Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Hands-On: The Xbox 360 S 4GB Console

We’ve already taken a look at the 250gb Xbox 360 S last month in our in-depth hands-on with the unit, and now today we sit down and do the same with the cheaper 4gb model of the console. For those looking for a more comprehensive report, you should check out our original feature, as what we have hear is more of look at the differences between the two models rather than a complete showcase.

Billed as the replacement for the previous Xbox 360 Arcade, the new 4gb S is £50 cheaper (retailing at £150 against £200) and comes complete with the same feature set as the 250gb unit. You’ve got the five USB ports (two on the front, three on the back), AV out, Optical out, HDMI output, Ethernet port, a custom connector for hooking up Kinect, and the inclusion of the built-in Wi-Fi adaptor previously speculated to remain exclusive to the larger unit S console. Effectively the only difference between the two is the size of the memory contained within the console, and the unit’s aesthetic finish.

The 250gb model 360 S went for a decidedly high-end approach to aesthetic design, featuring a glossy black plastic finish with some shiny chrome highlights complementing the style set chosen to represent the ‘elite’ of Xbox gaming. It was pretty stylish and really looked like a premium product of sorts. Although the shiny finish caused no end of problems if you weren’t careful with it. The unit easily picked up fingerprints, and attracted dust like it had just been cleaned with some kind of window polish.

By contrast the 4gb model features a matt finish and only subtle touches of the chrome highlighting; present only on the touch sensitive ‘power’ and disc tray ‘open/close’ buttons. The sides of the unit, which also previously had touches of chrome, now have a glossy black surround instead, complementing the matt black aesthetic found on the top, bottom, front and back of the machine. The contrast between the shiny edges and the rest of the machine is further accentuated by the difference in the shade of black used for the two parts of the console – it’s noticeable lighter on top.

I have to say that I actually much prefer the more traditional look of the 4gb unit above the overly shiny 250gb model. Sure, the 4gb unit lacks that ‘high-end’ look that most shiny products display so proudly. But at the same time I find that that the standard matt approach is far more functional, and still looks rather stylish overall. There’s no chance of accidentally leaving loads of smudged finger marks on the console, and in terms of cleaning the unit, a simple duster will more than suffice. Comparatively, cleaning the 250gb model required delicate use of a micro fibre cloth. And even then, there was still a small chance at marking the console.

I also think that the new matt finish better represents the 360 brand as a whole, owing to the fact that the overall look of the 4gb unit is much closer to an extension of the previous 360’s design, rather than an attempt to follow Sony and Apple’s idea of shiny meaning ‘top of the range’, as it were. Personal preference for sure, but I do think that having a glossy finish for the 250gn was a light miss-step for the company. Although it IS their brand, and having it unified with two black Xbox 360’s can only be a good thing, even if one happens to be annoyingly shiny.

In terms of storage space, the latest version of the Xbox 360 S features 4gb of inbuilt flash memory compared to the 250gb hard drive found in its bigger brother. The compartment containing the hard drive is still correct and present though, so a HDD can later be installed if need be, much like on the existing Arcade and Core 360 consoles.

According to both Microsoft, and the picture on the side of the box, a 250gb HDD will be available separately at some point in the near future. One US-based online retailer already has it up for preorder, listing it at $130, so we can also expect it to arrive in the UK for around the £100 mark shortly. Unless of course, that Microsoft tries to change us a premium £130 in a like for like exchange, which would be most unwise seeing as Kinect will be retailing for the same amount.

Other than the smooth matt exterior and the use of internal 4gb flash memory, the rest of the package is identical to the 250gb model. The very same controller can be found in the box, along with the new style AV Composite cable, and the curvy looking power supply unit, all of which can be seen in the screenshots above.

You may have noticed that we’ve used them before in our hands-on report of the original 250gb unit, but seeing as these components are identical, then what is the point in photographing them all over again. Impressions of these items can be found in our 250gb Xbox 360 S feature, if you’re interested.

Operating noise is identical to our 250gb S console, with the fan noise being barely audible in a quiet room, and only ever ramping up when placing a disc in the drive and booting up the game; DVD playback is, like with the original 360, at idling levels.

Seeing as there isn’t enough space to install disc-based games onto the flash memory (of which only 3gb is left after the OS steals the rest) we could only test out small XBL demos to determine the impact of playing games off the internal memory versus an actual disc. As with the 250gb machine, operating noise drops down to idling levels comfortably, only rising up slightly after twenty minutes or so of prolonged use. I also left the console on for another half hour or so with the game still running, but didn’t encounter any further rises in fan speed.

The 4gb Xbox 360 S then represents a solid upgrade for anyone looking to replace their existing Arcade or Core model 360’s, or even their 20gb Premium or Pro units if they haven’t the need for the extra space the hard drive provides. Like with the 250gb console the 4gb S has the same stylish design, and all of the additional features of its bigger brother, but without the overly shiny aesthetic of a ‘supposedly’ premium item. The advantage is that you don’t have to treat the 4gb S with kid gloves, and more importantly still have access to inbuilt Wi-Fi and a direct, all-in-one link for the Kinect.

Unfortunitely, for those looking to upgrade to this model over an old 360 with a hard drive, there is a distinct lack of storage space available going from 20 to 100 gigabytes to 4gb of flash of memory. However, a separate 250gb HDD will be available shortly, and when it arrives the 4gb model will actually represent a good, if not slightly more expensive, upgrade path for existing owners of the old 360 console.

Personally, I prefer the smooth matt exterior, with the glossy black and chrome highlights over the shiny finish of the 250gb S. And in turn, definitely feel that the 4gb machine represents how the new S console should look like when seen as a genuine continuation of the existing Xbox 360 brand. Then again, it makes perfect sense from Microsoft’s point of view to have two differently styled machines, with the 250gb leading the way with its ‘elite’ look about it, and the 4gb with its more traditional finish becoming a solid, yet barely lower-end alternative.


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