Microsoft's disc-free Xbox One S: What's the point?

Commentary: It's still big and it's still not that cheap. What's the advantage for you?

Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
Expertise VR and AR | Gaming | Metaverse technologies | Wearable tech | Tablets Credentials
  • Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Scott Stein
3 min read

Microsoft's Xbox One S All-Digital Edition doesn't change the equation much.


Microsoft announced that its next version of the Xbox One S won't have a disc slot. Instead you'll download everything.
This isn't a massive shift from where a lot of gaming's already at: buy the code, download the game. Of course, physical games still exist, but the Xbox One S All-Digital Edition won't be able to play them. Or Blu-ray movies, for that matter.

What I don't get, after taking a moment to digest this news, is how little the new Xbox seems to do for anyone who might decide this weird console is for them.


Why isn't the disc-free Xbox One S (right) smaller? I mean, look at this.


It's not smaller

Isn't the idea of getting rid of a disc drive supposed to be about shrinking the footprint? The Xbox One S (which debuted back in 2016) doesn't look any different, and it's bizarre. I'd love a super small Xbox to put on my mantle, or tuck under a TV, like a Mac Mini for gaming. This isn't it. Heck, isn't it basically the same size as the far more powerful Xbox One X?

It's not less expensive (really)

OK, the Xbox One S All-Digital Edition is $249 (£200), which is $50 less than the Xbox One S. And Microsoft's Lawrence Hyrb has promised that, even if the Xbox One S goes on sale, the Xbox One S All-Digital Edition will be even less expensive: "We expect to maintain at least a $50 difference between Xbox One S and the all-digital version during sales."

But. BUT. The Xbox One S has gone on sale frequently, and there were holiday bundle deals last December priced as low as $199. The Xbox One S is currently retailing at $299. But even so, the only way I'd see a disc-free Xbox One S as being "less expensive" is if its everyday price went to $199 or less.

There are some free included games, sure. But the three free bundled games -- Forza Horizon 3 , Sea of Thieves and Minecraft -- aren't quite top-shelf titles.

Microsoft still believes in discs

It's not like disc-based media is going away yet, either. Microsoft's Jeff Gattis even admits he doesn't see the disc going away. And Microsoft still has two other Xbox One systems that use discs. If you're buying the All-Digital version, you're basically depriving yourself of a way to play games. Maybe Microsoft will make a hard switch and go disc-free with a future Xbox, or even move to more game streaming. But the Xbox One S All-Digital Edition isn't that system.

You're just limiting yourself

The disc-free world is an illusion at the moment. You have many ways of buying or borrowing affordable disc games that are a great source of value, especially for a console that's years old. Going disc-free at this point is literally cutting yourself off from one way to play. And if you consider the value that can add to your gaming over time, the Xbox One S All-Digital Edition is going to end up being way more expensive for you in the long run.

An odd duck

I like the Xbox's games and I frequently like the bundles Microsoft makes available. But this new console is a head-scratcher. It fails to make a bold design move to appeal to the micro-console crowd. It fails to push the envelope or be a surprising budget system. Instead, it's an Xbox without a disc drive.

No, thank you.