I’d buy an Xbox Series S tomorrow — with this one big change

Xbox Series S review
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Update: Microsoft might be about to fix the Xbox Series S's biggest problems, and let you convert game discs into digital downloads

There’s no shortage of consoles living under my TV, some of which get more use than others. The PS5 gets turned on daily – even if it’s more for backwards compatible PS4 multiplayer gaming with my girlfriend – and the Nintendo Switch gets regular use too. Finally, there’s an Xbox One S, which gets occasional use to check out the latest Game Pass freebies.

Microsoft’s machine is the longest serving of these, and it’s been a trusty companion that is definitely due an upgrade. But with the PS5 (a necessity for multiplayer with my closest friends) I can’t really justify the expense of an Xbox Series X – there are, after all, only so many hours in a day for gaming, much as we’d all wish it wasn’t so. 

At this point, you can practically hear the Xbox Series S doing an elaborate stage cough. And yes, the truth is that I’d probably own Microsoft’s $299 console right now if it weren’t for that one, significant drawback: I can’t ditch the disk drive.

I’m aware of the arguments that I’m locked in the past — and the big stack of CD albums next to my desk definitely backs this up — but for me, the lack of disk drive on the Series S is non negotiable. In fact, in my oddly specific use case, it would take away much of the cost savings of the Series S in the first place. 

I love Microsoft’s approach to backwards compatibility, but the number one reason I turn on my Xbox One S is for Rock Band 4 and the hundreds of songs worth of DLC accumulated over the last 14 (!) years and six titles. Do you know how much it would cost me to download a digital version that works on Xbox Series S? $60. That’s 20% of the cost of the console itself, and that’s pretty annoying given I already own a perfectly good disk copy. There are other disk games I have, but most of those are on Game Pass or finished with. I’m in the tiny demographic for which plastic guitars and drums are a deciding factor in my next-gen gaming upgrade path.

Microsoft could win me over by releasing a version of the Xbox Series S with a disk drive — or even producing an optional add-on like the ill-fated Xbox 360 HD-DVD drive. I’d buy into that ecosystem, even if it ultimately cost me more than downloading Rock Band 4 from the Xbox Store (which seems silly now I write it down, but I’m nothing if not stubborn.)   

But the company clearly won’t be doing that. There’s a reason the Xbox Series S comes without a disk drive, and it’s to lock customers into Game Pass subscriptions, and purchasing all their games through a store that Microsoft owns. It neatly blocks off the pre-owned market and lets the company recoup costs lost through players not paying big bucks for a Series X. If Microsoft were to release a Series S with a disk drive, the company would likely up the price significantly to justify losing its exclusive ability to sell me Xbox software.

So, for now, me and Microsoft are at an impasse, and for as long as this stalemate continues, the Xbox One S gets to extend its streak as the oldest bit of tech in my living room. Things will come to a head when that Bethesda exclusivity kicks in, and I’ll have to decide whether my love of elaborate guitar solos trumps my love of the Fallout series. But for now, there’s life in the old Xbox yet.

Alan Martin

Freelance contributor Alan has been writing about tech for over a decade, covering phones, drones and everything in between. Previously Deputy Editor of tech site Alphr, his words are found all over the web and in the occasional magazine too. When not weighing up the pros and cons of the latest smartwatch, you'll probably find him tackling his ever-growing games backlog. Or, more likely, playing Spelunky for the millionth time.