existing Xbox One accessories – an amazingly pro-consumer move that could be a real money-saver for players. It also reinforces the Xbox team’s ongoing commitment to backwards compatibility, which now encompasses almost all titles released for the last two generations of Xbox consoles, with many of the best-sellers from the Xbox 360 and Xbox One consoles enjoying free updates to improve frame-rate and graphics.
Long-time Xbox players will notice a new textured back and textured trigger buttons, which is more tactile and improves your grip during particularly tense gaming sessions that were previously ruined by clammy palms.
If you don’t suffer from sweaty hands, this minor change that won’t make much of a difference. But for the rest of us, it’s another small – but very welcome – tweak that refines the experience of playing on the Xbox.
Microsoft has added a new tactile texture to the triggers, adding extra grip during frantic sessions
The all-new D pad looks great, and makes playing old school arcade games an utter joy
Elsewhere, there’s now a conveniently placed capture button for recording clips and grabbing screenshots, as well as additional and improved rumble functionality. While the improved rumble greatly benefits games like Dirt 5, where you get a real sense of the different surfaces through the controller, the stellar PlayStation 5 haptic feedback and adaptive triggers are in a whole different league, making Microsoft’s efforts seem rather ordinary by comparison.
The Xbox controller still takes AA batteries, which has always been a divisive decision. For some, this is a genius move that means that you’ll always be able to play wirelessly …not tethered to the console with a charging cable as recharging is as simple as a quick battery swap. It also means that, without a lithium-ion cell to go awry, the lifespan of your controller should be much longer than other console’s accessories. Microsoft does sell a rechargeable conversion kit, but that’ll cost you an extra £19.99.
We’d prefer if this was included in the box and players had the choice between AAs or rechargeable – without incurring an extra cost.
The sense of familiarity continues when you turn on the Xbox Series X …and are greeted by an almost identical dashboard to the one found on the Xbox One. Of course, this is by design and part of Microsoft’s long-term strategy of unifying its ecosystem, where content is shared and scaled between devices.
Since the launch of the Series X, Microsoft has made some meaningful updates to the operating system that powers its flagship console, making the search function more prominent at all times, reducing energy costs with improved standby modes, adding a Night Mode that reduces blue light so late-night gaming won’t ruin your sleep, native 4K resolution for all system menus, and much more…
The Xbox team has also announced plans to launch a more substantial upgrade to the dashboard sometime in 2023, which will bring a new Jump Back In carousel with your most recently played titles at the top of the menu, and a list of all recent additions to Game Pass within a few button presses. While these all sound like good quality-of-life improvements, the Xbox dashboard still promises to be row after row of interactive tiles, something we’ve seen on Microsoft consoles for years.
The Xbox dashboard remains largely unchanged since the Xbox One era
Don’t get us wrong, the Xbox dashboard on the Series X offers the best software experience we’ve ever enjoyed on an Xbox. However, it doesn’t feel particularly fresh or exciting.
Much more exciting are new features like Quick Resume, which lets users speedily switch between different games and continue where they left off. Once you’ve got a few games loaded up, using the Quick Resume feature is as simple as hitting the Xbox button, selecting a different game from the menu, and waiting a few seconds for your games to switch. Think of it like having multiple tabs open on a computer and switching between them. It even works when you turn your Xbox off and back on again.
I did have some issues switching between older games – particularly classic Sega games, strangely enough – although it worked quickly and seamlessly with pretty much everything else.
Since the launch of the Series X, Microsoft has rolled out the ability to pin two games in Quick Resume. That means, regardless of how many new games you try over a period of months, your campaign in a chosen game can remain frozen in time – ready for you to pick up where you left off whenever you’re ready. If nothing is pinned, the Xbox will eventually ditch the games you haven’t played for the longest from its Quick Resume memory banks.
The dashboard on the Series X offers the best software experience we’ve ever enjoyed on an Xbox …but it’s difficult to get excited about
The nifty feature, which is also available on the Xbox Series S, can hold around half a dozen games (depending on the processing power required for each title) in a suspended state before some games are ditched and any unsaved data is lost.
As well as being a potentially fun and convenient tool, Quick Resume really highlights the speed and power of the Xbox Series X.
Starting games, loading up the console itself, and switching between titles is all incredibly speedy. Xbox Series X loads most original Xbox and Xbox 360 games within seconds, and can potentially shave minutes off some of the more demanding Xbox One games.
Based on our experience playing like-for-like games on both next-generation consoles, the loading times are ever-so-slightly quicker on Xbox Series X compared with PS5, so that’s a nice bonus.
The AMD chipset inside the Series X is hugely powerful, slashing loading times
As you would expect from such a powerful machine, games that have been optimised for Xbox Series X look fantastic and perform smoothly.
Gears 5 and Dirt 5 were the early pace-setters in the looks and performance department, while the expansive worlds of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and Elden Ring show-off the staggering draw-distances and snappy loading times available with this console.
Forza Horizons 5, developed by the Microsoft-owned Playground Games, is a stunning example of what the Xbox Series X is capable of …although, aside from the much-lauded Matrix demo, we’ve still to get our hands on a fully-fledged experience powered by Unreal Engine 5, which promises a dramatic step-up in performance and picture quality.
It’s a little disappointing how few truly next-generation experiences are available on the Series X, with a number of upcoming Unreal Engine 5 titles now delayed to later this year. When these finally land on store shelves, some players will have had an Xbox Series X nestled beneath their telly for almost three years. Of course, this isn’t a problem that only afflicts Xbox, with a number of the biggest games on PlayStation 5 also released on PS4.
The situation looks set to improve in the next year, with a number of new titles developed solely for the latest suite of consoles. As developers learn how to push the hardware to its limits, we should see the true next-generation experiences we’ve been dreaming of.
As it stands, everything on the Series X looks great, runs buttery-smooth at high frame-rates, and eradicates loading times. For our money, that’s worth the upgrade alone. But those who want some pinch-me visuals should have that particular itch scratched in the coming months.
This is our biggest criticism of the Xbox Series X is the lack of killer apps to really kickstart this all-new generation of console gaming. At launch, the Xbox Series X line-up included some heavy-hitting third-party releases, but no major console or platform exclusives to really show off the machine’s power.
When you buy a new console you want something that wouldn’t be possible on the devices you’ve paid big bucks to leave behind …and the Series X doesn’t really have that.
Unfortunately, things haven’t improved that much in the years since the launch of the Series X. Despise a dizzying number of in-house studios under its belt, and the promise of more acquisitions to further bolster its portfolio in the near future, Microsoft hasn’t been bombarding players with a slew of exclusives that leave PS5 owners jealously salivating.
Sure, we’ve enjoyed the likes of Forza Horizon 5, Flight Simulator, and Halo Infinite, not to mention the slew of smaller titles, including High On Life, Pentiment, and Grounded …but we’d be surprised if anyone deciding between a PS5 or Xbox Series X would pick the latter because of the strength of one of these games alone. That’s something that might happen with the PlayStation because of award-winning titles like God of War: Ragnarök and Horizon Forbidden West.
If your last console wasn’t an Xbox, it’s worth remembering that there’s a vast back catalogue of titles to rediscover – with many enjoying software updates to boost performance and image quality on the Xbox Series X. Games like Gears 5, Forza Horizon 4, and Sea of Thieves might’ve been missed the first time around and have never looked better than they do on Series X, but we’re not making excuses, this really isn’t the same as a brand-new game custom built for the new hardware.
With a Game Pass subscription, Series X owners won’t need to buy a standalone game ever again
On a more positive note, Microsoft’s Game Pass subscription service has never been more appealing. For just £7.99 per month (or £10.99 per month if you opt for an Ultimate subscription, which also bundles online multiplayer access traditionally sold separately as Xbox Live), Xbox Game Pass offers staggering value for money.
Game Pass unlocks access to all Xbox Game Studios titles on release day. Many of these games cost between £60-£70 each at launch.
There’s also a dizzying catalogue of games from the original Xbox, Xbox 360, and Xbox One generation from in-house Microsoft studios.
As if that wasn’t enough, Microsoft is bundling all games included in the standalone EA Play subscription (usually £3.99 per month) as part of Game Pass too, so you’ll be able to download and play titles like Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, It Takes Two, Mass Effect: Legendary Edition, Battlefield 2042, Grid: Legends, FIFA 22, Need For Speed Hot Pursuit: Remastered, Anthem, Unravel Two, A Way Out, The Sims 4, Battlefield 1, Star Wars Battlefront II, SSX, the list goes on…
With the acquisition of Bethesda under its belt, Game Pass also arrives with hundreds of existing first-party games in the flat monthly subscription too. This includes must-play releases like Sea of Thieves, Gears 5, Halo Master Chief Collection, Forza Horizon 4, Doom Eternal, Fallout 76, and Elder Scrolls Online, not to mention future games on the day of release – the next Elder Scrolls, Fable, Redfall, Starfield, Perfect Dark reboot, and the inevitable Fallout sequel, for example.
Microsoft allows customers to spread the cost of Series X with an interest-free repayment plan combined with a Game Pass subscription – offering a huge catalogue of games and the console itself for a single flat monthly fee.
For those who want to upgrade to the latest generation of home console and experience the latest titles, this is comfortably the most affordable way to dive-in.
For comparison, Sony’s rival PS Plus subscription does not include any of its first-party titles on release day, instead favouring its PS3 and PS4 back catalogue.
Pair an Xbox Series X with a Game Pass subscription and it’s no exaggeration to say you might never have to buy a new game again. Especially if the US, UK and EU authorities approve the acquisition of Activision Blizzard, which has titles like Call of Duty, Crash Bandicoot, Diablo, and World of Warcraft under its stewardship.
Is the Xbox Series X worth the price tag?
Xbox Series X is a seriously impressive console. Everything about the Series X feels like the result of meticulous refinement from a team hellbent on ensuring the best experience playing video games. From the user interface to the hardware, everything is designed to get out of your way so you can enjoy a gripping campaign, blockbuster co-op gameplay, local or online multiplayer with strangers or friends.
Microsoft has perfectly course-corrected after the disastrous launch of the Xbox One, which was pitched as the centre-piece of your living room set-up – juggling satellite telly, Blu-Ray players, and other HDMI inputs using voice commands and facial recognition tech.
Xbox Series X is more compact than Sony PS5, so it’s a good choice for those without much space around the telly.
While some might prefer the curvaceous, showy hardware design of the PlayStation 5, for our money, the matte black monolith of the Series X is a better overall design. The pop of Xbox’s trademark green inside the cooling grate is a nice flourish, but overall, the latest generation of Xbox is quite happy to fade into the background.
It would’ve been nice to see Microsoft throw some new ideas at the wall with its Series X controller, which adds a nice tactile, textured grip and one-tap Share button for social media clips …but is otherwise unchanged from the previous generation. The DualSense controller that ships with the PS5 offers some genuinely new experiences, thanks to its adaptive triggers and advanced haptic feedback which mirrors what’s taking place on-screen.
It would’ve been nice to see Microsoft throw some new ideas at the wall with its Series X controller
What it lacks in all-new controller mechanics, the Xbox more than makes up for with Game Pass. This Netflix-like subscription offers access to the biggest first-party exclusives, dozens of must-play games from the back catalogue, award-winning indie games, and household brands from EA for just £7.99 per month. You can play download and play these blockbuster games on your Series X, or if you’re short on hard-drive space, you can stream a number of titles from the cloud.
Better yet, cloud streaming lets you pick up where you left off on an iPhone, iPad, Android phone or tablet, Samsung Smart TV, or a number of other devices.
Streaming games via xCloud works very well and feels incredibly futuristic
Simply pair your Xbox controller over Bluetooth and you’ll be able to continue your campaign, with all progress synched back to your console at the end of your session. This feels incredibly futuristic and is perfect for those who travel a lot, but don’t fancy playing on the Nintendo Switch or Steam Deck handheld consoles.
With impressive processing powering under the bonnet, an elegant and simple hardware design, and an industry-leading excellent subscription service to players entertained with a rotating carousel of new games for a criminally low price, the Xbox Series X is a great choice and good value for anybody looking to purchase a powerful new console this year.
Granted, it might not be the most exciting new console ever released, but it’s got the power, speed, and potential to make a big impact for years to come.
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