1) Product design:
The Xbox One X’s design is noteworthy for it’s small footprint, quiet operation and effective cooling. I have mine in an open-faced cabinet (an old dresser converted to an entertainment center) and it stays just warm to the touch under heavy load. I love how the power transformer is built into the box, requiring just a regular power cord to be used; I hated those bulky bricks that always seemed to take up too much space behind the cabinet, or on the floor. The aesthetics of the Xbox One X would be best described as ‘modern minimalism’. It’s not beautiful, nor is it ugly. It’s just simple and non-offensive – which is ok in my book. Many other reviewers have commented on the weight of this thing. It IS solid and it’s heft conveys an impression of quality; according to the specs the One X is about 1.4lbs heavier than the One.
Over the generations of Xbox consoles, I’ve always felt the UX/UI has always been a step or two behind Playstation. With the release of the One X, there is a new UI which is much less cluttered than the past versions, which is a welcome improvement. There are still some odd navigational design choices than baffle me, such as the odd placement of the “view all” button when perusing the Store categories and the seemingly random Home screen layout. It takes some getting used to – but once you do, those gripes become negligible. Microsoft could definitely take a page out of Sony’s design book however…
The One X’s speed also helps to improve the snappiness of the interface/experience; gone are the lags and pauses of the previous generations. This was one of the first things I noticed with the X – and it’s a very welcome improvement.
The upgrade to 4K/HDR gaming was more noticeable than I expected it to be. In HDR mode, the image (on my Samsung UHD TV) is super-bright and free of color banding (thanks to 10 or 12 bit color rendering options). Framerates are much more consistent and fluid. Aliasing just seems non-existent now. For those interested, the One X has native 4K games and games that are “checkerboard rendered” to 4K – the latter of which is what the PS4 Pro was crucified for doing. Visually, native 4K and checkerboard 4K may be hard to distinguish, depending on the game.
Audio also gets a nice improvement as well with the addition of Dolby ATMOS. My Samsung HW-K850 supports it – but getting the Xbox One X to allow me to select Atmos output was a royal pain in the a$$. To get Atmos to work, you’re first prompted to download the (kinda) free Dolby Access app (I say ‘kinda’ free, because there is an ‘Atmos for headphones’ option that will cost you $15 to enable). The Dolby app then guides you through the necessary settings you must enable on the Xbox – but this is where it went awry in my case. I kept getting an error code when attempting to enable Atmos – and after chatting with Microsoft support, they had no ideas and chalked it up to a bug that would need to be patched. I did stumble across a solution, in which you must also enable a setting in the TV & One Guide section; “Audio” must be set to “surround” (instead of the default “stereo uncompressed” in that menu too – something the Dolby app (and Microsoft support) missed. I also had to shut off every device in my system, unplug the power from everything for an hour, then turn everything back on to finally get Atmos sound to work. I can only guess this had something to do with renewing the HDMI handshakes between all devices. While I’m not removing a star for this, it is something that *should* be easier to make work.
4) Other features:
Coming from the Xbox One w/ Kinect, I had opted to connect my cable box (Charter/Spectrum) – which offers the most outdated and terrible guide/menu in the known universe. Connecting it to the Xbox allows you to use the One Guide instead which is much nicer. The Kinect was able to control all the functions of the cable box, which made a nice, seamless experience. I was concerned that I would have to buy the Kinect adapter cable for the X to retain this functionality, but was pleasantly surprised to find out that the Kinect wasn’t necessary, as the X has it’s own IR blaster built-in. As long as you don’t have any components behind closed cabinet doors, the X’s IR blaster is powerful enough to send out the necessary signals. I am now Kinect sensor free!
Another nice feature of the X is the fact it plays UHD Blu-Ray discs. I have not played one yet, but knowing that visually, it should be superior to streaming UHD content (from VUDU, Netflix, Amazon, etc), I know it will be awesome. UHD/HDR streaming IS awesome by the way; the elimination of color banding is perhaps the most welcome benefit, aside from the increase in resolution.
5) Final thoughts:
Overall, this console is a true performer. If there are any negatives, it would be with the relatively small standard HDD. At 1TB, one may question why this is a negative; After all, the S comes standard with a 500GB HDD. The issue here, is that for games that take advantage of 4K resolution, typically offer higher-resolution textures to go along with it – which, according to Microsoft, can inflate game size by 33% or more. The extra space quickly becomes consumed and the number of games that can be installed at any one time remains about the same as previous generations – which was always a point of contention with users. Of course, you can buy an external drive to overcome this issue – but that is one more thing to buy. I feel that Microsoft may have missed the mark on this one; Why tout the most powerful console ever, and pair it with a HDD that is honestly too small? It’s like putting crappy tires on a performance vehicle. But, alas, I hesitate to remove a star for this, as I personally don’t play more than a few games at a time – I don’t think it will become much of an issue for me.