How To Buy The Right Xbox This Year

Published: Wednesday, September 9, 2020 - 11:00 | By: Rhiannon Bevan
With 7 Models, How Do You Decide?

With the release of the Xbox Series X this holiday season, another two consoles are joining the already crowded Xbox family. While the Series X is a next-generation console, games are still being released for both versions. So if someone asks for "an Xbox" this year, which one are you supposed to get them?

Here's your definitive guide to all of the Xbox models that are on the market right now, what sets them apart, and which sort of gamer they're aimed at. We'll be starting from the most powerful and up-to-date models, and counting down from there. 

 
 

The Ninth Generation

Consoles are released in "generations." The Xbox 360 was part of the seventh generation of consoles, whereas the Xbox One was in the eighth, and now the Series X will be part of the ninth. 

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. The important note here is that there's a lot of difference between consoles in different generations. For example, the Xbox One is less powerful than the upcoming Series X, but is likely to be cheaper.

While highly anticipated titles such as Cyberpunk 2077 and Assassin's Creed Valhalla are also getting Xbox One releases, the Series X will be the best way to play them. 

And that's not to even get into the games that won't see a Xbox One release. Microsoft have said that they aim to get titles over the next "couple of years" to both generation of Xbox, but if the past is anything to go by, it's unlikely to last much longer than that. 

As of right now, two models of the Series X have been revealed, so here's how to decide which one is the best for you. 

Xbox Series X (2020)

The Xbox Series X

The standard. If you or whoever you're buying for loves to stays up to date with games, plays for hours on end, and can't wait to play the latest titles, this may be the option for you.

While a next-gen leap sounds scary, it needn't be. Backwards compatibility is a key feature of the Series X, with Microsoft claiming that they intend to make all Xbox One titles playable on the new console. So if you missed the Xbox One entirely, this isn't a bad deal—you're likely to get access to any of the big Xbox One games you weren't able to play, and you get the Series X exclusives when they eventually abandon the Xbox One. 

 

As good as the One X is, this looks set to knock it out the water on the hardware front. It will run games up to 120 frames per second (FPS) and has a feature called "quick resume," where you can "almost instantly" start a game from where you left off.  Further separating itself from the last gen, it will also use ray tracing, a new graphics technology that vastly improves the visuals of a game, giving it a cinema-quality finish.

The drawback could be the price. The Windows Central article that leaked the now confirmed Xbox Series S console (more on that below) also revealed a price of $499 for the Series X. But while it is the most expensive one on the list, it can also be bought using the All Access payment plan. This involves making payments of $35 month for two years, which not only pays off the console, but also gives you access to Xbox Live (needed to play online), and Game Pass, Microsoft's "Netflix for games."

You can learn more about the Series X here.

Pros

 
  • The start of the next generation—years upon years of games in the pipeline
  • The best specs of any console on this list
  • Supports last-gen controllers and games

Cons

  • Judging from the past, it is likely to be usurped by a more powerful version eventually
  • the most expensive model on the list
  • An unknown; the public hasn't been able to try it out yet

Xbox Series S

The announcement image of the Xbox Series S

The latest model to be announced. This is the cheaper and less powerful sibling of the Series X, but if it contains all you need, you could stand to make a massive saving by opting for the Series S. 

The first noticeable difference between the two is the lack of disk drive. This means that you will have to buy all your games digitally, or alternatively, subscribe to the Xbox streaming service, Game Pass. To make up for this, the launch price is set to be $299, incidentally, the same price as the Xbox 360 Core all the way back in 2005.

Like the Series X, it can be bought through the All Access plan, but for a reduced $25 a month over two years.

However, it doesn't come without its own drawbacks. As well as the general downsides associated with digital-only gaming (no second-hand game access, no borrowing games, and so on), there's also the fact that the recent leak suggests it will be graphically inferior to the Series X.

Pros

  • A very affordable bit of kit
  • 60% the size of the Series X, saving you some living room space
  • Entire games library always ready to play, no switching disks

Cons

  • You have to buy all your games from one source
  • You can't buy secondhand copies of games
  • You can't borrow a game from a friend
  • Poorer graphics than the Series X

The Eighth Generation

The next generation of gaming is always exciting, but do you really need to fork out for an Xbox Series model? Ever since releasing in 2013, the Xbox One has spawned four different versions of the console, all for a different sort of gamer. 

it all depends on what games you're wanting to play. While Xbox One games will work on the Series X too, if that is all they want to play, you may be able to save yourself some money by getting a console from this section.

Here's your guide to the eighth generation of Xbox, and how to figure out what one is best for you.

Xbox One X (2017)

Xbox One X

The best of the best in the Xbox One family—specs wise at least. If you play enough to benefit from a console this powerful, it's likely that you already have this. But maybe you or a friend were team PlayStation this generation and now want to see if the grass was greener on the other side. 

This Xbox can play both games and television in 4K, so it triumphs in that regard, which is worth noting if you're planning on spending hours playing games on it.

However, this is a lot of money to spend on a console that doesn't have any more exclusives coming to it. While you have access to the long list of Xbox One games in glorious 4K, you don't have much more bang for you buck on the horizon. Any new Xbox One titles will also get releases on the Xbox Series X. Microsoft have said the One consoles will be supported with games for another few years, but after that, it's unlikely. Not only that, but the Series X will be able to play Xbox One games, so if you're spending a lot of money anyway, this model may not be worth it.

This is really a matter of budget, as the Xbox One X is likely to be cheaper than the Series X, especially secondhand. So if you're serious about playing some Xbox exclusives and want to save a bit of cash, this will keep you going for the next couple of years. 

Pros

  • Can play games in native 4K resolution 
  • Plenty of bundle deals available, even for upcoming games like Cyberpunk 2077
  • Perfect for someone who has a long list of Xbox One games to get through

Cons

  • The most expensive of the Xbox One bunch
  • A lot of money for a console that may not have long left

Xbox One S (2016)

The Xbox One S

Smaller and sleeker; the first of the Xbox upgrades builds upon the original Xbox One, in both the gaming and non-gaming departments. Being slap bang in the middle of the Xbox One releases, if someone has simply asked you for one without specifying a model, this is the safest bet.

The main selling point here is 4K playback, which means you can watch streaming services in better-than-HD, if you have the TV for it. And while it can't natively play games in 4K, it can upscale them to this resolution. Put simply, it won't look as smooth as the Xbox One X (which does have native 4K support), but it will look much better than the original Xbox One. 

Further still, having been on the market for four years, the price tag isn't a dramatic leap from the original, as it goes for $299 new, and around $200 preowned. So for a better performance, this is a worthy investment if it's in your budget. Many stores are still pushing this model, so it can occasionally be found bundled with titles such as  Assassin's Creed Odyssey and Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.

Pros

  • Able watch TV shows in 4K
  • Able to play games in HDR
  • Still available brand new in stores
  • Best of both worlds in the Xbox One family

Cons 

  • Doesn't look as a good as the Xbox One X
  • Can't play games in 4K

Xbox One S All-Digital

Xbox One S All-Digital

The same as the Xbox One S, but without the disk drive. This is one to be careful of, as if you get this, you'll have to buy all of the games on the digital storefront, which excludes you from picking up secondhand copies in store. The main appeal here is that it can be picked up new for $249, so if the cheaper price of the console is enough to tide you over, great! 

And while digital-only gaming can seen as a bit restrictive, it comes with its own conveniences. For starters, your entire library is always at your disposal—no need to change disks. Further still, there's no risk of damaging or losing a game and having to fork out for another copy. 

However, if you are buying for someone else, I can only recommend you go for this if it is specifically what they request. Digital gaming certainly isn't for everyone, and they may already have a load of physical games bought that they want to get through.  

Pros

  • Same great specs as the other One S
  • A low price that is close to the original
  • Entire game library is always ready to play

Cons

  • You have to buy all your games from one source
  • You can't buy secondhand copies of games
  • You can't borrow a game from a friend

Xbox One (2013)

Xbox One

The basic, original Xbox One model that was released in 2013. While it may be approaching its eighth birthday, it can still play any Xbox One game released even this year—it just might not look the best, or run as smoothly.

While it is largely overshadowed by later models, it is often the cheapest of the bunch if you don't mind shopping around the preowned market. On sites such as eBay, it can be found anywhere between $130 to $250, and often with some games thrown in. This model is now discontinued, so it cannot be found brand new. 

If you're buying for a casual gamer who just wants to play some Call of Duty now and then, this is a good pick. It can also play games and television (through services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime) in HD, but doesn't support 4K or HDR, which is another thing to consider. 

Pros

  • Gets the job done
  • Often the cheapest
  • Easy to find secondhand

Cons

  • Under-powered compared to newer models
  • Cannot be found new
  • Doesn't support 4K resolution

And that's everything you need to know about the Xbox family this year! The different letters and names can look confusing at first, but when you take a look at the consoles themselves, you should be able to find the perfect model for you.


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Rhiannon Bevan
Staff Writer

Rhiannon is a British journalist and University of Essex alumni. Loving all things gaming, she spends most of her time writing, and replaying Fallout: New Vegas for the billionth time. You may also hear her drone on about video games on BBC Radio and TV stations.