Haters be damned — the Xbox Series S is my favorite gadget of 2023

Xbox Series S review
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Microsoft and Sony have taken an entirely different approach to this current console generation and this has certainly worked in the favor of many gamers, myself included.

While the PS5 is available with or without a disc drive, Microsoft decided to play things quite differently with its Xbox consoles this time around by launching the bigger, more powerful Xbox Series X alongside the smaller, less powerful Xbox Series S

For those who want the absolute best performance and graphics in a game console, I can see why they may have been quick to dismiss the Series S. However, after buying one for myself over the summer and putting Microsoft’s smallest Xbox yet through its paces, the Series S ended up being my favorite gadget of the year — here’s why.

Buying an Xbox Series S was the obvious choice

A Xbox Series S console on a desk

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I never intended to buy an Xbox Series S, but here I am months later playing it almost every day. You see, as part of my work at Tom’s Guide, I test and review the best PC game controllers and coincidentally, many of them also work on Xbox.

Back when I reviewed the HyperX Clutch Gladiate — which is a fantastic budget wired controller with a few pro level features by the way — I was content to bring it over to a friend’s house and test it out on his Xbox Series X. After this though, I had a chance to review the Hyperkin Xenon, and in order to do Hyperkin’s recreation of the original Xbox 360 controller justice, I knew it was time to get my own Xbox, solely for the purpose of testing and reviewing controllers.

Design wise between the PS5 and the Xbox Series X, Microsoft’s more powerful console is my favorite, though I have since warmed up to the design of the PS5 Slim. As I mainly play games on my PC and my Nintendo Switch, I wasn’t planning on rushing into this current console generation. Instead, I was willing to wait for an Xbox Series X refresh or even the PS5 Pro.

Playing Rocket League with the Hyperkin Xenon

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As I had plenty of Xbox controllers to test and didn’t want to have to go back and forth to my friend’s house, I decided to pick up a used Xbox Series S from GameStop. I paid $30 less than a new console would have cost but these days, thanks to holiday deals, you can pick up a new Series S for $250 and some Costco stores have been selling them for as low as $150. Even at its original price, the Series S was the perfect entry point to this current console generation but with deals like these, it’s a no-brainer for those who don’t necessarily want or need the more powerful — and larger — Series X.

The xScreen opened up a world of possibilities

Playing the Xbox Series S with xScreen attached on a patio

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As someone who grew up in the 90s, there was one console in particular that I missed out on at that time that I’ve been dying to try ever since: the PS One. Sure, I had a PlayStation but the smaller, redesigned PS One had one of the coolest first-party accessories in the form of an official LCD screen that attached to the back of the console. You should look it up if you haven’t seen it before as it still looks really cool even now.

Following a successful Kickstarter campaign, UPspec Gaming released a similar accessory for the Xbox Series S called the xScreen. There are other portable monitors that attach to Microsoft’s smaller Xbox. However, the xScreen almost looks like it was designed by Microsoft itself. In fact, it recently became one of the company’s official “Designed for Xbox” accessories.

The rear ports at the back of the Series S with the xScreen attached

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What I really love about the xScreen compared to other attachable monitors for the Xbox Series S is that it doesn’t require a separate HDMI or power cable. Instead, it slots right in on the back of the Series S and uses the console’s original AC cable to power both devices. Meanwhile, two latches on either side ensure it’s firmly attached to the console and won’t come off accidentally.

After trying out the xScreen at home and using it to transform my Series S into something that more closely resembled one of the best gaming laptops, I also took it with me on a road trip. I know others prefer using the SteamDeck or other handheld gaming consoles in these kinds of situations but I really enjoyed having a larger, 11.6-inch LCD display and being able to play with a full-size controller.

And then came the Carbon Black Xbox Series S

An Xbox Series X console with a WD_Black C50 Expansion Card

(Image credit: Future)

Although I was more than content with the limitations of my Series S when it came to graphics and performance, its 512 GB of internal storage was something I knew could end up being a hassle down the line. There are Xbox expansion cards that let you easily add more storage to either the Series S or Series X just by plugging them in at the back of either console, but unlike with the best PS5 SSDs, they’re much more expensive as they are proprietary.

The new Carbon Black Xbox Series S on a table

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Microsoft did end up fixing one of the biggest complaints with the original Series S console though when it released the all new, Carbon Black variant back in September. Besides its all-black look, this new version of the Series S ships with the same 1 TB SSD that the Xbox Series X does.

Playing Persona 5 Tactica on the Xbox Series S with an Xbox Elite Core controller

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Microsoft was kind enough to send over a Carbon Black Series S for me to try out and I’ve been using it as my main Xbox ever since. I just finished playing through Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy on it earlier this week and I have also used it to play quite a bit of Persona 5 Tactica.

For the most part, the Carbon Black Series S is identical to the original Series S console besides its larger SSD and the fact that it ships with a black controller as opposed to a white one. Still though, it looks great in person and if you do want to pair it with an attachable monitor, you’re in luck as UPspec Gaming did recently announce that it will make a black version of the xScreen just for Microsoft’s new console.

Next-gen gaming in a tiny package

Before I got a Nintendo Switch back in 2017, I never imagined I’d be able to bring a home game console with me while traveling or swap it between TVs throughout my house. As I love using my Switch on different monitors and TVs, I’m now doing the exact same thing with my Series S. The best part though is that since it uses a standard AC power cord, I was able to pick up a few really cheap ones online and I now have one and an HDMI cable under the monitor on my desk and next to each of my TVs.

Although the Series X is more powerful and the PS5 is more popular, I’ve had a fantastic experience playing my Series S this year. When paired with Xbox Game Pass, it offers the easiest and cheapest way to get a taste of next-gen gaming without breaking the bank. I still find it kind of funny though that a console I bought to test and review controllers out of necessity has become one my favorite gadgets of this year.

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Anthony Spadafora
Senior Editor Security and Networking

Anthony Spadafora is the security and networking editor at Tom’s Guide where he covers everything from data breaches and ransomware gangs to password managers and the best way to cover your whole home or business with Wi-Fi. Before joining the team, he wrote for ITProPortal while living in Korea and later for TechRadar Pro after moving back to the US. Based in Houston, Texas, when he’s not writing Anthony can be found tinkering with PCs and game consoles, managing cables and upgrading his smart home.