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Andrew Hayward / Lifewire
Sleek, weighty design
Perfect fit in hands
Responsive haptic feedback
Game-changing adaptive triggers
Pricier than DualShock 4
Lacking PC drivers
Sony has raised the bar for game controllers with the DualSense, not only improving the design but implementing immersive upgrades that you’ll really feel.
Our reviewer purchased the DualSense Wireless Controller to test out all of its features. Keep reading for their full product review.
Sony’s DualShock controller has gradually evolved since its introduction on the original PlayStation, gradually adding new features over the generations including wireless connectivity, motion controls, and a touchpad. Still, the core essence of the original design remained intact as recently as the PS4’s DualShock 4 controller, with the familiar dual-analog approach and relatively compact shape, at least compared to rival Xbox controllers.
For the PlayStation 5, Sony decided to try something new with the DualSense Wireless Controller. It still keeps the basic form of the previous generations, given the parallel analog sticks and familiar face buttons, but represents the largest generational upgrade to date thanks to new features like haptic feedback and adaptive triggers that provide physical resistance during play. While pricier than past DualShock models, it’s an excellent controller that opens up immersive new possibilities for PlayStation 5 owners.
The DualSense implements some noticeable aesthetic shifts that echo those of the PlayStation 5 console itself, but ultimately keeps the core foundation of the DualShock 4 controller intact. Like the last-gen gamepad, it has the familiar aligned analog sticks, similarly-positioned face buttons, shoulder/trigger buttons, and directional pad, and a touch-sensitive surface above the sticks.
The DualSense is functionally similar in those ways, but visually refreshed thanks to a two-tone plastic design that’s heavier on white than black, as well as slightly longer and pointier grips on either side. Curvy flourishes recall the dynamic shape of the PS5 itself, but the DualSense feels more sensibly designed than the console, which is awkward and over-large. Sony’s latest controller is also noticeably heavier at 282 grams vs. 210 grams for the DualShock 4. A few other elements are slightly larger this time around, including the triggers, shoulder buttons, and touchpad, which is now surrounded by RGB lighting.
If you look very, very closely, you might notice that the textured surface is made up of thousands of the tiny, iconic PlayStation symbols seen on the face buttons.
An Options button (similar to the old Start button) sits to the right of the touchpad, while a Create button is found on the left, letting you quickly snag a screenshot or capture video footage while playing. The DualSense controller also lets you chat with online friends and foes directly from the gamepad itself, thanks to a small microphone below the speaker. There’s a mute button, too, in case you don’t want to use that headset-replacing functionality. The DualSense has a USB-C port for charging, replacing the old micro USB port of the DualShock 4, but the standalone controller does not come with the USB-C cable. The PlayStation 5 console does, at least.
As of this writing, there are no additional color schemes available for the DualSense controller. However, if history is any indication, we are likely to see Sony offer up further style options in the future.
I thought the DualShock 4 was a near-perfect gamepad design, fitting just right in my hands without any friction or discomfort, but the weightier DualSense controller feels even better. The heavier and fuller build feels more substantial this time around without pushing too far in either direction to become overly large or weighty. It’s probably not enough of a size boost to alienate smaller-handed fans of the previous PlayStation controller, thankfully.
A very fine-textured surface on the back of the grips also helps keep the controller snug in your hands, even if your palms get a little sweaty from intense gaming sessions. And if you look very, very closely, you might notice that the texture is made up of thousands of the tiny, iconic PlayStation symbols seen on the face buttons. Now that is some serious fan service.
The DualSense implements some noticeable aesthetic shifts that echo those of the PlayStation 5 console itself, but ultimately keeps the core foundation of the DualShock 4 controller intact.
As the default controller for the PlayStation 5, there really isn’t any dedicated setup process for the DualSense gamepad. Just plug it into a PS5 console with a USB-C cord, press the PS button on the face of the controller, and it’s paired: you can remove the cord and use it wirelessly. Every so often, Sony rolls out a firmware update for the controller itself, which takes only seconds to install via USB-C connection.
The DualSense also works on PC thanks to a recent update to Steam, although the full range of new features—particularly the adaptive triggers—aren’t enabled at this point. Sony will have to release its own drivers to enable that functionality on PC. Still, I was able to play PC action game Horizon Zero Dawn (originally a PS4 exclusive) with the DualSense via Steam, plus car-soccer hit Rocket League played perfectly via the Epic Games Store on Windows.
The DualSense Wireless Controller checks all of the key boxes that you’d expect from a modern gamepad, including responsive buttons and a directional pad that don’t feel mushy, precise analog sticks that enable mastery of character and camera control alike, and the aforementioned comfortable and intuitive design. The weightier design also feels dense and durable, and the DualSense seems like it was designed to withstand modest drops and everyday wear and tear.
Where the DualSense really goes above and beyond its DualShock 4 predecessor is in ways that you can’t see within the naked eye. As the name suggests, however, you will feel them.
The first is haptic feedback, which is a more precise evolution of the classic vibration, rumble, or force feedback feature. We’re all used to feeling a shudder beneath the plastic when you’re attacked or when doling out gunfire or sword swings in a game, but the DualSense’s haptic feedback is both more precise and more sensitive in its feedback. It feels like there are little pressure points all around the gamepad, delivering subtle jolts that mirror or complement the action on the screen.
They pair well with the adaptive triggers, which are a significant new advancement. Essentially, the R2 and L2 buttons can add in resistance on the fly to change the feel of certain gameplay elements, whether it’s the trigger delivering a satisfying click when firing off rounds in Fortnite or Call of Duty Black Ops - Cold War, or a feeling of tension when slinging webs around New York City in Spider-Man: Miles Morales. It’s a small touch, but it’s one that feels unexpectedly significant when it comes to the overall experience of playing early PlayStation 5 games.
You might grimace at spending $70 for a single gamepad, but it is impressively refined: the enhancements are meaningful and the controller feels great in usage.
Luckily, the PS5 comes with a free, pre-installed game that was designed as a DualSense showcase. Astro’s Playroom is a platform-action game in the vein of the Super Mario series, albeit with little robot characters and a wealth of classic PlayStation references within, and it starts off with a couple-minute tutorial of what the DualSense can do. Within seconds, you’ll feel the tingling haptics against your skin, the tension of the adaptive triggers, the capabilities of the built-in motion controls, and the responsiveness of the touchpad.
Even just that controller demo put a huge grin on my face and then did the exact same thing with my seven-year-old son. And that’s just a tutorial: the game itself is a brilliant homage to PlayStation’s past while showcasing what you can come to expect from the PlayStation 5’s future. And it’s all possible thanks to the DualSense controller. While we’re sure to see a lot of multiplatform games that release on both the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, the DualSense offers a tangible advantage—one that would push me to buy the PS5 version of any game over Xbox, barring any other exclusive features or content in the Xbox version.
With a 1,500mAh battery pack inside, the DualSense Wireless Controller is capable of providing a few modest play sessions per charge, or at least one long day of gaming. In mixed usage playing games like Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Rocket League, and Fortnite on the PS5, I logged about nine hours of play across a few days’ time before the low battery message popped up on the screen. Games like Astro’s Playroom that heavily rely on multiple controller functions may drain the battery faster, however. Still, the DualSense feels more resilient than the DualShock 4 before it, and you can always plug it in to charge while still playing.
At $70 for a single controller, the DualSense is $10 more expensive than the standard black DualShock 4 controller, as well as $10 pricier than the current Xbox Wireless Controller. It’s your only real option on PlayStation 5 right now, aside from playing PS4 games on the console using the DualShock 4, so you don’t have much of a choice if you want additional gamepads. You might grimace at spending $70 for a single gamepad, but it is impressively refined: the enhancements are meaningful and the controller feels great in usage.
With haptic feedback, it feels like there are little pressure points all around the gamepad, delivering subtle jolts that mirror or complement the action on the screen.
The new Xbox Wireless Controller is nearly identical to the original Xbox One gamepad, and unlike Sony, Microsoft hasn’t really done anything terribly new or exciting this time around. That’s not a knock, necessarily. The slightly fuller-feeling Xbox Wireless Controller also feels great in the hands, with responsive buttons, triggers, and sticks.
Some people prefer the inverted analog stick layout of the Xbox controller, with the d-pad and left stick placements swapped compared to Sony controllers, but that’s really a matter of choice. The Xbox Wireless Controller doesn’t have the fine-tuned haptics of the DualSense, the adaptive triggers, touchpad, or tilt controls, which means that PS5 developers have more tools to play with to amplify player immersion. The Xbox controller is more traditional in approach.
On top of that, the Xbox Wireless Controller doesn’t have a built-in rechargeable battery, so you can either use disposable AA batteries, rechargeable batteries, or a separately-sold battery pack. It just feels like Microsoft stuck with the status quo here, ignoring the opportunity to significantly improve the design or meaningfully innovate, while Sony took steps forward.
It’s a game-changer.
The DualSense Wireless Controller for PlayStation 5 is an excellent evolution of the familiar DualShock design, with exciting new features like haptic feedback and adaptive, resistance-providing triggers that help deliver more immersion in today’s top games. It gives the PlayStation 5 an edge over the Xbox Series X and its barely-changed controller, even if you have to pay a bit extra for additional gamepads.
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