After the Xbox One X was released in 2017 you could be forgiven for thinking the lesser specced Xbox One S would be slowly phased out. Not so. Considering its beefier stablemate is over twice the price, this machine is more accessible. Xbox has released an All Digital alternative with no optical drive though, if you're a download-only kind of player.
The Xbox One S gives access to all the same games as its illustrious X sibling - albeit at a maximum of 1080p rather than 4K - yet is more affordable and still offers high dynamic range (HDR) gaming, 4K Blu-ray playback and video streaming services. It is, therefore, an excellent gaming device that is also a bona fide, all-in-one media machine that'll be good enough for most.
Design and connections
- HDMI 2.0 output
- HDCP 2.2 support
- Three USB 3.0 ports
- Measures: 298 x 229 x 63.5mm
- Ethernet and dual-band Wi-Fi (802.11ac)
The Xbox One S is a pretty beast. The main model is all-white, although there are also plenty of special edition coloured and customised variants available too. It is compact, elegant and there's not an enormous power brick in sight like with the original - it's inside the machine itself, hurrah! You just get a figure of eight lead in the box (along with an HDMI cable).
The machine can be sat upright, if you buy an optional stand. It looks neat, but we're AV cabinet kind of people so are happy to report that it tucks away nicely too.
The drive tray is neatly flushed on the left-hand side of the fascia, with a tiny white-on-white disc eject button almost hidden away. And the power button is a physical clicker rather than touch.
There are three USB 3.0 ports on the console and one of them is tucked away on the front of the box, rather than the side as with the old legacy Xbox One. This makes it much easier to access when in a cabinet, for example. The gamepad pairing button has also made its way around the front.
An IR blaster has been included, so you can have it control other electronics devices without having to use HDMI CEC connectivity. However, we still find the latter to be a simpler option and more consistent.
On the rear, there is a full line-up of connections. You get two HDMI ports, one to input TV video, one output. There are the additional USB 3.0 ports, an IR output if you want to add an external IR blaster instead of use the front-facing integrated one, optical audio and Ethernet ports too.
There are two storage options available - 500GB and 1TB - which is pretty small, given how large games are these days. Get more than around 10 of them and you've filled the hard drive. Luckily, the USB ports can accept external HDDs as long as they are USB 3.0 compatible. That extends the storage space greatly.
Setting up the box is easy but a bit slow considering you will undoubtedly need to perform an update before you start. That could take quite a while if you have slow broadband. Even with a 300Mbps connection it took us around 10 minutes to complete (including installation time). However, once it's done and you've signed into your Microsoft account, you'll soon find everything else to be swift. Very swift indeed.
- One controller included
- Bluetooth plus legacy connection
Microsoft slightly redesigned its controller when it released the Xbox One S. It is a little sleeker than older gamepads. It feels similar in the hand, but has a grippier surface than the ones that came with the original. It also adds Bluetooth support, although only for Windows 10 devices with the latest Xbox apps, and greater distance for a stable wireless connection.
You get one in the box and another can be bought for around £40. You can also use the older, existing Xbox One controllers, just by pairing them via the button on the front of the console, which is great news for hardcore players with expensive Elite Controllers, who don't want to switch.
- Up to 1080p screen capture and video
As well as improved resolution – the Xbox One S will upscale all non-4K video to 2160p if you have a compatible UHD TV – the console's processing chip ensures that the menu systems run faster and smoother. And, with all the refreshes and redesigns Microsoft has undertaken since launch, the overall user experience has been refined and is easy to navigate.
The dashboard itself can be a little complex if you delve into it, with plenty tucked in every nook and cranny for the communal gamer, but it's clean and well presented. There are plenty of customisation options to get to in time, but from the off your games and apps can be accessed from a simple tile on the homescreen, and it is quick to get to downloadable content in the store.
4K video performance
- 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player
- Netflix in 4K HDR
- Amazon Video in 4K HDR
- HDR10 compatible
It's a great console to reach beyond just gaming too. Netflix is 4K and HDR enabled from the off, for example, as is Amazon Video. If you have a premium Netflix account or Amazon Prime, you can now watch Ultra HD streams.
As we've previously mentioned, you can also play 4K Ultra HD Blu-rays on the Xbox One S. Pop one into the front slot for the first time and it will prompt you to download the latest version of the Blu-ray app. That will then start your movie. Sadly, there is no support for Dolby Vision, just HDR10.
Picture quality with 4K Blu-rays is excellent and on a par with other entry-level dedicated UHD machines we've seen in the past.
- Up to 1080p 60fps gaming
- HDR for games
The console is also capable of HDR gaming, albeit at 1080p maximum only. Gears of War 4, for example, runs with upscaled HDR graphics on compatible TVs and you do get a better sense of depth with the visuals. The wider colour gamut and greater contrast makes for a better gaming experience for sure. Yes, it looks even better in 4K on an Xbox One X - but you might not want to pay the premium for the privilege.
There are so many top-tier games available for the Xbox One S you will never find yourself without something to purchase and play. Many of them run at 1080p in 60fps too, which looks gorgeous when in full force.
Microsoft has also added its Xbox Game Pass service since the console was originally launched, with is a subscription scheme that gives you access to more than 100 games for a monthly fee of just £7.99 ($9.99 in the States). This includes brand new Microsoft Studios titles, such as Sea of Thieves.
All the games are yours to keep as long as you pay the monthly fee. It's a great way to build an impressive games library for little outlay and is a much better service than PlayStation Now - the equivalent for PS4. That is cloud based, while this Xbox initiative gives you every game to download and run from your own drive.
As an entry-level console, the Xbox One S comes jam packed with great features and offers a smooth user experience. We think it makes more sense than the All Digital edition, too, as the price is so close and the option to buy pre-owned games or cheaper on-disc purchases is preferable.
Furthermore, with the 4K Blu-ray drive included, the One S is well worth considering as a wider AV machine, especially if you are looking for something to spin Ultra HD Blu-rays and wouldn't want to buy a separate player.
As a family machine the Xbox One S is perfect. Everybody will get something from it, whether that's playing the latest FIFA or watching 4K HDR shows on Netflix. And considering it looks nice too, you wouldn't feel awkward leaving it out for all to admire.
This review was first published in 2017 and has been updated to reflect changing software, games and the new All Digital console.
Xbox One X
If you want more power to run games at higher fidelity or a higher frame-rate then this is the box to do it. It's the most powerful console on the planet - but that's why it costs so much more than the One S too.
Xbox One S All Digital
Don't care about Blu-ray and prefer downloading your games? The absence of a disc drive means quieter operation and a marginally smaller price tag. It could be a sign of Xbox's future.
No, we're not trolling you. With a raft of exclusive games available, there's a lot of sense to own both Sony and Microsoft consoles. You could indeed buy both of them for about the cost of an Xbox One X, giving you more content to play with.