The Xbox 360 Slim has made some serious improvements over previous Xbox consoles, reviews say, especially in the area of reliability. It's also become a formidable set-top box for video streaming. But the Xbox 360 still can't play back Blu-ray Discs, and other consoles have closed the gap in terms of available games and online gaming.
Looks great, works better. The Microsoft Xbox 360 Slim finishes a close second behind the Sony PlayStation 3 Slim when it comes to graphics prowess, but that doesn't mean that things don't look pretty darn good on the screen. Games have intricate detail and rich, vivid colors. Load times are quick enough, and game play is generally smooth.
The biggest operational improvement in the current Xbox 360 is its stability. Previous Xbox 360s were prone to overheating, which led to the dreaded "red ring of death" -- a general system failure that causes the Xbox's power light to glow red -- that's been the source of lots of user complaints as well as a class-action lawsuit. Reviewers say this should be less of a problem with the Xbox 360 Slim, and owner feedback bears that out. A large reason for that improvement is a larger fan and redesigned venting system to prevent overheating. However, the Xbox 360 Slim is still prone to hot temperatures; Engadget.com reviewers say their console was "burning hot to the touch."
Despite the revamped fan, the Xbox 360 is a pretty quiet performer. "When idle, the 360 is almost absolutely silent, and when running its disc drive, the console is barely noticeable with minimal volume," Jeff Bakalar writes at CNET.
The game library is top notch as is online gaming, but other consoles -- notably the Sony PlayStation 3 (*Est. $270) -- have closed the gap. The Xbox 360 still has a selection of games that are exclusive to it, as does the PS3, so the key to which video game console is right for you could boil down to which one offers exclusive games that are "must haves." One source of griping is that online gaming requires a subscription to Xbox Live Gold (*Est. $5 per month).
Unlike the Nintendo Wii and PlayStation Move, which use wireless controllers to sense motion, Microsoft's Kinect system (*Est. $100) uses a camera and depth sensor to scan and track various points on your body and use those results for control. You can also opt for a bundle with the 250 GB Xbox Slim and a Kinect controller (*Est. $350).
Reviewers say Kinect is revolutionary but limited. There's noticeable lag, and although not using a controller is great for some games (especially sports games), not having a controller can be a serious limitation in first-person shooters or other complex games. Nick Mokey at DigitalTrends.com has one of the strongest reactions: "The Kinect is not easy to use, it's not accurate, and it's not fun." Overall, reviewers say Sony's PlayStation Move and PlayStation Eye camera bundle (*Est. $80) is more impressive for motion-controlled gaming.
Look ma, no Blu-ray. And that's the biggest handicap of the Xbox 360 compared to the Sony PlayStation 3 in terms of its media chops. Its optical disc can play back DVDs and CDs, but not the latest high-def discs.
Things are rosier on the streaming front, however. The Xbox 360 is DLNA compliant, so you can stream content stored on a networked computer, and Microsoft offers a large Xbox Video store. Purchased or rented content from the Xbox Video store can be watched on any device -- tablet or smartphone. A new Smartglass app lets users send purchased content from their mobile device to their Xbox 360 and use their smartphone or tablet as a second screen for related interactive features. Those with a Kinect can use that device as a voice controller for finding content via Bing and using voice commands for things like pausing or rewinding.
There's a ton of additional streaming content available via the Xbox 360, but you'll need a subscription to Xbox Live Gold to get to most of it. Virtually all of the major video streaming partners are represented, including Netflix, Amazon Instant, Hulu Plus, Vudu, CinemaNow and more. If you have a subscription from a participating cable provider, you can also access content from premium channels such as HBO and Epix. On the sports front you'll find MLB.TV, NBA Game Time and ESPN. Subscribers to Comcast or FiOS can even use their Xbox 360s in place of normal cable set-top boxes, albeit with some limitations.
The nicest Xbox yet. "The redesigned Xbox 360 has the same horsepower, game library, and rich online experience as previous Xbox 360 models, but contains several key tweaks and improvements -- inside and out -- that make it the best Xbox yet," Jeffrey Wilson writes at PCMag.com. The new gaming console is smaller and sleeker than previous Xbox consoles, and it's outfitted in a glossy black finish with touch-sensitive buttons. The console comes with a wireless controller, headset and a composite AV cable.
Look for a deal. The core Microsoft Xbox 360 game console is priced competitively with the 250 GB version of the Sony PlayStation 3. Promotional bundles with various games are typically available for both, but configurations come and go with great frequency. If you need and want a very capable Blu-ray player as well, the Sony PlayStation 3 is clearly better equipped, while the streaming capabilities of the Xbox 3 have an edge (though the PS3 is no slouch in that department either). If gaming is your primary concern, the best value will be the console with the games you want to play; both platforms have similarly strong libraries, but also their own similarly strong exclusive titles.
Note that the Xbox 360 is also available in a version with a 4 GB drive (*Est. $200). It is functionally the same as the 250 GB Xbox 360, but with a much smaller drive. The few that address it say that 4 GB is not enough storage except for the most casual of gamers. However, HDD upgrades are available from Microsoft and third-party vendors (*Est. $90 and up).
Review Credibility: Excellent CNET gives the Xbox 360 Slim an Excellent rating. Jeff Bakalar says the Xbox 360 Slim is quieter and less prone to overheating than its predecessor. Although he doesn't think it's a mandatory upgrade if you own a previous-generation Xbox, Bakalar says the console has improved.
Review: Microsoft Xbox 360 S Review (250GB), Jeff Bakalar, June 24, 2010
Review Credibility: Excellent The Xbox 360 Slim earns an Excellent rating from PCMag.com, and Jeffrey Wilson calls it "the best Xbox 360 yet." Although he gives it a positive review, Wilson says the PlayStation 3 remains the site's Editors' Choice winner, and the 2012 refresh of that console retains that recognition.
Review: Xbox 360 (250GB), Jeffrey L. Wilson, Nov. 22, 2011
Review Credibility: Very Good The Xbox 360 Slim earns a Recommended label from Britain's TrustedReviews.com. Hugo Jobling says the console is "the best Xbox Microsoft has made thus far," and he appreciates the new features, including integrated Wi-Fi. A separate review also gives the Recommended label to the Kinect, though it's noted that the motion controller won't appeal to hardcore gamers.
Review: Microsoft Xbox 360 250GB Review, Hugo Jobling, Feb. 17, 2012
Review Credibility: Very Good The Xbox 360 Slim receives an 8 out of 10 rating from DigitalTrends.com. Ryan Fleming says the built-in Wi-Fi is long overdue but a welcome upgrade, and the Xbox is quieter and cooler as well. "If you are looking for a new console and Blu-ray isn't your thing, then you won't be disappointed with the redesigned Xbox 360," he writes. In a separate review, Fleming looks at the Kinect motion-control system and says that it's good for casual game play and family fun, but that more serious gamers "will probably quickly tire."
Review: Microsoft Xbox 360 Slim Review, Ryan Fleming, June 19, 2010
Review Credibility: Very Good Engadget.com says the Xbox 360 Slim is more stylish and energy-efficient than previous versions, but Sean Hollister says he doesn't think it is worth an upgrade for current users. Still, he says it is "the best Xbox 360 ever made, bar none."
Review: New Xbox 360 250GB review, Sean Hollister, July 2, 2010
Review Credibility: Very Good Wired gives the Xbox 360 Slim an overall rating of 8 out of 10. Like most reviewers, Terrence Russell says it is not a must upgrade for current Xbox owners, although it is much improved over previous generations.
Review: Xbox 360 Slim Is Leaner, Meaner, Quieter Machine, Terrence Russell, Sept. 2, 2010
Review Credibility: Very Good Hannah Bouckley says the Xbox 360 Slim is "the best Xbox ever." Although she notes several significant improvements, Bouckley says the Xbox still falls behind on multimedia features. It's a winner, however, as an overall gaming console.
Review: Xbox 360 Slim Review with Video, Hannah Bouckley, Nov. 1, 2011
8. Home Theater Magazine
Review Credibility: Very Good Barb Gonzalez looks at the Xbox 360 as a media streaming device. She finds it to be a terrific performer in that regard, but one that's more expensive than other streaming devices. Still, given the Xbox 360's capabilities, and the fact that it is also a gaming console, many will find that extra cost worthwhile.
Review: Xbox 360 as Media Streamer, Barb Gonzalez, July 30, 2012
Review Credibility: Very Good Bit-Tech.net doesn't rate the Xbox 360 Slim, but Joe Martin has a lengthy, multipage review at this British site. Although the Xbox 360 has made a number of improvements (namely cooler operation and the addition of Wi-Fi), Martin says there's no reason to upgrade if you already have an Xbox 360.
Review: Xbox 360 Slim Review, Joe Martin, July 16, 2010
Review Credibility: Very Good More than 730 owners leave largely very nice reviews of the Microsoft Xbox 360. We saw some complaints of malfunctioning consoles, and some grouses regarding the cost to play online, but those are dwarfed by those awarding the Xbox 360 4-star and 5-star ratings. Nearly 95 percent say that they would recommend the console to a friend.
Review: Microsoft - Xbox 360 250GB Console, Contributors to BestBuy.com, As of November 2012