- Microsoft's $500 Xbox Series X is faster than its predecessor when it comes to loading games and offers a slight improvement in performance.
- The catalog of games is more impressive than Sony's PlayStation 5, which also comes out this month.
Microsoft has packed formidable power into the Xbox Series X, the $500 video game console it's bringing to the market on Tuesday. Games perform better on this machine than on all previous Xboxes as well as on many PCs.
The Series X has a sleek design — a black rectangular slab with a green-shaded concave vent on one end. It's coming out at about the same time as Sony's $500 PlayStation 5. For Xbox devotees, the Series X will likely be quite appealing, especially as the coronavirus pandemic shows no sign of letting up, leaving consumers with plenty of free time at home.
Microsoft says the Series X improves gaming in a few ways. They were evident to me as I tested the console and compared it with the Xbox One X from 2017.
I spent less time waiting for games to load, and switching between games was faster. The Series X contains a solid-state drive that reads data more quickly than the hard-disk drive in the One X.
That faster storage enables a feature Microsoft calls Quick Resume, which is great for going back and forth between games. For example, when I paused car-racing game "Forza Horizon 4" and opened third-person shooter title "Gears 5," which I had been playing a day earlier, a "Quick Resume" notification appeared in the upper right corner of the screen, and I was dropped right back to where I was in "Gears."
The Series X also has four times the processing power of the One X, as well as double the graphics performance and 33% more memory. To take advantage of those resources, Microsoft software engineers have optimized "Forza Horizon 4," "Gears 5" and other games, and developers at third-party studios are doing the same.
I saw slight performance improvements in "Forza Horizon 4," "Gears 5" and "The Touryst," a puzzle game from Germany's Shin'en Multimedia. In Forza, I parked my Lamborghini beside a waterfall, and the scene looked more realistic on the Series X than on the One X.
The Series X can deliver 4K gaming at 60 frames per second, but I have a 1080p television. In "Gears 5," I saw higher frames per second as my character ran around. The game looked more impressive.
The Series X and the One X each include 1TB of storage onboard, but the Series X has a little more storage space you can actually use: 802GB vs. 781GB, according to one study. That means more space for games if you don't want to spend more for detachable storage.
There are thousands of games to choose from, spanning four console generations all the way back to the original 2001 Xbox, Microsoft says.
The wide selection is one advantage the Series X has over the PlayStation 5. While most PlayStation 4 games can be played on Sony's new consoles, games built for older PlayStations won't be available. Microsoft has a feature called Smart Delivery that lets you open games you own for older machines on the Series X in an optimized format and not have to buy them for a second time.
You can also see Smart Delivery in action if you have Microsoft's Xbox Game Pass subscription, which provides over 100 console games for $10 a month.
A Game Pass Ultimate subscription, which costs $15 a month, turns on another perk: You can play games from Game Pass on Android devices. Microsoft wants to provide something similar on iOS.
I don't have a very fast home internet connection, and my phone can't access 5G. As a result, streaming games from the cloud is choppy, if not downright unplayable. So I still prefer a console or PC. Things might look different in a couple of years.
Remote play, Microsoft's term for streaming games from my console instead of a distant data center, is a different story.
If I'm home and someone else is using the television, I can still play on my phone without losing much performance. I bought a $9 adjustable plastic clip that attaches to my Xbox controller and holds my phone in place directly above it. I've played that way for hours. This feature works through the Xbox app for Android and iOS, and it's available on the Xbox One, not just the new Xbox consoles.
Microsoft has refined the design of the Xbox controller. The new version includes welcome changes and still feels familiar. The left and right buttons and triggers now sport a matte finish that I prefer to the old glossy buttons, and they now have tiny tactile bumps. When the playing gets intense, it's helpful to have the extra friction. Your fingers are less likely to accidentally slip and cause a wrong move.
A new share button for capturing screenshots sits in the middle of the controller. The D-pad is now a full circle instead of a plus sign, making it easier to move diagonally. Pushing down on the D-pad feels a little more precise and makes a more high-pitched clicking sound. And the port on the front of the controller now connects over the reversible USB-C instead of the older micro-USB.
Altogether, I like Xbox's new gaming hardware. The Series X isn't a huge advancement from the One X, but for more serious gamers the performance gains will probably be worth it. If you have an older Xbox One or an Xbox 360, it may make sense to upgrade to the Series X. You could opt for the $300 Series S, but it has no disk drive, and the performance won't be as impressive.