Sony PlayStation 5 Review

A dazzling controller and great games give Sony the edge

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4.3

Sony PlayStation 5

Sony PlayStation 5

 Lifewire / Andrew Hayward

What We Like
  • Dazzling 4K gaming

  • Immersive DualSense controller

  • Rapid loading times

  • Great exclusive titles

  • Cooler and quieter than PS4

What We Don't Like
  • Limited storage

  • Large, awkward design

  • Limited backward compatibility

The PlayStation 5 makes a strong impression thanks to beautiful, compelling exclusive games and the fantastic DualSense controller, even if the Xbox Series X beats it on a few key technical details.

4.3

Sony PlayStation 5

Sony PlayStation 5

 Lifewire / Andrew Hayward

A quarter-century after Sony released the first PlayStation in North America, the PlayStation 5 raises the stakes even further for console gaming. Like the rival Microsoft Xbox Series X, the PlayStation 5 packs significantly more power than its predecessor, delivering native 4K gaming at up to 120 frames per second on supported screens.

But Sony has done more than load in more graphical prowess than before. The DualSense controller also represents an evolution from the classic DualShock design, bringing adaptive triggers that tense up and require additional force to squeeze, not to mention immersive haptic feedback all around the gamepad. It’s been a real game-changer, represented at launch in the clever and ultra-charming free pack-in game Astro’s Playroom, and used to tremendous effect in later titles like Returnal.

Sony Playstation 5
 Lifewire / Andrew Hayward

On paper, the PlayStation 5 lags behind the Xbox Series X in peak raw power, but it's a little tough to see that difference in practice. Multiplatform launch games looked and performed essentially the same on both, while later titles performed a little better on the Series X. Slightly higher frame rates are typical. However, not everyone will key in on such minor differences.

The more significant difference is that there are more compelling games on Sony's console, thanks to exclusive launch titles like Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Demon's Souls and subsequent releases like Returnal and the latest Ratchet & Clank installment.

These advantages have led to significantly more PlayStation 5 sales than Xbox Series X|S, although Sony doesn't have the commanding lead it enjoyed last time.

Design and Ports: Awkward console, awesome controller

I’m usually all for distinctive gadgets that eschew the bland, black box look, particularly when it comes to home entertainment devices, but the PlayStation 5 takes it to an extreme. Depending on whether you prop it up or lay it flat, the PlayStation 5 is incredibly tall or long at more than 15 inches, complete with unorthodox dimensions that make it look like two opposing Pringles chips on one end and the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray disc drive is a bulbous afterthought on the other.

Microsoft’s Xbox Series X is the most simplistic, black box shape the console line has ever seen but compared to the PlayStation 5’s overwrought design accents, it comes across as thankfully unfussed and relatively compact. Both weigh around 10 pounds, so they’re densely-packed tech behemoths, but there’s a lot of unnecessary added flourish to the PS5’s shape. The fact that it requires a detachable, packed-in stand in either configuration, either horizontally or vertically, suggests that utility was an afterthought in the design process.

Sony Playstation 5
 Lifewire / Andrew Hayward

Essentially, the console’s design has a glossy black plastic core surrounded by matte white plastic, although there’s no clean way to describe what’s going on here. It provides a lot of space for ventilation, at least. When set up vertically, the disc drive sits at the bottom of the console on the right side. The PS5 Digital Edition omits the drive, cuts $100 from the price tag, and is slightly slimmer and more uniform in dimensions.

On this standard edition, small black power and eject buttons sit to the left of the drive, while USB and USB-C ports are closer to the center of the black core. Flip the console around, and you’ll find a pair of additional USB ports, an HDMI port, a power cable port, and an Ethernet port for wired internet (the PlayStation 5 also supports Wi-Fi).

Controller: A true game-changer for haptics

The DualSense controller continues the lineage of the DualShock line, resembling the PS4’s DualShock 4 in external features and placement: the parallel dual analog sticks, the touchpad above, the familiar PlayStation button icons, and the shape of the trigger buttons. It has a curvier, fuller, and more futuristic look akin to the console, however, but it’s thankfully less awkward here. There’s a cool contrast between the white and black plastic and a vibrant glow from the light that borders the touchpad when powered on. It recharges via a USB-C port and can charge while playing if it unexpectedly runs dry.

Collectively, the DualSense is enough of an upgrade over older gamepads to provide a compelling reason for fence sitters to jump to the PS5 over the Xbox Series X.

More importantly, as the name change suggests, there's more beneath the DualSense controller's surface. Haptic feedback is a giant leap forward from traditional rumble functionality, delivering more precise vibration to your hands at varying intensities with more of a positional quality to it than an overall rumble. It's a subtle difference, but it feels meaningful when you're web-swinging as Spider-Man, for example.

Adaptive triggers are an innovation that changes how games feel. They provide variable resistance, as set by game developers, to provide a more tactile feeling when performing tasks—such as pulling the trigger of a gun, setting up an arrow to fire, or, yes, shooting a web while swinging through Manhattan. This feature even powers an immersive game mechanic in Returnal, soft-locking halfway through the pull so one trigger can serve two purposes.

You have to feel it to understand the change. Collectively, the DualSense is enough of an upgrade over older gamepads to provide a compelling reason for fence sitters to jump to the PS5 over the Xbox Series X and its familiar, lightly-updated take on the Xbox One gamepad.

Sony Playstation 5
 Lifewire / Andrew Hayward

If I buy a multiplatform game, I’ll probably pick the PS5 version over the Xbox edition. Astro’s Playroom, a whimsical platform adventure chock-full of PlayStation nostalgia, is a fantastic demo for the DualSense controller, showcasing the haptic feedback, adaptive triggers, and touch and tilt controls through charming and clever challenges. Best of all, it’s preinstalled free on the PlayStation 5 console. It put a big grin on my face, and that was before the controller tutorial even ended.

Storage: You’ll need more

The PlayStation 5 comes with 825GB of internal storage, which is not only an odd number but is a bit stifling considering the ballooning size of larger-scale games—Call of Duty: Black Ops - Cold War, for example, takes up 133GB on its own. That’s nearly 20 percent less space to play with than the Xbox Series X’s 1TB SSD, and once formatted and after Sony’s software footprint is factored in, you only have 667GB to play with on PS5.

The PlayStation 5 provides added benefits beyond visuals with the NVMe solid-state drive (SSD), which delivers a tectonic shift in loading speeds compared to the PS4.

Sony lets you connect an external hard drive via USB to store and run PS4 games, but not PS5. While you can move PS5 games to a USB drive for storage, they won't run unless they're on internal storage.

The PS5 does have an NVMe SSD slot, but it isn't plug-and-play. The PS5 only works with 2230, 2242, 2260, 2280, and 22110 NVMe SSDs that fit into exacting size specifications. Sony also provides some restrictive heat sink requirements, and they warn that games may not load as fast or run as well as they would on the built-in storage.

Setup Process: Choose your position

Right out of the box, you’ll need to decide how to position the PlayStation 5 since the included base stand must mount in one of two places. If vertical, you can screw it into the bottom of the console to stand it upright. Otherwise, the stand rotates and can affix to the back of the console and sit beneath to lay it horizontally (no screw required). It’s a cleverly versatile hunk of plastic, even if it ultimately feels like a band-aid for the oddly-shaped console.

Sony Playstation 5
 Lifewire / Andrew Hayward

Once that’s settled, you’ll plug in the included HDMI and power cables and connect the other ends to a display and wall outlet. Press the power button to begin the process and follow the on-screen instructions, which will prompt you to connect to a network (either via Wi-Fi or an Ethernet cable), sign into a PlayStation account, and update the console’s software. You can opt to use the PlayStation smartphone app to aid with setup. You’ll also have the option to transfer data from your PlayStation 4 to the PS5 via Wi-Fi or an Ethernet cable.

Performance: Power and speed combine

The PlayStation 5 has similar internal hardware to the Xbox Series X, albeit configured differently. Both have a custom AMD Zen 2-based octa-core CPU paired with an AMD RDNA 2 GPU, but the PS5 configured the latter with 36 compute units at 2.23 GHz each, while the Xbox Series X opts for 52 compute units at 1.825 GHz. What’s the difference? The PS5’s total graphical throughput adds up to nearly 10.3 teraflops—more than five times that of the original PS4 and more than twice that of the PS4 Pro revision—while the Xbox hits 12 teraflops.

The best-looking games on PlayStation 5 are truly stunning, even if the upgrade over PS4 games is largely incremental.

Ultimately, when it comes to raw power, the PlayStation 5 is the second fiddle to the Xbox Series X in the realm of game consoles. That said, multiplatform games available on both systems don’t run that much better on the Series X, with most offering the ability to output in 4K at up to 120 frames per second on TVs with 120Hz support on both consoles. 

Support for 8K content is coming to both consoles in the future. Eventually, we might see more of a difference between the consoles as developers tap every bit of graphical power available. Still, the differences in frame rates and resolutions aren’t massive at this point. Note that you will need a 4K TV to see much of the visual benefits of the PS5: the high-resolution crispness won’t land quite the same on a 1080p set.

The best-looking games on PlayStation 5 are truly stunning, even if the upgrade over PS4 games is largely incremental. Spider-Man: Miles Morales was a launch title, but it remains a fantastic showcase, with a native 4K resolution mode that uses resource-intensive real-time ray tracing to deliver gorgeous lighting effects and reflections that are accurately rendered at the moment rather than using canned effects. Alternatively, you can switch to a rock-solid 60-frames-per-second performance mode that is much smoother in motion but sacrifices a bit of the added visual glow. It’s a tough decision! 

Sony Playstation 5
 Lifewire / Andrew Hayward

Elsewhere, the PS5-exclusive remake of tough-as-nails battler Demon’s Souls delivers some of the most gorgeously-detailed creatures and locales. Ubisoft’s multiplatform historical adventure Assassin’s Creed Valhalla serves up jaw-dropping environments and lighting effects. They run more smoothly and look more detailed and immersive on PlayStation 5, but a look at the PS4 versions of both Miles Morales and Assassin’s Creed shows that it’s ultimately the same core game on both consoles, just with better graphics and smoother gameplay.

The PlayStation 5 provides added benefits beyond visuals with the NVMe solid-state drive (SSD), which delivers a tectonic shift in loading speeds compared to the PS4. Miles Morales loads from the menu screen into the vast open city of Manhattan within a few seconds, and Fortnite no longer takes two minutes to get from the console menu to the game menu—it’s more like 20 seconds now. The Xbox Series X delivers the same boost to games, meaning you no longer have to kill time when loading games, levels, and matches.

That said, the Xbox Series X has an added feature called Quick Resume that lets you swap between open, compatible games in seconds rather than load every game from scratch. The PS5 has no such function, but given the rapid loading times and similar SSD tech inside, I’m hoping it’s something that Sony can add down the line. Thankfully, the PS5 runs cooler and quieter than the aggressively loud PS4 models, although the disc drive still can get noisy during use.

Spiderman on top of a building

 Lifewire / Andrew Hayward

Software: Excellent exclusives and more

The PlayStation 5’s interface is more dynamic than the PS4, shifting the familiar, centered row of horizontal game and media icons to the top of the screen to make more room for graphics and infoboxes. It’s a striking look, yet still pretty easy to get around, particularly with the ability to tap the PlayStation button on the controller to bring up a navigation bar at the bottom of the screen. The new PlayStation Store design suffered from some usability issues at launch, but it’s easier now to find new games and deals after a handful of essential tweaks.

I’m usually all for distinctive gadgets that eschew the bland, black box look, particularly when it comes to home entertainment devices but the PlayStation 5 takes it to an extreme.

Sony came out of the gate strong with several compelling exclusive games, in stark contrast to the Xbox Series X launch lineup, and they’ve only built on that lead since then. Launch title Spider-Man: Miles Morales is excellent, a thrilling and beautiful spin-off from Insomniac Games’ original Spider-Man game that packs a lot of heart and character, too. LittleBigPlanet spin-off Sackboy, meanwhile, isn’t particularly thrilling, but it’s lightweight, family-friendly fun.

The brutal Demon’s Souls, another launch title, doesn’t appeal to everyone, but those with a masochistic streak may appreciate its tough-but-rewarding combat. Astro’s Playroom is also a PS5 exclusive. While it’s a freebie, it’s a must-play for anyone picking up the console—not only for its alluring use of the new controller but also its charming homage to PlayStation history. And Bugsnax, a strangely delightful indie game from the makers of Octodad: Dadliest Catch, is another PS5 launch game you won’t find on Xbox. It’s also free at launch to PlayStation Plus subscribers.

Sony Playstation 5
 Lifewire / Andrew Hayward

Sony’s post-launch stable of exclusives and times exclusives has also been strong. If you want to play games like Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, Returnal, Deathloop, Horizon: Forbidden West, or even the remake of The Last of Us, the PS5 will be your console of choice. Although Sony has followed in Microsoft’s footsteps in releasing their games on PC, their first-party titles remain PS5-exclusive for a year or so.

Elsewhere, many of the same multiplatform games from Xbox Series X and PlayStation 4 are available on PS5 with upgraded visuals, from Assassin’s Creed Valhalla to first-person shooter Call of Duty: Black Ops - Cold War, hoops sim NBA 2K21 and off-road racer Dirt 5. Sony has already announced an array of heavy-hitters for future release, including new God of War, Horizon, and Final Fantasy games, so there’s sure to be a steady flow of big games for the console in 2023 and beyond.

Sony isn’t quite as keen on backward compatibility for older games as Microsoft. The PlayStation 5 supports most major PS4 games, and some—including God of War, Ghost of Tsushima, and Final Fantasy XV—see smoother frame rates thanks to the added power of the new console. But while the Xbox Series X allows games back to the original Xbox and provides automatic loading and frame rate boosts, the PlayStation 5 sticks to PS4 games and only improves those that developers patch with enhancements.

PS5 owners who subscribe to Sony’s PlayStation Plus service, which unlocks online multiplayer action and awards free games to download each month, will also have access to a PlayStation Plus Collection that lets you download 20 of the PS4’s most popular and critically acclaimed titles. That bundle includes God of War, Ratchet & Clank, The Last of Us Remastered, and Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. It’s a stellar library that you can tap into when you need something new to play or want to revisit a modern classic.

Sony Playstation 5
 Lifewire / Andrew Hayward

You’ll also find an array of streaming video services on the PlayStation 5, including Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, Disney+, and Twitch, plus the disc drive can play 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray discs, standard Blu-ray discs, and DVDs.

Price: Good deal if you don’t need Blu-Ray

The standard PlayStation 5 sells for $499, while the Digital Edition sells for $399. Aside from the disc drive, there’s no difference in performance, storage, or other specs, so the Digital Edition may appeal to anyone who has already given up on physical media. It’s also a bit slimmer, given the lack of an optical disc drive. The Digital Edition also undercuts the Xbox Series X by $100 despite very similar performance, which makes it a great deal.

While the visual enhancements are relatively modest compared to the PlayStation 4, the PS5 is a more attractive investment than the Xbox Series X thanks to a more robust library of PlayStation-exclusive games and the awe of the DualSense controller. That said, only a few true PS5 exclusives aren’t also on the PS4. So while the PS5 is a worthy investment if you have a 4K HDR TV, 1080P PS4 gamers don’t have as compelling a reason to upgrade.

Sony Playstation 5
 Lifewire / Andrew Hayward

Sony PlayStation 5 vs. Microsoft Xbox Series X

The PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X collectively represent the current pinnacle of console gaming, delivering impressive native 4K performance with immensely crisp, detailed, and smooth-running games. And the speedy SSD storage in both means that games load faster from the start and serve fewer delays along the way.

As mentioned, the Xbox Series X has more raw power available to developers, even if games look and play about the same on both platforms. The expanded backward compatibility and Quick Resume feature are also great perks of Microsoft’s hardware, not to mention the more compact, streamlined physical design.

On the other hand, the PlayStation 5 has a much more extensive library of exclusive games, and the DualSense controller feels like a true innovation compared to the familiar, largely-unchanged Xbox Series X gamepad. There’s a little more of a next-gen spark with the PS5, whereas the Xbox Series X feels more like a souped-up last-gen effort.

Final Verdict

Dawn of a new generation. 

For anyone who already owns a PS4 and hasn't made the jump to 4K yet, the PS5's $499 price tag is a lot to ask for a new game system that has a lot of the same games as your old console; just with better graphics and faster loading times. It does have a few exclusives like Returnal that you can't get on PS4, but they're few and far between. Even standouts like Spider-Man: Miles Morales and God of War: Ragnarok are available on both consoles, although they look and play better on the PS5. The DualSense controller provides an added layer of excitement to the equation, though, and the PS5 is a must-buy if you have a 4K TV. The Xbox might technically have an edge on raw power, but Sony has provided more compelling reasons to go with their console.

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Specs

  • Product Name PlayStation 5
  • Product Brand Sony
  • UPC 711719541028
  • Price $499.00
  • Release Date November 2020
  • Product Dimensions 10.2 x 15.4 x 3.6 in.
  • CPU Custom 8-Core AMD Zen 2
  • GPU Custom AMD Radeon RDNA 2
  • RAM 16GB
  • Storage 825GB SSD
  • Ports 2 USB 3.1, 1 USB 2.0, 1 USB-C, 1 HDMI 2.1, 1 Ethernet
  • Media Drive 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
  • Warranty 1 year
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