PlayStation 4 review

4 out of 5
£349

For

Fast, powerful, small, masses of potential, Remote Play via PS Vita is fun

Against

Lacklustre launch line-up, no 3D Blu-ray playback, no media streaming

You are reading this PlayStation 4 review for probably one of three reasons. The first is that you want to know whether you should get the PS4, the second whether it's better than the Xbox One, and third is probably to help justify your pre-order and to allay any last-minute fears that you've made the wrong decision.

That's totally understandable, buying a next-gen console at the start of its journey is a brave decision to make. Just look where the Wii U seems to be headed. Upon buying a PS4 you want to make sure you're not going to be left with an albatross around your neck until the PlayStation 5 comes out and yet still be there ready to brag to your mates that you are living the future.

But on day one does Sony's console deliver, or will you merely be roaming the voids of PlayStation 4 land looking for games, friends, and things to do?

Here at Pocket-lint we've been following the journey from the beginning. We were present at the New York launch in February, back again en masse for the fun and games of the E3 games show in LA, and then here for the final launch in the UK. Has it all been worth it?

Design

By now you probably already know what the PS4 looks like. It's a flat prism-looking box with minimal fuss that measures 305 x 275 x 53mm in size. It's black, but of course, and like the Xbox One, is a combination of shiny and matte. Unlike the One, however, it's less brutal and smaller in scale. The front, which slopes away backwards, features separate touch-sensitive power and eject buttons, and that PS4 logo.

Discs - games and Blu-rays - are slid into the machine in the thin gap that runs across the front, disappearing into the gaming carcass. It's all very Blade Runner, giving little away of the power contained inside. A strip of light that runs in a bright to dim fade across the top glows blue, white, or orange depending on its state. We think it looks awesome.

The front also features two USB sockets, again largely hidden in that gap, for charging the new DualShock 4 controller. You'll want to make sure the charge when on standby option is available from within the menus, which it isn't by default. Or you can charge the controller via another source, such as your laptop, if you plug in the USB to micro USB lead.

The back of the PS4 unit features an array of connections including HDMI, Ethernet, and a dedicated socket for connection the PS4 Camera. There's an optical out too and any remaining part of the rear that doesn't need to form into some kind of a socket is a vent - that heat has got to go somewhere.

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. 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 and it's power supply is a brick - it's literally almost the same size as one.

READ: Xbox One review

On the whole the PS4 is quiet when running. Compared to the PlayStation 3 - and we have both consoles lined up to the left and right of the TV - the PlayStation 4 sounds almost silent by comparison. It's a lot, lot quieter to our ears. However, we have found that it does get a little noisy when tasked with certain things like Remote Play via the PS Vita - but, hey, you aren't in the room for that so who cares right?

The DualShock Controller

All new for an all-new console is the DualShock 4 controller. Although it doesn't really look it, it's considerably bigger than the previous controller for the PS3 - almost more Xbox-control-like in scale.

The controller now features a speaker, a port to attach a headphone and microphone, a touch-sensitive trackpad, a motion tracking light that works in the same way Move did on the PS3, and new buttons to press including Options and Share. The era of "Start and Select" is over.

The most noticeable difference is that the grips on the DualShock 4 are longer and that makes for a more comfortable hold in the hand. Repositioned motors also make for a better rumble, which felt spot on to us.

It's an all-round better experience than the current PS3 DualShock. Sadly for PS3 owners hoping to benefit from the new design, you won't be able to: it isn't backwards compatible, in the same way you can't play PS3 games on PS4.

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. It's a shame there's not some kind of easy charging plate - like the Nokia Fatboy wireless charger - that you could pop on the TV stand and rest the controllers on for a quick recharge. That'd be all the more futuristic.

Also at £50 a go the DualShock 4 really isn't cheap. You'll get one in the box, and the console can cope with up to four in total - if you have a spare £150 extra to fork out. We'd imagine it's a case of asking friends around to bring their own, although most gamers these days will opt for online play.

Set-up

Out of the box, and you'll be there a while setting up. Not plugging things in - that takes seconds - but downloading and signing in to relevant services and features.

Turn the console on, connect to your Wi-Fi, sign into PSN, download the day one patch - which on a moderate connection took around 15-minutes to download the 323MB patch - sign up to Facebook (you can skip this), adjust your profile settings, and then enhance your PSN profile with some new information.

On day one in the UK it's likely that this patch size will differ, as our early console - we've had it since 15 November - required one patch for the user interface and a later patch for the PlayStation Store and additional user interface upgrades.

If you want you can make the set-up process longer by doing face recognition with the Camera - if you've bought one - to enhance the login process, and sign up to Twitter to increase your sharing options.

Most games we've played have also required either a software download update, or needed to have some or apparently all of the game installed on the console. It all takes time. But we're not surprised, that's the norm these days - every new game on PS3 tends to require a patch too.

If you haven't got a fast connection, or are planning on setting this up on either launch day or Christmas Day, our recommendation in the latter case would be to do this all the night before if you can. With the social network stuff it took us around 20 minutes in total, but that could be considerably extended when there's a lot of pressure on Sony for the download from tens of thousands of simultaneous users.

Day to day

Once you are up and running the PS4 is incredibly fast, from boot-up time to game load times. That 20 minutes at the start is all but forgotten. 

It's worth going the extra mile from the off to enhance your experience later, whether it's sharing screenshots via Facebook or other social media. And if you want to grab a quick half hour of Killzone while you wait for the other half to finish getting ready before you head out it takes little time to boot up from the required install.

Disc-based games require the disc to be in the drive at all times to run. If you eject, the system will take you back to the home screen; if you try to load an installed title without the disc inserted then the PS4 will instruct you to insert the correct disc.

Overall the PS4's interface has been focused around creating a minimal approach to the whole affair. We like it.

The User Interface

The well-established PS3 interface is based around a single bar of items that run across the screen and then lets you zip up and down individual elements: Games, TV, Settings and other sub-menus. It's an interface that is simple, but has served the PlayStation crowd well.

But the PS4 has a considerably more refined and simplified take on the old one. Firing up the console for the first time you will see links to What's New, PlayStation Live, TV & Video, your installed games as individual tabs, Video Unlimited, Music Unlimited, The Playroom, PlayStation Live, a Browser and your Library where all your downloaded content is stored.

You needn't be signed into the UK PSN Store to get TV & Video options. This includes Lovefilm, Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Demand 5, IGN, BBC Sport and BBC News from day one. To interact with each you'll need to download the individual app - we've been playing with iPlayer to watch a bit of MasterChef, as you do. There may be more app portals added in the future, making the PS4 more of a smart hub - but that's the extent of its services for the time being. This will vary from region to region.

For the Blu-ray player to fire up for movie playback you'll need to insert a disc, but there's no 3D Blu-ray support at launch.

The visual main row is all about giving you immediate access to what your console is doing now rather than what it could do or might have done six months ago. It also changes constantly depending on how you use the PS4, giving you quick links to the stuff that matters to you: the game you are playing at the moment kept to the nearest left side so you don't need to scroll through the list, or the movie service you keep using that rises to the top, for example.

That "Facebook" or even "Windows Phone" approach - it looks roughly so because of chunky, colourful visual tabs - is expressed even further once you start to interact with the console. It provides a living, breathing kind of experience rather than something that is set in stone.

Rather than simply turning the wallpaper of the console into a big advert for the game you are selecting, the PS4 gives you a much deeper dive into what is available for that specific title. We were able to see this on Killzone: Shadow Fall quite clearly. Scroll down from the square icon on the all-new Xross Media Bar and the game not only takes over the screen as PS3 users know well, but now also gives you a lot more information. It's like a dedicated hub for all things for that title.

READ: Killzone: Shadow Fall review

You quickly get to see how many have liked the game, as well as seeing associated content, including related downloadable content (DLC), manuals and even stuff experienced and enjoyed by your mates, whether that's screenshots or videos.

It really feels inclusive and certainly better than the PS3 experience of having to find all the latest content in the PlayStation Network Store. Clearly Sony is pushing for the additional sales it can generates, but users aren't going to shun it - because it's so specifically targeted that when you are able to find that extra map you never knew existed in a game you love, a few extra quid will seem worth it. You've got our attention Sony.

In similar fashion to an Android smartphone there is a thin bar along the top of the screen that delivers key information at a glance. Messages scroll along the top detailing software updates, and you can see who you are logged in as. There are also icons showing your Trophy statistics, and the all important time - particularly relevant when you discover it's 3am once again and you're still shooting things or building Lego blocks.

READ: Lego Marvel Super Heroes review (PS4)

Scrolling upwards on the home screen reveals all the boring information that you rarely look at: messages, settings, friends and so forth. It's easy to access, and is where the menus really start in earnest. It's easy to manage, but we doubt you'll spend much time here once things are set up as you want them. That's clearly something Sony realises, having buried it out of your main line of view.

It's all fast, too. Like really fast. We could quickly zip through the interface selecting what we wanted, when and how we wanted. Sony tells us that the speed of the menu system gets even faster if you are on a hard-line connection rather than Wi-Fi. but as we've opted for the neater wireless solution that's not something we've tested out.

User interfaces are important and Sony's XMB has always been enjoyed, but not necessarily liked by all. The update for the PS4 enhances what we've been used to and thankfully doesn't add in any crazy annoyances. It's particularly good at making sure you get more from your games - especially if you are social.

What's most important is that the interface is very quick. If all you want to do is play games, you'll be able to do that near instantly - and certainly faster than ever before. We like it a lot.

Jumping in and out of games to check on other things takes a spilt second rather than seconds, while games load instantly the moment you return. Jumping out of your gaming to check the progress of a download is now as easy as turning your head. Very simple.

However we think that with all the power under the PS4's hood that there could have been scope for better multi-tasking. We paused a game of Resogun, for example, in order to fire up BBC iPlayer - but you have to exit the game in order to load the streaming service. Shame one can't be held in the background rather than shut down in full.

READ: Resogun review

The one thing we don't like about the UI? That twinkly music that sounds like it's destined for a relaxing spa. It's already got on our nerves.

Browsing

But it's not all smooth sailing. Browsing the net is pretty awful - that's the best way to describe it on the PS4. It's as if the only reason Sony has included a browser for the console is to authenticate your Twitter feed. Turn to Xbox and you'll see Internet Explorer and all manner or integration.

If it's not the huge resolution that makes the text minuscule, it is the laggy experience the PS4 gives. To make matters worse, Sony has opted to allow you to zoom in by pressing R3 rather than using the small touch-sensitive pad on the top of the DualShock controller.

Even connecting with the iPhone or Android app doest help. Although the app does bring the fun: you buy games, check up on your stats, and even double up as a second-screen experience - handy if you've got text to type. But you'll need to be on the same Wi-Fi network for it to work.

Still, the app can't fix the browser experience. Stick to your phone or tablet's native browser experience for that.

Remote Play

One of the other fun features of the PS4 is that you can play games on it using the PS Vita. Sony hopes the feature will appeal to gamers keen to carry on playing games, but not just in front of their console.

You will, of course, need a PS Vita with the latest software update, an internet connection, and your PS4 connected into the same PlayStation Network account.

Connecting to the console using the Remote Play feature gives you full access to the PS4 on the Vita screen. After connecting the PS Vita to the same account you can then access the PS4 at any point. Unlike Apple and its Apple TV mirroring you don't need to be on the same network, just a fast connection.

The interface isn't changed, just shrunk to fit the smaller display, but this does affect text on the display and the ability to read it. Thankfully the PS Vita's screen has a good enough resolution to be able to read, however you will need to bring the Vita in close. It's like a 4pt font. Obviously a poor connection causes the crispness to disappear and that only makes things worse.

Ultimately the experience is very good with zero lag noted, although when the connection starts to weaken the quality degrades quickly. It's akin to watching bad digital TV.

Regardless of that the potential is huge, if you are willing to fork out for a PS Vita alongside your new PS4 purchase. Keen Sony gamers will probably have the Vita already and if not then here's your excuse. We've already used it to carry on gaming from our bed, and as we work from home, the home office - naughty. However, an attempt at playing on the Tube failed.

At the moment it seems Remote Play is a game-only feature, we've tried it with some Blu-ray movies and that isn't allowed. This could be because of a rights issues, a block in place, or that there's not a decent mirroring system set up yet for the PS4. We're in the dark about that one - more info as we find it out.

iPhone and Android app

No games console experience is complete these days without the help of an app on a smartphone not made by the company making the console. The free-to-download PS4 app lets you buy games, check up on your stats, and even double as a second-screen experience - handy if you've got text to type.

The iPhone app - we ran it on the iPhone 5S - is simple and to the point, allowing you to use the phone as a keyboard which is handy for typing comments when you come to share those videos and screenshots.

The setup is easy, although it's worth noting that you'll need to be on the same Wi-Fi network for it to work - i.e., in front of your TV.

Sharing pictures and video

One of the new features of the PS4 is that you can now share videos and screenshots. You'll want to do this because, let's face it, you are bragging. We've done it. You have completed a certain section/area or got a game that your mates haven't, that kind of thing - now you can show it off.

Doing so via the PS4 is really easy. As long as you've signed up to Twitter or Facebook you can gloat to your heart's content and serve as a marketing man for Sony and whichever company's game you are playing.

At all times the PS4 is recording your progress, so pressing the Share button merely captures the last 15 minutes of gaming for you. A 15-minute video is around 800MB, though, which is something to be aware of if you are planning on sharing your gaming experiences a lot. Not least because many UK providers have data sharing caps.

The caveats here are that you really should have a decent up connection, and that your friends are ready to receive your eventually mundane pictures and videos. It can quickly become overkill we'd imagine, a bit like being invited to play Farmville for the 24,000th time.

Sadly you can't use the Share option to merely share to yourself without going public - an email option would have been nice - so if you want to capture the moment then that moment needs to be good enough to share with your mates.

Thankfully on that front you can edit your video before you share it. The PS4 offers basic editing options like trim from within the interface. It's easy to use and saves you having to automatically upload the last 15 minutes of video including where you died 28 times. Particularly if you're playing Knack.

READ: Knack review

On the bragging front, by the time you've edited yourself you will look so good, that even an appearance on Games Master would have been beneath you.

Watching games

Just as you can share game footage you can tune in and watch other people, random strangers, play their games, just like you could in the arcades as a kid because you didn't have enough money to play the games yourself. Although at £50 a pop this time around, that feeling might remain much the same.

The watching games area is like a modern arcade. A cool feature for about 10 minutes until you either realise that you want the game and therefore are disappointed because you don't have it, or you have the game and therefore immediately go and play it. It's a strange offering and one that is designed to subliminally make you want titles you don't have. Advertising without the force-feeding. An interesting idea.

PlayStation Network

The UK PSN Store isn't located in the main row of the PS4's User Interface - and we're not really sure why. Click up and it's available to the top left of the secondary row, which is easy enough to get into.

Sign in with your account and things are fairly easy to navigate: to the left there are the key categories that you're likely to want to seek out, including Games, Movies, TV Shows, Music and Apps. The last on that list is for the TV & Video section as displayed on the front-end of the interface.

In addition to the most prominent Welcome page, there is also the Playstation Plus section - the premium account that provides freebies and offers, priced £39.99 a year, £11.99 for three months or £5.49 to trial it for one month - and PS3 to PS4 Upgrades.

Playstation Plus is among the biggest points of interest, because Sony is getting better and better at offering genuine reasons to want to buy into it. Take Resogun, for example - it's one of the best PS4 launch games and it's free for PS Plus users.

READ: Top 5 PS4 launch games you must buy

The upgrades section, however, doesn't seem to be fully operational just yet. We've been playing Assassin's Creed IV and Call of Duty: Ghosts on PlayStation 3, and yet neither show up in the Upgrades section on the PS4, despite being synched with our one-time personal account. Strange. Indeed no games show in this section at all - just a "Limited Time Offer" banner and the option to sort and add filter to an empty column.

From here it's easy to access the full library of games to download. This is arranged into Top Games and Featured Add-Ons, or you can search just like the most up-to-date PS3 system - start with one letter and it'll limit the choices of letter number two based on what's available in the store - which is far quicker for searching than typing out names in full.

Thing is you'd have to be fairly mad to download the major titles available, or just really, really eager. Why? Because they're more expensive than the boxed copies. Take FIFA 14, for example, it's £54.99 in the Store. Amazon will send it to you for £47 at the time of writing.

READ: FIFA 14 (PS4 and Xbox One) review

Sony had made an initial gaff where the download games were £62.99. Even so, upwards of £50 with no disc, no box and no manual does seem a bit backwards to us. Very little incentive to download. Sony UK MD excused the pricing as "premature" in an interview with Pocket-lint, hence the small price drops since.

READ: Leaked PS4 PlayStation Store prices were premature, says Sony UK MD

Overall, though, we think that Store looks pretty solid. You may not even spend that much time in its core areas - movie rentals, for example, you might already have covered via Lovefilm or Netflix. If not then the occasional £3.49 for a view might seem reasonable, but we doubt it's a huge lure.

What we're most keen on is how the Store is integrated on the front end of the interface. What's New, TV & Video and so forth show you the snippets of what matters, and can guide you from those points into the relevant upgrades and so forth.

The games

Day one for PS4 has a handful of titles available. So far we've being playing Killzone: Shadow Fall, Lego Marvel Super Heroes, Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, Call of Duty: Ghosts, and Knack. Some of the games are good, some not so much, but the experience underwhelming really. It is the first wave after all, but where's that killer PS4 exclusive?

READ: Call of Duty: Ghosts review

The moment you find yourself saying that the must-have game is Lego Marvel Super Heroes, is the moment you realise that the PS4 doesn't have that many truly amazing launch games to help it stand out from the crowd. But, saying that, the Marvel title is the best Lego outing yet - it's actually a lot of fun and full of wit. The game looks brilliant in all its 1080p glory, which makes it feel truly next-gen.

With the Store up and running is where we find the exceptions. Resogun is exceptional, and Flower a quirky experience that show for just a few pounds you can have plenty of fun - not the £50 prices of the major games which, like we say, by and large lack. 

We think it's down to Sony opting for such a big summer of PS3 games rather than holding games back for the PS4 day one offering. PS3 first and third-party games alike including Last of Us, Beyond Two Souls, GTA V, Call of Duty: Ghosts, and others admittedly haven't helped the PS4's position.

Sony's own PS4 efforts are a bit lacklustre. Knack, for example, is horribly misjudged, while Killzone looks incredible but just lacks the eye-bleeding gameplay to set it apart from other top first person shooters. It's not the gobsmacking must-buy 5/5 stuff we'd hoped for. Had Sony held back Last of Us, the story would have been very different.

All this is made more apparent by the presence of desirable Xbox One exclusives: Dead Rising 3 and Forza 5 to name but two available from day dot. Wait until spring for Infamous: Second Son and the PS4 might start to shift that lead around.

If you're an upgrader, that decision to buy PS4 is hard to justify at the moment. You'll still have to keep the PS3 for all its media capabilities - these lack almost entirely on the PS4 - and you'll still be turning on the older console and playing games you love. Buying the PS4 won't mean you'll be ditching your old console just yet.

If you've been holding out for next-gen glory then the PS4 is well worth it. The download-only titles, and excellent next-gen offerings like FIFA 14 really step up the graphics and take things to another level. The list of current-gen titles with a lick of next-gen glory such as Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, Battlefield 4, Skylanders: Swap Force are also great if it's your first time to play any one of them. It's a shame Watch Dogs lacks, but there's one to look forward to.

Camera

The Sony PlayStation 4 Camera is an optional extra, unlike the Xbox One's Kinect which comes included in the Microsoft package's box. The Sony Camera costs £45 and works in a similar way to the previous camera on the PS3. It also racks up the PS4's cost to be closer to the One's £429 entry point.

The Camera is a lot better than previous PlayStation efforts through incorporating two cameras that have wide-angle lenses with 85-degree diagonal angle views to can identify the depth of a space more precisely.

So far we've used it to mess around in The Playroom, a demo area  that teaches you how to use the features of the DualShock 4 controller, and to let us try out the facial recognition login process for the PS4. For the latter we've since disabled it because it is only us in the house using the console.

We've also used it for barking orders at the console: "PlayStation: start" and "PlayStation: back". Fun.

Unlike Kinect you don't need a huge space for it to work, but surprisingly it does insist on be placed around 50cm from the ground, so if you've got a wall-mounted TV that could be a problem. We started with it on the TV stand and it was too low - then we fiddled around with placing it on top of the TV, but it was a bit of a balancing act.

None of the launch games we've played with requires the Camera, and because it's not bundled in the box, we suspect not many developers will develop for it. The voice commands are nice, but you can live without them and if you are on a budget you can get away without putting the Camera in your basket.

Day one issues

Day one leaves a number of "ifs" on our lips. What if there was media streaming and DLNA compatibility, 3D Blu-ray support, what if there was back-compatibility, a killer must-have title, or even just if Watch Dogs wasn't delayed? If, if, if... The list goes on and gets more niche, but you get the idea.

There are a number of key features that the PS3 has but the new PS4 hasn't. Sony has acknowledged most of them and already promised fixes, but that won't help you on day one or in 2013.

If you are a PS3 owner chances are the PS4 will be joining your current console under the TV rather than replacing it. That's frustrating and annoying, but the first world problems of the next-gen console owner. We're not convinced this has happened by accident, however, as with so many top end-of-life PS3 titles out there it looks as though Sony wants you to keep hold of that PS3 for a while and is banking on PS4 sales based on promise - promise we can see, but it's not quite so fruitful on day one.

Verdict

There is no doubting that the PS4 is a powerful machine that has masses of potential. The graphics on the day one games we've played are a definite cut above - but we're sure there's a lot more to come than just Lego Marvel Super Heroes in 1080p.

The biggest problem this side of Christmas is that the PS4 just lacks those must-have major games. If you ignored Battlefield 4 and Call of Duty: Ghosts on the current-gen then it might have made it worth holding out for. But the likes of Knack and Killzone: Shadow Fall haven't entirely convinced us to fork out the £349 on hardware alone. Indeed, in the case of the former title, it's only frustrated us, particularly when glancing at the competition's lineup.

But promise goes a long way. PlayStation 4 might not be the all singing, all dancing media hub of the home just yet, but it's a solid console that looks good from the outside and when it unleashes the interior power in full and laps up the titles from the likes of Naughty Dog, Quantic Dream and various Sony Computer Entertainment departments will be a product to behold. Even now, with access to downloadable titles such as Resogun and Flower from the PlayStation Store there's a breadth of titles worth looking at.

If you are a Sony fan you won't be disappointed in the PS4. You know and trust that everything will, eventually, get better. But for now you'll have to be patient, very patient, before the PS4 delivers the true knock-out that it can - and will - in the months and years to come.