Xbox One X review: Brave new world

Xbox Xbox One X
  • Xbox Xbox One X
  • Xbox Xbox One X
  • Expert Rating

    4.50 / 5

Pros

  • Games run gorgeously
  • Great as an entertainment hub

Cons

  • Need a 4K TV for it to be worth it
  • Games library is still a limitation

Bottom Line

The Xbox One X changes the conversation around console gaming - even if the selective software lineup remains a potential deal-breaker for platform-jumpers.

Would you buy this?

The Pitch

To understand the particular game that Microsoft are playing with the Xbox One X, you have to understand the paradigm shift that the platform holders of the console gaming world are currently undergoing. The shift from generational upgrades to iterative ones. Sure, at it’s most basic, the Xbox One X is a beefier version of the same home console experience offered by the Xbox One S and Xbox One.

As such, it suffers from a lot of the same problems - even if it does offer a lot of improvements along the way. However, looking at the bigger picture, it cements a trend that might end up being the biggest shake-up to hit household gaming since the arrival of online multiplayer. That might sound like hyperbole - but hear me out.

As well as being the first gaming console capable of both 4K gaming experiences and playing Ultra HD 4K Blu Rays, the Xbox One X is the games console that fully embraces the Apple-style yearly-refresh approach to tech. The PS4 Pro might have set this trend into motion, but the Xbox One sees it gain real momentum.

In console generations past, you’d only really want or need to buy one Xbox or Playstation each generation - either at launch or once the price comes down. Now, in this brave new world of iterative product design, Microsoft and Sony are doing away with that limitation. It’s not just about finding a new way to sell the same thing, but giving you a real, tangible reason to upgrade and keep upgrading every year or two in the same way that you do with your phone.

Specs

The Xbox One X is a home gaming console that boasts eight custom CPU cores clocked at 2.3GHz, 12GB GDDR5 memory, a 1TB HDD plus a 4K UHD Blu-ray disc drive. It’ll run any Xbox One game available and offer a better “Xbox One X Enhanced” experience on select titles. Portwise, it’s got one HDMI output, one HDMI input (designed to integrate with cable TV), a pair of USB ports, IR Out and an Ethernet jack.

Design

The Xbox One X makes for a striking contrast to the bulky original Xbox One. It’s all straight edges where its predecessor was more rounded and angular. On most fronts, it sits far closer to the One S than the original Xbox One. Although, for better or worse, it’s only available in black and scales back on the vaunted and vented aesthetics.

All told, it’s weighty but noticeably more compact. Regardless, it’s slim, featureless and matte-black enough that it’ll probably be right at home on your TV unit and play nice with anything it's sharing the space with.

Blissfully, the power system is entirely integrated within the Xbox One X. This means there’s no big brick you have to find a space for, further minimizing the overall footprint of the unit. However, it does also result in the Xbox One X blasting out a hell of a lot of heat - especially during 4K gaming.

In terms of the interface - well, it’s more-or-less the usual story with these things. If you’ve previously used an Xbox One or Xbox One S for your home entertainment and gaming experiences, you’ll be right at home. If you’re a newcomer, it will almost definitely take some getting used to.

The tile-like layout definitely echoes Windows 10 and while it feels like there’s a bit of bloat here (my kingdom for the ability to slice the Mixer and Community tabs off the navbar) , there’s just enough customization to allow you to make it your own and approachability to let you get by without doing so.  While it definitely has strengths and weaknesses, the Xbox interface is really good at making it easy to both jump right into games and navigate between my different streaming services.

I reviewed the Xbox One X alongside both the new Telstra TV and Foxtel’s Now streaming box and - if I had to pick - I’d probably lean towards the Xbox One X UI as far as unifying my home entertainment experience goes. Even if it has some wrinkles, they’re wrinkles I’m happy to live with.

Performance

In terms of performance, there’s a short and long version of the story.

The former is that, yes, the Xbox One X absolutely runs games better than its predecessors do. On a specs-level, it easily races past the marks set by both the Playstation 4 and Playstation 4 Pro.

The longer version: this is the most PC-like experience a home console has offered in some time. The Xbox One X sometimes opens up new graphical settings on games that offer compatibility and you can sometimes even set games to either run with performance or fidelity in mind.

Even if not every game supports ‘Enhanced’ graphical options, it felt like we got much better load-times across the board. If the game in question did support things like 4K and HDR, those settings tended to kick in automatically - allowing colors to carry through with vivid variety while the extra pixels let environments carry significantly more detail.

Games like Forza 7 Motorsport,Star Wars Battlefront II and Assassins Creed Origins looked incredible running on the Xbox One X and, at least to the eye, very comparable to the experience what you might get out of a high-end PC running those games. Of course, all these benefits are entirely predicated on the fact that you need to own a 4K TV and make sure you’ve gone and configured the settings correctly in order to actually get them - since the Xbox One X’s automatic 4K detection isn’t exactly consistent.

Unfortunately, there is one big con (aside from the high-end price) - game downloads for the Xbox One X are doggedly enormous. A few indies aside, the games we used to test the unit usually fell between 50GB and 100GB. This meant that it sometimes took literal days for games to download and that I’ve quickly hit a point where I’ve almost used up all the space on the console’s 1TB hard drive.

The Bottom Line

At $650, the Xbox One X is far and away the most expensive home games console you can buy right now. However, that price-tag has to be considered in context.

Thinking about buying a streaming box to unify your Netflix, Stan and Amazon Prime experiences? That’s a potential subsidization on the cost of an Xbox One X. In fact, these days, a half-decent 4K Blu Ray player might cost you almost half of the Xbox One X's asking price. Why not pay that little bit extra and walk away with the powerful home console you can buy?

Still, whether or not the Xbox One X is worth the upgrade right now absolutely comes down to where you sit when it comes to 4K TVs. If you already own one and no games console or 4K Blu-Ray player: it’s a no-brainer. However, if you haven't yet made (or can’t afford to make) the jump to 4K: then this just won’t make sense as a purchase. At least, not yet.

The Xbox One X changes the conversation around console gaming - even if the selective software lineup remains as a potential deal-breaker for platform-jumpers.

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