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The case for Xbox Series S: Why Microsoft's entry-level console is worth your money

Commentary: Paired with a GamePass subscription, it's the easiest way to jump into next-gen gaming.

John Falcone Senior Editorial Director, Shopping
John P. Falcone is the senior director of commerce content at CNET, where he coordinates coverage of the site's buying recommendations alongside the CNET Advice team (where he previously headed the consumer electronics reviews section). He's been a CNET editor since 2003.
Expertise Over 20 years experience in electronics and gadget reviews and analysis, and consumer shopping advice Credentials
  • Self-taught tinkerer, informal IT and gadget consultant to friends and family (with several self-built gaming PCs under his belt)
John Falcone
3 min read
Andrew Hoyle/CNET

We're almost nine months into the "next-generation" gaming cycle, and it's still nearly impossible to find a PS5 or an Xbox Series X, thanks to perpetually high demand and ongoing chip shortages holding back production. But here's the thing: The Xbox Series S, Microsoft's entry-level $300 (£250, AU$499) console, is actually not impossible to find these days. 

To be clear, I speak from experience: I pulled the trigger on a Series S late last year when I lucked into an availability window on Amazon. And I've been very satisfied ever since. Here's my TL;DR suggestion on why I think Xbox gamers might want to give the Series S a second look, rather than hold out for a Series X (or even a PS5) that may still be months away -- if not more.

It's the perfect Game Pass machine

"I love my Series S! It's a little GamePass machine." So said my colleague Ashley Esqueda when we were discussing the merits of the Series S in our internal gaming Slack channel. And she's right, of course. As a subscriber to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate -- basically, Microsoft's "Netflix for games" subscription program -- I now have access to dozens of new and classic games from EA, Microsoft and other publishers. Right now, I can try out Flight Simulator for one hour or a thousand hours. That title joins old favorites like Grand Theft Auto V, Psychonauts and Titanfall 2, as well as newer games like Jedi Fallen Order, Control and Outriders. And since I don't have a burning desire to own "event" titles like Madden or Call of Duty on the day and date of their release, I literally haven't bought a new game since. 

The specs are good enough

The performance of the Series S has been largely flawless since day 1, and the system's Quick Resume feature -- which lets you jump straight back into gameplay on up to three titles with nearly zero delay -- is great for my schedule, when I can grab gameplay in 20- or 30-minute snatches. And even if games like Doom Eternal are "only" playing at 1440p instead of true 4K resolution, they still look sumptuous on my 65-inch screen. And, so far at least, the Series S has been whisper quiet -- I have yet to hear the fan spinning up to a level that I can actually hear.

My biggest beef is that the Series S "only" has 512GB of storage, so I broke down and bought the Seagate Expansion Card. Yes, it was painful to pay over $200 for a glorified SD card, but I can always plug that extra terabyte into a Series X, if and when I decide to upgrade down the road. 

You can actually buy it

I could also say that the Xbox Series S is a solid 4K video streamer, but $29 Roku boxes or Fire Sticks have that handled. And the fact that it's barely larger than a couple of hardcover books is greatly appreciated versus the Buick-size footprint of, say, the PS5. But here's where the Series S closes the deal: You can actually buy it. While the PS5 and Series X remain in short supply, the Series S has been popping up in stock -- and staying available for more than five minutes at a time. As of this writing, it's available at Best Buy for its list price of $300 -- no need to pay extra for pricey bundles. Even if it disappears again, we expect it to pop up soon at other retailers for the same price. That's at least $200 less than a Series X to play all of the same games, and $200 less than a PS5 to play most of the same games (for now, anyway). 

A final note: If you don't have Game Pass, another option is to bundle the Series S with a fresh subscription directly through Microsoft's All Access program. Over the course of 24 months, you pay $25 per month to get the Game Pass subscription plus the hardware at 0% interest. After two years, you own the Xbox outright, and you've saved $60 on what you'd otherwise pay for both. (The Series X is also available at $35 per month, but only with a $20 net savings.)

Watch this: Xbox Series X and Series S Offer a Fine-Tuned, Streamlined Xbox Experience