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No going back to Xbox One and PlayStation 4

I have Xbox Series X impressions after playing with the console for a week, and now I don’t think I can return to the PS4 or Xbox One.

I’ve had an Xbox Series X for almost a week now. This is a preview version of the console with a lot of unfinished elements, but Microsoft gave me permission to talk about some aspects of the way the console works. For now, I can mostly focus on how the next-gen console handles backward-compatible games, Quick Resume, and the general flow of its user experience. And that’s exactly what I’m going to do here.

The Xbox Series X is, of course, more powerful than its predecessors in terms of graphical prowess. I’ll get into the details of this when we look at performance in games like Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. But my overall takeaway is that Xbox Series X should instantly improve the quality of many of the games in your library. However, many games that have locked framerates or resolutions likely won’t see much of an improvement to traditional rendering. They will, however, see improvements like the machine-created HDR.

But the improvements of the Xbox Series X go beyond the rendering capabilities of the AMD CPU and GPU. The next-gen, PCIe 4.0 NVME SSD is absolutely the star of the show in these early tests. Loading games from your library is faster. Loading your save file is faster. Booting up the console up in an instant. Navigating the interface is blisteringly speedy.

This is simply a better console to use than anything we’ve had since 2013. And anyone who plays on a console every day probably won’t regret that $500 preorder.

Let’s go ahead break this down starting with a quick look at the industrial design of the Xbox Series X and the new Xbox controller.

The design of the Xbox Series X

The Xbox Series X is handsome, and I mean that in a modern sense. You know how a lot of Hollywood actors are all kind of handsome in the same way to the point that they all sort of blend in with one another, the Series X has that going on.

Sure, when you first get it out of the box and set it out in front of you, it looks strange and different due to its tall, bulky construction. But that faded away when I couldn’t fit it into the shelving unit that we use to house our electronics. To be fair to the Xbox, the PS4 and Xbox One X don’t fit in that either. I should get something new.

But once you do get the Xbox Series X set up, it’s mostly going to blend in with everything else in your home. I have it sitting on my desk right now, and I almost forget that it is sitting right beside me until I specifically look for it.

And then, like those Hollywood actors, if you look up close, you’ll notice that it is quite attractive. The plastic cases looks sturdy and monolithic. And the concave vent on the top, with its green accent, acts like a tiny surprise for anyone who does give the device a close inspection.

My biggest impression so far is that the thing looks like it is worth $500 from the outside. I do worry about fingerprints, but I honestly don’t notice them under my normal home lighting.

What about putting it on its side?

The Xbox Series X definitely wants to stand upright. Its design screams at you to set it in that orientation. But it also works fine on its side. It definitely looks absurdly “tall,” and it blends in slightly less well because of that.

But you won’t have any problems as long as you leave some room for the vent to exhaust heat.

The new Xbox controller

The new Xbox controller is basically the old Xbox controller. At least that’s the case for the overall form factor. You will find a new share button, that I really like. It’s easy to reach and is a different shape than the surrounding menu buttons. That makes it easier to find when you’re trying to get a clip in a hurry.

But you’re not supposed to look at a controller. It’s all about how it feels, and this is Microsoft’s best-feeling gamepad ever, outside the Elite controllers. This is for multiple reasons, such as high-quality materials that have a really nice grip. The button action feels more bubbly and responsive than ever. The sticks are smooth, and the shoulder bumpers require only the slightest effort to activate.

But the biggest improvement is to the heft. I don’t think this controller is that much heavier than the most recent Xbox controller revision. The difference is in the weight distribution. Microsoft put all of the mass into the grips of the controller, and it feels wonderful.

This new gamepad forces itself into your grip like it has its own gravitational pull. And it’s this kind of refinement that makes me happy that Microsoft isn’t throwing out a design that already works so well.

Loading times

One of the biggest promises of the Xbox Series X is the speed of its SSD, and that is something that developers will take advantage of eventually. But in the meantime, it is a very noticeable upgrade when launching and loading backward-compatible games.

I tested load times in games like Assassin’s Creed: Origins, Final Fantasy XV, and No Man’s Sky. I did some comparisons versus the internal storage on an Xbox One X, but I also tried external storage on the Series X. And what I found is that the SSD and the Series X’s Velocity architecture is always going to save you time.

Loading Final Fantasy XV on the Xbox Series X took around 13 seconds. On the internal storage of the Xbox One X, that same loading sequence required longer than a minute. And this is a game that was not built with the Xbox Series X in mind. This is the result of the improvement to raw data throughput and not anything that is hooking into Velocity.

Other games have similar results. My No Man’s Sky save loaded in nearly 30 seconds on the Xbox Series X. On the One X, it loaded in 1 minute and 19 seconds.

Xbox Series X is faster to startup and navigate

The Xbox Series X isn’t just great once you’re in game or ready to start something up. Its overall user experience zips around so fast that I’ve never found myself waiting around for it. This is an unfinished interface, so I’m not supposed to dwell on any of the specific elements. But I can speak to what it’s like to use generally. And I think my favorite example of this is the test I did for Quick Resume.

This is the Xbox feature that enables you to pick up a game from where you left off for up to four different games at a time. In my test, I went from an Xbox waiting in standby mode. I powered it on and then jumped into Grand Theft Auto 4, Sekiro, No Man’s Sky, and Final Fantasy XV in under 90 seconds.

In another…

Jeff Grubb

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