The new ‘slim’ unit is sleek, and considerably improves the hardware of the outgoing model
Aesthetics: When the piano black version of the ‘slim’ was first released, many reviewers were mixed on the overall design. Personally, I never liked the white or matte black of the previous SKUs—and the piano black on my Playstation 3 is pleasing, if harder to clean. What really got me off the fence was the release of the custom case for the Halo: Reach console bundle. The mixture of matte silver and dark chrome trim, not to mention the other nice game-related graphics, makes for a very visually unique piece.
The smaller footprint of the console is also a nice addition, especially considering that the console is heavily designed around a vertical rather than horizontal orientation (more on that below). The more angular design—and the default black case—recalls the original Xbox unit that many remember fondly, not the ‘Red Ring of Death’ afflicted first-generation 360.
Ultimately, aesthetic judgments are up to personal discretion. The piano black units are nice, but for me personally, it was the Halo: Reach-themed unit that got me off the fence. For other major franchises, it remains to be seen if Microsoft will release other custom cases. It’s too late perhaps for a Black Ops console, but Gears of War 3 early next year strikes me as a likely candidate.
Function: There are two huge advantages for any existing 360 owner to consider in terms of an upgrade. The noise level of the slim unit is drastically lower—especially at idle. When the unit is merely idling, I have to be within 12-inches or so to even hear the unit. Noise levels are slightly higher when loading discs and running online-intensive games, but still lower than the outgoing model. This remains true even when compared against the reduced noise levels when the NXE update allowed users to install games directly onto the HDD.
It’s too early to tell about the console’s overall reliability—though it’s hard to imagine that it can be any worse than the previous unit. Personally, I went through two units (one was stolen) with no issues whatsoever, but I know many people who have gone through several units because of hardware failure. Microsoft has remedied a critical design flaw in the original unit by including a thermal protection switch that will shut the console down if it overheats. One caveat to consider, though, the ducting and vent layout is clearly designed around a vertical orientation. If you prefer to keep it horizontal—especially if it’s inside a somewhat enclosed media center—I would hold onto the original console.
The new slim console has another drawback: its touch-sensitive power button and disc tray. I prefer the actual physical buttons on the original console—for one key reason. When you need to dust the unit, the faintest touch will trigger the buttons. The only cure is to unplug the power supply because, unlike the Playstation 3 (which also uses touch buttons), the slim model has no master on/off switch on the back of the unit.
Final verdict: All things considered, the slim console is a significant overhaul—arguably bigger than the evolution of the Playstation 3 to its slim model. If the aesthetics and the vertical orientation work for you, it’s worth an upgrade.