PlayStation 4 Review: The Hardware
Unlike the PlayStation Camera, which, in its current functionality, will only hold much value for frequent streamers, the DualShock 4 is a wonderful device that has made an adoring fan out of me and, anecdotally, everyone who touches it. PlayStation veterans will notice the changes, almost all for the better, right away. The analog stick surfaces are now recessed; a ridge runs around the perimeter to prevent slipping, but the recessed surface is still convex like the rest of the DualShock line. The feeling of using the sticks is both comfortably familiar and refreshing, as other small touches, like smoother gliding and less "give" in pressing L3 and R3, improve on PlayStation's traditional tactile experience. All four triggers have also received updates, with dramatic improvements given to L2 and R2. Out with the outward, in with the inward: L2 and R2 are concave, like gun triggers. From shooters to racing games, pressing L2 and R2 is so much more comfortable without the extra effort applied to keep your fingers from sliding off, a la DualShock 3.
Elsewhere on the controller, almost every change is for the better. The handles are slightly thicker and longer. Even though I have large hands, the change wasn't immediately comfortable, as I had to slightly adjust the way I've been holding smaller PlayStation controllers for 15 years. But I immediately fell in love with better grip and reduced sweating, both coming from a lightly textured rubber surface that covers the bottom of the controller. Like the controller's lightbar, the grip material is mostly hidden from the player's view, so the attractive soft plastic of the controller's face is preserved. The lightbar, however, serves little practical function of interest. The PS Camera can identify the light to determine who's holding the controller, and different colors can indicate game states like player number, low health, and team, but I almost never look down at my controller when I'm playing, and the lightbar points away from the player anyway. There aren't many, or any, interesting applications for the lightbar at launch, and I'm left wondering if the light contributes significantly to the DualShock 4's reduced battery life: only eight or nine hours, versus the DualShock 3's 30.
Thankfully, you can now charge controllers while the system is in a mostly-off "Standby Mode," which we'll discuss later this week in our "Features" portion of the PlayStation 4 review.
The Start and Select buttons are gone, with Options and the touchpad often serving the same respective purposes. Options is a bit harder to instinctively reach than the Start button was, but it's even more detrimental that it sits very close to the controller face and isn't as easy to press as other buttons. The touchpad is almost the opposite: it's an easy, impulsive reach for my right thumb, and its large size makes pressing anywhere in its area highly accessible. L1 and R1 are the same way. A bit "clickier" than before, the two triggers (now, more like bumpers) have increased surface area and a rounded shape, serving attractive design and usability in equal measure.
When I look at and hold DualShock 4, I'm left with the same impression of the console itself: thoughtful usability, sleek presentation, and sturdy construction. All of the PlayStation 4's hardware components, regardless of how often they're useful or needed, are aesthetically unified, well-designed, and serve the system's greatest end: providing the best gaming experience. It's an excellent package.