• PlayStation 4
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  • PlayStation 4 DualShock controller
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Eight months is a lifetime in tech. A phone that's been available for eight months has already been demoted to irrelevance by the next dream device on the horizon.

But with consoles it's different. Consoles have to live for years, and consoles evolve as they get older thanks to more games, more apps and more features.

It's no different with the PlayStation 4, of course. There have been no fewer than ten firmware updates added since launch, plus new games and apps, but is the PS4 really that different - and better - than the console we first met back in November 2013? And is it still ahead of the Xbox One in perhaps the most vicious console war ever known? Continue reading this freshly updated review to find out.

READ MORE: Kill your productivity: 30 great games you can play for free in your browser

Design and build: living life on the wedge

PlayStation 4 design
Red Dualshock 4
PlayStation 4 versus PlayStation 3

Smaller and lighter than it seems in pictures, the PS4 is not a device that you’re going to have trouble finding a home for. In fact, it’s very close to the PS3 Super Slim in terms of width and height - the 30cm depth does increase its footprint, but only to PS3 Slim levels. It’s a pretty compact device, then, and that’s extra impressive when you realise that the power pack is built in, whereas the Xbox One has a big external unit.

Overall this is a subtle but unique design, with the etched PS4 logo and glossy section (which is actually the removable hard drive cover) adding a touch of class. Only the slot-loader lets the side down in this regard – there’s nothing exactly wrong with it, but it’s got a bit of clunky resistance that the super-smooth Wii U drive doesn’t.

Far more important as far as we’re concerned is the noise a console makes, and the PS4 is a very stealthy device. When idling we recorded 42dB from 14cm in front of the console – just 2dB over the ambient noise in the room. While installing a game disc this rose to 51dB, but once the disc is ripped it settles back down to around 43-44dB. In short, it’s significantly quieter than the most recent versions of the PS3 and Xbox 360, and completely unnoticeable unless the room is all-but silent. Impressive.

Eight months on we're still to hear of any major technical issues with the PS4. There's always time for a Red Ring Of Death-type problem to reveal itself, but so far the slim, tightly packed chassis doesn't appear to impact reliability.

It still looks like a classy bit of kit, too, even if the smart details such as the thin strip that runs around the edges are tireless dust-collectors.

And if black is just a little too subdued for your tastes, you can soon get a really pretty white version of the console, which comes bundled with Destiny.

READ MORE: Destiny preview

The controller: more different than it looks, and all the better for it

PlayStation 4 DualShock controller
PlayStation 4 DualShock controller
PlayStation 4 DualShock controller
PlayStation 4 mono headset

For many people (including this reviewer) the DualShock 3 was just too small and light to be very comfortable, and the lack of trigger-like shoulder buttons was an ergonomic issue when it came to shooters and racing games. Thankfully, while the DualShock 4 looks like only a minor departure from its predecessor, it’s a much better pad.

There’s a small increase in weight, slightly larger, rounder handles, and the L2 and R2 buttons have greater surface area and far greater travel. Each individual improvement is a subtle one, but together they’re enough to transform the DualShock into a far more satisfying controller and a worthy rival to the Xbox One pad.

Also in the “subtle changes” category is a shift from mini USB to microUSB for the top-mounted charge-and-sync socket. There are also two new sockets below the PS button on the underside of the controller. One is for connecting a wired headset (more on that below), the other – labelled “EXT” – has a purpose not yet revealed by Sony. We love a good mystery, but if it turns out to be for a QWERTY keyboard attachment we’re going to be right miffed.

The Start and Select buttons have now been retired and replaced with Share and Option buttons, the first of which enables easy uploading of the game footage that the PS4 is constantly, automatically capturing, while the latter largely behaves just as the DualShock 3's Start does during games, but also reveals more info and options when pressed while an icon on the GUI is highlighted.

Those two new buttons straddle the DualShock 4’s boldest new feature – a clickable, multi-touch-capable touchpad. Unfortunately we’re not completely sold on the usefulness of the touchpad – it does nothing at all when you’re in the PS4’s menus and only serves a purpose in games if developers specifically integrate it. Eight months on, the cute controls in The Playroom and control of the OWL robot in Killzone Shadow Fall - both launch titles - are still the most interesting uses of the touchpad, with other games using it only as an extra button, if at all.


We’re still similarly underwhelmed by the light bar on the top edge of the controller. We understand that it helps the optional PlayStation Camera to track you and it does look pretty, but the suggestion that it can communicate player status and the like by flashing and changing colour is rather undermined by the fact that you can’t really see the bar when holding the DualShock at a normal gaming angle.

We wouldn’t mind, but the touchpad and light bar are presumably the high-tech elements that most push the cost of a separately bought DualShock 4 up. We suspect Sony would have sold a great deal more controllers by now if they'd been cheaper, even without the light bar and touchpad.

One of the fancy features of the DualShock 4 that we do love is the in-built speaker. Again, it's been used only sparingly so far, but alerts in Resogun and voice logs in The Last of Us Remastered are injected with an extra dose of awesome when they come out of the controller.

Speaking of sound, the bundled mono headset continues to be an unpleasant blemish in an otherwise very premium package. Essentially half of the cheapest-feeling pair of earphones you’ve ever seen, the bud actually does a decent enough job of pumping voice-chat into your lugholes and has a mic and switch at around chin height so that you can spout expletives at your enemies and use voice control for the PS4 UI.

One extra advantage of the headset socket is that it can be set to carry all audio, so any normal pair of headphones can be plugged into it for a spot of private gaming or Blu-ray watching. There are also now a whole host of PS4-compatible headsets out there, ranging in price from about RM100 to RM1000.

READ MORE: Three of the Best PS4 Headsets

Finally and unsurprisingly, motion control makes a return in the DualShock 4, and it’s far more accurate than before - as anyone who’s played Flower on the PS3 will notice when they download it (for free) and try the PS4 version. It’s just far more responsive, accurate and smooth. The motion control is so much better that you can now use it as a way to enter text in the PlayStation’s menus, and it’s much quicker than using the d-pad.

All in all, while we’re not yet convinced by every one of the DualShock 4’s features, we are very convinced by the overall quality of the new controller. There are reports of the thumb pads on the analogue sticks degrading, and we have in fact seen that happen ourselves on the pads used with Stuff's dedicated FIFA machine, but to say those pads are subjected to excessive wear and tear would be a massive understatement. One that's looked after should remain solid for a long time to come.

Stuff says... 

Long-term test: Sony PS4 review

Slick, powerful and packed with stand-out features, the PS4 delivers on the next-gen console promise
PlayStation 4
Good Stuff 
Stunning 1080p gaming for the win
Remote Play is brilliant
Super-slick and fast operation
Bad Stuff 
No DLNA - yet
4K games still out of reach
Some features look a little underbaked right now