Xbox One S All-Digital Edition review: A confused execution of a solid disc-less idea

A disc-less Xbox One console makes complete sense in an increasingly digital world, but there's something philosophically odd about the Xbox One S All-Digital Edition.

(Image: © Windows Central)

We revealed the Xbox One S All-Digital Edition a few weeks ahead of its announcement back in April 2019, showcasing Microsoft's efforts to improve the affordability of entering its ecosystem.

Theoretically, this new console is $50 cheaper than its Xbox One S disc-bound counterpart. We say "theoretically" because, well, there are a lot of deals out there that nullify the savings. Microsoft would point to the bundled Forza Horizon 3, Sea of Thieves, Minecraft titles as an additional saving, but considering these games are available on Xbox Game Pass, which is also cheaper, this makes little sense.

Therein lies the main problem with the Xbox One S All-Digital Edition. It's a sound idea on paper, in a world that is increasingly moving to the cloud. In execution, the S family of Xbox consoles feels cluttered with a new console that feels more like an experiment.

What you'll like about the Xbox One S All-Digital Edition

Functionally, the Xbox One S All-Digital Edition is identical to its disc-wielding cousin, save for the omission of a disc drive. Every aspect of the console is identical, besides that, the motherboard even retains the port for connecting an optical drive.

In 2019, the Xbox One S hardware has begun to really show its age. A large chunk of modern "AAA" games won't even be able to max out your HD TV's resolution, sitting around 900p or lower, in some cases, often sporting 30 frames per second.

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CategoryXbox One S
Processor8-core Jaguar CPU at 1.75GHz
Memory8GB DDR3 RAM
Graphics12 CUs (914MHz) 1.23 TF GPU
one front-facing USB 3.0
two rear-facing USB 3.0
IR receiver/blaster
SPDIF digital audio
NetworkingGigabit Ethernet
Wi-Fi A/B/G/N/AC 2.4GHz and 5GHz
Video output4K HDR video playback, up to 1080p HDR gaming
Optical driveNone
Dimensions11.6 x 8.9 x 2.5 inches
ColorRobot White
Price$249 RRP (opens in new tab)

After being on the more powerful (more expensive) Xbox One X for the past couple of years, it's a little tough to go back to Xbox One S-level visuals, but graphics don't stop games from being fun by any means. Minecraft, one of my most played games, runs perfectly well on the Xbox One S, and isn't exactly known for its high-fidelity visuals. The Xbox platform's biggest strength is the game library, which sports thousands of quality titles for all types of play.

The S is still a looker, too. Sleek, svelte, with an internal power supply and a marble white exterior. The omitted disc drive gives it an even more minimalistic look too. If that's your bag. The Xbox One dashboard has also improved leaps and bounds since 2013, although we may have to wait for next-gen for it to be more responsive. For media playback, the Alexa / Amazon Echo (opens in new tab) integration is also nice, since we now live in a Kinect-less world.

It's a plus point that Microsoft managed to stick a 1TB HDD into this price range, for all the digital games you'll be installing. It also contains all the extra features media fans love, like the IR-blaster for TV control, HDMI pass-through for TV integration, and three USB ports for extra accessories. The S will also play media in 4K, across apps like Netflix, YouTube, and Microsoft's own Movies & TV store.

The Xbox One S All-Digital is a solid video game console. However, since this product is firmly aimed at newcomers into the ecosystem, there are a lot of aspects of it that don't make a lot of sense, especially when stacked up against competing consoles.

What doesn't make sense about the Xbox One S All-Digital Edition

The first thing to note about the S All-Digital Edition is that it's less powerful than the basic PlayStation 4 (opens in new tab), while simultaneously lacking a disc drive. Sure, it's $50 cheaper and comes with three games, but PlayStation arguably has a superior line-up of exclusives, particularly this deep into the generation. You'd have to want Ori and the Blind Forest, Halo Master Chief Collection, Minecraft Bedrock Edition, and Forza Horizon 4, over games like God of War and The Last of Us to justify hitting an Xbox One S All-Digital console instead of a PlayStation 4.

The S is far more powerful than the Nintendo Switch (opens in new tab), and has a far bigger, far prettier library of games too. Games like DOOM are simply awful to play on the Nintendo Switch when compared to the Xbox One S or PlayStation 4, but obviously, you lose the portability factor in the process. The Switch also has some stellar exclusives of its own, including Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and Smash Bros Ultimate. Although, the Switch will forever be strapped by its weak internals, missing out on major staple franchises like Call of Duty and hotly-anticipated AAA games like Cyberpunk 2077.

Despite stripping (a theoretical) $50 off the price of the Xbox One S All-Digital Edition, losing the disc drive eliminates the option of purchasing second-hand disc-based games, which could lead to bigger savings down the line. Sure, the Xbox One platform has some really great sales on older games, and Xbox Game Pass also includes dozens of quality games based on a $10 monthly subscription. However, if you enjoy being able to trade games in after you're done with them, rather than allowing them to sit around gathering digital dust in your digital library, this console isn't for you.

For digital media fans, you'll also lose the ability for 4K Bluray playback, for a relatively measly (and, again, theoretical) $50 saving too. The Xbox One Movies & TV store has a decent offering of 4K videos in the U.S., but it's virtually barren for the rest of the world, with barely a dozen titles on offer in the UK, and even less in other territories. Microsoft simply isn't serious about offering digital movies and TV shows through the console, unwilling to even invest in an Android or iOS app for playback. These facts make it hard to recommend as a digital media device, too.

Should you buy the Xbox One S All-Digital Edition?

It's frankly odd that Microsoft bundled some older games with this console, rather than Xbox Game Pass. It would've made far more sense to call this an "Xbox Game Pass Edition" console, to push the existence of Game Pass towards thriftier, less-engaged gaming consumers. The games this console comes with are available on Xbox Game Pass, too.

The $50 saving is also a contentious point, too, since you can get Xbox One S consoles with a disc drive on Amazon for around $200 (opens in new tab) right now, totally eliminating the savings on offer here. At which point, you really have to ask, what's the point? You gain nothing. And save nothing.

The S All-Digital could have done with a more ambitious execution to help it stand out. A slimmer, unique design might have helped offset the lost disc drive. Instead of a bunch of older games, Microsoft should have bundled a 12-month Xbox Game Pass key instead, to really impress the digital lifestyle aspect this console aspires to.

I'm honestly not sure who should buy this over a regular Xbox One S.

As it stands, there's virtually no reason to recommend the Xbox One S All-Digital Edition. Disc-based versions are available for just as much, often cheaper (opens in new tab). Microsoft's digital movies and TV store is embarrassingly weak, with no mobile offering. And since the console is the same size as the S, you're not even gaining a slimmer, more portable design for the disc drive sacrifice.

I expect the price to come down even further in the future, of course, but right now, I'm honestly not sure who should buy this over a regular Xbox One S, if anyone.

Xbox accessories you'll love

Every one of these quality accessories is guaranteed to enhance your Xbox experience.

PowerA Enhanced Wired Controller for Xbox One (opens in new tab) ($20 at Amazon)

PowerA's take on the Xbox One controller is an attractive pickup for budget-conscious gamers that nails all the basics.

Talon PDP Xbox media remote (opens in new tab) ($20 at Amazon)

The Talon PDP Xbox media remote is great for watching shows on your console.

Xbox One S vertical stand (opens in new tab) ($10 at Amazon)

Stand your console upright with this accessory.

Jez Corden
Co-Managing Editor

Jez Corden a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

  • as you notice this is a missed opportunity to push game pass, the All digital edition should have come with at least 6 months of game pass (idealy a year).
  • I think the X1 SAD (that's a glaring error by marketing...) is an attempt to avoid a problem from the X1's launch: digital lock-in. Specifically, people HATED the digital locking of physical titles. This edition helps to normalize buying digital copies exclusively. It moves some buyers towards an all digital collection in a small way, and that helps increase the likelihood of buyers generally accepting the end of discs. This is important since, one way or another, the future is digital. It'll either be streaming or digital licensing; discs on the shelf are not going to last. I think Microsoft is just laying the ground work for it (which helps explain why this is just a new case and not new hardware).
  • It's such an odd device. I can't imagine who greenlit this (well, it must've been Spencer) because it was clear as day that it makes no sense. You either want to use it as a gateway to Game Pass. Then you bundle the console with a year of Game Pass and sell it for $250. Or you want to use it as a test balloon for next gen. Then you just sell it for $150, because you are more than making that money back by digital sales. Or you want to sell it to existing customers because it is a much smaller device. Then you make it as small as possible (could possibly be 1/3 smaller than an S) and sell it for $250. But the way they designed and marketed this thing is baffling. It's a product that is literally for nobody out there. And for some reason they felt it was a good move to bundle games with it instead of just giving out Game Pass, which they sold throughout May for $1 for three months. Maybe I am just stupid and don't understand the SKU. Or whoever made it an SKU is.
  • This should have been redesigned and come with game pass for 6 months and cost 200. There is just no good reason to buy this over the regular One S. Does it look different/better? No. Does it have better/different content? No. Does it offer a way to start playing more than a couple games right away? No. Does it cost less? No. This is lazy and looks from the outside like a way to move excess product that didn't sell because of lackluster Xbox One sales. Maybe it will help build some mindshare, but I doubt it. This does less than the regular One s for more 💰. Just so much fail. FYI I already buy all my games as digital copies for my One X
  • Myself I see this great for younger kids that you don't want ruining disks. And since my kids are already in my family sharing and I only buy digital, for 1. mostly because why drive and pickup a game that I need to install anyways. 2 I do not support ebgames because they are a rip off, giving you next to nothing on trade value and then turn around and sell that game for twice or three times the amount they bought it from you. 3 I can share my digital titles with my household, which you can't with physical.
    I do agree this should have been bundled with game pass but I don't think this console is useless. I've been gaming on PC for 5+ years now and you cannot even buy physical copies of games. Yet PC gaming is still one of the biggest in the industry.
  • But everything you said minus the ruining of discs ( which you can solve by not giving them any) can already be done by the existing, and cheaper, XB1S. This machine is just a missed mark on all accounts.
  • For me, this thing deserves a lot less than the 2.5/5 stars.
    Even the 3 positives of the review (visual design, library and convenience) aren't really positives over the XB1s. I just don't see any reason to buy this. In fact I can only see negative reasons. Buying this only encourages a strategy that's anti-gaming and anti-gamers.
  • This only would've made sense if it was a revised, very compact design, on par with the Dreamcast. Making it look identical to the normal Xbox One S, with just the obvious omission of the disc drive, makes people think like they're losing something (the disc drive) rather than gaining something (a more compact design).
  • As others have already said, they missed the point of this machine. I personally stopped being excited when I read and saw it was the SAME machine with a plastic cover over the hole. I knew it was going to be expensive at first, but if it were smaller I could justify getting one eventually.
  • If this was significant smaller in size then there would have been market for it.
  • I thought the S Teraflop rating was 1.31. They are saying it's 1.23 in this article? Did they lower it? So after looking at techradar they said the OG was rated at 1.31TF vs the S had a slight clock increase which calculated to 1.4TF. It blows my mind how they are making games run on this system still and look damn good to boot. I have both the X and the S, the X is amazing but the S is just as enjoyable and looks great considering the 5 times less power disadvantage. Impressed with what development teams can accomplish. Been splitting alot of time between both consoles on Assassin's Creed Odyssey and the game looks and runs great on the lower power S. The X is just sickness as far as that 4k image goes.
  • Might be a typo, I'll look into it and fix.
  • Thanks Jez not being critical brotha I love your content and Xbox Two podcast.
  • im about to buy my 3rd xbox for the kitchen.
  • This was a perfect opportunity to get Xbox in a ton more living rooms as a media streamer/game system in direct competition with the Nvidia Shield TV and Apple TV. Should have been a redesign, should have been aimed directly as a media streamer and game player, and should have been priced at 150.
  • Xbox SAD is a terrible deal and should be avoided at all costs. As the article mentioned, a regular Xbox S can always be found for less than the Xbox SAD. 4K disc playback alone is worth more than the $50 "discount". The author dwells on Xbox's Video store too much. It doesn't matter. Who buys a console based on its video store anyways? The Xbox has apps for all the major stores and streaming services out there (VUDU, Amazon, Netflix, etc), all offering 4K playback. The Video store is also part of Movies Anywhere, meaning that most of the movies you could buy on Xbox you could then play on a different streaming service thereby bypassing device restrictions.