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Should You Buy the New Disc-Free Xbox One?

A Xbox One S next to an Xbox One S All-Digital with Sea of Thieves, Forza Horizon, Ori and the Blind Forest background

Microsoft just announced the Xbox One S All-Digital Version, an Xbox without a disc drive. They’re priced at $250 and include three games to start, so the question is: Should you buy it? Surprisingly the answer isn’t “no, not ever.”

Look Ma! No Discs!

Microsoft’s latest Xbox is a bit of curiosity. Imagine an Xbox One S. Now remove the disc drive and cover up the hole with a plastic face. And you have the Xbox One S All-Digital Version. Why not retool the console to account for removal of the drive? In an interview with Ars Technica, Microsoft’s Platform and Devices GM Jeff Gattis explained that even though it looked like a ten-minute design job they did in fact run through a new testing cycle and opted to go with the same form factor to keep costs down.

The change is more than just a redesign or lack thereof, however. Over at our sister site How-To Geek, we’ve detailed how this new Xbox fulfills Microsoft’s original vision for this console generation. But to get into whether or not you should buy it, really we need to dig into what you’re giving up and what you’re gaining.

Say Goodbye To Buying Physical Games And Movies

About 15 Xbox One Games
Just a few of the games I own and couldn’t play on the new Xbox Josh Hendrickson / Review Geek

Buying the Xbox One S All-Digital Version (which has a name so terrible it’s a strike against purchasing the thing) means giving up the ability to use any physical media. And that’s something to think through on multiple levels.

Do you ever buy used games? You can’t do that with this system. Do you trade or borrow discs with a friend? Also a no-go. Do you care about best price? Physical media is often on sale cheaper than the digital version, but that won’t help you with this Xbox.

Do you prefer the absolute best possible picture and sound from your movies that only physical media can provide? Well, you’re going to have to buy a Blu-ray player to go with this thing. Do you already own Xbox One and Xbox 360 games on discs? You can’t play those on this console.

Do you have multiple Xbox consoles in your house? We made a strong argument in our article about whether or not you should buy physical Switch games based on whether or not you have multiple consoles and players in your home. While the Xbox has way better cross-console sharing than the Switch, you still need to download the data to multiple consoles which raises our final consideration.

While maybe none of the previous points apply to you—perhaps this is your first Xbox ever and you only buy movies in digital format, or you subscribe to Netflix, Hulu, and other services instead—you still need to ask yourself an important question: “Do I have a Data cap?”

Unfortunately, many ISPs enforce data caps now. And it’s not uncommon for a game to be 80 gigs or more. Buying a disc won’t cover that entirely, but it will offset a large chunk of it. And streaming a 4K HDR movie isn’t going to help matters either. If you have a data cap and you’re an avid gamer and media consumer, giving up your disc drive is something you’ll genuinely want to think through.

Like the Name Says, Your Game Library Goes Digital

A list of 293 Xbox digital games
My digital library far outstrips my physical games.

But it isn’t all doom and gloom for this console, going digital does come with benefits. I’ll admit that this could be the most defining example of first world problems, but as someone who actively plays Xbox on a weekly if not daily basis, I can’t stand changing discs anymore. I have multiple games on disc that I purchased that way precisely because they were cheaper than digital that I never play. When I sit down on the couch and fire up the Xbox, I often decide to play a game only to realize it’s sitting in the box. And I just can’t be bothered to mess with that, so I end up playing a game I own digitally instead.

If that sounds like you, then there’s a fact that goes against all the points of the dollars you can save by buying used or during sales: if you don’t play the game at all, then you spent too much money on it, no matter what the price is. And that gets to the heart of what the All-Digital Xbox gives you. A digital library that you always have access to (so long as you have internet). If you go to a friend’s house, you can sign in with your profile and bring your games. And you’ll never have to deal with figuring out which box that game ended up with because no one can ever put things back where they belong.

It may be first world problems, but we’re talking about playing expensive games on a device dedicated to that specific purpose, one that also serves as an excellent media streamer but realistically has no practical life-changing use. Given that the primary purpose of the Xbox is fun, then convenience as a high priority makes sense. Just maybe not at this pricing scheme, especially when the primary benefits can be had on the regular Xbox One S too.

At Best a $50 Savings Isn’t Enough To Give Up The Disc Player

An Xbox One S and Xbox One S All-Digital Version priced equally
This is from Microsoft’s website, why would you buy the one on the right when they cost the same?

Now that you know what you lose and what you gain, let’s get down to brass tacks. You shouldn’t buy the Xbox One S All-Digital Version today. But it’s worth considering in the future. The problem is price, regardless of how you look at it. You can easily find both for $250, even directly from Microsoft. If you’re going to pay the same either way, then, of course, you should get the one with more features.

You do get three games, but two of those games (Minecraft and Sea of Thieves) come with Game Pass. The third, Forza Horizon 3, isn’t on Game Pass—but its sequel, Forza Horizon 4 is, and you’d probably want the newer game. Plus, if you’re going all in on All-Digital, it seems likely you’ll want to grab Game Pass—after all, Microsoft will offer you three months for a total of just $1. The regular Xbox One S typically offers at least one game if not more anyway, so overall the idea of included games is a bit of a wash.

Microsoft already stated the goal is a $50 difference in price. Presumably, that means the regular Xbox One S will return to a “normal” $300 price. That feels unlikely because finding the Xbox One S for $250 is easy, even outside holidays. But let’s assume for a moment the Xbox One S price is slashed permanently to $250, and this new All-Digital version, in turn, goes for $200. That’s still not enough.

For $50 you’re not just giving up a game disc player, you’re giving up a 4K Blu-ray player. 4K Blu-ray players are expensive; you can find them on the low end at $100. So for less than the price of a brand new game, you’ve hobbled your ability to buy physical media. That’s not enough savings to justify the loss. So long as the price difference is merely $50, it just makes more sense to step up to the next model.

So if not right now, when do we recommend buying the Xbox One S All-Digital Version? It’s hard to speculate what Microsoft will do. But if the price of this new console dropped to $150, and the original One S stayed at $250, at that point we’d feel much more comfortable recommending it. But even then you’ll have to run yourself through the questions of what matters most to you. Lower game prices? Or convenience? Right now at least, you can’t have both. But as digital console stores continue their growth, perhaps in the future you can have both.

Josh Hendrickson Josh Hendrickson
Josh Hendrickson is the Editor in Chief of Review Geek and is responsible for the site's content direction. He has worked in IT for nearly a decade, including four years spent repairing and servicing computers for Microsoft. He’s also a smart home enthusiast who built his own smart mirror with just a frame, some electronics, a Raspberry Pi, and open-source code. Read Full Bio »