This generation has been a strange one for me. I’m typically the kind of person who will buy new consoles at or near launch, regardless of what titles are available. Case in point? I paid an ungodly amount of money for an import PlayStation 2 in early 2000, and the only game I bought it for? Konami’s Gradius III & IV. Don’t ask. It’s not my proudest moment.
The only current-generation console I own is a Nintendo Wii U, and even with that, I waited almost a year before taking the plunge. With nothing really pulling me towards either an Xbox One or PlayStation 4 at the moment, and with most of my time being spent playing games on PC, I thought now would be the perfect time to compare how each of the current-generation console controllers perform on my rig.
I reviewed the Xbox One Wireless Controller last month, and I came away very impressed with it. It’s easily the best controller Microsoft has ever produced, with thoughtful, even inspired design. It has some areas where it could be improved, but overall, it’s become my go-to PC controller.
Although the Xbox One controller is the preferred way to go on the gaming forums I visit, as a reviewer, I felt the need to give the other manufacturers a fair shake, including Nintendo’s Wii U Pro Controller, which I’ll be reviewing soon. So with that, I picked up a DualShock 4 on Amazon last week and put it through its paces.
To begin with, the packaging on the DualShock 4 is pretty good. It’s not as premium as Microsoft’s, but it’s not a cheap blister pack either.
The front features a molded, clear plastic insert so that you can see the actual controller.
Turning the box over, the back highlights some of the DualShock 4’s updated and new features, including the touchpad, Share button, integrated light bar, built-in speaker, and standard 3.5mm headphone jack.
It also notes that a USB cable is not included with the controller. The Xbox One controller came the same way: sans USB cable. They’re so cheap that I wish manufacturers would just include one to save customers the extra hassle of buying one.
The packaging itself it easy to open. Included inside along with the controller is a small instruction manual. Since pairing is done differently on the PS4, note that for PC you put the controller into Bluetooth pairing mode by holding down Share (The Button Formerly Known as Select) and the PS button at the same time until the light bar flashes rapidly.
Other things you’ll want to have if you’re using this on a PC:
As I alluded to earlier, you’ll need a micro USB cable — like this one — for charging and playing with a wired connection, which is how I prefer to play.
Alternately, if you want to play wirelessly, you will need a compatible Bluetooth receiver. I tried a Kinivo BTD-300 Bluetooth 3.0 USB adapter with Windows 7 SP1, and I had no problems pairing.
You’ll also need the DS4Windows software, which you can learn more about and download HERE.
If you don’t use this software or something similar to it, the DualShock 4 will still function as a HID-compatible device, but you will not be able to utilize any of the controller’s additional benefits — including a number of XInput features — so it is recommended that you do so unless you have a game or application that has legacy compatibility problems.
This software also allows you to customize the controller, record macros, create per-application profiles, and use the touchpad for mouse input. It’s a terrific program that once again shows what talented, independent developers can create.
Once everything is installed, the DualShock 4 will be automatically mapped and function exactly like an Xbox 360 or Xbox One controller. Pretty nifty!
Focusing on the controller itself, it’s worth noting that this is the first significant shape change for the DualShock line since the original PlayStation. While the layout and overall design is familiar, just about everything has been updated, and mostly for the better.
The grips are thicker, rounder, and extend further than they did on the DualShock 3, giving the controller a much more comfortable and sturdy feel. The shoulder buttons now sit more flush with the controller housing instead of being set on top of the old “Black Mesas”, as I like to call them.
The most significant update is the touchpad, which didn’t make much sense to me until I actually used it. It functions just like a notebook touchpad, it can be left- or right-clicked, and supports multi-touch for smooth page scrolling.
This makes using it on a PC a fantastic experience, where many games and applications tend to work better if you have a mouse handy. It’s nice to be able to navigate menus and other Windows-specific tasks without having to put the controller down.
Underneath the analog sticks are two ports: an extension port and a standard 3.5mm headphone jack. I don’t believe audio output it supported on PC at this time, but I’m very happy to see Sony not using a proprietary connector for this or the USB charging port.
The PS button remains in approximately the same place as it was on the DualShock 3, and above it is now a built-in speaker, similar to what is found on the Nintendo Wii Remote. Like the headphone jack, however, it doesn’t look like this feature is supported on PC yet.
The infamous light bar also illuminates by default when using it on a PC to communicate charging level and power, but thankfully you can disable this function via DS4Windows’ profile settings, as well as fully customize its colors.
Personally, I leave it off except when I’m using it wirelessly. This way there’s no second-guessing whether it’s on or off.
The analog sticks have been redesigned, sitting a little lower than they did before, with a smoother feel and slightly higher resistance. The classic convex tops of past DualShocks have been replaced with a thinner, more recessed design, but to me, they feel cheaper in quality and less comfortable to use than the Xbox One’s superb design, and to a certain degree, even the DualShock 3.
However, the redesigned d-pad is absolutely a winner. As much as I have loved every PlayStation console over the past two decades, I’ve never been a fan of their d-pads. They’re small, somewhat mushy, and the split design can wreak havoc on your thumb.
While the split design is still present here, it is now flared and slightly larger, possessing better curvature too. It is a joy to use, both with its crisper feel and better tactile feedback. Whether you go with this, an Xbox One controller, or the Wii U Pro Controller, d-pad fans won’t be disappointed.
The Square, Triangle, X, and O face buttons have also undergone some minor changes. They’re similarly sized as before, but are arranged in a slightly tighter cluster. It’s only noticeable when you stack a DualShock 3 directly on top.
The buttons themselves are now flatter, and I’m not entirely sure if it’s just because the controller is brand-new, but they feel snappier and quicker than the DualShock 3’s.
The Share and Options buttons, though, which used to be Select and Start on past consoles, are a disappointment. Their location is good, but they sit flush with the controller housing, and don’t really have much of a feel to them.
They share a similar design with those found on the original Vita, but they don’t click nicely like they do on Sony’s handheld. As a result, I found myself pressing the Options button overly hard to pause games. A slightly raised or convex design would do wonders in making these buttons feel more confident during play.
The L1/L2/R1/R2 triggers are also an improvement over the DualShock 3. I’m not sure what Sony was thinking when they made the PS3 analog triggers convex, but it spawned an entire accessories market for plastic trigger covers to fix them. Heck, I even bought a couple sets!
The L1/R1 buttons feel great, and I much prefer them over the Xbox One bumpers, which are loud and clicky. Most significantly, the L2/R2 triggers are now concave like they always should have been, but they don’t feel as nice as the Xbox One triggers, which are larger, quieter, and ultra-smooth to operate.
The vibration motors in the DualShock 4 are virtually silent, which is an area where it excels over the Xbox One’s, which are surprisingly loud if you’re playing in a quiet environment.
Compared to the Xbox One controller, the DualShock 4 looks more taut, but their footprints are very similar. Both controllers feel great, and either way you go, you really can’t lose in the ergonomics and comfort departments.
It will come down to personal preference for most people. I’ve always loved the asymmetrical design of the Xbox analog sticks, but I prefer the d-pad placement on the DualShock.
The housing material feels more premium on Sony’s controller, but the analog sticks and triggers are superior on Microsoft’s.
Face buttons are equally responsive on both, but the View/Menu (aka Select/Start) buttons on the XBO controller trump the Share/Options buttons on the PS4’s.
The DualShock 4 wins when it comes to its feature set on PC, though, thanks to the DS4Windows software, which gives it convenient mouse support via its touchpad, simple Bluetooth syncing (the Xbox One’s wireless communication is proprietary, and is neither Wi-Fi or Bluetooth), and the extent to which it can be customized.
The Xbox One controller, on the other hand, is superior to the 360 controller in just about every way, so if you’re used to that setup on PC, it could be a more attractive option.
In closing, the DualShock 4 is a massive improvement over the DualShock 3, and apart from a few minor quibbles, this should be at or near the top of the list when the time comes to invest in a great controller for PC gaming. Highly recommended.