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.

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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
PortsHDMI-inHDMI-outone front-facing USB 3.0two rear-facing USB 3.0IR receiver/blasterSPDIF digital audio
NetworkingGigabit EthernetWi-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

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 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, 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, 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 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. 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 ($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 ($20 at Amazon)

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

Xbox One S vertical stand ($10 at Amazon)

Stand your console upright with this accessory.

Jez Corden
Co-Managing Editor

Jez Corden is 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 tea. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his XB2 Podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!