We had the pleasure of holding and prodding both the Xbox One and PS4’s controllers this week at E3. Here’s what we made of them after hammering through as many of the games on the show floor as we could get our mitts on.
Check out our PS4 preview page for everything you need to know about Sony’s next-gen gaming powerhouse.
Design and build
The Xbox One controller feels a little smaller in the hands than its predecessor but it’s just as comfortable to hold. We felt right at home the instant we picked it up thanks to its well-balanced design and familiar shape. We also rather like the new understated look of the ABXY buttons, while the Xbox guide button sports a shiny chrome paintjob.
The PS4’s DualShock 4 controller is a massive improvement over its older brother. Compared with the DualShock 3, it’s bulkier, smoother, heavier and more stable, and its handgrips have been slightly extended. The result is better ergonomics, so we’d expect to be able to play for much longer without fatigue. We finally have a PlayStation controller that feels more like a tool than a toy.
Buttons and d-pad
The Xbox One and PS4 controllers retain their iconic ABXY and triangle, circle, square and X buttons, with both sets offering enough resistance to avoid accidental presses. The Xbox One controller’s ABXY buttons are a little curved compared to the PS4 controller’s flatter ones, but we really can’t see that making any difference in actual use.
The Xbox 360’s Start and Select buttons have been booted for new View and Menu alternatives. The right Menu button brings up in game menus while the View button switches between views or provides more information in games and apps.
Similarly, the PS4 DualShock 4 controller now has a ‘Share’ button for easily sharing screenshots and videos, along with an Options button for menus.
The Xbox 360 controller’s Achilles heel has always been the d-pad, and Microsoft has addressed this a less chunky 4-way design which is a marked improvement over it’s bulging and inaccurate predecessor. We didn’t really use either controller’s d-pad during our time with them, but we can’t imagine glaring problems with either.
Triggers and bumpers
The Xbox One controller’s curved triggers met our fingertips with a comfortable familiarity and we liked the response from its new magnetic sensors which the Microsoft rep told us offers more precision.
The LB and RB bumpers took some getting used to however. They’re much larger now and are almost hidden as they melt into the glossy black plastic across the top of the controller itself. We found them a little hard to press at first but got used to them after a short session with Battlefield 4. We were chucking panicky grenades in no time.
The PS4’s controller finally, at long last, has got… curved triggers. We’re happy to wave goodbye to those rubber trigger conversion kits and this is the way it should have been from the very beginning. Sony’s seen the light at last.
The Xbox One controller’s thumbstick tips are 25 per cent smaller than the 360’s, and you’ll definitely feel the difference. It’s off-putting at first, but their rough texture provides much better grip than the smooth ones on the Xbox 360. They’re also more sensitive, have a wider range of motion, and we found that their tighter action offered more control.
Clicking the left thumbstick in to run on Battlefield 4 was problematically stiff for us however, although we were playing the PC version which might not translate as well with the new controller at this early stage.
The PS4’s thumbsticks have also improved, with grippy concave tips to ensure that your thumbs will stay in place during frantic firefights. The Xbox One controller gets our vote in this department though, thanks to its asymmetrical thumbstick placement, which we found to be more comfortable.
The PS4 sticks with Bluetooth for its controller connectivity, while Microsoft is opting for Wi-Fi Direct.
The Xbox One controller has a proprietary port on the button for headset and accessory connectivity while the PS4’s DualShock 4 controller sports a 3.5mm headphone jack for use with standard headphones, earning some extra brownie points. It’s also got built-in speakers for developers to take advantage of.
The Xbox One controller has ditched the bulky battery compartment which is sleekly integrated. Gamers will be able to buy play and charge kits with rechargeable batteries or they can opt to shove in a pair of normal batteries to keep the fragging marathons going without delay.
The PS4 controller also keeps the rechargeable battery, though it’s built into the controller with no way to replace it, which could be a disadvantage for impatient games who want to jump in cable-free.
Actual battery life tests will have to wait until review units have shipped in, but we’re hoping for at least six hours for long blocks of uninterrupted gaming goodness.
Both controllers are great in their own right, but each one comes bundled with a few techy extras that set them apart.
The PS4 controller has a light bar which is used for accurate tracking with the PlayStation camera (see our E3 demo video). The light bar can also be used by games. Killzone: Shadow Fall for example ,uses green to show you’re in tip-top shape, with a gradual change to red representing your ineptness in battle and the diminishing of your health bar.
Not only that, but the PS4 can shift split-screen windows around according to where players are sitting, thanks to its light bar detection which supports up to four controllers at a time.
The Xbox One can also do this, thanks to the scarily accurate Kinect which can tell which person is holding which controller, courtesy of some clever facial and controller recognition.
The PS4’s controller also has a clickable touchpad which will come in handy for web browsing and offers another control option for developers to take advantage of. Flicking up on the touchpad during our Thief demo at E3 brought up the weapon selection menu for example.
What the Xbox One’s controller lacks in flashing lights and touch sensitivity, it makes up for with new vibration motors in the actual triggers themselves which adds another level of feedback.
We tried out a controller demo at E3 which showed off some nice examples of how this effect can be used. One demo showed off a beating heart and we felt an unnervingly realistic ‘pulse’ in each of our trigger fingers which was very impressive, if not a little spooky.
A car was also brought to an extra level of immersion with the engine shudder felt in both the palms and our fingertips, with subtle gear change feedback to boot. The Microsoft rep also told us that the vibrations can change according to how much ammo you have left, letting you know you’re running low without having to check onscreen. Needless to say, unloading a virtual minigun felt very satisfying indeed.
There’s plenty of potential for the extras in both controllers, though it’s up to developers to take advantage of them all. At the end of the day, the controllers won’t be the make-or-break decision for most gamers when it comes to choosing which console will sit beneath the coveted spot under their tellies.
The Sony DualShock 4 will cost £55, while the Xbox One controller’s price has yet to be revealed. It’s listed on Amazon US at US$60 (the same price as the DualShock 4) so we expect it to land at around the same price.
Sony has improved the DualShock greatly, addressing its many niggles to produce a comfortable controller packed with exciting tech to boot, though its non-removeable battety might be a little annoying for hardcore gamers with back-to-back wireless play sessions in mind.
Microsoft on the other hand had less work to do, as the Xbox 360 controller itself was already a top-notch. A sleeker look and tighter controls, coupled with clever vibration technology means that the Xbox One controller should make both Xbox One and PC gamers very happy indeed.