The Xbox Series X Delivers Dazzling Visuals—on the Right TV

Nothing seems to go right in 2020. A couple weeks ago, FedEx tried to deliver an Xbox Series X review unit to my house and couldn’t. After one failed delivery attempt, I was not about to miss it again, so on the day it was set for delivery I made myself a cup of coffee, grabbed my mask, and sat on the front steps of my building for a couple hours. It felt like I was waiting in line outside a Best Buy for the Xbox 360 way back in 2005—without all the antsy tweens.

That unfettered excitement and almost-painful impatience is so rare as an adult. I was surprised to feel it so strongly while I was pacing outside perking up at the sound of every passing bus and delivery truck. It was exciting. This is the first new Xbox console (actually new) to come out in about seven years. When the truck finally arrived, I whisked the package up to my apartment and tore into it with both hands.

Look and Feel

The Xbox Series X is one of two new Xboxes and it cuts an impressive figure. It looks like a subwoofer, or two Borg cubes stacked on top of each other. Compared to the unique design of the PlayStation 5, it’s a less adventurous look, and that’s by design. It resembles a small desktop computer, unobtrusive and almost invisible in an entertainment center. The whole thing is very grown-up and businesslike. This is the console you’d take home to show Mom—the decent guy with a stable-but-boring job in insurance. He wears button-ups with sweater vests, but he’s an attentive listener—and he has a hell of a game library.

xbox series x controller
Photograph: Microsoft
xbox controller front
Photograph: Microsoft

The Series X controller is also in that reliable-but-boring category. It’s essentially the old Xbox gamepad, just a little slimmer, with textured grips where your fingers rest and an all-new Share button. Otherwise, it’s largely the same Xbox controller we’ve used since the Xbox 360.

If you were to ask PS4 owners what their biggest gripe with the Xbox One was, they might point to the interface. This has always been an issue for the Xbox. The One X and its cousins (the One and One S) all had a clunky user interface that seems purposely difficult to navigate. Just moving between apps and games requires you to navigate a labyrinth of blocky menus.

Thankfully, the Series X has a more refined interface, with fewer menu interactions. It’s mostly the same, just streamlined with Game Pass and the Store easier to locate. It still has a bad habit of getting in your way when you’re just trying to find your YouTube app or a game you haven’t played in a couple weeks. And there are still lots of immovable sponsored ads. But it’s a step in the right direction—and you can create folders. So that’s something.

The Next Generation

It’s not like you’re going to skip this console because it’s shaped like a skyscraper, so let’s get into its processing power (see the specs here). Instead of just upping the horsepower with an aim toward increasing visual fidelity and detail, like we usually see every console generation, the emphasis is twofold. Right now, the Xbox Series X can run your games in full-on native 4K. This is different from previous generations, even the Xbox One X, where 4K support was compromised. Previously, you’d often have to choose between speed and beauty if you wanted to play in 4K: better graphical detail or higher frame rates. Now, you’ll get both.

microsoft series x cooling
Illustration: Microsoft