Chances are if you're an Xbox One owner, when the Xbox One X came around, you kinda fell into one of two stables. Either you already invested time and money into your current console and need a good reason to change, or you absolutely fell in love with it at first sight and had to have one this year. But there are plenty of people who are sitting in the middle and would like to buy one, but they need to know if it's worth the cash. The Xbox crew sent us our own version to test out and push to the limits in time for the holidays, so those of you who are last minute holiday shoppers trying to figure out whether to get it or not, here's our thoughts on the Xbox One X.
First, let's look at the design. While the casing itself may not look as sleek and polished as the regular system, they have slimmed it down a little and given it more of an on-the-go feeling. This feels more like something I could easily disconnect and take to a friend's house compared to the previous model that still felt as bulky as the Xbox 360 did. There's still quite a bit of weight to it, and when compared, it is heavier than a PS4. That said, the front design has been cleaned up and the disc lip isn't as pronounced as before.
The back of the unit has your standard array of interfaces, which includes an HDMI in and out, two USB ports, Ethernet port, fiber optic, audio out, and the power cord. The USB's work great for hooking up extra storage devices or importing media to your console, not many issues detecting anything connected. The fiber optic works wonders for headsets I own that utilize that function, though I have yet to test it out on an audio system. The most intriguing factor is the HDMI in, which is primarily here in case you want to use your Xbox as the main source of media and want to hook a cable or antenna box up. I played around with it and hooked up a couple different retro consoles, as well as my PS4 and Nintendo Switch. For the older devices, it works wonders! For the newer ones, it works, but not as great as you may think. You're basically sending an HD game signal through a second HD game signal, which is like putting static on top of static; it still sounds like static only not as clear. Best to keep modern consoles apart, but definitely great for retro units.
The controller itself is a smoother and much more balanced version of the 360 model, with a little more bulk to the handgrips. If you're a current Xbox One owner, you're not going to notice much of a difference as they're relatively identical. There are two downsides to the controller that comes with the console: the first is that it's still running off of AA batteries and they didn't go the route Sony did by including a chargeable controller with the unit itself. A controller this size should have come with a charging pack built in. The second is the inconsistency with audio when it comes to headsets. I've got a few different headsets in my house from different companies, all using a standard 3.5mm jack that works with the controller. Depending on the maker, you either get the best sound you've ever heard from a console, or what I can best describe as "repressed sound", where it only goes up to a certain level and then caps inside the headphones. It's an odd experience that made me take a double look at what I was going to use with my system moving forward.
Game wise, you can't really complain as you can play whatever the Xbox One already played. As you can see from a couple shots below, I took some time to play Killer Instinct and Madden 18 on my brand new 55" Roku TV that comes with 4K and HDR capabilities. Everything the Xbox played was crystal clear with no moments of lag or degradation. Individual games may have had an issue or two while playing, depending on the publisher, but you can't really hang those hiccups on the Xbox itself. I particularly enjoyed the fact that all of my Xbox 360 achievements transferred over with my profile when I logged in, but I sadly only have three games in my library that are backward compatible, so I'm still a little stuck waiting for some of my favorites to be ported.
During gameplay, I was particularly enthralled with how the game allowed for easy access to do various things. While playing Madden, it would save my highlights for me if I wanted to load them up to social media. It would alert me to achievements and pause the game for me to look up what I did. I would receive messages and could reply to them instantly without having to back out of what I was doing. I could join games and allow others to join mine almost seamlessly. It's as if Microsoft and the Xbox team learned their lessons from the Xbox One and took a hammer to all the rough spots. Now that's not to say everything about the Xbox interactive experience is flawless, I could honestly do without every highlight being recorded, and it would help if there was a modified version of the alert system for friends so that there was an option between getting a massive alert or nothing at all. But for what it's worth, this is probably the best version possible at the moment before they add in updates.
Beyond gaming, I was a little intrigued with what the Xbox One X had to offer as far as entertainment options. It was interesting to see that it was ready to scan whatever device was loaded into the HDMI In port for antenna or cable channels, which is a major convenience for anyone operating without a Smart TV. But there were also baffling parts to the setup that didn't make much sense. Netflix was ready to go the minute I turned on the system, but nothing for Hulu or Amazon Prime was pre-loaded. The console boasts having Blu-ray capabilities, but then I had to download a Blu-ray player software to actually play movies. It's a weird mix of "we're ready for what you got" and "oh, you want to do that?"
As far as the 4K and HDR properties go, this is about as good as it gets when it comes to the picture and sound. The photo above and below are shots of Planet Earth II, which came with the console to show off the awesome picture it had to offer. It looked spectacular and I had little to complain about when it came to playing other forms of media. I took my old Simpsons DVDs for a spin, along with a few different films and TV shows on regular DVD and standard Blu-ray, all of which looked fantastic to watch. Streaming media apps on the console also worked wonders as it was nice to see episodes of Futurama look amazing and play with ease. The one thing I do wish they had included in this whole system was a remote control. I'm tired of just having a controller come with consoles and a remote sold separately. If you're going to make it a media player, give me a media controller as well.
Overall, I was pleased with the Xbox One X. I had no major issues with the console or any of the games I was sent to test it out with. All of the issues I pointed out in the review, while poignant, were also things I could overlook in the long haul. If you're still rocking a 360 and you're hesitant about doing an upgrade, this is the one you should upgrade to. Yeah, much of your library won't be playable for a while, but there are new games to look forward to while they work on it. As to the Xbox One owners who are on the fence, it really all comes down to preference over one key element: do you need games in 4K? If you have a 4K television and you don't think you're getting the most out of your current Xbox One, then yes, it's worth the upgrade. If you don't and you don't see yourself buying one anytime soon, you can wait until it becomes a necessary option.