Why I Can’t Recommend the Xbox Series S Anymore

The «S» is for «Stay Away.»

Why I Can't Recommend the Xbox Series S Anymore

Key Takeaways

  • Series S was great for Game Pass, old games, and 1080p TVs initially, but it struggles with current-gen games now due to compromises.
  • Series S faces issues with game sizes, RAM limitations and resolution compromises, making it less ideal for current-gen gaming than before.
  • The price gap between Series S & X isn't worth it anymore due to storage costs and game quality differences, making X a better investment.

I've been a Series S owner almost since the console's launch, and I've been happy with my purchase overall, as a way to dip my toes into the Xbox ecosystem. However, midway through this console generation, it's hard for me to suggest that anyone should buy one of these baby Xbox consoles today, and ironically, it's not really the Series S that's at fault.

Why the Series S Was Great

In 2022, I wrote How Much Worse Is the Xbox Series S, Really? and the conclusion was that it's not that much "worse" than buying its bigger brother, the Series X, at all. There were many people, I argued, for whom the Series S made perfect sense as a purchase. It was perfect as a Game Pass machine, or if you didn't intend to buy physical games or many digital ones. Those who still had 1080p TVs, or only tended to play eSports or free-to-play games, were perfect for the Series S.

Likewise, it's a great way to play digital versions of old original Xbox and Xbox 360 games for those us who never had those consoles, or are a little nostalgic for them. The Series S is small, energy-efficient, and easy to add to your existing entertainment center. It was, and still is, a cool little console that gives you access to current generation games for an appetizing upfront cost.

Yes, you're limited to 1440p at most. Yes, it comes with well under 500GB of user-accessible storage, and yes, you lose access to 60fps and features like ray tracing in many games. Still, these were reasonable sacrifices given how cheap your overall ticket to current gen games could be. Sadly, not all of this is still true, and that tips the scales towards me recommending people spend their money elsewhere.

Things Have Changed

The biggest change that has made me less of a Series S evangelist is the shift from cross-generational games to proper current-generation games. This has led to a developer arms race where significant compromises have to be made on Series X, leading to sometimes unacceptable compromises on Series S.

As a case in point, the Series S was marketed as a 1440p console. This is a little under half of the total pixel count for a 4K display, but provides more than enough pixel information to upscale nicely to 4K. Especially at the distances people usually sit from their TVs, where the detail of 4K is lost to our human eyesight anyway. Of course, in reality, games would dip down to 1080p when things got heavy, just as they might dip below 4K on a Series X, but even then 1080p scales very well to 4K!

However, perhaps because these resolutions are still acceptable on a 4K TV at normal viewing distances, Series X games have started targeting resolutions such as 1080p, 1440p, and perhaps slightly above. This is especially true for "performance" modes, where games aim to run at 60 frames per second. That's fine for Series X owners, but that means a knock-on effect for the Series S, where those titles would have to dip to 900p or truly gnarly resolutions such as 540p.

The result is that players either have to settle for 30fps to get reasonable image quality, or that some developers don't bother targeting more fluid frame rates on Series S because the image quality is unusable. If the resolution and frame rate targets for Series X titles had stayed where they were promised, then Series S would still be fine, but things have not turned out this way.

The other major issue is the ballooning size of games. Although Smart Delivery on Xbox ensures that Series S games don't have to be bigger than necessary, some franchises such as Call of Duty have such large installation sizes that you may only have room for two or three games total on your console. Given the cost of storage expansion, adding more fast storage would bring the total cost of the console up to what you'd have paid for a Series X anyway, with the same total amount of storage!

Series S is also developing a RAM issue, with it's relatively modest 10GB of total memory, of which 8GB is fast RAM that games can use. Considering that 8GB GPUs are starting to struggle even at 1440p or 1080p on PC, it's not a shock that developers are running into hiccups. This lack of memory was the main reason cited for Baldur's Gate 3 coming to Xbox later, and without its local split-screen co-op feature.

The Price Difference Isn't Worth It

We've seen the price of the Series S drop down to the low $200s during events like Black Friday, but its standard retail price is still $200 less than a Series X. Given how the gap has grown in game features and quality between these two devices, I don't think that's an amount worth saving anymore. Since Series X has a disc drive, it also means you have access to cheaper used games or physical game discounts, which can quickly make up the price difference. Also, if you have any interest in Blu-Ray or DVD movies, that's a factor as well.

The storage issue is also a major point of contention with this price difference as I mentioned above, and there is now a 1TB Series S for $350, but now the gap between the two consoles is only $150 for the same storage capacity, which makes even less sense.

A base Series S for $250 or less is still worth it, and if you see one for under $200 new, then I can still recommend it. However, the console shortages that made the Series S attractive a few years ago are over. So, now your choice is between a $300 Series S and a used or refurbished Series X for the same price. That being said, used Series S consoles can be had for $150 or less these days, which again puts them back into the "recommended" category, but neither a new 500GB nor 1TB Series S does.

Who Should Still Buy a Series S?

So is there anyone I still think should buy a Series S? The list is quite short, but the way I see it, the main candidates are:

  • Casual gamers who only play one or two games and want to minimize their spending.
  • Casual gamers who will stick almost entirely to Game Pass.
  • Those who want to travel with the console, using something like the xScreen.
  • For a second 1080p TV.

For everyone else, with even the Series X struggling with new current-generation titles, it's better to buy a used Series X or to save a little more money and buy a new one.

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