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PlayStation 4 review: Sony's best console yet is off to a shaky start

Alex Wawro | Nov. 21, 2013
Sony's latest console is poised to perform well over the coming years, but right now it's mostly a black box of potential.

While the PS4's 500GB, 5400 RPM internal hard drive can be replaced, there is no official support for external hard drives. Plug in external storage and you can save screenshots, videos, and saved games, but not store the games themselves. The PS4 currently lacks support for a lot of fringe uses, actually. It can't play music CDs, stream media over your home network, or run Linux, all of which the PS3 could handle with ease.

Of course, most people—myself included—don't need their game console to do any of those things. They need it to play games, stream Netflix/Hulu Plus/Amazon Instant Video, and play DVDs/Blu-rays, and Sony's latest console makes doing those things a breeze, nay a pleasure, thanks to a simplified interface and a vastly improved gamepad.

A better gamepad
The DualShock 4 is the best controller Sony has ever designed. At first glance it looks like a modestly evolved version of the DualShock 3, with a goofy light bar where the four-LED player indicator used to be and a big ol' clickable two-point capacitive touchpad on top, pushing the PlayStation button down a few centimeters. Flanking the touchpad are the Share and Options buttons, which have replaced the venerable Start and Select buttons. There's also a mono speaker on the front, which could be really cool if developers use it wisely instead of, say, suddenly squawking out bad audio logs late at night.

The touchpad and lightbar seem like frivolous additions—few games or apps use either in interesting ways. Free-to-play shooter Warframe requires you to swipe and click the touchpad to select and use your powers, for example, while Killzone: Shadow Fall changes the color of your controller's lightbar from green to red as your character gets hurt. It's a neat trick, but seeing as the last thing you'll probably want to do while playing a really awesome game is look down at your hands, it probably won't meaningfully improve your gaming experience.

For that kind of evolution, look to the DualShock 4's sticks and triggers. Both are significantly improved from the DualShock 3, a controller that caught a lot of flak over the years for its rounded analog sticks and lightweight triggers. While I never had much trouble using the DualShock 3, I've found the DualShock 4's sturdier and slightly larger chassis, concave triggers, and redesigned sticks feel significantly better in my hands. Building a small circular depression on the top of each stick makes it much more comfortable to rest your thumbs on them for extended gaming sessions, though I wish the sticks themselves were a little tighter and offered more resistance.

The DualShock 4 still charges via a USB cable, though it charges via micro-USB rather than mini-USB this time around. It's a nice touch; since most non-Apple smartphones and tablets now come with micro-USB charging cables, you should have no trouble finding extra charging cables lying around. You'll need 'em, too. During testing, my DualShock 4's non-replaceable lithium-ion battery ran out of juice after 7 hours of gaming, a depressingly brief battery life that inspired me to keep my controller plugged into my phone charger so I could refill the battery without having to get off my couch to hook the controller up to the console.

 

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