Xbox announced its next games console during E3 2019 in June - an all-singing, all-dancing machine capable of up to 8K resolution and 120 frames-per-second action. Project Scarlett, as it is currently codenamed, will be available from Christmas 2020 and will kickstart the next-generation of gaming with a bang.
However, it's not the only new Xbox on the block. For those who don't want to wait or aren't sure they'll even be able to afford the powerhouse when it arrives, Microsoft has also reimagined its entry-level Xbox One S, ditching the 4K Blu-ray drive in order to bring its price down. It is aimed at those who are happy to download games digitally, rather than purchase disc copies from stores. And, who are willing to sacrifice some media playback features in favour of savings.
But with the existing Xbox One S also still available and often at a discount already, has Microsoft simply tried to address a problem that didn't really exist? Is the cheaper price really worth the absence of a major feature?
Same design and size
- Measures: 295 x 226 x 64mm
- Weighs: 2.45kgs
- Hard drive: 1TB
It certainly hasn't delivered any notable benefits other than a price drop.
When the Xbox One S All-Digital Edition was first announced, we imagined it to be smaller - to be able to fit more comfortably on a shelf or in an AV cabinet. But, apart from the lack of a physical slot for discs, the Xbox One S All-Digital Edition is identical to its older variant. It is the exact same size, looks very similar externally and has the grilles in the same places for cooling.
The included controller is the same second-generation model that comes with the conventional white Xbox One S and the cables in the box are the same too. You get a figure-of-eight power lead and 4K-compatible HDMI cable, while the ports on the rear match up with its forerunner exactly. Indeed, from the rear you would have no idea this Xbox was a digital-only model save for a label on the right-hand side.
The front is similar but looks decidedly different without the disc drive slot. In fact, it can be argued that the overall, front-facing aesthetic is now just... odd. The big, blank space on the left-hand side just looks empty and devoid of character, as if something is missing. And, that's because it is; the Xbox One S was designed very much with the drive in mind.
To be fair, when compared to its main rival, the PlayStation 4, it is still prettier even without the sleek black line. But we have to admit to being surprised when we first took it out of the box.
Connections on repeat
- On rear: HDMI out, HDMI in, 2x USB 3.0, Ethernet, SPDIF digital audio
- On front: 1x USB 3.0
On the rear, you get a healthy selection of inputs and outputs. As with the standard model (and the Xbox One X), you get an HDMI 2.0 output, HDMI 2.0 input, two USB 3.0 ports, Gigabit Ethernet and an optical digital audio out (in case you want to feed a non-HDMI-enabled soundbar or system). An Infrared (IR) output is also present, for an IR extender. And, on the front, you get an additional USB 3.0 port.
There is no input for a legacy Kinect but, honestly, you really don't need one.
The HDMI input is there if you want to plug in your Virgin Media or Sky set-top-box and use the on-board electronic programme guide (EPG) and system to control all TV viewing. However, it is not compatible with the Virgin TV V6 box nor Sky Q, so it's been a while since we've heard of anyone actually doing that.
The HDMI out is capable of up to 4K HDR for video, 1080p HDR for gaming (that's HDR for High Dynamic Range, should you have a compatible telly able to show a wider range of peak highlights and deep shadows in the same instance).
You might wonder why there are so many USB ports, especially on the rear where it's not easy to plug in a wired controller or keyboard, but the storage capacities of the entire Xbox One family can be expanded through up to two external USB 3.0 hard drives (we currently have one 2TB drive and one 5TB Seagate Backup Plus Portable HDD connected to ours) and that can make a massive difference on how many games you can keep in your library without re-downloading. When you can only purchase digital copies, that can be a lifesaver. Especially if your broadband speed is the national average rather than top of the line.
- CPU: 8-core Jaguar CPU @ 1.75GHz
- GPU: 12 CUs (914MHz) 1.23 TF GPU
- Memory: 8GB DDR3 RAM
- Wi-Fi: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac 2.5GHz & 5GHz
As it stands, the Xbox One S All-Digital Edition comes with a 1TB hard drive inside, which is enough to store around 25 triple-A games on average (considering that some take up less than 40GB and others closer to 100GB).
It runs on a 1.75GHz 8-core Jaguar processor, also a One S stalwart, plus 8GB of DDR3 RAM. The GPU is AMD's Durango 2 and still performs well, even though it is three-years-old now.
Dual-band Wi-Fi connectivity is offered for those who don't want to use fixed line internet.
To be honest, with talk of a new generation of gaming on the horizon, this is all entry-level stuff. But, we have no complaints whatsoever in the video and audio quality of a majority of Xbox One games when run through the All-Digital Edition. Many reach a native 1080p resolution and look crisp and detailed, especially when they support HDR for a wider colour palette and contrast.
We're also impressed by the fan in the machine. Even during graphically intensive sequences, when the GPU is likely to run its hottest, there is barely any fan noise. Compare than to a PlayStation 4 - specifically the PS4 Pro - and the difference is like a listening to a glider in comparison to a Harrier Jump Jet.
- Games played at up to 1080p HDR
- Video playback at up to 4K HDR
Of course, the hardware is nothing without the games and, considering that you won't be buying this particular Xbox to spin Blu-rays, it will no doubt be primarily used to game on.
In that respect it is great. For starters, you get three included games in the box (in the form of voucher codes): Sea of Thieves is an excellent online multiplayer title for wannabe pirates; Minecraft is one of the most popular games of all time and a great addition for a first-timer console purchase; and then there is Forza Horizon 3.
The last of these three is a little odd considering it was superseded in 2018 by Forza Horizon 4. However, it's still a great game and better than a poke in the eye with a dirty stick.
We do recommend you also sign up to Xbox Live Gold - mandatory for online play - and Xbox Game Pass. In fact, it is the latter that could have been the driving factor behind the All-Digital Edition in the first place.
Xbox Game Pass is essentially a paid membership service that gives access to more than 200 full Xbox One, Xbox 360 and original Xbox games to download and play as often as you like, as long as you continue to subscribe. This means your library of playable games can instantly be filled with archive and brand new titles for just one monthly fee - usually £7.99.
You can also get Game Pass and Xbox Live Gold combined, in a bundled sub offer called Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. For just £10.99 a month, you can get both services plus Xbox Game Pass for PC thrown in for good measure. That offers another wide selection of all-you-can-eat games, but for Windows 10 PCs. Even if you don't have a compatible computer, the combined fee is cheaper so it's a no-brainer.
That's why the All-Digital Edition exists, we feel, to provide a machine that works hand-in-hand with Game Pass. After all, the games on offer are all downloadable and do not require a physical media drive. And, it's a fair deal too. You get a whole stack of some of the best games around for relatively little outlay per month - so you can't go wrong really.
Naturally, the standard Xbox One S works just as well with Game Pass, but we feel that without the digital-only subs service, there really wouldn't be much need for a digital-only machine. There are some that even say that this could be a sign of things to come from Xbox generally, although company boss Phil Spencer has already confirmed that Scarlett will come with an optical disc drive, so who knows? Maybe the Xbox One All-Digital Edition is an experiment and its reception will prompt similar projects in the future?
- No 4K Blu-ray drive
- Netflix is available in 4K HDR / Dolby Vision; Amazon Prime Video in 4K HDR
Another thing that could prompt a second stab at an all-digital console in the coming years will be whether physical media continues to be popular or not. Sales of 4K Blu-ray discs have improved in recent times, but not at the rate studios would have liked.
However, purists still love them - not least because they offer better picture and audio performance than streaming can currently - and standard Blu-rays, even DVDs are still garnering significant interest. Plus, we all have large libraries of them still gracing our shelves so we're not entirely sure we want a device right now than shuns them entirely.
Yes, Netflix and Amazon Prime Video are excellent streaming services with their own merits, with the former even offering Dolby Vision visuals for those with compatible televisions, but one of the big benefits of the Xbox One S for us is that it includes a 4K Blu-ray player. Losing it is a bigger deal than you might think.
And then there is the second-hand game market to consider. Having an All-Digital Edition console means you can no longer purchase a used game for less. Yes, Xbox Game Pass offers many games for not much money, but if you want to buy a triple-A title not included in the subscription you have to pay full whack or wait for a sales period.
That leads us back to mulling over why Microsoft opted to release this disc-free stopgap. As far as we can see, it does really come down to price and price alone, as the removal of the optical drive invariably lowers the cost - cutting £50 off the RRP.
However, and this is the but we really can't get our heads around, with the standard Xbox One S heavily discounted already, why not just buy one of those anyway? If there is no other distinguishing difference between the two, save for one having the ability to play video and games discs and the other not, yet the prices are so close as to not matter, why would you opt for the lesser specced of the two?
That's what it all really boils down to. The Xbox One S All-Digital Edition is actually an excellent gaming machine that, when coupled with an Xbox Game Pass subscription, provides a perfect jumping-in point for those who haven't had an Xbox One before.
However, the older Xbox One S is an even better option if you shop around. Even the All-Digital Edition's free games don't swing it as you can get a game or two with standard bundles too.
Perhaps the issue is that the All-Digital Edition wasn't priced low enough at launch. It should have been considerably more affordable still. That way it would have been a better alternative for newcomers. And, it would have been far easier for us to recommend it as there is no doubting its gaming prowess and talents.
Instead, we advise you wait for big sales periods, such as Amazon Prime Day and Black Friday, and compare the cost between the two Xbox One S machines then. You might find the All-Digital Edition's price plummets. Then it could be worth ditching the drive in order to keep the bank manager happy.