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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.

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.)

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