Xbox Series X or Series S – which one should you buy?

Microsoft has finally revealed its next-gen machines, prices and release dates, but what’s the difference between the two? The National explains

Xbox Series X, left, and Xbox Series S. Courtesy Microsoft

Before we jump into the latest updates on Microsoft’s new consoles, let’s have a quick recap.

On June 9, 2019, Microsoft announced Project Scarlett, the code name for what we now know is Xbox Series X. This next-gen console, a successor to the popular Xbox One, would be “the most powerful console ever made” the company said, which is an extremely bold claim.

Since that announcement, Microsoft has provided a steady drip-feed of information regarding its new machine – a glimpse at the future line-up of launch titles here, and a glance at the hardware there. But crucially (and to the annoyance of gamers worldwide) Microsoft has been incredibly coy with a release date and price. Until recently.

If it wasn’t for the eagerness of a fan to break an embargo and post an image of an advert they’d uncovered on Reddit we might have still been waiting for Microsoft to tell us. As it is, the US tech giant was backed into a corner and has now officially revealed the Xbox Series X will launch on November 10 priced at $499 (Dh1,832).

And that's not all. Xbox Series S – a smaller, digital-only version of the bigger machine – will be released on the same day for $299.

Xbox Series X, left, and Xbox Series S. Courtesy Microsoft
Xbox Series X, left, and Xbox Series S. Courtesy Microsoft

This last bit of news came as a shock to the gaming industry. Microsoft had managed to keep its budget console a secret, which is no mean feat. However, no sooner had Xbox fans erupted in delight, they are now scratching their heads in confusion as to which one to buy. And quite frankly, the decision is still unclear. Here is why.

The key differences: price and graphics

In simple terms, the Xbox Series X is the all-singing, all-dancing console that Microsoft says will be its most powerful. It is a stern-looking black monolith that takes its design from traditional home PC towers, but can sit either upright or on its side so it can slide under your TV more easily. The Xbox Series S, meanwhile, is by console sizes, very small. It’s the most compact to head down the company’s production line. It comes in ice white with a huge black circular vent on the front that makes it look a lot like a wireless speaker.

Xbox Series S is, by console sizes, very small. It's the most compact console to ever head down the company's production line

The Series S does not have a disc drive, but you can download games on to the hard drive. You can also do this for the Series X, with the added bonus of being able to use Blu-ray disc games and movies. Costs aside, gamers have been wondering just why you would buy one over the other.

Well, it all comes down to graphics. Both versions come with the exact same processing power, but in terms of ultra-high-definition visuals, Xbox Series X has the edge. For those who love technical numbers, the Series X will pump out graphics in standard 4K at up to 120 frames per second, while the Series S is capable of 1,440p at up to 120fps. Put bluntly, if you want your new Xbox games to look their very best, then you are going to want an Xbox Series X. But this does not mean you should get it.

Microsoft has been incredibly clever about its pricing and builds. Its approach is similar to Apple's with its iPhone, whereby there is a top spec, more expensive model (Series X) for those who like their tech high-end and expensive. Then there is the wallet-friendly version (Series S) that, as you would expect, is not as powerful as its big brother, but still provides an upgrade in performance compared to the current generation of consoles.

In many ways, Xbox Series S is the bigger draw. The coronavirus pandemic has affected the world in many tragic ways, and has had an enormous impact on the economy. As a result, people are looking after their dirhams much more carefully and extravagant purchases are no longer a no brainer to the masses. At the more affordable $299, it opens the world of next-gen gaming to a wider audience. And if the only main difference between the two is a slight degradation of visual prowess, then it makes more financial sense to pick the Series S.

As we covered previously, Microsoft's key weapon against Sony's PlayStation 5 is the Xbox Games Pass. This monthly subscription service (Dh35) allows access to play 100s of games from the Xbox back catalogue. And you'll be able to do all of this on a console that won't break the bank. So although the Xbox Series X will technically deliver the highest standards with its superior power, the Xbox Series S currently represents the best value for money for next-gen gaming.

So Microsoft has laid down the gauntlet to its competitors with its new Xboxes. Sony – at the time of writing –is yet to announce a release date and price for its two varieties of PlayStation 5 and Nintendo still hasn't revealed its mooted Switch Pro. These new machines are expected to arrive in 2020 too.

For now, Microsoft is the benchmark, and it will be interesting to see how its rivals respond to its strategy.