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Apple HomePod 2 review: rich sound, but doesn’t fix the original’s problems
5:00 pm | January 31, 2023

Author: admin | Category: Computers Gadgets | Tags: , | Comments: Off

Apple HomePod 2: Two-minute review

The HomePod 2 is a surprising relaunch for Apple's smart speaker, because at first glance, it doesn't appear to offer much that’s different to the original model. And after taking a much deeper glance (and listen), I can report that it does not, in fact, offer much that’s different to the original.

The HomePod 2 is a fairly compact speaker (smaller than most of the best wireless speakers, though obviously larger than the dinky HomePod mini) with a lot of speaker power built in – and you can hear it. It's energetic, bursting with detail, dynamic, and underlined with natural and resonant bass. For its price, no single speaker sounds quite as good – and combining two in a stereo system makes for even bigger and bolder sound.

But access to this power is frustratingly limited. The only ways to play audio are through the Siri voice assistant, or Apple AirPlay 2 system via Wi-Fi. There's no Bluetooth, no Chromecast, no Spotify Connect, and no aux-in. The only way to send audio to the speaker is from Apple devices, so if anyone in your house doesn't have one, you'll have to decide if you’re okay with excluding them from being able to use the speaker in the same way that others can.

Siri can work with multiple music services now, and can connect to your Apple account to do things like add calendar entries; but it's not as smart as Alexa or Google Assistant for generally interpreting your questions well, so if you're looking for one of the best smart speakers, it may not be top of your list.

However, if you sit in the sweet-spot demographic for the HomePod – an all-Apple house, with Apple Music to take advantage of its upgraded Dolby Atmos skills – the HomePod 2 is perhaps the best-value speaker out there. It’s cheaper than what you get from the hardcore hi-fi brands (such as the Naim Mu-so Qb 2), and with a more full sound than the Sonos One can deliver.

And its new smart-home skills are welcome too, though we'd flag them as 'nice bonuses' rather than 'reasons to buy in the first place'.

Apple HomePod 2 review: Price & release date

The HomePod 2 is released on Friday February 3, 2022.

It costs $299 / £299 / AU$479, which is pretty much what the previous model cost by the time it was discontinued. It's the same price in the US, while it's slightly more expensive in the UK, but that's no surprise given recent currency exchange rates; it's AU$10 more expensive in Australia.

The price is high compared to most of the best smart speakers – even the Amazon Echo Studio, the most expensive Alexa speaker, is nearly half the price. The Sonos One is also much cheaper.

However, there are plenty of much more expensive wireless speakers, including the likes of the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin (2021) or the mighty Naim Mu-So Qb 2nd Gen

So the HomePod is in the middle of the market overall – it's just definitely beyond the high end of what most people will pay for something like this. But then, the HomePod mini covers the more affordable end.

Apple HomePod 2 review: Specs

HomePod 2 on shelf in a home

(Image credit: Future)

Apple HomePod 2 review: Features

  • Use Siri and AirPlay 2 to provide music
  • Dolby Atmos support, including from Apple TV 4K
  • Matter smart home support, with temperature and humidity sensors built in

The features of the new HomePod are very close to the original. It's a Wi-Fi-connected smart speaker based on Apple's Siri assistant, with the ability to also send music to it over Apple's AirPlay 2.

That means it's geared towards music in the Apple ecosystem very heavily. You can use Siri to request songs from Apple Music, though Siri now works with some other music services too. And while you can send music (or any other audio) to it over AirPlay 2 from Apple devices, though there's no Bluetooth, or aux-in, or other way to get audio into it – that means Android devices are left in the cold with the HomePod, as is your turntable.

If you're in an all-Apple house and have no plans to change this in the future, then that's okay. But if one of your two kids uses Android when everyone else uses iPhones, it makes the HomePod 2 a poor investment. There are lots of other speakers that support AirPlay and have options for Android – from the likes of Sonos, Audio Pro, Bowers & Wilkins, and Naim – see our guide to the best AirPlay speakers. If you're in a mixed-device house, you should think very hard whether HomePods are the best option for you, especially at this price.

The HomePod 2 works as part of AirPlay multi-room systems, naturally, and you can use one HomePod on its own, or two in a pair.

The new HomePod is geared up for Dolby Atmos music support from Apple Music, including Spatial Audio – it will bounce sounds off your walls to try to create the feeling of the music being separated into different angles, elements and layers.

And these Dolby Atmos skills will come in useful if you own an Apple TV, because you can use two new HomePods as an alternative to one of the best soundbars – the Apple TV can send all of its sound to the HomePod, including Dolby Atmos 3D audio.

The HomePod 2 also supports lossless audio from Apple Music, for higher-quality audio overall, if you're signed up that service. This is the only way it support Hi-Res music, though – Apple AirPlay 2 tech doesn't currently transmit it, so it's no good for playing stored FLAC files or anything.

The HomePod 2 has an ultra-wideband chip in, which means it can detect when an iPhone 11 or later is close to it, making it easy to beam music from your phone to the HomePod (or vice versa) by just bringing it close. 

This also makes setup very easy – turn on the HomePod 2, and bring your iPhone nearby. A pop-up will appear, asking you to bring the top of the HomePod into view of your phone's camera. Then the HomePod will play a sound to identify itself to the iPhone, and that'll be it. It'll be connected to your iCloud account, gaining access to your Apple Music subscriptions.

HomePod 2 on shelf in a home

(Image credit: Future)

For smart home lovers, the HomePod 2 is even better now. It supports Thread and Matter, which are the next-gen protocols that work with more accessories than ever – as well as Apple HomeKit – and it can trigger automations in your smart home when you're not there. 

It also has built-in temperature and humidity sensors, which are useful for climate-control smart home gear, or just for checking on your home's status. Open Apple's Home app and you can see this info in the 'Climate' option at the top, though during our time with the HomePod, the temperature always showed as being within a range (for example, 17-19°C) which is a bit odd. Sometimes the range is as low as 1.5°C, sometimes it was 3°C. It's not a huge deal, but it's unusual to see imprecision in temperature reporting. The humidity also tends to be in a range, but it was of just two percent in my experience (ie, 63-64%), which is close enough to not bother me.

It's easy to build these into an automation – you could trigger one of the best smart plugs connected to a dehumidifier to turn on if the humidity passes a certain point, for example – from the Automation tab in the Home app.

As for Siri – it works well technically here, being very quick and accurate to pick up commands, and answers from the internet come rapidly. But it still gives some strange responses to even pretty basic music queries, and that's supposed to be its raison d'être here. I asked it to "play Blue Monday". "Playing Blue Monday," Siri responded instantly. I was expecting New Order, but figured I'd maybe get a cover. Instead, I got a song called Here By the Grace of God by Greg Hester, from an album called American Story. This segued into a Bob Dylan song. I'm guessing it found me a playlist called 'Blue Monday'? But there's no way of knowing that for sure – I can see on my iPhone what is playing, but not why.

I asked Siri what the weather will be tomorrow, and it said that Location Services hadn't been activated yet (they had, but only a few minutes earlier, so we'll forgive that to a syncing issue), so it asked me where I wanted to hear the weather for. I told it my home city's name. It read me some facts about my home city and then asked me if I wanted to hear more. Yes! The weather!

Siri is good at taking very clear commands within certain structures. It can take requests to send messages you can ask it to add basic calendar entries (and it can differentiate voices, if you choose to set that feature up), and you can ask it for basic factual information. But it's alarming just how often it stumbles. It simply hasn't made the same progress that other smart assistants have, and should be thought of as a simple voice remote control for your speaker rather than a smart voice interface. And I'm fine with that personally, because audio quality is the draw here for me – if it's the smart part of smart speakers that interests you, look elsewhere.

  • Features score: 3/5

HomePod 2 on shelf in a home

(Image credit: Future)

Apple HomePod 2 review: Sound quality

  • Better suited to acoustic/classical than the original thanks to greater upper-mid clarity
  • Very full and well-balanced sound overall (but slightly slimmer bass than original)
  • Dolby Atmos is much more pronounced and effective, especially in a pair

Let's get something out of the way for people who used the original HomePod: the new version is not as loud as the original. I tested it directly against the original model, and the HomePod 2 at about 50% of maximum volume was equivalent to the original being at roughly 33%. Now, that's not really a problem, because it's still capable of going far beyond filling the average room in a house even with just one HomePod, let alone a pair – but still.

I've already mentioned several times that the audio quality is fantastic for the price. The high-end pops and hits with great clarity, the mid-range is fulsome and expressive, and bass is weighty yet controlled.

So to dig deeper into it, I'm going to compare it to the original HomePod directly. The first thing I noticed was that the top-end feels brighter, which is driven most by more pronounced upper-mids than the original. This is especially clear in higher-pitched vocals in song's like Foxes Gentleman and Haim's Don't Save Me, and in trumpets in Holst's The Planets. The vocals are lifted clearer of the rest of the mix, and it's also easier for denser collections of instruments at the top end to show you every detail.

At the other end, the bass is a little more resonant, but slightly less punchy. In M83's Midnight City, each synth bass beat rolls off slightly slower and feels more dispersed, which is great, but it also doesn't feel like it's hitting as hard – just a little less deep and guttural. Of note, though, is that when I tried it on one of my shelves, the new HomePods produced fewer vibrations into other objects on the shelf.

In South's Paint the Silence, which starts with strummed guitars and a bass line, the guitar pops out more and feels more natural in the new HomePod; but the bass line drops deeper and has more definition from the old HomePod. I would say the elevation of the guitar is more prominent, but I definitely noticed the difference in the bass.

In the mid-range, individual instruments get a little more room to breathe during especially dense moments. Not every song benefits from this, but it was fairly clear when one did – there's definitely more to chew on from the new model.

The sound is a little more forward and aggressive than from the original, which is energising, but also makes it feel more like it's coming from a small point. The original disperses stereo sound a little more, so it feels like it's coming from a corner of the room; the new one feels more like it's being delivered to you from a single unit. I found this clear listening to Dancing in the Dark – the original gave me a whole gritty wall of Bruce's voice hanging out at the back of the room, and the new one felt like the singing was directed right towards me.

This all comes together in The Prodigy's Firestarter in interesting ways. The piercing sounds at the start explode from the new HomePod 2 to grab your attention by the… ears far more than they do from the original HomePod. But then the new version's bass is relatively tame, and it's the original that can bang its head that little bit harder. And the heavily twisted and distorted guitars spread out more in a way that's interesting and enveloping from the original – again, it sounds more dispersed. They lash out excitingly from the new model, but I'm more into the what the original does with them.

I go back and forth on which I prefer when it's one single speaker against the other, basically on a song-by-song basis, and sometimes within the same song. Which is obviously not a problem in itself, but I had hoped for an AirPods Pro 2-style leap forward in audio quality.

However, that's all with stereo music (in Lossless or Hi-Res Lossless, from Apple Music). Switching to Dolby Atmos music allows the new HomePod 2 to reveal its real sound dispersal skills… depending on your positioning.

A single original HomePod doesn't do a ton with Atmos – but the new one is clearly positioning sounds in the mix. In Sweet Child O' Mine, the iconic guitar riff comes from the center, but when Axel Rose's voice is layered over itself, it's clearly coming from more than one angle. Lady Gaga's Chromatica album is a Dolby Atmos playground, and it's the same thing here – the HomePod 2 is able to steer sounds around in the mix in a way that's totally different to what you get from a stereo setup, and more than the original can.

However, Dolby Atmos music doesn't sound as natural as regular music from the HomePod 2. Ironically, adding more spreadable sound makes the sound feel boxier – a little more clipped, a little harder.

HomePod 2 on shelf in a home

(Image credit: Future)

Stepping up to a pair of HomePod 2 units combined into a stereo set gives the system an extra boost with all kinds of music. The forward-ness of the sound doesn't matter, because things are spread between the two anyway. And it feels like the bass gets to go a bit harder – I can't tell if that's just my perception or a freeing up of the system because one unit isn't trying to handle everything at once. Either way, I'm loving them as a pair even more than I liked using the originals in a pair.

And in Dolby Atmos, it's a totally different thing with two HomePod 2s. With them positioned in stereo in front of you, and in a room that's conducive towards sound being bounced around (ie, with walls not too far to the side of you), they can do some pretty incredible things with audio positioning. Instruments come from the side or even slightly behind you, which is a feat that even some of the best Dolby Atmos soundbars can't manage convincingly without actual rear speakers. It's a little spooky, and quite convincing. The joy of Dolby Atmos music is that it makes your favorite tracks a surprise again, and you can really get that with a pair of HomePod 2 speakers.

This largely follows through to using a pair with an Apple TV 4K as Dolby Atmos speakers for movies – an alternative to a soundbar. The HomePods are great at adding height in terms of positioning sounds to match the action on the screen (even a 65-inch screen), though can't quite manage the exact 'above you' Dolby Atmos height that the best soundbars can produce. There's not a lot of precision to it – just sort of generically high. It's the same with a lot of side or rear effects – they don't sound very precise from movies. Yes, it's clear there's width and that you're being roughly 'surrounded', but without the precision that would make it totally convincing. 

Where it can't get behind you, though, it often does a great job with layering the sound instead. In BlacKkKlansman, responses to Brother Kwame's speech echo around, clearly coming from a different source to his words – without real rear speakers, this is as good as you can do, and it works well.

The problem is that the HomePods are so damn tall. Unless you have space to place them past each end of your TV (which I don't, personally), or on a bench under a wall-mounted TV, they will absolutely block part of the screen.

I tried a direct comparison with a Sonos Beam 2nd Gen, which costs around 75% of the price of two HomePod 2s. I would say that the HomePods were marginally superior – the width of their sound expanded further past the edges of the screen, they had more pronounced height, and they're a little more dynamic – but when it came to the core positioning of sounds to the screen, vocal clarity and general sound balance, I think the Sonos delivered 90% of the HomePod 2s' performance… for movies. For music, the HomePods were the winner, especially with Dolby Atmos music.

Going back to looking at the HomePod as just a single standalone unit, and speaking of Sonos… compared to the Sonos One – our other favorite small wireless speaker that goes in an easy multi-room setup – the HomePod 2 remains a clear step up in vibrancy, dynamic range, richness around the mid, and especially in bass. But then, you can get two Sonos One SL units for a little more than one HomePod 2, and (as with the Beam) as an individual speaker you're definitely getting more than half the performance.

And compared to the HomePod mini, it's obviously a big step-up here, too, in every conceivable way. More volume, more clarity, more range… the HomePod Mini is really good for a smaller room, but for anything larger, the HomePod 2 really comes into its own. 

  • Sound quality score: 4.5/5

HomePod 2 on shelf in a home

(Image credit: Future)

Apple HomePod 2 review: Design

  • Lovely fabric exterior in Midnight (black) or white
  • Swirling lights on top are fun
  • Short cable (five feet), but you can swap it

The new HomePod 2 looks almost the same as the original HomePod, with its round shape and fabric-covered exterior. I like this design a lot – it looks nice when you focus on it, but it's also great at just blending into the background when you're not, because it feels very neutral. The fabric looks nicer than plastic or a similar finish, and doesn't reflect light. The black (sorry, 'Midnight') and white finishes are lovely and neutral, though I would've liked to see some funky colors like the HomePod mini has.

On top, there's a swirling colored 'screen' (it doesn't show info, it just shows when Siri or music is active). On the original HomePod, this was just a small dot in the center, but now it's the whole top, just like on the HomePod mini. The top is also sunken slightly 'into' the fabric.

The new model is the same diameter as the original at 5.6 inches / 142mm, and is nearly the same height – it's imperceptibly shorter at 6.6 inches / 168mm rather than 6.8 inches / 173mm.

One useful change is that the power cable isn't permanently attached any more – you can just pull it out the back, which can help with installing it on a set of shelves or something. Even more usefully, it means you could swap the annoying short included five-foot cable out for a longer one, because it's a standard figure-eight connector (though you'd need to made sure that one you buy will fit in Apple's hole).

The inside of the HomePod 2 is very different, even though a lot of the principles are the same. For example, there's still a big four-inch high-excursion woofer at the top to handle mid-range and bass. Being 'high-excursion' means the driver moves especially far forward and back (20mm, in this case), so it can displace more air and produce a bigger, deeper sound.

And there's still a ring of higher-frequency tweeters underneath the woofer, but now there are five tweeters instead of the seven in the original HomePod, and they're placed at the bottom of the unit and angle upwards, to help avoid audio reflections from the surface the HomePod is placed on.

  • Design score: 4/5

HomePod 2 on shelf in a home

(Image credit: Future)

Apple HomePod 2 review: Value

  • Sound quality for the price is excellent
  • Limited inputs harm overall value
  • It'll depend partly on how Apple-mad you are

I am the perfect target for the HomePod 2. I use Apple Music as my main music source. I use Apple TV 4K for movies. Everyone in my household has an iPhone. I don't need a single set of speakers to be able to connect to a turntable or other more traditional music source. And I don't have a lot of spare space – for me, their mix of big sound from a small package is ideal. I think they're great value in my situation, even if I think Siri is practically a bit vestigial at this point (I do use it to request music, but that's pretty much it, and I've been using HomePods since 2018).

However, despite offering me a huge amount of options and nice features, the HomePod 2's inflexibility outside of that can't be ignored. I think of the Apple TV 4K (2022), which is really popular with people who have no other Apple products, because it's simply the best streaming device on the planet, and doesn't require other Apple devices to function. With Bluetooth and/or an aux-in, the HomePod 2 could be the same for music – the best-sounding speaker for those who want more than they can get from the best Bluetooth speakers, but without spending serious hi-fi money.

As it is, its value is a bit all-or-nothing. It's either a great buy for all-in Apple users, or a poor buy for everyone else. So the score below for the people who actually should consider buying it – it's great value, but it'd be even better with some extra options.

  • Value score: 4/5

Should you buy the HomePod 2?

Buy it if…

Don't buy it if…

Apple HomePod 2 review: Also consider

How I tested the HomePod 2

  • I listened to the HomePod 2 for about 12 hours overall
  • I listened mainly to music from Apple Music, and movies from Apple TV 4K
  • I tested and reviewed it as a single unit mainly, but also tested it in a stereo pair

I tested the HomePod 2 at home, where I've used other wireless speakers including the original HomePod, HomePod mini and Sonos One. To prepare my HomePod 2 units for testing and allow them to run in, I allowed them to play music for about 12 hours before I listened with any judgment.

While testing, I switched between multiple genres of music, and primary listened through Apple Music, because it provides lossless audio as well as Dolby Atmos support (and, y'know, it's what the HomePod 2 is built to work with).

I compared it directly with the original HomePod for some forensic level analysis, placing both speakers next to each other, and playing the same track on both, switching between them. For most of my listening time, the HomePods were placed on a wood-fibre shelving unit, to avoid vibrations.

For testing their movie skills, I used them with an Apple TV 4K (2021), playing movies from Apple's own store that included Dolby Atmos soundtracks. To compare with the Sonos Beam, I connected the Sonos Beam to my TV over HDMI eARC, and played the exact same movies via the Apple TV.

Bang & Olufsen Beosound Theatre review: the Dolby Atmos soundbar goes deluxe
7:43 pm | January 24, 2023

Author: admin | Category: Computers Gadgets | Tags: , | Comments: Off

Bang & Olufsen Beosound Theatre: One-minute review

Bang & Olufsen clearly set out to make a statement with the Beosound Theatre Dolby Atmos soundbar. It’s gloriously over-engineered, with a level of design finesse the category hasn’t seen before. It’s also a formidable performer. The driver array includes a sublime coaxial center, two oversized woofers, and side and height drivers that build an immense wall of sound.

We think the Beosound Theatre sets a new audio benchmark for the soundbar category, pushing past what any of the best soundbars we've heard so far can do from a single unit. It’s related to B&O's Beosound Stage soundbar, but when it comes to power and profundity, this is a much bigger brother. 

However, it’s quite the commitment. Both in terms of price – it'll set you back an eye-watering $6,890 / £5,590 / AU$11,860 – and weight, at a huge 18kg. The design is unmistakably B&O. The iconic Scandinavian design, which on our review sample includes a dramatic slatted wooden grille (there’s also a less expensive fabric grille option available), and slick glass touch panel, which illuminates when you approach.

With 12 power amplifiers onboard, it has quite the sonic arsenal at its disposal. As a standalone music speaker, it’s surprisingly effective, and when it comes to movie blockbusters it delivers action hard and fast. But it can't deliver rear sound without adding extra separate speakers (and extra expense).

If you want the biggest, clearest sound from a single-unit soundbar, nothing else does it quite this well, as you'd hope for the price. But if you need a one-box soundbar with Dolby Atmos for a more affordable price, consider the Sonos Arc, Sony HT-A7000 or Devialet Dione (in ascending price order), all of which still deliver big sound. Just not quite as big.

Bang & Olufsen Beosound Theatre review: Price and release date

  • Costs from $6,890 / £5,590 / AU$11,860
  • Released October 2022

The price you’ll pay for the Bang & Olufsen Beosound Theatre varies according to the finish you opt for. In its most inexpensive guise, with a fabric grille, you can expect to pay $6,890 / £5,590 / AU$11,860. However, upgrade the finish to Silver Oak or Gold Tone, and the price escalates to $7,990 / £6,390 / AU$13,650.

We don't need to tell you that's incredibly expensive, even by the standards of other premium soundbars. For example, the Samsung HW-Q990B, one of our top, high-end soundbar picks cost $1,899 / £1,599 / AU$2,199 at launch. Sure the Beosound Theatre may outperform it in some ways, but it's still an incredible ask for boosting the sound on your TV.

A close up of the rear of the Bang & Olufsen Beosound Theatre Dolby Atmos soundbar

There’s generous HDMI provision on off here to add local sources, such as a Blu-ray player and set top box. (Image credit: Future/TechRadar)

Bang & Olufsen Beosound Theatre review: Features

  • Upgradable design
  • Dolby Atmos sand HDMI 2.1 support
  • Auto-calibration microphone

There’s no dedicated remote control supplied in the box with the Beosound Theatre. Instead, you’re directed to the accompanying app. Some people are bound to love the fact you don't need to mess about with a remote, others might feel shortchanged for the price – this is the same deal as you get with Sonos soundbars, and we have no issue with it.

The app has a variety of sound presets to choose from, including TV, Music, Movie, Game and (dynamically compressed) Night. It also facilitates Spotify Connect, Chromecast and Apple AirPlay 2 support.

One key feature of the Beosound Theatre is its modular design. Longevity was a key requirement in its design, and virtually any part of the soundbar can be swapped out for a replacement or upgrade. This includes the processor and the HDMI interface board, so any changes to broadcast specs or standards can theoretically be accommodated.

It’s compatible with Dolby Atmos, TrueHD and Dolby Digital Plus 7.1, and 7.1 PCM sources, but not DTS:X. It seems a little ridiculous to miss the latter off at this price, but here we are.

Connectivity on the rear comprises four HDMI ports – one of which is the eARC port that connects to the TV. Frustratingly, this is also the only one that supports 4K 120Hz, meaning that you can't actually pass-through 4K 120Hz from the other three HDMI ports. But you do get regular 4K HDR passthrough, at least.

There’s also the provision to connect the Theatre to other Beosound speakers. Indeed, as many as 16 can be connected: eight using Wireless Powerlink, and eight Powerlink.

There are four Ethernet sockets towards this purpose, although one is specifically for connecting to LG TVs and controlling the whole setup using the B&O app.

The soundbar comes with a calibration microphone to help tune the sound for your room – and it's not limited to just one 'sweet spot', usefully. You can tune for a whole seating area, which is not something you tend to get from soundbars.

  • Features score: 4/5

A close up of the Bang & Olufsen Beosound Theatre Dolby Atmos soundbar speaker system

The speaker array on offer within the B&O Besound Theatre soundbar is classified as 7.1.4, but take that with a pinch of salt. (Image credit: Future/TechRadar)

Bang & Olufsen Beosound Theatre review: Sound quality

  • Wide spatial soundstage
  • Incredible dynamics
  • A high performer with both movies and music

The Beosound Theatre provides a hugely entertaining listen. High frequencies are detail rich, there’s a smooth, fulsome mid-range and underpinning both is a bass attack capable of flattening your recliner. The speaker array is classified as 7.1.4, but take that with a pinch of salt. 

Despite the price tag, this is not a replacement for a high-end AV receiver system. It’s something altogether different. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the Theatre is its bass handling. This all-in-one slams like a battalion of subwoofers. It can drop seriously deep, and is capable of quite startling dynamics. Those two forward facing  6.5-inch woofers know how to pressure load a room.

But the bar is also capable of remarkable mid-range clarity. That center-mounted coaxial driver is beautifully articulate, not just with movie dialogue, which is always easy to follow no matter how busy the soundstage, but also music.

Stereo music sources can be upmixed to make full use of the expansive driver array, which is worth doing. With all cones at play, the soundstage is preternaturally wide and spacious. Significantly there’s no overt sweet spot – you won’t have to commandeer the prime spot on the sofa every time you want to listen to Tidal streams. Volume is prodigious too. There’s more than enough power on tap to pump the volume in a large listening space.

Of course, movies are the Beosound Theatre’s raison d'etre, and it doesn’t disappoint when the lights dim. The bar has a ball with Bond’s pirouetting Aston Martin from No Time to Die. The machine-gun headlights sound fast and fierce.

But blockbusters in particular reveal an Achilles' heel. The Beosound Theatre doesn’t offer a full 360 degree soundstage from Dolby Atmos sources. Even with those angled side speakers, there’s no sense of Dolby Atmos in the round. For that, you’ll really need to add additional rear speakers.

This isn’t a criticism particular to this B&O as all soundbars need to use additional speakers to convincingly deliver a full surround experience, and we're not knocking the B&O for not being able to break the laws of physics. We're judging it here as a one-box soundbar, not a surround system. But it still means that if you want this, you'd need to add more B&O speakers to your package.

What you're presented with from the bar alone, though, is a masterful sonic canvas that looms before you for games and music.

However, we found a curious issue with the accuracy of sound placement in games – they don't match what's on-screen as well as in movies. This will only really be an issue for serious shooter fans, and odds are those people will use a headset (or different screen) anyway, so we don't think it holds the Theatre back for 99% of its buyers.

  • Sound Quality score: 5/5

A close up of the grille design on the Bang & Olufsen Beosound Theatre Dolby Atmos soundbar

The Beosound Theatre soundbar we're reviewing here features a slatted oak wood grille, but there are several other options to pick from, which vary in price. (Image credit: Future/TechRadar)

Bang & Olufsen Beosound Theatre review: Design

  • Iconic Scandi-style design
  • Multiple stand options
  • Weighs 18kg

It seems entirely appropriate that a flagship soundbar should take its design cues from a ship. B&O describes the soundbar’s shiny exterior as a hull, which rather cleverly disguises some of the bulk. Another cute design trick is the central TV mounting plate. This allows virtually any TV to be secured to the bar, effectively obscuring the rear 50 per cent of the build.

The Theatre can be partnered with any screen brand or size, most typically 55, 65 or 77 inches. Bang & Olufsen works closely with LG, and stylistically, that would be the TV of choice – perhaps the new lighterweight LG C3. The aluminium wings – which fix left and right, and can be changed to accommodate different screen sizes – are an inspired element.

The top of the bar is wrapped in acoustic fabric. The cheapest (!) finish extends this to the front grille. The Beosound Theatre soundbar I tested features a slatted oak wood grille. 

Behind the grille are 12 speaker drivers: two 6.5-inch woofers and that coaxial centre, which comprises a 1-inch tweeter mounted in front of a 5.25-inch midranger. There’s also two 3-inch mid-range drivers, four 2.5-inch drivers and two 1-inch tweeters. The total power output for this array is 800W; 100 watts power the two bass drivers, with 60W going to each of the remaining 10 drivers.

One unintended consequence of the touch glass control up top is that it’s highly reflective, and always reflects what’s on the screen above. Depending on your angle, this could be a small frustration.

  • Design score: 4.5/5

Bang & Olufsen Beosound Theatre review: Value

  • Impeccable build quality
  • High-end performance
  • Lacking some (niche) features

There’s no dodging that huge price tag, particularly if you go for the full Scandi finish. That said, the Beosound Theatre is a remarkable piece of kit that sounds fantastic.

Does it deliver a performance commensurate with its price? That’s more difficult to say. What you’re buying here is so much more than the noise it makes.

Industrial design is outstanding. There’s not a millimeter of spare space beneath the hood (which goes some way to explaining its weight), yet an insistence on modular construction means it can always be repaired or upgraded. This isn’t so much a soundbar as an heirloom, if B&O lives up to the promise there.

It also uniquely dovetails with the larger B&O ecosystem. Which means if you’ve already bought into the brand, there’s more aspects of control and integration that can be unlocked.

But it's disappointing that it lacks DTS:X, and that none of the three input ports for passthrough to the TV are HDMI 2.1 compliant – for this price, we don't expect to want for any established soundbar features.

  • Value score: 3.5/5

A close-up of the grille design on the Bang & Olufsen Beosound Theatre Dolby Atmos soundbar

The Beosound Theatre looks unlike any other soundbar on the market and you can make it your own with a range of different finishes to choose from.  (Image credit: Future/TechRadar)

Bang & Olufsen Beosound Theatre review: Should I buy it?

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Bang & Olufsen Beosound Theatre review: Also consider

Xbox Series X review
5:52 pm | December 20, 2022

Author: admin | Category: Computers Gadgets | Tags: , , , | Comments: Off

Xbox Series X one-minute review

When the Xbox Series X launched in 2020, it was pretty challenging to recommend given the amount of features it was missing. But, over the years, it's come a long way, and the additional improvements it's received has massively changed the experience for the better. It's always been an impressive piece of hardware, but now it's worth every penny you spend. 

But, once again, that’s not to say that the Xbox Series X wasn’t missing the wow factor for quite some time. The lack of exclusive games made it feel like you would struggle to get the most out of Microsoft’s newest system, especially with such fierce competition with the PS5 and a number of Sony-exclusive titles being thrown into the ring. In addition, this wasn’t helped by the Xbox Series X’s use of the Xbox One interface. 

So, when you first boot up the Xbox Series X, it’s easy to feel a little underwhelmed. But the further you dive into the console, the vast improvements begin to shine through. The improved library of games that showcase what Microsoft’s new hardware can do is a great starting point. Games like Halo Infinite, Forza Horizon 5, and Microsoft Flight Simulator are prime examples of what the X is capable of, and that’s hardly scratching the surface. 

We've always been impressed with the Xbox Series X from a hardware perspective. It's lightning fast, practically silent, and delivers comparably exceptional performance to that of higher-end gaming PCs. This ensures that games – both old and new – look and perform better than they ever have before, providing a solid foundation for Microsoft to build upon as the generation progresses.

Xbox Series X one year on

Xbox Series X release date

(Image credit: Microsoft)

We've updated our Xbox Series X review to reflect our impressions after using the console for over two years. Microsoft has rolled out a few welcome improvements to the Series X, and now finally has the exclusive titles that take full advantage of the hardware's power like Halo Infinite and Forza Horizon 5. 

But unlike the best gaming PCs, which can cost thousands of dollars, Microsoft has packed a considerable amount of power under the Xbox Series X's monolith-esque frame for just $499 / £449 / AU$749. The end result is a competitively priced and technically advanced console providing drastically reduced load times and significantly improved visual fidelity.

The deal is sweetened further thanks to numerous quality-of-life features enhancing your gameplay experience, like Quick Resume and FPS Boost, which we'll discuss in further detail below. However, even though the Xbox Series X’s raw hardware power cannot be understated – and its new time-saving features are most certainly welcome – it's lacking in some critical areas. 

The Xbox Series X still doesn't have the same library of ‘must-have’ exclusives that PS5 or even Nintendo Switch can offer, but it does have Xbox Game Pass. It's a subscription service that lets you access hundreds of games for a monthly fee – and if you're someone who loves to play new titles each and every month spanning multiple genres, it's the best deal in gaming right now.

Even though Xbox Game Pass is mostly populated by older titles, many are optimized to take advantage of Xbox Series X's hardware, such as Gears 5, Forza Horizon 4, and Sea of Thieves. So, it's a great place to experience new-gen games for less. What's more, all first-party titles hit the service on day one, and thanks to Microsoft's acquisition of ZeniMax Media, Xbox Game Pass is now home to a bunch of Bethesda titles - with future titles like Starfield and The Elder Scrolls 6 landing on the service on day one. Microsoft also plans to acquire Activision Blizzard, which means series like Call of Duty will hit this service in the future.

As such, the Xbox Series X represents the ideal time to jump into the Xbox ecosystem for the first time. It's also above and beyond the quality long-time Xbox fans have come to expect. And with console availability better now than ever, it's an ideal time to pick up Microsoft's powerhouse flagship.

Xbox Series X review: price and release date

Xbox Series X

(Image credit: Future)
  • Xbox Series X release date: Out now (released November 10, 2020)
  • Xbox Series X price: $499 / £449 / AU$749

The Xbox Series X launched globally on November 10, 2020, giving Microsoft a two-day head start against Sony's PS5, which was released on November 12 (in select countries and November 19 for the rest of the world). Check out our PS5 review if you're interested in Sony's console.

The Xbox Series X is priced at $499 / £449 / AU$749. A lower-specced, digital-only version of the console, the Xbox Series S, launched on the same day, priced at $299.99 / £249.99 / AU$499. If that price point sounds more appealing, read our full Xbox Series S review.

While this isn’t exactly pocket money, it’s a decent price for the new Xbox. It’s the same price as the (now discontinued) Xbox One was at launch, also matching the MSRP of the also discontinued Xbox One X. Both are nowhere near as powerful as the Xbox Series X. Considering that the Series X has specs similar to a gaming PC, the $500 mark is pretty great – you’d be hard-pressed to find a good PC at that price.

However, as mentioned, if you want to get the most out of your Xbox Series X we recommend picking up an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription, which costs $15 / £10.99 / AU$15.95 a month (annual subscriptions are also available, which cuts a little off the yearly cost). While this is an additional outlay, that grants you extra access to hundreds of Xbox Game Pass games (including Bethesda and EA titles), Xbox Live Gold, Xbox Cloud Gaming, and monthly free games, which should save you money in the long term compared with buying games separately. 

If you’re not fussed about the bells and whistles of Game Pass Ultimate, then it may be worth picking up a regular Game Pass subscription instead, which costs ($9.99 / £7.99 / AU$10.95). That only grants access to the service on console (rather than both PC and console) and does away with cloud gaming on mobile devices.

It’s worth pointing out that the Xbox Series X is also available on Microsoft's Xbox All Access subscription service in select regions, including the US, UK, and Australia. Xbox All Access bundles together the console with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate on a 24-month plan (giving you access to the latter for the duration) at a price of $34.99 /£28.99 / AU$46 a month, with no upfront costs – which feels like a very good deal.

But the Xbox Series X isn’t the only new-gen console available, and it’s also worth checking out the PS5 and PS5 Digital, which initially launched at similar price points. However, we've recently seen the PS5 get a price hike with Sony blaming this on soaring inflation globally. Thankfully, Xbox won't follow PlayStation with price hikes but as it stands, Xbox doesn't rule out future price hikes

We won’t delve too much into that here, though, but it currently makes the Xbox Series X the cheaper powerhouse option.

Xbox Series X review: design

Xbox Series X review vertical orientation

(Image credit: Future)
  • Modern, sleek design
  • Extremely quiet
  • Emits same amount of heat as Xbox One X
  • Minimal UI and dashboard updates

The Xbox Series X design is a major departure from its predecessors – the upright tower design is more reminiscent of a desktop gaming PC, though you can position the console horizontally, too. Measuring 15.1 x 15 x 30.1cm and weighing 4.45kg, the cuboid-shaped console is matte black all over, apart from a green hue inside the indented cooling vents on the top – it’s clever and elevates the console’s design. 

The design of the face of the console is pretty straightforward, with the signature Xbox power button at the top-left, a disc drive (and eject button) at the bottom-left, and a pairing button and USB 3.2 port at the bottom-right (the pairing button also acts as an IR receiver). The back of the console has some cooling vents as well as an HDMI 2.1 output port, two USB 3.2 ports, one networking port, a storage expansion slot, and a power input port.

An interesting accessibility feature on the back of the console is that all the ports have tactile indicators (little, raised dots) which indicate which port you are touching. For example, the USB 3.2 ports have three raised ports, while the power input port has just one. This aims to aid reach-around cabling and to make the console more accessible to the visually impaired.

Xbox Series X review rear

(Image credit: TechRadar)

The sides of the console (when it’s upright) are blank, save for a discreet Xbox logo in the corner of the left side and four rubber pads on the right, which allow for the console to sit horizontally. On the bottom of the console is a slightly elevated disc-shaped stand, along with some more vents for cooling – as mentioned, the top of the console is designed to help with ventilation, as this is where the Xbox Series X exhausts any heat it generates.

The console itself looks minimalistic, sleek… monolithic even. Despite its weight and fairly large size, it looks considerably smaller than its measurements would suggest. We found it slotted with ease into an Ikea Kallax shelving unit (39cm x 39cm), when oriented either horizontally or vertically, and comfortably blended in with its surroundings. 

The Xbox Series X design is something you’ll either love or hate – we found it a welcome change from the previous low-profile Xbox consoles. It's sleek, modern, and looks like something a grown-up would actually want to own, and it's a nice evolution from the flat-but-compact Xbox One S and Xbox One X models. 

Still, the matte black design does mean the console is easily scuffed and scratched, though it doesn't get dirty. While we've seen Logitech show off a white Xbox Series X console in a recent advert, Microsoft has confirmed there's no plans to release the base console in additional colors at this time.

Quiet as a whisper – but pretty toasty

Xbox Series X

(Image credit: TechRadar)

A major upside of the Xbox Series X is how unexpectedly quiet it is. We've almost become accustomed to consoles revving up like they're about to take off when running games that really put them through their paces; but the Xbox Series X is the quietest Xbox we've had the pleasure of playing on.

When you're on the home screen, the console puts out around 30dB of sound – that's about the audio level of a whisper – and this changes very little when you actually load up and play games. When playing Sea of Thieves, No Man's Sky, and PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, we found the decibels never exceeded 33dB.

That said, when installing a larger update we recorded levels up to 45dB, which is roughly as noisy as a printer in action. Even then, that's not too loud, and it barely registers over the sound of actually playing a game. This was also the case when sampling various new-gen titles.

It's welcome news for those who don't want their gameplay interrupted by the whirring of a struggling machine – but with this quietness comes some heat. The Xbox Series X is on a par with the Xbox One X for heat emission, with heat dispersed through the cooling vents at the top, which we advise leaving ample space for. The console itself does get toasty, too, but we didn't find that this impacted performance when running more intensive new-gen titles.

Xbox Series X: UI and dashboard

Xbox Series X UI

(Image credit: Microsoft)

While the external design of the Xbox Series X is a considerable departure from its predecessors, the console's UI and dashboard contain more subtle changes. The Xbox Series X dashboard is the same as the Xbox One’s. The main reason for this is because Microsoft rolled out a meaty update to the Xbox One back in August 2020 to make its UI more streamlined, and to converge it with that of the Xbox Series X.  

That means the Xbox Series X UI still has a tiled layout with customizable pins. So, you can choose which games and apps you want to see first on your home screen, and offers easy access to games, apps, party chat, and other features via the Xbox button on your controller. It's a pretty streamlined interface that allows for plenty of customization options and easy navigation. 

Customization seems to be at the heart of the Xbox Series X UI. In addition to moving around your pinned games and apps, Microsoft is also letting players express themselves a bit more with the inclusion of new profile themes, acting as a background for your profile page. Players can also now finally use dynamic backgrounds, which offers a more personalized home screen option for those who are bored of the Xbox One's static offering.

The Xbox Series X dashboard is quicker to navigate than previously, too, but we did find that there were some pop-in issues when content was being pulled in from the internet. We also found ourselves a bit underwhelmed generally by the UI and dashboard, as it’s lacking any real next-gen flair. We would have liked to see an overhaul that really distinguished the Xbox Series X from its predecessor and made it look new, with easier ways to navigate to media outside of having to add your streaming apps to a pin group.

We can expect further changes to come for the UI. If you're an Xbox Insider, Microsoft recently rolled new Xbox Series X homepage layouts but fans aren't happy. While this introduces some quality of life changes, some players weren't so keen on the "tile clutter" this introduced, while others aren't fond of ads still taking up homepage space. As a feature currently in beta testing, this could change, so we'll keep this updated as we learn more.

Xbox Series X review: performance

Xbox Series X

(Image credit: Future)
  • Significantly faster loading times and more stability
  • Easily expandable storage
  • 4K/60fps gameplay (up to 120fps support)
  • Auto HDR

The Xbox Series X is an absolute powerhouse, rocking an eight-core AMD Zen 2 processor running at 3.8GHz, a custom RDNA 2 AMD GPU that puts out 12 TFLOPs of processing power, 16GB of GDDR6 memory, and a 1TB Custom NVMe SSD.

Xbox Series X specs

Xbox Series X on a blank background with two plants

(Image credit: Shutterstock / vfhnb12)

CPU: 8x Cores @ 3.8 GHz (3.6 GHz w/ SMT) Custom Zen 2 CPU 

GPU: 12 TFLOPS, 52 CUs @ 1.825 GHz Custom RDNA 2 GPU 

Die Size: 360.45 mm2 

Process: 7nm Enhanced 

Memory: 16 GB GDDR6 w/ 320b bus 

Memory Bandwidth: 10GB @ 560 GB/s, 6GB @ 336 GB/s 

Internal Storage: 1TB Custom NVME SSD I/O Throughput: 2.4 GB/s (Raw), 4.8 GB/s

Expandable Storage: 1TB Expansion Card (matches internal storage exactly) 

External Storage: USB 3.2 External HDD Support 

Optical Drive: 4K UHD Blu-ray Drive 

Performance Target: 4K @ 60fps, Up to 120fps

So what does that mean in terms of real-world performance? 

Shorter loading times

Yakuza: Like a Dragon on Xbox Series X

(Image credit: Sega)

Well, for a start, the Xbox Series X is super-fast thanks to its NVMe SSD. We've seen the Xbox Series X shave tens of seconds off the load times in games, compared with how they run on the Xbox One S. The Xbox Series X always loaded quicker – in some cases by a few seconds, and in others almost halving the load time. 

To give you an idea of how much faster these load times are, we timed how long it took to load into a game from clicking the 'Continue' button on the menu screen, for the same games on the Xbox One S and Xbox Series X. 

While some titles benefit more than others from faster load speeds, even a few seconds saved is welcome. While games such as Ori and the Blind Forest load fairly quickly anyway, meaning the difference is less noticeable, it's with titles like Sea of Thieves where the power of the SSD really shines – we saw the loading time for Sea of Thieves cut down from 100 seconds to just 35.

When it comes to next-gen titles, we found the few loading screens we were presented with lasted mere seconds. The speed advantage was really shown off by Yakuza: Like a Dragon's fast travel, which comes in the form of a taxi ride. It took around 4.7 seconds to fast-travel to a different district from the moment we accepted the ride, a big improvement over our experience on Xbox One.

4K at 60fps (up to 120fps)

The Falconeer on Xbox Series X

(Image credit: Wired Productions)

The Xbox Series X’s RDNA 2 GPU allows the console to target 4K at 60fps, however, it also means there’s support for up to 120fps. 

Reaching 4K at 120fps

To make sure we could experience Series X gameplay the way it was intended, we hooked the console up to a 55-inch Samsung Q80T QLED 4K HDR Smart TV. We made sure the TV's game mode was enabled, and configured the Xbox's TV settings to allow for 4K UHD and 120fps, which is only achievable on an HDMI 2.1-compliant display like Samsung's here, and which is recommended for enabling the best visual experience possible. 

Unless you’re fussy about your frame rates, we would say that getting an HDMI 2.1-compliant display isn’t necessarily essential. The Xbox Series X’s native 4K at 60fps means you get the best of both worlds, minimal frame rate drops (resulting in a smoother experience), and pretty stunning visuals. However, it’s worth noting that for this you do require a 4K-ready TV for 4K resolutions.

While 120fps feels buttery-smooth in games such as The Falconeer, these games do sacrifice resolution as a result. So, for example, the Falconeer can be played in 4K at 60fps. But if you choose the 120fps option, you’ll notice fewer frame drops and better response times, at the expense of sharpness as resolution drops to 1080p. It’s all about compromise and personal preference.

That being said, the likes of Gears 5’s multiplayer allows for 4K at 120fps (thanks to Xbox Series X optimization) and, as a result, offers a smooth and visually impressive upgrade over its Xbox One predecessor. If you enjoy fast-paced competitive multiplayer, then you’ll notice a huge difference from the Xbox One family.

To enable 120fps, you can pop into your console’s audio and visual settings, where you can choose from various frame rate and resolution options. It’s pretty straightforward, and we're pleased to see just how many Xbox Series X games with 120fps support there is, including The Falconeer and Gears 5’s multiplayer, Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War, Halo Infinite multiplayer, and more.

Auto HDR on Xbox Series X

Sea of Thieves on Xbox Series X

(Image credit: Rare)

Like the Xbox One, the Xbox Series X allows for calibration of HDR for games. We'd advise setting this before playing any games, as it ensures the balance of contrast is spot-on, giving you the best visuals possible.

For our initial review, we primarily had access to a selection of backwards-compatible titles which are the best indicator of the boost in performance the Xbox Series X delivers over its last-gen counterparts. With the above settings enabled, we found that the games immediately looked better on the Xbox Series X – which isn't particularly surprising, given that Microsoft has implemented native HDR for these titles.

We go into detail as to how this performance boost improves Xbox Series X Optimized titles further down, but in short, when playing backwards-compatible titles on the Xbox One S and Xbox Series X versions side-by-side we could clearly see the visual upgrade.

FPS Boost on Xbox Series X

Watch Dogs 2 free

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

Microsoft has added a new feature to Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S post-launch called FPS Boost, which has the potential to quadruple the framerates of older titles. It means that games that were previously locked to 30 frames per second can now hit 60fps - some games can even hit 120fps.

At present, FPS Boost only applies to a specific selection of Xbox One games. The list is extensive but unfortunately, Microsoft's not adding any further games to this. Still, FPS Boost is a fantastic upgrade, particularly for those with an Xbox Game Pass subscription, as it allows Xbox One games to utilize the power of the Xbox Series X. So, for compatible games, it feels less of a technological step back when you decide to revisit some of your favorite Xbox One games.

If, for some reason, you don't want to play these games at a higher framerate, you can also turn it off on a per-game basis. However, we'd recommend leaving it on as it makes games look visually smoother and feel far more responsive. 

We've included some of the Xbox Series X/S games that support FPS Boost in the linked list.

Xbox Series X Storage

Xbox Series X storage

(Image credit: TechRadar)

The Xbox Series X's 1TB Custom NVMe SSD translates to 802GB of usable storage, with 198GB reserved for system files and the Xbox operating system. We were able to download 18 games of varying sizes before having to utilize the console's expandable storage. 

That's a fair chunk to play through, then, but we'd advise picking up the Seagate Storage Expansion Card if you really want to take advantage of features such as Quick Resume and the plethora of titles available through Xbox Game Pass. It’s important to note that true new-gen titles will likely take up more storage space once their optimizations have been rolled out. 

Along with our console, we were able to test Seagate's 1TB expansion storage card for the Xbox Series X, which also comes in 512GB and 2TB options. The 1TB card doesn't come cheap at $219.99 / £219.99 / AU$359, but we found it extremely easy to use – when we were running out of storage, we simply slotted the card into the back of the Xbox and accessed the extra terabyte. When the console detects that it's approaching its storage capacity, it asks if you want to install on the card instead, while also offering a straightforward option for freeing up space by deleting games. 

If the expansion storage card runs a bit expensive for your taste, you can always attach an external drive HDD or SSD via the console's USB 3.1 port. However, these can only play Xbox One and backward-compatible games (with the SSD allowing for faster loading times). You can store your Xbox Series X games on the external HDD or SSD, but only an NVMe SSD can play Xbox Series X Optimized titles. 

The process of adding an external hard drive works in the same way as it did on Xbox One: you simply plug the storage into one of the system’s USB ports, and the Xbox will detect it. If the drive needs to be formatted, you’ll see a prompt asking you to do this. It’s a plug-and-play solution that works just as you’d hope. 

What's good about the Xbox Series X's storage is that, when you’re installing (or uninstalling) games, you can select particular parts of games to install rather than the full thing. For example, you can download Doom Eternal's multiplayer but not the campaign, or vice versa. We're curious to see how many games will support this kind of installation functionality in the future, because it's a welcome feature and should help with storage management. 

Xbox Series X review: controller

Xbox Series X controller

(Image credit: TechRadar)
  • Feels familiar in the hand yet subtly different
  • Works on a range of devices
  • Improved tactile textures and refined geometry
  • New ‘Share’ button

The Xbox Series X Wireless Controller feels familiar in the hand yet subtly different. Compared to the Xbox One Controller, it's got improved tactile textures and refined geometry which makes for a more ergonomic, and more comfortable, playing experience. 

On the surface, the Xbox Series X controller doesn’t look like a particularly drastic departure from its predecessor. It sports a similar shape and keeps the traditional button and trigger layout. On closer inspection, though, you begin to notice the subtle differences Microsoft has implemented. 

The gamepad’s exterior now sports a matte finish that closely matches the console’s design. While this certainly looks sleek, there's a few drawbacks – the black controller that comes with the console easily picks up noticeable scuffs and scrapes, and considering the amount of hands-on time controllers are subjected, you may find it hard to keep yours looking in tip-top condition for years to come. Other color variants are available though (you'll need to buy these separately), including Electric Volt, DayStrike Camo, and Pulse Red, and some may be less prone to scuffs.

That's a minor quibble, though, and overall we found that the Xbox Series X controller resembles a more premium controller, both in look and feel. The revised pad now has a tactile texture on the triggers, grips, and bumpers, which we found made the controller feel more secure in our hands.

In addition, while the controller is the same size as its predecessor, the bumpers and triggers have been rounded and reduced in size by a few millimetres, which makes the gamepad feel less bulky. If you're someone with small hands, past Xbox One controllers have felt quite bulky, but this simple change improves comfort levels in a subtle but noticeable way. 

Xbox controller

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Perhaps the most notable changes to the controller are the addition of the ‘Share’ button and the hybrid D-pad. The Share button essentially acts as a capture button, allowing you to easily snap screenshots of your game – a single click takes a snapshot while holding the button down for longer records a 15-second video by default (you can adjust the video duration in the Capture settings). 

This is much easier than on the Xbox One, where you had to press the home button and then X or Y. Still, we did find it a bit fiddly to quickly take a screenshot – your experience may vary depending on how big your hands are.

The hybrid D-pad, on the other hand, aims to provide a middle ground between the Xbox One controller’s classic D-pad and the Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2’s changeable disc-shaped, faceted D-pad. What results is a kind of traditional D-pad, laid over a disc. Again, this is a small but welcome change and is intended to give more control and leverage over the D-pad – while generally feeling more comfortable.

But there’s a lot about the controller’s design that hasn’t changed. It keeps the 3.5mm audio jack and expansion port at the bottom, its USB charge port and pairing button at the top, and its View, Menu, and Xbox buttons on the face.

In addition to the cosmetic changes, the Xbox Series X controller brings improvements in functionality too. We found the controller to be more responsive, which is likely down to the lower latency Microsoft has boasted about (paired with more frame rate stability), while connecting the gamepad wirelessly via Bluetooth to a range of devices – including the Xbox One, an iPhone 11, and a Mac – was straightforward.

The Series X controller again runs on AA batteries (regular or rechargeable), but if you want to avoid the hassle of changing or charging batteries constantly then you can invest in a Play and Charge Kit (a rechargeable battery back that you can use to charge the controller while you’re playing or between sessions), or connect your controller to the console via USB-C (although this will, of course, limit your freedom of movement).

Xbox Series X review: features

Xbox Series X logo

(Image credit: TechRadar)
  • Quick Resume is pretty seamless
  • Great backward compatibility with games and accessories
  • 4K UHD Blu-ray drive
  • Dolby Atmos and DTS support

The Xbox Series X has a number of useful features and meaningful quality-of-life improvements. Unlike most consoles, there's active support for using a keyboard and mouse on Xbox Series X, while the 4K Blu-ray drive and access to entertainment apps means the console doubles up as a home entertainment system. We've even seen Discord become available for all Xbox Series X players.

Quick Resume on Xbox Series X

Gears Tactics on Xbox Series X

(Image credit: The Coalition)

Perhaps the most welcome of the Xbox Series X’s features is Quick Resume. The purpose of Quick Resume is to allow you to continue a game from a suspended state pretty much instantly. So, within seconds, you can jump back into the game where you left off, as if you never stopped playing, without having to sit through loading screens again. Not only that, but you can jump between multiple games that have been left in this suspended state in no time at all. 

We could seamlessly jump between gameplay in  seconds, as long as the games you're hopping between have already been booted up at some point beforehand. We were able to jump from being in a timberyard as Alan Wake to being Alyson Ronan in Dontnod's Tell Me Why within 11.4 seconds, by pressing the Xbox button on the controller and selecting the game from the sidebar. That's from gameplay to gameplay – no loading screens. If we wanted to access Tell Me Why from the Xbox dashboard home screen, selected as the current game we were playing, the time from the dashboard to gameplay was 2.7 seconds.

Online multiplayer games work a bit differently from other titles. Naturally, it wouldn't be feasible to allow players to suspend mid-play during online gameplay, or we'd just have a bunch of AFK players on the servers. For example, if you're mid-game in Sea of Thieves, and then decide to jump into another game, you’ll be removed from the game – but you can Quick Resume from the title screen.

Since its launch, Quick Resume has received an update that makes the feature more reliable, makes it easier to see which games you have stored in a suspended state. That also identifies which games actually support the feature, with the ability to simply select each game from the My Games and Apps menu. It's a very welcome quality-of-life feature that simply makes using Quick Resume a little bit easier.

Backward compatibility on Xbox Series X

Alan Wake backwards compatibility on Xbox Series X

(Image credit: Remedy Entertainment)

Another of the Xbox Series X's best features is the breadth of its backward compatibility. There are well over 1,000 backward-compatible titles available, meaning you’ll be hard-pressed to find an older game you have that isn’t supported on the Series X. 

As mentioned previously, we found these titles loaded faster and simply played better; improved stability means fewer frame rate drops, which makes older games feel nicer to play, even if they're otherwise a little outdated by the standards of modern blockbusters. Sadly, Microsoft has confirmed it's unlikely that we'll see more added in the future.

This backward compatibility also extends to Xbox accessories. We found that we could easily connect the original Xbox Wireless Controller and the Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2 to the Xbox Series X with no issues, and we were also able to connect our headsets.

Any officially licensed Xbox One accessory that connects either wirelessly or via a wired USB connection should work on the Xbox Series X, such as the Xbox Wireless Headset; however, it’s worth noting that optical port connections aren’t supported, although some of these products may work with a firmware update.

Smart Delivery

Watch Dogs: Legion on Xbox Series X

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

Xbox Smart Delivery aims to allow players to always have access to the best possible version of an Xbox game, whichever console they’re playing on. Essentially, it’s a bit like forward compatibility and backward compatibility combined, making the most of cross-generation gaming. 

We found that we could access the games we had access to on Xbox Series X on the Xbox One S without issue, and without having to purchase two versions of the same title. So, for example, we could play The Falconeer on Xbox Series X – with its optimizations – then jump onto the Xbox One S and continue playing the game there, just without the Series X optimizations. 

Save data is carried between consoles, so we could easily jump between playing on both. Likewise, our Xbox One games were easily accessible on the Xbox Series X, with upgrades becoming immediately available for those that currently have Series X optimizations, such as Gears Tactics and Gears 5.

Multimedia on Xbox Series X

Netflix

(Image credit: Netflix)

The Series X also offers a range of multimedia features. For one, the console boasts a built-in 4K Blu-ray player that’s simple to use. 

You also have access to a range of streaming services: there’s Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney Plus, and others that are available on existing Xbox One consoles, plus some that are new to the platform, including Apple TV Plus and region-specific apps such as Hulu in the US and Sky Go in the UK. All of these can take advantage of the console's 4K UHD capabilities, although some require a decent internet connection.

While all the most popular entertainment apps are available, we did find that there are still some (more regional apps) that we wish we had access to, such as ITV Hub and BBC iPlayer in the UK.

Dolby Vision support

Gears 5 Xbox Series X

(Image credit: The Coaliton)

Microsoft is also the only new-gen console maker to support Dolby Vision, a more exacting HDR format that allows for superior contrast and color accuracy. In terms of content, you can watch shows and movies in Dolby Vision with Netflix (if you shell out for the premium subscription tier).

The advantage Dolby Vision has over standard HDR10 is that it supports 12-bit color, enabling the console to display more than 68.7 billion colors, far more than the 10-bit HDR format could show. Of course, how good those colors will look ultimately depends on your TV – which also needs to support Dolby Vision, although that’s par for the course. You can now enjoy Dolby Vision gaming too.

It's worth noting that the 4K Blu-ray player in the Xbox Series X doesn't yet support Dolby Vision, though we could see this changing in the near future with a firmware update.

DTS and Dolby Atmos support 

Forza Horizon 4 Xbox Series X

(Image credit: Playground Games)

While the default headphones setting for Xbox Series X is Windows Sonic, as on the Xbox One before it, the Xbox Series X also supports Dolby Atmos and DTS headphone: X sound – though you need to purchase a separate license for each.

Windows Sonic is fine for those who aren’t too fussed about their audio, but Dolby Atmos and DTS provide a fuller spatial sound experience. This means, for example, that you can tell from an enemy’s footsteps exactly where they are in relation to you. If you’re someone who plays a lot of online multiplayer then it could be worth picking one of these up, especially as you don’t need a specific headset for either to work – though to use Dolby Atmos you require a compatible soundbar.

It’s also worth noting that these only work with games that support Dolby Atmos or DTS sound, which include the likes of Gears 5, Forza Horizon 4, and Rise of the Tomb Raider.

Xbox App 

Xbox Series X app

(Image credit: Microsoft)

The new Xbox App for iOS and Android is an upgraded version of the companion app that gives you more control than before. 

It allows you to specifically manage storage across your Xbox consoles, voice-chat with friends on either Xbox or PC, and easily share clips and screenshots from games and granting easy access to remote play. 

You can even use the app as a remote control for your console, which is very handy for multimedia services. Overall, we found the companion app made it easier than ever to access and manage our Xboxes on the go. 

Xbox Series X review: library

The Touryst on Xbox Series X

(Image credit: Shin'en Multimedia)
  • Launch title lineup is a bit disappointing
  • Combined with Xbox Game Pass, offers plenty to play
  • Plenty of backward-compatible games to play

The Xbox Series X game library is perhaps what lets the new console down the most. For a start, there were only a handful of new big-name games that landed on the console at launch – Assassin's Creed Valhalla, Watch Dogs: Legion, Dirt 5, and Yakuza: Like a Dragon, none of which were Xbox exclusives.

In fact, every Xbox Series X launch game was already available (or would be available) on Xbox One – and many were released on PS5 too. The launch titles that were Xbox exclusives, such as Gears 5, Forza Horizon 4, and Ori and the Will of the Wisps, were all optimized versions of Xbox One titles. 

The Xbox exclusive situation has thankfully improved, with Halo Infinite, Microsoft Flight Simulator, and Forza Horizon 5 bolstering Microsoft's lineup. However, there's still a distinct lack of games that can only be played on Xbox Series X|S, like Bloober Team’s psychological thriller The Medium. It’ll be a while yet before we get our hands on big hitters like Everwild, Redfall, and Fable.

While the next few months for Xbox games still look a bit uncertain, Microsoft has a major ace in the hole: its acquisition of ZeniMax Media, the parent company of Bethesda, and Activision Blizzard. This is a huge move by Microsoft that could seriously bolster that lackluster exclusive offering, meaning that future Bethesda titles like The Elder Scrolls 6 and Starfield will come exclusively to Xbox and PC. 

Now that’s a prospect that makes Xbox Series X very interesting and could give it a serious advantage over the PS5.

Xbox Game Pass

Xbox Game Pass Ultimate

(Image credit: Microsoft)

The saving grace, in terms of the games available, is that Xbox Series X players have access to thousands of backward-compatible games, so you'll have plenty of older games to play.

If you’re picking up an Xbox Series X, we would strongly advise picking up an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription to bolster your library. As previously mentioned, Xbox Game Pass Ultimate means you get access to hundreds of Xbox One games off the bat, including first-party Xbox games on day one. So, in terms of money-saving, pairing your Game Pass subscription with your new console means you won’t have to shell out for brand-new games – unless they’re not included on Game Pass.

In the past six months, we’ve seen even more titles added to Game Pass, including a large number of Bethesda titles, with Microsoft confirming we will see future first-party Xbox games hit the service on launch day - that includes Bethesda games. Activision Blizzard games will also come to the service if the aforementioned acquisition is approved.

If you're hoping to get Xbox Game Pass Ultimate for an even cheaper price, we've got good news. While this is currently being trialled in just the Republic of Ireland and Colombia, Microsoft is looking to launch an Xbox Game Pass family plan, allowing you and four players to jump in for a monthly cost of €21.99 – which comes to around $21.99 / £19.99 / AU$32.99

Xbox Series X optimized

Xbox Series X optimized logo

(Image credit: Microsoft)

A handful of the best Xbox One games have been optimized for the Xbox Series X. These titles have been upgraded or built with the Xbox Series X in mind, in order to make the most of the console’s power – and boy, do they show it.

We tested a few Optimized titles including Gears 5, Yakuza: Like a Dragon, The Falconeer, and Dirt 5, and found that these games boasted minimal loading times, improved stability, and considerably enhanced visuals.For example, Gears 5 on Xbox Series X boasts ray tracing and 4K at 60fps, making the campaign mode look better than ever before, and load faster.

It’s immediately more immersive, thanks to more stable frame rates and a lack of loading screen walls. The difference is even more noticeable in Gears 5’s multiplayer, which allows for 4K at 120fps, resulting in buttery smooth performance that feels much more responsive – which is critical in online multiplayer. With Dolby Atmos support too, it's a brilliant showcase for the Xbox Series X’s unbridled power.

Should I buy the Xbox Series X?

Xbox Series X horizontal

(Image credit: Future)

Buy it if...

Xbox Series X

(Image credit: Future)

Don't buy it if...

Also consider

First reviewed: November 2020.