Microsoft has released a new Xbox, although it's not exactly a new console. The Xbox One S is a subtle upgrade to the existing Xbox One, rather than a proper successor. Don't be fooled, though, because it has more than a few surprises in store.
While the Xbox One S is deep down the same console Microsoft released in 2013, there have been significant changes. It’s far slicker and prettier, fixing many of the original console's aesthetic issues. It also adds 4K and high dynamic range (HDR), which means your games and videos can make the most of the latest TVs.
It doesn’t offer the big graphical bump of the PS4 Pro. Nor does it benefit from the major horsepower boost of the next-generation Xbox, codenamed Project Scorpio. But what it does have may make it the best-selling console of 2016: it's the most affordable UHD Blu-ray player on the market.
The Xbox One S is the only console to play 4K Blu-rays. This could make the Xbox One S a surprise hit with movie fans on a budget, who are looking for an inexpensive way to enjoy 4K content. It could help rocket 4K Blu-ray sales too, in the same way the Sony PS3 did with standard Blu-rays. What’s more, it’s actually a decent UHD Blu-ray player.
Video: Xbox One S review
The Xbox One has had a total makeover, and it's a huge improvement. Microsoft hasn’t confirmed what the "S" stands for, but we're taking a guess at "slim". The case is 40% smaller, which makes the Xbox One S only a little bigger than a PlayStation 4, and smaller than the dinkiest of mini-ITX PCs.
It’s also possible that S is for "sexy". Suddenly an Xbox is the most attractive thing in my AV rack, and that’s not something I ever expected to write. The chunky air conditioner-style grilles have been replaced with a subtle pinhole design. The original's glossy black plastic, which was a dust magnet and suffered scratches way too easily, has also been ditched.
The Xbox One S is matte all over, and has a Stormtrooper chic thanks to its white with black accents. I like it, but some may find a bright white box too conspicuous. I’m sure it won’t be long before other colours appear; there's already a limited edition blood red Gears of War 4-themed version on the way.
There are plenty of less obvious tweaks too, but they're welcome nonetheless. The power switch is now a physical button, which is a lot less susceptible to accidental activation than the Xbox One’s touch-sensitive offering. There is a USB port and a controller-pairing button at the front, where before they were hidden away at the side.
Can the new Xbox One please stand up? Yes it can. The old Xbox One could only be placed flat, but the One S can be flipped over onto its side. You’ll need a plastic base to hold it up for ventilation purposes. This comes bundled with the 2TB edition, but otherwise it’s sold for an extra £20.
Related: PS4 Pro vs Xbox One S
The controller has been tweaked, too. It feels half way between the basic Xbox One pad and the super-expensive Xbox One Elite Controller. It retains the ergonomic shape of the previous model, but the rear now benefits from a more grippy texture. Apparently, exchangeable colour covers are an option too.
I’m not particularly bothered about pimping up my controller, but I’m a fan of the added traction. I played Star Wars: Battlefront plenty during testing, and I found the controller upped my game. The finish made it a little easier to maintain a stable grip while fighting rebel scum, and my accuracy improved. I died less in manic moments, where a quick combat roll can make all the difference.
The thumb sticks are made of a new material, supposedly more capable of withstanding punishment. Only time (and abuse) will tell how tough it is, but I didn’t feel any difference in use.
As for power, the pad works on AA batteries. They last a good while, so I don’t mind them. Some people prefer the Sony PS4 controller’s built-in battery approach. It may be more environmentally friendly, but the battery has proved to be poor and I'm forever having to plug it in. I wish Microsoft would ship controllers with its "Play and Charge" kits – it would be a good compromise.
Thankfully, Microsoft has finally added Bluetooth functionality to the controller. This won’t be a big deal to Xbox users, but will be a godsend for PC gamers looking for a decent gaming pad. Now PC gamers can use Xbox controllers without shelling out for an Xbox USB Wireless Controller Adapter.