Xbox One X review

It makes every game better. What more can you ask of the Xbox One X?

The beastly Xbox One X is the best way to play console games.
The beastly Xbox One X is the best way to play console games.
The beastly Xbox One X is the best way to play console games.

Highs

  • Improves performance for all games
  • Xbox One X Enhanced games look and run amazing
  • 4K UHD Blu-Ray player
  • Sleek design
  • Very easy to use

Lows

  • 4K recording options are limited
  • Timeliness of Xbox One Enhanced patches is unclear
  • Performance improvements can be unpredictable in non-Enhanced games

When Microsoft unveiled the Xbox One X, an upgraded version of the Xbox One with an intimidating $500 price tag, it claimed the new hardware would be “the most powerful console ever made.” Five months later, with the console in hand, we can confirm that the Xbox One X makes good on that promise. Yet power doesn’t always translate to improvements. Both loyal Xbox fans and potential PS4-owning converts are itching to know – does the new Xbox truly improve games new and old?

Short answer? It does.

Every game we played, whether it had received an “Xbox One X Enhanced” patch or not, delivered a noticeable performance boost over the Xbox One and Xbox One S. It does this regardless of your setup — though the gain is most noticeable if you have a 4K HDR10 TV.

While games look and run better, though, the differences are not so great that you can’t live without them. Like its PlayStation counterpart, the PS4 Pro, its caters to gamers who simply can’t tolerate a second-best experience. Still, the Xbox One X is now the best console for most multi-platform games.

Inside the black box

The Xbox One X is a refinement of the Xbox One design. It is, as Microsoft has pointed out many times, 40 percent smaller than the original Xbox One. It’s roughly the same size as the Xbox One S, albeit a bit denser at 8.4 pounds. Don’t let the “40 percent smaller” figure fool you, though. Sony’s PlayStation 4 Pro is about the same size, and the PS4 Slim is smaller still.

We prefer the matte black finish of the Xbox One X to the white Xbox One S, which tends to show more wear over time. We also prefer its fan placement. The sides of the device are covered with small, subtle air holes, as opposed to the One S, which had numerous large fan holes over half of its casing. That should make the Xbox One X easier to stack with other devices without restricting airflow.

Les Shu/Digital Trends

You’re not going to buy the Xbox One X because of how it looks, though. As you may have read already, the Xbox One X has the most impressive console hardware to date. It features an 8-core 2.3 GHz x86 CPU, a custom AMD GPU that can crank out 6 teraflops, and 12 GB of DDR5 RAM. Even compared to the PS4 Pro, that’s a lot of graphics processing power. The Pro, which is far more powerful than the standard PS4, has a GPU that computes 4.2 TFLOPS and “just” 8GB of RAM.

The only disappointing hardware in the Xbox One X is its terabyte hard disk drive. Having double the space of the standard Xbox One model is an improvement, but it’s still not enough storage for anyone buys games online frequently. Even if you’re just downloading the Xbox Live “Games with Gold” the publisher provides every month, most players will fill that hard drive up in no time. Worse, 4K assets and uncompressed audio files can inflate the file sizes of games — we’ve recently seen some PC games breaking the 100GB mark — so it’s fair to say that a few big games will eat up that drive space pretty quick.

Still a solid home theater device

The One X keeps all the ports from the Xbox One S, and for players who prefer to buy games at the store, it has a 4K UHD Blu-Ray player. The console has HDMI in and out, in case you want to filter your TV service through the Xbox and use Cortana to change channels instead of your remote. This feature works exactly as it does on the One S – and we still prefer a remote. You’ll also find three USB 3.0 ports — two in back, one in front — which may come in handy if you want to take advantage of the console’s recently added mouse and keyboard support or connect an external hard drive to store more games. Lastly, there are IR-out and S/PDIF ports for advanced surround sound setups and, of course, a good ol’ fashioned Ethernet port.

Every game runs at least a little better on an Xbox One X.

Many of the features above don’t contribute directly to games, but they can be useful for your home theater setup. We liked how the Xbox One S could serve as a 4K UHD Blu-Ray player, game console, and TV streaming box all at once. The Xbox One X can do the same. 4K Blu-Ray and HDMI pass-through are features you won’t find on any PS4.

The console also supports advanced surround sound options, such as Dolby Atmos. Atmos, which bounces sound off the walls and ceiling to make simulate the effect of sound travelling, can be spectacular, but an Atmos surround sound system is extremely expensive. There are headphones, including gaming headsets, which simulate the experience, but they are rare.

Like the Xbox One S, the One X does not have a dedicated Kinect port. Players upgrading from an original Xbox One can still use it, but you must buy a Kinect-USB connector. It’s a small, but noticeable inconvenience for upgrading Xbox One players. Microsoft recently ended production of the Kinect, so the port’s absence isn’t surprising.

Xbox One Enhances, but some games more than others

What does all the power do to make your video games better?

First thing’s first; the games that show the most improvement are those where developers put in extra time and optimized for the hardware. These games, which Microsoft brands as Xbox One Enhanced, show off the console’s maximum potential. Primarily, that means running at 4K resolution in high-dynamic range without any toll on the game’s framerate. All the Xbox One Enhanced Games we played showed large improvements in visual fidelity, and a smoother framerate. At a time when it feels like bugs and performance issues are dragging games down, seeing games run better than before is gratifying.

Xbox One X review both
Les Shu/Digital Trends
Les Shu/Digital Trends

Microsoft has announced over 100 current and upcoming games that have, or will have, Xbox One X Enhanced patches. While we have a handy list of Enhanced games that are already out, Microsoft allows you to filter your games list to just show your Xbox One X Enhanced games. It may not help you decide what to play, but it’s a nice touch, especially for new owners who want to put the console through its paces.

While playing Gears of War 4, one of a few games we had access to that received an Xbox One Enhanced patch ahead of the console’s launch, we found that the game looked considerably sharper on the One X, even compared to the 4K upscaling of the Xbox One S. We found that non-essential details in the environment, including brick walls and trees, retained their sharpness even when we weren’t near them. JD Fenix’s face, which normally features tremendous detail in cutscenes and when seen up close, retained its definition in combat sequences, where the game’s camera pulled further away.

The new console’s increased fidelity can change how you experience games in unexpected ways.

Super Lucky’s Tale, an Xbox One console exclusive adaptation of the Oculus Rift’s 3D platformer that launches alongside the One X, does not feature a high level of detail, but simply runs sharp with an incredibly high and smooth framerate. It runs the way all games should run, without any hitching, stuttering, or quirks. To be fair, part of this is simply that the game is well-made. Is isn’t as if there were substantial issues on other Xbox One models — rather, the One X maximizes the game’s colorful, cartoon aesthetic.

The new console’s increased fidelity can change how you experience games in unexpected ways. In one section of Gears 4, we looked up at the moonlit sky and noticed that not only was the moon brighter and more detailed than it was on the Xbox One S, but we could see wisps of light and energy around it. The Gears of War franchise takes place on a fictional, Earth-like planet called Sera. When we played the game for the first time, we paid no attention to that fact — but with the increased fidelity of the Xbox One X, the game felt more like a fully realized world.

X gonna’ give it to ‘ya

Every game runs at least a little better on an Xbox One X. Even games that weren’t Xbox One X optimized, running at 1080p on a non-UHD monitor, ran a little better on the One X than the One S. You might think that’s obvious, but it’s far from a given. Even with its general “boost” mode, which was added months after launch, the benefit of the PS4 Pro is largely relegated to games optimized for the platform, and often those benefits are most visible only on a 4K screen. The Xbox One X does what most players expect from a more powerful device. It automatically uses that power to run games better.

Xbox One X review controller hand
Les Shu/Digital Trends
Les Shu/Digital Trends

There’s a catch, though. The way a games’ performance improved, especially when playing on a 1080p TV, varies from title to title. For example, DOOM featured slightly improved visuals, and featured almost imperceptibly shorter load times. Yet even on a monitor without HDR, the colors and lighting in Destiny 2 showed brighter, highlighting details on my ship more clearly. Destiny 2 also featured a smoother framerate on a 4K TV, compared to the 4K-upscaled visuals of the Xbox One S. Most games we tried featured one or two of the following – sharper visuals, an improved framerate, or slightly improved load times.

Would you rather buy the console with the greatest games, or the console that helps great games play their best?

Simplicity is both a blessing and a curse. If you have a 4K HDR10 TV with a 60Hz refresh rate, the console will automatically detect and adjust your settings. On a system level, though, there are no options to adjust or optimize how the console uses its extra power. Especially for non-4K players, the ability to choose between improving fidelity, smoothing out a framerate, or minimizing load times, would be extremely helpful.

Since the PS4 Pro launched in 2016, some games have added additional options like these. None of the 10+ games we played on the console showed such options, though not all of them had received “Xbox One X Enhanced” patches, which would presumably add those features.

This brings us to another contentious issue: As of November 2, 2017, a large number of previously released games that are expected to receive Xbox One X Enhanced patches, including Middle Earth: Shadow of War, Assassin’s Creed Origins, and Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, have not received them yet. Some publishers have confirmed to Digital Trends that their patches will launch shortly before or on launch day, but there has been no overall guarantee these games will fully support the Xbox One X when they hit stores. This potentially adds another layer of research for players to do before picking up a game, especially if they have a PS4 Pro and an Xbox One X.

4K video capture is possible, not easy to share

In addition to playing games, the Xbox One X allows you to capture screenshots and record 30-second video clips in 4K. While it’s a nice touch, the functionality feels extremely limited. Video clips taken in 4K show up at a lower resolution when you post them to Xbox Live. You can set your screenshots and videos to record directly to an external hard drive, but the drive must be NTFS formatted, which means you cannot store your clips and videos on the same external that you’d use to store additional Xbox One games.

In other words, recording gameplay in 4K is primarily a feature for tech-saavy owners who are willing to take the extra steps necessary to get their high-resolution gameplay online.

Our Take

The Xbox One X is the best console for playing popular multi-platform games. While the $500 price is hard to accept, the hardware is impressive enough to make it feel like money well spent.

However, when we look at the gamers most likely to buy it — players who already own a game console — it becomes a tougher sell. There are no Xbox One X exclusive games, and the console’s greatest strength is connected to an expensive peripheral – a 4K television.

While we can absolutely recommend the Xbox One X over the $400 PS4 Pro on a hardware level, the PlayStation 4 platform offers a much larger number of exclusives, including some of our favorite games of the year. By contrast, Microsoft’s first-party software output seems to have declined in recent years.

Ultimately, the Xbox One X presents an interesting wrinkle for serious gamers. Would you rather buy the console with the greatest games, or the console that helps great games play their best? It’s a choice that console gamers have never had to make.

Is there a better alternative?

No. All things being equal, Xbox One X provides the best technical experience of any game console. If you’re willing to invest in a high-end gaming PC, that has its advantages, but it’s also more complicated.

How long will it last?

The original Xbox One remains relevant even after the Xbox One X is introduced. If Microsoft continues the same strategy, this console should still play new games after its successor arrives. Whether Microsoft does choose to continue its course is anybody’s guess, however.

What we do know is this – the Xbox One X is the newest, most powerful game console, and that means it’s the likely more future-proof. Even the PS4 Pro is now a year old.

Should you buy it?

Yes. The Xbox One X is expensive, but its price is justified by incredible performance and a broad set of features. It gives console gamers an undeniable reason to add an Xbox One to their collection.

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