Every person that invests their money in technology holds a secret shame. No matter what we tell you, never believe that we don’t want to upgrade to the latest and greatest devices. If there’s a new iPhone with more storage and a better camera, we wish we had it. If there’s a new Xbox One with tweaked performance and a better design, you better believe we’ll buy it. I told everyone I wouldn’t be buying Microsoft’s Xbox One S.

Then I found myself in GameStop trading in my launch console towards the purchase of this new hotness. Everything you might want from a mid-life cycle console upgrade, the Xbox One S has. Physically, it’s smaller than the Xbox One that came before. That’s good news for anyone with an electronics cabinet that could only fit a boxed set of all the Star Trek television shows. A new controller with Bluetooth and hardware that lets the Xbox One S output 4K video and upscale high-definition games to 4K complete the experience. Even with all that, I didn’t buy the Xbox One S because I wanted to gauge the upgraded gaming experience. Instead, I wanted to find out if Microsoft had set a better baseline for newcomers to its platform.

Everyone talks about how the Xbox One S isn’t a huge improvement for owners of the Xbox One already. Respectfully, they’re asking the wrong question. Does the Xbox One S provide a better jumping in point for those that don’t already own the console? That’s what I found myself in a video game store looking to find out.

Xbox One S Review – A Better Xbox One Setup Experience

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A Better Xbox One Setup Experience

I’ve always worried about how regular people manage to get through setting up the Xbox One. Most people don’t read directions. They see cables that look familiar and begin connecting things. More things to connect, the more they get lost.

There are less things to unpack with the Xbox One S. Gone are the external power supply, chat headset and Kinect sensor. You plug-in the simple power cable and put the batteries in the matching Xbox One Controller.The Xbox One Controller is already paired with the console when you get the console turned on. Microsoft puts the illustrated instructions up front.

At least on the hardware side, there’s little for users to get confused about. The software setup hasn’t changed though. Microsoft still runs users through wireless setup, time zone confirmation, putting in their Microsoft Account and choosing a power state. Seriously guys, I think we can go ahead and eliminate that last one. If the system detects a Kinect sensor, it prompts you to set that up too, but I think it’s safe to assume most people won’t ever need to worry about that.

For new folks coming in, the setup process has gotten a lot easier.

Xbox One S Review – Hardware Improved

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Hardware Improved

Admittedly, I’ve been very critical of the Xbox One’s look. I’ve always felt like it resembles a cable box, which is exactly the feeling Microsoft hoped to foster. Early on, designers of the console said they wanted the device to disappear and fade into the background like any good piece of entertainment technology. At the time, the company hoped to appeal to entertainment lovers and gamers.

The shift in design for the new console is proof of a big change in philosophy at Xbox. The Xbox One S is still a rectangle, but one that demands you look at it. The dotted vent on the top draws your eyes toward it. It’s white textured skin lures your eyes into ogling its slick frame. It’s a gaming console for guys and girls that care about what their gaming console looks like. It’s quiet too, though the Blu-ray drive does generate some noise.

Two things about the Xbox One S’ design stand out to me from a usability stand point. The new texture should ward off scratches, which was a huge problem with the Xbox One. Second, putting a USB port and controller sync button up front means I don’t have to explain to people how to do some basic stuff on this console.

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All of the ports on the rear of the console have enough space to not hinder each other. The Kinect port is gone, but I can live with that. I also have a Kinect for Windows Adapter that I purchased last year, so I’m biased in that regard. Thankfully, Microsoft is giving them out for free.

The Xbox One S can be put on display vertically, like a piece of art.

The Xbox One S can be put on display vertically, like a piece of art. That Microsoft includes this stand with the console is very, very commendable. It’d have been easy for the company to charge users for it separately, but it didn’t.

The Xbox Team loves its controller revisions. This Xbox One S’s controller introduces textured grips and Bluetooth compatibility. It has improved signal range too. Connecting to a PC with Bluetooth worked well enough for me, but Some Windows 10 users report that there are some connection bugs Microsoft will need to address with an update to either the controller or PCs.

Now Microsoft has a perfect story for anyone that purchases an Xbox One and wants to stream their games around the house with Windows 10. The original controller and Xbox One Elite Controller both require a clunky, Xbox Wireless Adapter.

I have to be honest, the controller’s textured surface doesn’t do anything to make the entry-level input device feel less cheap in the hand. The textured grip does help keep it in your palms though, which is still a net gain. I’ve some folks compare it to the Xbox Elite Controller, which is crazy. This is a base controller meant for people who are never dropping $150 on another controller. It’s helpful to look at it in that context.

Xbox One S Review – 4K Experience

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A 4K Experience

Just because I don’t think shoppers new to Xbox looking for a console will necessarily care about 4K video today doesn’t mean that I think it’s an unnecessary upgrade. In this ever-lasting, always-escalating war over specifications, Microsoft has to be at the ready for any trick that Sony might pull.

The Xbox One S, when paired with a 4K television set, can upscale games to 4K resolution. 4K is really a brand name for a resolution four times that of high-definition.

The Xbox One S, when paired with a 4K television set, can upscale games to 4K resolution. 4K is really a brand name for a resolution four times that of high-definition. The results, I must say, are pretty stellar. HDR or high-dynamic range is equally impressive, though I had to settle for getting a demonstration on the HDR. My television at home simply doesn’t support the HDR 10 standard that the feature demands. If you’re purchasing the console for either technology, be sure that yours does. Expect better contrast and visuals for sure.

An interactive checklist lets you know if your television has all the necessary hardware support to get the most out of the console, which is a very, very nice touch.

The upgraded Ultra HD Blu-ray reader built into the machine is an improvement fans of the format will appreciate. Besides buying necessary discs to test the upgrade, I can’t say that I or most people buying the Xbox One S will care. This is a bone for home theatre enthusiasts, I expect. If I may, Microsoft still insists on forcing users to download the Blu-ray app instead of including it on the console. That’s definitely hit in the “Ease of Use” category. Netflix sports 4K streaming compatibility, with support from more partners on the way.

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Recently, some outlets have confirmed that the Xbox One S offers performance gains that result in better frame rates.

Recently, some outlets have confirmed that the Xbox One S offers performance gains that result in better frame rates. Meanwhile, Microsoft’s Albert Penello has said that this isn’t the case in an interview with Eurogamer.

I’ve noticed that the Xbox One S runs Microsoft’s Xbox Dashboard better than my original – particularly when multitasking. I’ve also noticed the software doesn’t lag when I need to head back to the Home screen after watching television. Unfortunately, I’ve also seen frame rates drop in some games as the console struggles to notify me of a download completion and render Alan Wake at the same time.

I honestly think that this performance improvement that Xbox One veterans are talking about is very real, but very negligible. We’re sure to see big performance improvements when Project Scorpio gets announced next year. For now, let’s not pretend like the in-game frame rates this console is capable of achieving make all games look and run better by a significant amount.

Xbox One S Review – The Verdict

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The Verdict

The Xbox One S is easy to setup, easy to use and boasts some modern improvements that weren’t ready for the original. If you’ve had an Xbox One for a while already and don’t have a 4K television, it’s safe to skip this upgrade. How often are you going to move your Xbox One? Do you really care that the menus are smoother? If you do have 4K television sets and money to spare, go for it.

I think it’s somewhat more interesting that Microsoft has put its base-level console on equal footing with Sony’s PlayStation. The Dual Shock 4 could be used without extra accessories on a PC. Now the Xbox One’s included controller can. Sony’s console lays flat or sits upright with a stand. Microsoft’s can too. The console already had controllers with headset ports. Ultra HD Blu-ray is a big win.

Essentially, Microsoft has quietly used the Xbox One S to put the full-court press on Sony’s hardware advantages. There are less tangible reasons to choose a Playstation 4 over an Xbox One S. For the average user, it’s going to come down to three things now. Which controller do you like? What exclusives do you value more? Do you really want to pay $50 more for PlayStation?

Those should have always been the deciding factors. Console upgrade successful.