Today is November 5 and that means there are only 10 days left until the PlayStation 4 launches and 17 days until the Xbox One is released. We're getting closer and closer to to ground zero of the console wars. Every day matters from here on out. Yesterday we took the plunge head first and tackles both the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One's hardware. It's probably the most robust comparison we'll be doing, which is disappointing because of how easy it was to declare a winner: the PlayStation 4.
Today is a new day and with it comes a new subject to break down and compare. Today we're looking at both consoles' controllers: The DualShock 4 and the Xbox One Wireless Controller. Yeah, Microsoft really needs to get on top of branding their controllers don't they. Already working at a disadvantage, Microsoft! Seriously though, both controller have had significant changes made to their predecessors -- hopefully all for the better. Which controller is the best, however?
Similarly to yesterday we'll start by making an attempt at understanding the thought process that went into each controller's design, roll into each controller's specifications, and follow that up with impressions. Yesterday's hardware comparison didn't really involve any impressions, considering my time with each console has been unfortunately brief, but luckily I have had extended time with each controller. That includes having a DualShock 4 sitting in front of me and checking out the Xbox One's on multiple occasions. Let's not waste another second!
Day 2: Controllers
Part 1: The Players
The true secret to understanding both Sony and Microsoft is through how they describe their products. Most often statements related to products such as the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One, or more specifically to the controllers, is that they're intended to deliver a message or an idea. Knowing this, it's easier to decipher the truth of the item, which may include its strengths, weaknesses, or other details that may not be readily apparent from a simple statement.
That's why we start our comparison by hearing what both Sony and Microsoft want potential buyers to know about their controllers. This is their sales pitch, and in knowing that we can hopefully better understand each controller's design.
Sony on the DualShock 4:
"DualShock 4 wireless controller features familiar controls while incorporating new ways to interact with games and other players. Improved dual analog sticks and trigger buttons offer an even greater sense of control, while the capacitive touch pad opens up endless potential for new gameplay possibilities. Experience the evolution of play with the DualShock 4 wireless controller."
Microsoft on the Xbox One Wireless Controller:
"Experience the action like never before with the Xbox One Wireless Controller. New Impulse Triggers deliver fingertip vibration feedback, so you can feel every jolt and crash in high definition.* Redesigned thumbsticks and an all new D-pad provide greater precision. And the entire controller fits more comfortably in your hands. With over 40 innovations, it’s simply the best controller Xbox has ever made."
Both companies are employing the same strategy here, which is to focus in on the improved features while features with little to no change. For instance Sony uses language like "familiar" to help ensure that PlayStation fans know the controller, despite it's much different look, retains the spirit of the previous DualShock controllers. Meanwhile Microsoft focuses almost entirely on the new, pushing the idea that the Xbox One's controller is a world apart from the Xbox 360 controller.
At least in this area, which matters very little overall, I have to give props to Sony for focusing on areas that gamers will recognize when they pick up the controller. Despite its new shape, the DualShock does feel familiar, but the triggers and joystiqs are certainly improved. Meanwhile, I'm not sure what to make of Microsoft's descriptions. The focus on 40 innovations doesn't impress so much as make me wonder where these changes are and if I'm missing something by not recognizing them.
It's all just noise in the end, I suppose.
Part 2: The Features
Now we move onto the area that I personally find most interesting, which are the new featured and improvements that have been made to each controller. However, upon further research into this area, I found that despite Microsoft's claims of over 40 improvements on their controller the specifics were hard to organize. Instead of writing down a dozen reports on features from a dozen sources written in a dozen different voices, I went to each controller's official product page.
What follows is taken from the "Features" section on each controller's product page. These are the features that both Microsoft and Sony are putting out to face the public, written in their own words. As such, some features may not be adequately described or covered. This is simply what they've each decided to advertise.
- Touch Pad - "Located on the top of the controller, the TouchPad offers gamers completely new ways to play and interact with games."
- Light Bar - "Three LEDs offer a simpler way to easily identify players and quickly see useful game information, like when a character is low on health or has taken major damage."
- SHARE Button - "Share triumphs and accomplishments by streaming live gameplay to Ustream or uploading recorded videos to Facebook."
- Built-in Speaker and Stereo Headset Jack - "Enjoy high-fidelity sound effects of games from both the TV and also from the controller. Chat with friends playing online with the bundled headset."
- New Shape - "Improved ergonomics means it’s more comfortable to hold, while improved analog sticks and buttons mean more precise control."
- Enhanced Vibration - "Multiple vibration motors give games a greater degree of expression and heighten the sense of immersion for players."
Xbox One Wireless Controller:
- Improved Shape
- "Grips and contours have been designed to fit a wider range of hand sizes comfortably."
- "Batteries fit inside the controller body, allowing your hands more room to naturally grip the controller."
- Improved Precision - "The newly designed D-pad is responsive to both sweeping and directional movements. Thumbstick improvements enable better grip and accuracy, while the trigger and bumpers are designed for quicker access."
- Improved Immersion - "Feel the action like never before with Impulse Triggers. New vibration motors in the triggers provide precise fingertip feedback, bringing weapons, crashes, and jolts to life for a whole new level of gaming realism."
What it boils down to is that Sony went out of their way to add several new features to their controller while Microsoft focused on enhancing their existing structure. Oddly, this is rather the opposite of how each platform's above buzz line went, right? Sony wanted to be the traditional, while Microsoft wanted to be ground breaker.
A couple of other features I wanted to touch on for each controller. One, the DualShock 4 has a rechargeable battery while the Xbox One controller will come with two AA batteries. If you want a rechargeable pack, you have to pay an additional amount for the Play & Charge pack.
Two, the PlayStation 4 controller is designed to work with the PlayStation Camera, using the LEDs on its back to communicate... you know, the camera that doesn't come with the console. Xbox One's controller also has Kinect recognition functionality, and the Kinect is bundled into every single Xbox One box.
Thirdly, Microsoft is saying they've improved the protocols used by the controller to communicate with the console to make it faster than ever. It's not quite Wi-Fi and it's not quite Bluetooth, or so they say. The DualShock 4 utilizes Bluetooth Ver 2.1 + EDR technology.
At this point we can make some basic overarching statements, such as: Microsoft's controller is very much like last-gen controllers, only faster, more precise and with a stronger design. Meanwhile, Sony has gone out of its way to add additional functionality -- tools for developers and customers to play with. This additional functionality is easy to discern for the common gamer, while the so-called extra speed and precision of the Microsoft controller will require extensive gameplay experience to notice.
Part 3: Impressions
Here's where I get to say my personal impressions, which I'm sure is exactly what's need to make everyone fill with console war glee. Keep in mind that these are all my personal opinion and I'm not telling anyone what to buy and what not to. In fact, let's just get this out of the way: I think both controllers are ridiculously impressive. They're the best two I've ever had the privilege to hold and I'm excited to play all types of games on both. Okay, now that the warm and fuzzy feelings out of the way, let's get real.
Microsoft just straight up knows how to do joysticks right. It was true with the Xbox 360 and it's true again with the Xbox One. The PlayStation 3's joysticks were, frankly, quite bad, so it should be comforting to hear that the DualShock 4's are much better -- better than the 360's even. That said, the Xbox One's joysticks have really blown me away. It's not just the textured material on the stick's sides, it's the fluidity and precision of movement.
That right there might be enough to persuade most gamers that the Xbox One's controller is all they need. The joysticks are likely the most important portion of the controller for those who play fast-paced, twitch games like first-person shooters or 3D action titles. For a console whose leading software leaders are Halo, Gears of War and Call of Duty, that makes all the difference.
If that's not all that's important to you as a gamer, then I'm afraid it's time to turn the conversation towards the PlayStation 4's DualShock 4. Considering virtually every other aspect of both the Xbox One Controller and the DualShock 4, I tend to lean towards the DualShock 4. When it comes to buttons, the D-Pad and triggers, I find that the DualShock 4 provides not just a texture, but an edge that gives my fingers a certain sensitivity required for precision play. The Xbox One tends to lean towards a more rounded and smoothed style of plastic for its buttons, triggers and D-Pad that, while still very precise, don't fit my fingers as well.
Of course, there's a downside to the DualShock 4's feel. It's that nostalgic grip that can lead to blisters or irritated fingertips. Just goofing around with the DualShock 4 made my fingers red. Obviously I need more time and gam experience with both controllers.
Conclusion: PlayStation 4 Wins
This wasn't an easy decision to make, and certainly one that my fellow editor Lydia Sung would disagree with. Despite giving the win to the PlayStation 4 I'd still like to go over some of my favorite parts about each controller.
Xbox One Wireless Controller Favorites
- Joysticks feel ridiculously awesome
- Asymmetric joystick layout is still much better than symmetric
- Fits my larger hands much better
- Despite the extra cost, allows you to replace batteries as opposed to replacing the controller
- If the communication protocol between controller and console is faster than standard Bluetooth, as Microsoft says, that's hugely significant
PlayStation 4's DualShock 4 Favorites
- The weight! The DualShock 4's 2.1 lbs. is almost twice the weight of the Xbox One controller
- Buttons and triggers, including the touch-pad, are all within reach of my fingers
- Sharper edges and light texture on buttons and triggers held my muscle memory with precise presses
- Lots of potential with regards to the new features. Not sure how the touch-pad, share button, speakers and light bar will work out, but I'm excited to find out
- Rechargeable without buying a charging kit and cheaper too
I've played at least a half-dozen games on each console with both controllers, including almost all of the first-party exclusives. I feel very comfortable with my initial opinions, though I won't discount that they might change with extensive use of both controllers. Heck, I've yet to even play a full game on either platform. Hopefully I can revisit the issue later on after I have more experience.
For now, however, that's two to zero in the PlayStation 4's favor. Time to step up your game, Xbox One!