When Microsoft shed light on the next-generation Xbox One at the E3 gaming trade show earlier this year it simultaneously announced that it was revamping the current-generation Xbox 360 too. Despite 2013 being the launch platform for next-gen, current-gen is set to have a bumper year with some huge titles on the horizon. It makes sense that Microsoft - like Sony - is still plugging its existing gear in a fresher way. But is the Xbox 360 in 2013 any different than before; is it a console solely for the last-minute deal-hunters or a console worthy of upgrade?
Everything is different, yet everything is the same
In the same way that the Xbox S was different from the original "original" Xbox 360, the new Xbox 360 2013 model gets a huge revamp in terms of its look and feel. But inside? There is no real difference at all.
That's right, the console is effectively the same, even if some interior parts have been remodelled to fit the smaller footprint. It powers up just the same, it runs the same operating system, it comes with the same processor, memory, storage space and DVD drive. It's a purely cosmetic revamp.
Which brings us to the exterior, where it's a whole different story. Gone are the jaunty angles and the full gloss effect of the earlier 360, to be replaced by a solid-looking, more rectangular affair that ultimately mirrors the style of the forthcoming Xbox One. It's almost like an Xbox One mini - perhaps Microsoft is thinking next-gen adopters will want to have that streamlined, matching look under their tellies. Makes sense to us.
Just like all 360 releases before it, the 2013 model still has those strong grilles to the side - the console needs to be cooled after all - whereas everything else about the design is visually softer. The rectangular box is now approaching a squarer format, but rolls off the edges with a rounded finish.
Xbox One's little brother
Pictured next to the Xbox One and it's clear that the Xbox 360 2013 mimics much of the forthcoming model's design format, including a dividing line - which sits perfectly in-line with the edge of the DVD disc tray - about a third of the way across the console where matte and gloss exterior finishes are separated.
Interestingly, and probably to define one console from the other, the matte and gloss effect has been flipped compared to the Xbox One. Right for left, left for right. But it's all much the same.
Of the two models - and we had both in the office as you can see in our pictures - the Xbox 360 is not nearly as harsh by design. It's more flattering. We'd rather see an Xbox One look this much more subtle and rounded. But as a pair they do look like the perfect couple, don't you think?
Fans who were disappointed to hear that the Xbox One won't be able to stand in the vertical position won't have to worry either: the Xbox 360 2013 can be stood upright. The disc tray works either way, while rubberised feet to the side - or base, depending on how you look at it - provide the necessary support. So let's all be upstanding for those little positive features.
To avoid any potential confusion the Xbox 360 continues with its current controller - it's not been updated to look like the Xbox One controller.
Xbox 360 2013 vs Xbox 360 S
But it's not all about matching things up to future expectations. The most recent Xbox 360 S is outdone by the latest 2013 design, even if the changes are subtle.
READ: Xbox 360 S review
The touch-sensitive disc eject button of the S has been replaced with a more traditional push button, although the whole area surrounding it also pushes in rather than at just a single point.
Likewise the giant power button of the S has been replaced with something a lot more diminutive. Press it and it powers up with a green glow, but you don't get the same "ooh, ahh" magic that Xbox shouted about with the previous power button. But let's not get too excited: it is a just power button after all.
You do lose a USB socket around the back of the latest model - there are now two instead of three - and both the A/V port and optical audio socket have been ditched too. You do still get a socket for the Kinect sensor, an Ethernet socket, and HDMI, but otherwise it's a stripped down plug-in experience. Not a great thing, we must say.
But other changes are positive. The chrome finish of the S - which was all the rage back in 2010 - has now been banished, as reflected by the 2013 design. In many ways - and just like the Xbox One - the hardware's design language is all about mirroring the latest operating system interface that Microsoft has been rolling out across all platforms.
But the best shift of all is one that can be heard - to a lesser degree - rather than seen. After putting the new console through its paces by playing games and watching movies the new Xbox 360 does appear to be quieter, and considerably more so than the original Xbox 360. Yay.
If you've pre-ordered an Xbox One and have OCD when it comes to matching designs then you'll want to grab the 2013 Xbox 360 to make a matching pair. Don't forget you won't be able to play your Xbox 360 games on your Xbox One so you'll still need the 360 around unless you are ditching all those fond memories.
If you're new to Xbox then the 2013 design revamp asserts that there's plenty of life in the old dog yet. This is the year for big games and if next-gen is looking out of reach then the more affordable current-gen rework makes great sense - even if it's just to grab a couple of big titles nearer to the Christmas season. Well worth the £150 cover price.
On the downside the lack of an optical out and one less USB slot compared to the Xbox 360 S sure is a pain, but it's unlikely to drastically affect your setup.
If you're an Xbox 360 S user then there is little here for you outside of the visual - but then you probably knew that already and are already saving up for the Xbox One.
Ultimately the 2013 design breathes new life into the Xbox 360. Aesthetic changes dominate, while future gaming titles excite. That, ultimately, is what the Xbox 360 is all about: gaming and media. This is further affirmation of Microsoft aligning its gaming platforms for a strong 2013 and beyond. And we're definitely on board.
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