With life still feeling pretty slow in the aftermath of coronavirus lockdowns, it doesn’t really feel like two years have passed since the release of the PS5 and Xbox Series X. Yet both consoles passed their second birthday this month — November 12 for Sony's big console and November 10 for the Microsoft machine.
But here, I want to sing the praises of the unsung hero of this still-young console generation: the Xbox Series S.
I love the little guy. And although I’d struggle to recommend it as the sole means of playing games, I’m increasingly of the opinion that it’s the perfect secondary console for gaming fans.
Firstly, it’s the very definition of cheap and cheerful. As Black Friday and Cyber Monday shoppers will know, you can pick up an Xbox Series S for as little as $240 in the U.S. and £199 at Argos in the U.K., making it less than half the price of the PS5 and Xbox Series X.
Xbox Series S: was $299 now $239 @ Amazon
The more affordable next-gen Xbox Series S is limited to 1440p output, but still delivers fast loading, ray tracing, and high frame rates. It sports a GPU with up to 4 teraflops of output, 10GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD for storage. There's no disc drive on this console, it's designed exclusively for digital games.
Xbox Series S + extra controller: was $359 now $289 @ Walmart
Do you often play with a friend? Enjoy a bit of couch co-op? Then this console deal might be the one for you since it gives you an extra controller. At the moment, the console and controllers are on sale to the point where it's better to buy a console and a second controller separately, but we wanted to include this here in case prices change or controllers start selling out.
Unlike the two console behemoths, it’s positively tiny too, slipping in unnoticed as part of any entertainment setup, unlike the swollen-router lookalike PS5 and brutalist Series X.
Despite that, it plays all the same games as the Xbox Series X. Not necessarily flawlessly, as is well documented, but well enough for it to play a valuable backup to my PS5, letting me hoover up the best Xbox Series X games and exclusives I want to play along the way.
That goes hand-in-hand with the other reason it makes an invaluable foil to the PS5: Xbox Game Pass. The all-you-can-play subscription service is widely regarded as one of the best value propositions in gaming, and Microsoft generously puts all first-party titles (and a bunch of third-party ones) on the service on day one.
That means people with the PS5 as their primary console and the Series X as the back up machine, don’t have to worry about missing out on the next Fallout or Elder Scrolls games Scrolls games, as they'll be playable on the secondary console handle such games (now under the wing of Microsoft's gaming division), as they'll be playable on the secondary console on day-one of their release. As will any new Forza, Halo or Gears of War game they may fret about missing out on.
This isn’t actually a position I expected to find myself arguing. Back in March, I was confidently making the prediction that I would only consider the Xbox Series S if Microsoft added an external disk drive. A very generous trade-in offer on old Xbox One hardware had me changing that particular tune, and I haven’t really looked back since.
Yes, I had to swallow my pride to purchase a wholly unnecessary extra digital copy of Rock Band 4, but otherwise it’s been plain sailing. Contrary to my earlier opinion, I’m not even especially excited about the occasional rumor that Microsoft will let people digitize their disk games. It’s simply no longer relevant to me.
For me the Xbox Series S isn’t designed for disks. It’s essentially a compact Xbox Game Pass arcade cabinet, perfectly engineered for instant fun.
When I head back to my family home this Christmas, it won’t be the PS5 that’s awkwardly shoved in my luggage, weighing me down as I board my train back up to the north of England. Rather, it’ll be the barely noticeable Xbox Series S, giving me instant access to all the games I’ve missed out on in a fairly hectic 2022, when I finally unwind for the holidays. It may be small, but it’s surprisingly mighty.