Both the Xbox One and PS4 have now been available in the UK for a year and will very much be in the thoughts and minds of those looking to treat themselves or others this Christmas. It can also be argued that waiting a year for the dust to settle on a frenzied dual console launch was a wise choice as both machines have improved significantly in the last 12 months.
There are many more games, the consoles are both capable of new and exciting features that weren’t available at launch, and if you shop around you can get very attractive deals that include one or more titles to play immediately. However, the big question is which one to go for? Which console best suits your tastes and needs?
Last year, straight after launch, Pocket-lint put them head-to-head as was to find out which console offered the most. But as much has changed in the interim period the comparisons aren’t so relevant today. That’s why we’ve decided to revisit the format and look at which of the two is a better option for you.
Which has the best design?
When we first reviewed the Xbox One we claimed that the Xbox One is “not showy” and “designed to be integrated, to nestle in and make itself part of its surroundings”, and that’s obviously still true today.
Having lived with it a year, what initially looked to be a boxy device that invoked memories of VHS players actually suits an AV cabinet well. The only real issue is an enormous separate power supply.
However, as before, we still think the PS4 looks nicer. “Unlike the Xbox One the PS4's power supply is in the main box and that makes a big difference in placing it under your telly or on your hi-fi rack,” we said in our original review and still agree it makes a big difference.
“You can place it vertically if you've got the height for it and there's a second logo so it still looks cool from its second angle. The Xbox One, meanwhile, is designed to lie flat only,” we added.
Conclusion – PS4 wins
Although the Xbox One is not as huge and cumbersome as some have suggested, it isn't quite as sleek as the PS4. It can't stand on end (if that's your thing) and comes with the Microsoft trademark power brick, which you have to find extra room for among your power sockets.
We have found in the last year though that the PS4 runs hotter in operation and is more prone to make a whirring noise if used for too long in a location with little ventilation.
Which has the best controller?
The latest Xbox controller is not so much a complete overhaul of the one for the Xbox 360 but a refinement.
In our original review we said that it is “a refinement of everything that was good before” and were impressed with the vibration feedback especially. “If you're familiar with the former, then the new controller will just fall into your hands and go to work as it always has,” we said.
The Sony DualShock 4 that comes with the PS4 is more of a leap forward for the brand. “It's an all-round better experience than the current PS3 DualShock,” we said at the time.
"In play we've been getting around seven hours from a single charge, and because it's got a micro USB port you can charge it from elsewhere in the house if you don't want to do so via your console.
And one year on we’ve grown to love the DualShock perhaps even more than the Xbox One controller. It feels good in the hand – large and comfortable. Plus its touchpanel does come in handy for accessing menus and other options in certain games.
Conclusion - PS4 wins
Price wise, a second PS4 controller will cost you fractionally more than an Xbox One equivalent. However, cross-platform games often have extra or simplified control functionality for the touch panel at the top of the DualShock and that shades it we feel.
Which has the best user interface?
One of the biggest advantages the Xbox One has over its main rival is that Microsoft more regularly updates its user interface with new and interesting features. It has tidied the main screen dramatically since launch and monthly patches have introduced better ways of accessing friends’ information and your games library.
Themes have also been recently added as an option to customise your homescreen, with pictures from popular games available to use as a backdrop behind Microsoft’s oft-adopted tile design.
Visually, the PS4 has changed little in the year, but Sony has also introduced themes lately – with both game-specific and design-led themes available on the PlayStation Store to download. Some will cost but most are free. There are also static and dynamic options.
The menu bar has been refined lately, with less applications or games appearing in the long list and a separate, categorised section to find your software more easily. In short though, it’s very similar to before.
Conclusion – Xbox One wins
Although we really liked both user interfaces, especially the speed at which they operate, the PS4 home screen looks rather sparse in comparison to the Xbox One's. It's much more simple to use, but feels less personal than the highly customisable one from Xbox. Some might prefer that, of course, and we really feel as if it’s a personal choice.
Which has the best second-screen experience?
Since we last talked about Xbox One SmartGlass little has changed in design terms or functionality when it comes to games. It presents a tile-based home page that apes the menu system of the console and, as we said originally, “you can use it to Snap items too”.
“From your phone, you can switch to a game, open Xbox Music and away you go. You can access details about your friends as well as send them messages, so you get to use your phone's keyboard, rather than having to mess around with the Xbox One's on-screen effort.”
The big change in the last year has been more recently and is specifically for those who have invested in an Xbox One Digital TV Tuner. If you have the Freeview tuner plugged into your Xbox One, not only can you use SmartGlass to change channels, you can watch live TV streamed to your mobile device too.
The PS4 has always had the best second screen feature hands-down – namely PS4 Remote Play. And now it’s not just limited to PS Vita, but can be used on Sony Xperia Z2 and Z3 devices and through the newly released PlayStation TV.
There is a companion app too, but the ability to play PS4 games remotely through a portable device or tiny set-top-box in another room is a real winner and great incentive.
Conclusion - PS4 wins
You can’t deny that the PS4 Remote Play functionality is a masterstroke by Sony, especially as it has now been introduced to other devices. Being able to carry on your PS4 games when somebody wants to watch the main TV is quite simply a better use of portable technology that streaming live TV. After all, many of the channels available on Freeview are also available through free streaming apps anyway.
Which has the best games line-up?
Since launch the Xbox One has had a significant focus shift towards gaming with the Xbox team speaking more about its games-playing talents than its entertainment nous these days.
As is the way of the world at the moment, it also has exclusive content deals with some of the biggest publishers for their triple-A games, including Ultimate Team Legends for FIFA 15 and first dibs on a load of maps for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare.
Let’s not forget Titanfall either, which was and is still exclusive to Microsoft.
Like the Xbox One, the PS4 has had its own swathe of exclusive titles over the year, with the remastered version of The Last of Us being a particular highlight.
Next year there are some true triple-A titles coming to, including The Order: 1886 and Bloodborne. And existing games such as Destiny have exclusive content on the blue side of the equation too.
Conclusion – tie
To be honest, it’s impossible to split the two consoles apart when it comes to quality games as they both have many titles now that are well worth playing. The Xbox One perhaps shades it a little on the homegrown games available now, but the PS4 has a healthy selection on the horizon.
This battle will heat up no doubt come next Christmas run-in, with Halo 5, Uncharted 4, Rise of the Tomb Raider and no doubt many other exclusive big guns forcing gamers to make a choice.
Which console has the best additional features?
At launch we were impressed by Xbox One’s voice control functionality through Kinect, saying that “it covers a lot of ground, giving you access to a full range of functions without having to use a controller at all”. And since then the algorithms have improved and the voice recognition is even better.
If you don’t have a Kinect however there are still plenty of other feature highlights, including media streaming – something the PS4 is still unable to do. Either through the Xbox One’s own media player or the Plex app, you can play music, video or view images from an attached USB drive or streamed over a home network. 3D Blu-ray support has also been added since the console was released.
You can also play your TV service through the Xbox One if you have a Virgin Media TiVo or Sky+HD box and use the Xbox to change channels, volume, etc. OneGuide, the box's EPG, is excellent as well.
Microsoft has made Snap a little more relevant in recent times too, with the ability to have a smaller side bar screen for a separate application especially coming in handy during games when you want to talk to or message a friend.
The main new feature Sony has introduced in the last year came with firmware update 2.0 in the last few weeks: Share Play.
Share Play enables a PS4 owner to either send a friend (who must also own a PS4) live streamed feed of his or her gameplay, let them take control, or even join in on a two-player game without actually needing to own a copy themselves.
For example, you own a copy of FIFA 15 but want to play a friend who doesn’t, while they are sat comfortably in their own home. You spark up Share Play and can instantly get them involved as if they were sitting next to you.
The other feature that is exciting but won’t hit the UK until summer 2015 is PlayStation Now. Available in the US already in beta form, PS Now is a cloud gaming platform that currently offers PS3 games to rent. However, rather than download them, you play them over the internet with the video of the gameplay being streamed to your PS4 and the control codes being sent the other way.
There are plenty of other features, including 3D Blu-ray playback and the ability to play Dolby Atmos soundtracks (something the Xbox One is unable to do natively), but Share Play is the biggest highlight.
Conclusion – Xbox wins
Share Play is an excellent idea and we’ll have to live with it a bit longer to see if we use it that often. It is though a positive statement by Sony that the PS4 is made for gaming.
While Xbox also focuses on its gaming aspects primarily now, the fact that it has embraced media streaming and playback when its rival has not shades it for us. PlayStation Now might make a massive difference when it launches in the UK, but until then the Xbox One has more apps and abilities in the all-round entertainment sphere.
But which is best overall?
There’s been a slight reversal since we last compared both consoles like-for-like. The Xbox One came out top then but totting up each category above it is the PS4 that wins this time around.
That might confuse some, especially those that have also read our piece on a few of the reasons that made us think the Xbox One is a better console this year, but that’s where it comes down to personal choice.
The PS4 is undoubtedly still the best console for hardcore gamers. PS4 Remote Play and Share Play are geared entirely at those who want to extend their gaming experience. The Xbox One is a more rounded entertainment machine with a better app selection and the killer feature of being able to stream your home media too.
You essentially have to decide what you want most from your console. The one thing we can guarantee is that you won’t be disappointed in either. 2014 has been a hugely exciting year for the advancement of videogaming and 2015 promises to be even better.
Let the games begin.
For more on the Xbox One and PS4 games consoles, check out our dedicated hubs for all the coverage:
Xbox One @ pocket-lint.com/xbox-one.
PS4 @ pocket-lint.com/ps4.