REVIEW: The new $500 Xbox One is incredibly powerful and far too expensive

The new $500 Xbox One X is the most powerful home video-game console ever made. With its beefy internals, the Xbox One X is more powerful than most home computers. It can power 4K and HDR gaming – the next major graphical step up after HD.

Xbox One X

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Microsoft

It’s also one of the most expensive home game consoles ever made, matched in price in recent years by the original Xbox One, which came with an expensive Kinect peripheral, and the original PlayStation 3.

It’s not just you – $500 is a tremendously high asking price for a game console in 2017. The Nintendo Switch, launched earlier this year, costs $300. The next best version of the Xbox One, the S model, costs $250. Even Sony’s PlayStation 4 Pro model, which touts the ability to produce 4K and HDR games, costs $100 less than the Xbox One X.

In short, it’s a hard sell.

Microsoft Xbox lead Phil Spencer explains the concept of the Xbox One X during Microsoft's annual E3 press briefing in June.

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Microsoft Xbox lead Phil Spencer explains the concept of the Xbox One X during Microsoft’s annual E3 press briefing in June.
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Christian Petersen/Getty

Whether it’s worth your money is a more complicated question. Do you have an Xbox One already? Do you own a 4K/HDR-capable television? Do you consider $500 to be a major expense?

For me, the Xbox One X isn’t worth it. Here’s why.


How I tested the Xbox One X:

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TCL

I bought a 4K/HDR television about a month ago now. It was A Big Deal™, officially.

I read up on TVs at my favorite review-focused publications, like CNET and The Wirecutter. I spoke with my colleagues who know more about displays than I do (thanks Tony and Jeff!). I went back and forth over whether to wait for OLED TV prices to come down. I watched a bunch of videos on YouTube.

In the end, I went with the TCL P-series you see above. It’s Wirecutter’s highest-rated TV period. “It’s the best value we have ever seen in a TV,” Wirecutter’s Chris Heinonen said. “It produces images with more detail, brightness, and color than most TVs that cost hundreds more. Even when viewed side-by-side with TVs that cost 250 percent more, our viewing panel picked the TCL.”

All of which is to say two things:

1. The TV I am using with the Xbox One X is high quality, highly rated, and tuned (yes, I did that too) specifically for 4K/HDR. I went from a 720p, 42-inch Vizio HD TV to this.

2. I probably spent too much time being neurotic about buying a TV, and should’ve just trusted the Wirecutter suggestion from the start.

If you’re wondering what the Xbox One X looks like on a $3,500 Samsung OLED 4K TV, assuredly one of the excellent publications mentioned above can help you out. I’m the average consumer, and even then I kinda splashed out for this TV.


4K, HDR Blu-ray footage looks excellent.

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BBC

Microsoft included a copy of “Planet Earth 2,” a documentary I assumed was about the sequel to the planet we live on, but is actually just about regular old Earth 1.

Hilarious jokes aside, “Planet Earth 2” is considered a 4K/HDR showcase title. It’s an “Ultra HD” Blu-ray used to demonstrate how dazzling this new, higher-resolution video format can be on the right set. It sets a standard for expectations of fidelity, in so many words, and I used it as such.

“Planet Earth 2” is also a delightfully charming British documentary that doubles as a highlights reel of nature’s craziest s–t. As both an animal lover and a person who loves to be dazzled, I can indeed confirm that “Planet Earth 2” serves as a visual showcase. It is ridiculously impressive, because of how dazzling the image quality and range is in addition to the absurdity of its content. But this isn’t a review of “Planet Earth 2” (if it were, I would totally suggest you check it out).

The Xbox One X is specifically intended to power 4K and HDR gaming. The ability to play 4K/HDR Blu-ray discs like “Planet Earth 2” is something that the standard Xbox One S is capable of, and it costs just $250.


To this end, the Xbox One X makes some games look very nice.

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The Coalition

Two games that really stand out on the Xbox One X are “Gears of War 4” and “Forza Motorsport 7.” Both have full 4K / HDR support, and both look excellent as a result.

More than just very pretty games, they look noticeably different on the Xbox One X – they look more like high-end PC games than home game console games. If you’re looking for something to show off the new Xbox One X and your 4K/HDR TV, these are the games to do it with.

But that’s just two big games, one of which is a racing simulation and the other is a year-old shooter. If you already played “Gears of War 4,” and you’re not a hardcore racing fan, there isn’t much to play at launch.

To be all the way clear: There is no “big launch game” for the Xbox One X.

OF NOTE: When games are updated with 4K visuals, they sometimes swell in size to over 100 GB. “Gears of War 4,” “Forza Motorsport 7,” and “Halo 5: Guardians” come in at over 100 GB apiece. Apiece! That’s absolutely gigantic, to be clear – significantly larger than the largest games.


Using the Xbox One X doesn’t feel much different from using the normal Xbox One.

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The latest Xbox One Dashboard update makes all Xbox One consoles operate more smoothly, but it’s still sluggish compared to the competition.
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Microsoft

The biggest problem with the Xbox One X is that it doesn’t feel like a brand-new console in 2017, let alone one that costs $500. It operates almost identically to the Xbox One I normally use – a near-launch model from 2013.

That’s an intended feature.

The Xbox One X is capable of playing the same games that the Xbox One from 2013 and the Xbox One S from 2016 can play. Think of the original Xbox One as the baseline for horsepower and functionality; with each subsequent Xbox console as a step up in horsepower, it still must maintain parity with the original console from 2013.

As such, the standard operating system – a version of Windows 10 made for Xbox One – is as sluggish and poorly organized as ever on the Xbox One X. A recent update made it operate somewhat more smoothly, but it’s downright weird that the OS doesn’t feel snappier on a far more powerful piece of hardware.

Imagine you bought the iPhone X and it felt like using an iPhone 6. That would be pretty weird! That’s what I’m talking about here.


The biggest feature — 4K and HDR visuals — is only minimally supported at launch.

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Microsoft

The big difference from previous Xbox One consoles is the X’s ability to play games and movies in “native” 4K/HDR. The console doesn’t just bump up the resolution (stretching the image) – it outright produces a higher resolution image, known as “native” 4K. It accomplishes this, but the list of titles it supports right now is short.

It’s not as though every game you play looks dramatically better – Microsoft actually has a three-tiered set of specifications for variously “Xbox One X Enhanced” games.

Xbox One X

As you might expect, many of Microsoft’s own games – like “Gears of War 4” and “Forza Motorsport 7” – are fully supported with the full upgrade treatment.

Still, many games have no support, while others are only listed as “coming soon” for upgrades. To be clear, that means unsupported games will look nearly the same on an Xbox One X as they will on an Xbox One S (which costs $250 less) – and most games aren’t supported.

There are some general improvements that any game running on the Xbox One X will get: Better framerates and faster load times, for instance. In my experience, that stuff hasn’t been particularly noticeable. More specifically: That stuff hasn’t been $500 worth of different.


Is it worth the $500? Maybe.

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Microsoft

I started this review by asking some questions:

-Do you have an Xbox One already? -Do you own a 4K/HDR-capable television? -Do you consider $500 to be a major expense?

Those aren’t just questions – they’re caveats.

If you already own an Xbox One, you probably don’t need to spend $500 on a new one. If you don’t have a 4K/HDR TV, you probably don’t need a $500 Xbox One capable of powering 4K/HDR gaming. If you consider a $500 purchase to be exorbitant (most people!), you probably don’t need this console.

That’s the number one way I’ve answered people across the past few weeks who’ve asked about the Xbox One X – with questions. If you don’t own an Xbox One or you’re looking to upgrade the one you’ve got, and you’ve got a 4K/HDR TV, and you’re okay with spending an absurd amount of money on a home game console, then maybe the Xbox One X is for you. Maybe!

That’s before you consider the fact that Sony offers a similarly capable PlayStation 4 “Pro” model for $400, and before you consider that Microsoft offers a highly capable Xbox One “S” model for $250 that can produce pretty stunning visuals (4K and HDR, even).

The Xbox One X is a powerful little console that outpowers the competition, and it’s excellent unto itself – but it’s overwhelmed by other options that are nearly as powerful and far less expensive.