When Sony unveiled two new versions of the PS4 during its special PlayStation Meeting in New York it rather glossed over the new, slimmer version of the console, dubbed the PS4 Slim. The company understandably put greater focus on the higher-specified 4K gaming powerhouse that is the PS4 Pro.
For all intents and purposes, the PS4 Slim is just the standard PlayStation 4 in an all-new body. With the Pro now also on the market, does it make more sense to stick with the Slim and its smaller price point?
Sony PS4 Slim review: Design
- 288 x 265 x 38mm body (Pro is larger 327 x 295 x 55mm)
- Blu-ray optical drive, 500GB or 1TB HDD (can be user upgraded)
- No optical audio output (unlike original PS4)
The shape and build of the PS4 Slim looks like the console has been on the Atkins diet for a while. But although other consoles have benefitted from trimming down in the past, such as the PS3 and, more recently, the Xbox One S, the new PS4 aesthetic makes it look cheaper than the last, despite its £259 asking price.
The new matte and mottled exterior looks more Primark than premium. And the rounded corners give it an air of Fisher Price over flagship device.
Still, it is a PS4 – the latest iteration of the fastest selling console of all time and something that continues to bring a smile onto millions of faces on a daily basis. As soon as you load your first game you realise that its superficial looks are irrelevant, and at least some of the new design decisions make sense.
The physical power and eject buttons are easier to use than the weird touch-enabled strips on the original. And the glowing strip that indicates whether the PS4 is switched on or in standby mode has sensibly been reduced to a single LED under the buttons. It won't bother your eyeline so much when sat under a TV.
The slimmer build is also better suited to standing on its end using an optional stand, if that's your bag. The footprint is also designed to better hide it away in an AV cabinet as it is dinky – smaller even than the latest Xbox.
There is one caveat. For some reason unbeknownst to us, the optical digital audio output on the rear has disappeared. That might not affect many, but is bad news for those who would rather feed sound directly into separate speakers that don't accept HDMI.
All other ports, including two USB 3.1 sockets, Ethernet, the aforementioned HDMI and an AUX hole for the PlayStation Camera are still present.
PS4 Slim review: High dynamic range (HDR) gaming
- High dynamic range capable (if you have capable TV connected) for some games
- Full HD 1080p maximum output resolution (Pro offers 4K 2160p maximum)
As for gaming, its primary function, the PS4 Slim is superb – as good as the original console for sure.
System software 4.0 and above – which is also available for the original PS4 – really enhances what the machine can do, including HDR (high dynamic range) output for relevant games and media content. Yep, you don't have to have a PS4 Pro for that.
Of course HDR is only relevant for those with an HDR-enabled television. It also requires games to support the wider colour gamut and deeper contrast it affords.
Following the launch of the PS4 Pro, there are now some games that can benefit from the deeper blacks and higher white peaks of HDR. And there will be more in the future too. Indeed, we expect to see a flood of enabled games, including many existing titles that will add the video feature through downloadable patches.
PlayStation 4 Slim review: New software
The latest user interface is similar to the original setup, yet vastly superior in many ways.
You can create folders to store groups of games or apps, and a tidier on-screen design looks sharper and neater. While it isn't quite as complex as the Xbox One dashboard, we find it is easier to navigate and get to the most important aspects – namely playing games.
This is where any PS4 excels and the Slim is no different. Thanks to better graphics processing, it soon became apparent after the launch of this generation of console gaming that the PlayStation 4 was superior than the Xbox One, often attaining better resolutions and/or frame rates on comparable games.
Microsoft responded in 2016 with the superb Xbox One S, which ups the hardware ante somewhat, and while the slim version of the PS4 hasn't been tweaked in the same fashion, it is still highly capable of up to 1080p gaming at 60 frames per second. Saying that, the PS4 Pro is Sony's other answer to put Microsoft in its place once more.
Three years of heritage also means that developers are wringing more out of the PlayStation's hardware than ever before. The PS4 plays host to some incredible games these days, not least Uncharted 4: A Thief's End and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. We're not sure they'd have been possible a few years back.
PS4 Slim review: New controller
- Bundled controller works with PS4 and PC
- New top-down light strip position
Such games also play well on the new DualShock 4 controller, which comes in the Slim's box and has an added, player-facing LED light strip along the top of the controller's touch panel.
This, we were informed, is so players can see it without having to flip the gamepad over, to see which colour they are during multiplayer games or the like.
The new pad also adds the ability of communication through the USB port. This means you can use it with a PC, for example, without any complicated set-up processes.
PlayStation 4 Slim review: No 4K UHD Blu-ray
- Optical Blu-ray drive, not UHD Blu-ray (no PS4 has such a drive)
- 500GB or 1TB hard drive options (can be user upgraded)
We've found that the Slim PS4 is less noisy than our regular one, at least when playing games off the hard drive.
There were times this summer that our original PS4 sounded like an industrial leaf blower (probably down to the accumulation of dust in its vents over time), but we've had no such issues with the PS4 Slim. The disc drive makes a little noise when turning, but it's nothing in comparison to the original.
That's with both game discs and Blu-ray or DVD. It's a crying shame that Sony decided against upgrading the drive to one that can spin 4K Ultra HD Blu-rays in any of its consoles, Pro includes, which is something Microsoft added to the latest Xbox One. But the Slim's HDMI port isn't 4K compatible anyway, so it's irrelevant in this case.
You can upgrade the PS4 hard drive, though, and it's even easier on the new model with a slide-out HDD caddy hidden under a flap near the rear. We swapped ours for a Samsung 2TB 2.5-inch drive and, as long as you have the right screwdriver to hand (a Phillips #1), it's very easy going. It cost us an extra £80 for the drive, but that's well worth it.
There's little doubt that when viewed on its own terms, with little comparison to rivals or the former model, the PS4 Slim is an excellent games console. It might not be as pretty as its older brother, but it is as capable. And considering the PS4 currently reigns supreme as the king of consoles, it is a no-brainer for those who have looked longingly at the PlayStation games line-up and couldn't afford to join in previously.
Competitor Microsoft has upped its game with the Xbox One S, which offers 4K upscaling and a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player built-in. But then, of course, there's the PS4 Pro – which is the most capable console of the lot, with 4K gaming support (some will be native resolution in the future) minus the UHD optical drive. Project Scorpio at the end of 2017 could change all that, but that's a long way off yet.
Indeed it's the PS4 Pro that perhaps works against the PS4 Slim's position most of all. Sure, the Slim is capable of HDR gaming (if you have a compatible TV, anyway), but the extra power and general future-proofing surely makes the Pro the better buy for around £80 more?
The PS4 Slim is a great console, we just wonder what kind of impact it will have now the PS4 Pro is also available.