PlayStation 5 full review
Sony’s PlayStation 5 is one of the most exciting products to hit the market in 2020, and not just because of its in-your-face futuristic design and larger than life dimensions. The PS4 is a great console that served us well over the past seven years, but let’s be honest, the gap between PC and console performance has been growing larger of late.
That’s all set to change with the PS5, offering [email protected] gameplay without breaking a sweat, along with incredibly fast loading times via a custom-built SSD, a new controller with industry-leading technology, and a flurry of PS5-compatible games to play at launch. It’s a direct competitor to Microsoft’s flagship Xbox Series X, and while the consoles are similar in some respects, the two companies have taken two different directions when it comes to next-gen gaming.
Get comfy, and let me explain.
Design and build
It’s safe to say that nobody was expecting the PS5 to look the way it does – but is that really a bad thing? The ostentatious, futuristic look of the new console demands your attention, and the size of the thing means you’ve got no choice but to put it on display for all to see. It’s taking peacocking to another level, looking more like a console concept you’d find on YouTube than an actual product, but hey, it’s 2020. Are we really surprised at this point?
If you thought the Xbox Series X was big, wait until you see the PS5 in real life. It measures in at around 390 x 104 x 260mm and weighs 4.5kg, meaning that it’ll likely be too big for some TV units, although the ability to use it in both horizontal and landscape orientation does help you find the right place for the mammoth console in your entertainment setup.
It’s not a case of simply placing it down like you’d expect – the tall design and curved edges of the console make it unbalanced, and if you’re standing it vertically, there’s a chance you’ll block the air intake. To remedy this, you’ll find a stand shipped alongside the console that clips into place in a horizontal position or screws into place in a vertical position to help keep the console secure. It is a bit of a pain initially, but it’s something you’ll likely only do once, and it’s probably something that’ll be fixed by the inevitable slimline PS5 in a few years’ time.
It’s the small details that really complement the overall design of the PS5. The soft LED glow along the inner edges of the console to indicate its various states (blue when turning on, white when in use and orange when in rest mode) has made a return, and there’s a slightly longer power button on the front alongside a shorter eject button this time around, meaning you’ll no longer eject a disc when trying to turn off the console – something I’ve done too many times to count on the PS4.
In terms of ports, you’ll find both USB-C and USB-A ports on the front, alongside the 4K Blu-ray player (on the standard edition anyway) while the back sports a further two USB-A ports, an HDMI 2.1 port, an Ethernet port and a power port. The good news is that there aren’t any proprietary ports in use on the next-gen console, which should make finding replacement cables a doddle, and the inclusion of a USB-C port should offer more futureproofing than the competing Xbox range.
You may, like me, love the design of the PS5, or you might hate it. To some extent, it doesn’t really matter – as long as you’ve got a space big enough for the console to fit with adequate airflow. It’s what’s inside the console that counts, and Sony definitely has that covered.
Specs & performance
Inside the PS5 you’ll find a custom AMD RDNA 2 GPU capable of rendering 4K gameplay at 120 frames per second and even [email protected] in the future according to Sony - though there’s no 8K support just yet. That’s paired with an octa-core AMD Zen2-based CPU with a 3.5GHz clock speed. Throw 16GB of GDDR6 and the PS5’s super-fast NVMe SSD and you’ve got a hugely powerful next-gen machine more than capable of providing a high-end gaming experience.
Though 8K gaming sounds exciting, it’s not the focus of the PS5 – not yet, anyway. For most, it’ll be the appeal of being able to play games at a constant [email protected] or, if you’ve got a HDMI 2.1-compatible TV, [email protected] My TV caps out at [email protected] and I’ve not yet had the chance to experience 120fps, so that’s what I’ll focus on here.
The good news is that solid 60fps performance is achievable on most launch games – I’ve had a mostly smooth [email protected] experience on graphically demanding games like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, with the latter actually offering 120fps on capable TVs. Those coming from both the standard PS4 and PS4 Pro will be wowed by what’s on offer here, not only in terms of the increased resolution but HDR support, more particle effects, higher resolution textures and ray-tracing support that makes games look truly next-level.
It’s something I’ve yet to get over despite playing the console constantly for a close to a week now. The visual upgrade is instantly noticeable, especially if you’re re-playing a title like Watch Dogs: Legion that was originally available for PS4. Loading screens are non-existent, movement feels fluid and responsive, and the upgraded lighting effects have a knock-on effect on the overall look of next-gen games.
The performance isn’t always flawless though, and like with the PS4 Pro, some games will make you choose between frame rate and resolution. Take Spider-Man: Miles Morales for example; you can choose to either run the game at 4K with high-end visuals enabled or run it at 1080p with advanced effects disabled to hit the 60fps target. Even games designed for the PS5, like the Demons Souls remake, sometimes struggles to maintain a consistent [email protected], with advanced fire physics causing a slow-down for some players.
The most exciting part is that these games aren’t designed around the PS5 specs – they were designed for the PS4 and have been enhanced by next-gen performance. Much like with the PS4, as time goes on, developers will learn to fully utilise the hardware on offer. You wouldn’t have expected a visual masterpiece like Red Dead Redemption 2 running on the PS4 judging by the quality of games at its launch back in 2013, and it’s likely we’ll look back on launch titles in a few times and see they only scratched the surface of what’s possible. It’s going to be an exciting few years for console gamers, that’s for sure.
The only real quarrel I have is the super-fast SSD storage – it’s 825GB on paper, which is already less than the 1TB SSD of the Xbox Series X, but that translates to around 667GB of usable storage once the operating system has been installed. It’s enough for a few PS5 games, but you’ll likely find yourself having to clear out older games within a few months – especially if you play huge games like Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War with its 133GB install.
There is a second NVMe SSD slot hidden beneath the faceplate of the PS5 that’s ready to use – the problem is that it’s software-locked while Sony tests which NVMe SSDs on the market are capable enough of delivering the high SSD read-write speeds required to power the PS5 experience. It’s not a standard SSD found within the PS5, so it’s something that’ll take time, and it’ll likely be an expensive upgrade considering Microsoft’s Xbox Series X storage expansion comes in at a cool £220/$220 for an extra 1TB of storage.
You’ve also got the option of hooking up an external SSD or HDD, but there’s a catch – you can only store and run PS4 games on external storage. That’s a stark difference from the Xbox Series X, which lets you at least store unused Series X on external storage. That’ll be fine for some, but as time goes on and more PS5 games become available, it’ll become more of an inconvenience. The only silver lining is that PS4 games stored on an external SSD will benefit from the same loading times as if they were stored directly on the console.
That all sounds like a bit of a headache, but the payoff is certainly worth it: the loading times on the console are non-existent. You can boot from a cold start and be playing Spider Man: Miles Morales within around 45 seconds, and you can be playing the latest Assassin’s Creed title within 25 seconds of opening the app. That’s a noticeable difference from the one-to-two-minute loading screens I was used to seeing at the end of the PS4/Xbox One generation, and the best part is that even unsupported PS4 games will benefit from the improved loading screens.
It’s limited to improved loading speeds for now, but the real benefits of the SSD will be in how future games fully utilise the faster read/write speeds. It could mean the end of narrow corridors, annoying door animations and long lift rides currently utilised to hide loading screens in open world games, and it means games can be much grander in scale too.
There is a caveat to this though; like with the true improvements to graphical performance, it likely won’t happen while games are also being released on PS4, as it’ll be near impossible to support the older HHD of the last-gen console on a game designed around SSD performance – not without a lot of work, anyway.
There are crucial questions revolving around noise and heat, two of the biggest complaints of the PS4 – especially in the latter days of the console where game devs were really pushing the seven-year-old tech to its limits. My PS4 Pro sounded like a jet taking off when playing games like The Last of Us Part 2 and the Final Fantasy 7 Remake, and as you’d imagine, became quite annoying after a while.
Thankfully, that’s not the case this time around – and it’s thanks in part to the wild design of the console. You see, the design promotes great airflow, which in conjunction with new fan technology – that Sony says it’ll continue to improve via OTA software updates - help keep the console cool in the most strenuous gaming sessions. It does still get warm, but it won’t turn your room into an oven like the PS4 did at times.
It is near-silent too, thankfully, but there is a quiet buzz when playing games. It’s related to the fan system as far as I can tell, noticed primarily when playing graphically intense games like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. It’s not always a problem though; it’s basically inaudible when using the console to watch Netflix, and it’s a similar story when I exit to the PS5’s home menu too. It’s not a loud noise and it pales in comparison to the noise generated by the PS4, but it can be a little distracting if you’re gaming at low volume.
The sheer performance of the console aside, it’s the new DualSense controller that gets me most excited about the future of gaming – and it’s the reason to buy a PS5 over the Xbox Series X in my opinion.
Let’s start with the design; it’s slightly larger and heavier than the DualShock 4 controller, thanks mainly to the larger handles that give it a similar shape to Microsoft’s Xbox One controller – albeit without the asynchronous analogue stick layout.
The front panel is made from a soft-touch matte plastic that feels nice in the hand, while the rear features a more textured finish comprised of tiny PlayStation icon symbols. It’s a nice touch that gamers will appreciate, although on the flip side, I’ve noticed that the Sony logo is ever so slightly off-centre, so it’s not perfect. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it, so apologies in advance!
The touchpad has made a return on the DualSense controller, remaining in its central position above the analogue sticks, although there are changes to the surrounding area.
While the light bar it was initially built into the rear and eventually the trackpad of the DualShock 4, it now surrounds the front-facing trackpad, providing a nice colourful outline that’s easier to notice out of the corner of your eye. Most importantly, you’ll no longer get the annoying light bar reflection in your TV when gaming in the dark, and I think that’s something we can all appreciate. There are also taller Options and Create buttons this time around, making them much easier to locate and press.
There’s a built-in speaker, just like with the DualShock 4, but what’s new is the accompanying microphone. It’s used primarily for group chat situations, with the noise-cancelling tech working well in my tests, only picking up my voice and not my TV audio despite not lifting the controller near to my mouth. It’ll also speed up text-based chat, as you’re now able to dictate messages using speech-to-text software.
There’s a new mute button built into the controller that’ll mute the built-in mic or your headset mic depending on what’s being used, and a quick press-and-hold will mute the system altogether – handy for shouting responses to friends and family through the locked door while you raid your way across England or obliterate enemies on the battlefield.
Overall, the controller feels good in the hand, but it’s beneath the surface of the DualSense that things really begin to get interesting.
Haptic feedback is one of two crucial advanced technologies introduced in the DualSense controller, providing what can only be described as high-definition vibration effects that really can trick the brain. The haptic motors are able to convey texture, as showcased in Astro’s Playroom, with a different feeling depending on the surface Astro is walking on, and they can help convey the distribution of weight from left to right in the hand too, making an Astro demo where you put robots ‘inside’ the controller and roll them around particularly mind-blowing.
Haptic feedback is great, but it’s the adaptive triggers that truly steal the show on the DualSense controller. It’s an entirely new concept and something not offered by any other console or platform right now, and if developers fully embrace the technology, it could create a new standard in game controllers.
The idea is that the controller can essentially create tension as you push down on the rear triggers, conveying a sense of tension when drawing back the strings of a bow in Astro’s Playroom and a short, sharp release when firing weapons in Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War. There’s a particularly memorable demo in Astro’s Playroom where the triggers actually kicked back as I pressed down to (accurately) simulate the feeling of the jet thrusters I was controlling.
Astro’s Playroom is a game I keep going back to, and that’s essentially because it’s a showcase of what the new controller can do – and I fully recommend giving it a go when you get the console.
The downside is that third-party support is fairly limited right now – there’s different trigger feedback depending on the weapons you use in the latest Call of Duty, and that’s a great addition, but that’s the only good use of it I’ve seen from a third-party title thus far. Not even Sony’s own Spider-Man: Miles Morales makes use of the trigger system, which doesn’t bode well for the future of the tech.
But, it’s early days, and I’ve got my fingers crossed that developers begin to experiment and build new gameplay experiences around the new adaptive triggers and haptic feedback because they really are game-changing technologies that provide a new level of immersion in games. I’ll never go back to Call of Duty on any other platform again!
The only complaint is that, at 1m, the provided USB-A to USB-C charging cable is just too short for me. The good news is that third-party manufacturers have already stepped up to the plate, with Snakebyte offering a braided 2m-long Charge&Data USB-A to USB-C cable for £17.99 in the UK, for example.
Just like the hardware, the UI of the PS5 is a total redesign when compared to its predecessor – and that comes with quite a steep learning curve, but it’s well worth it. Pressing and holding the PlayStation button this time around will take you to the Home screen while short-pressing the button brings up Sony’s new Control Centre menu, for example, and that’s the complete opposite to the PS4 system. Many of these small changes make sense, making the Control Centre faster to access in this specific case, but it’ll take some time to unlearn old habits.
Speaking of Control Centre, it’s probably the highlight feature of the PS5 UI. Accessible at any time with the press of the PlayStation button, it’ll appear as an overlay in whichever game or app you’ve currently got loaded. From there you’re able to access system controls, recently opened apps and games, your incoming notifications, downloads, messages, voice chats and more without leaving the game window, making for a much more streamlined process than with the PS4. Even what some would call advanced features, like adjusting the audio balance between party chat and in-game audio or controlling Spotify playback, can be done without closing the game window.
Most importantly, accessing the Control Centre brings up a line of contextual activity cards that provide not only trophy progress, hints and other in-game content but tutorials, recently captured clips, live broadcasts and most importantly, shortcuts to play specific game modes – where available, anyway.
Support isn’t widespread right now, but bringing up the Control Centre in Astro’s Playroom will give you a list of current collectable progress while Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales lets you jump straight into side quests and Devil May Cry 5 takes you directly to secret missions, bypassing the various loading and menu screens you’d usually navigate through. It’s a slick experience free of obstruction, and it’s something I really hope future PS5 titles fully utilise.
The new Home screen is reminiscent of the PS4 UI, but it’s much cleaner this time around, free of folders and other organisations present on the older system. You’ll see your nine most recently used games listed on the Home screen itself, with the rest hidden within your Game Library. Selecting a game icon will display a bunch of activity cards related to that game, providing shortcuts to specific content, along with information on what your friends are currently doing in-game with shortcuts to join them where necessary.
It’s also where you’ll find news on the latest patches and updates, new DLC trailers and in-game content, perfect for keeping up on post-launch content on games like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla that have a lot of additional content dropping over the next 12 months.
Games and media apps are now displayed separately on the Home screen, easily toggled via the controls in the top-left or simply by pressing L1 and R1. It helps keep your Home screen more organised and allows you to focus on what you’re interested in doing at that specific moment, be it gaming or watching a movie. The only real crossover app right now is Spotify, which can be used whilst playing games on the PS5 or as a standalone app.
You’ll find apps for many popular streaming services including Netflix, Amazon Prime and Apple TV+ available to download, but it’s lacking UK-focused streaming services like BBC iPlayer and All4 right now, although I imagine it won’t be long before that’s remedied.
The media section is also where you’ll be able to play your 4K UHD Blu-rays – if you opted for the standard PS5 instead of the Digital variant, anyway.
Price & availability
The PS5 is a premium console, coming in at £449/$499 for the standard console and a discounted £359/$399 for the discless Digital Edition, but it’s arguably great value when you compare it to a gaming PC – especially one that outputs [email protected] gameplay. It’s around the same as the Xbox Series X and Microsoft’s option doesn’t offer anything close to the DualSense, although there are benefits to be had from the competing console.
The real problem is finding one – Sony has had an incredibly popular launch, meaning stock is selling like hotcakes wherever it appears. You can try your luck at GAME, Currys PC World and others in the UK and Best Buy in the US, but your best bet is to keep an eye on where to buy a PS5 in the UK as we keep track of stock in the coming weeks.
The PS5 is an incredible next-gen console that has gamers excited for a number of reasons. As well as providing solid [email protected] gameplay and a lightning-fast loading experience, the PS5 takes graphics to a new level with high-quality textures, improved particle effects and real-time ray tracing technology. It’s a noticeable improvement on the PS4 in just about every way, although the overly-large dimensions and in-your-face design of the console may put some off – especially if you can’t find a space big enough to fit the console into.
But while the improved performance is a great selling point, it’s the DualSense controller that has the most potential. The improved haptic feedback and adaptive triggers are quite literally game-changing technologies, as showcased in Astro’s Playroom, but it all rides on how developers choose to utilise the new tech going forward.
It’s not the perfect console, with limited internal storage that can’t be expanded at launch, and while the console is quiet, there is an annoying hum produced during more intense gameplay experiences, but these are relatively minor problems with a largely improved next-gen console that PlayStation gamers will be happy with. The real challenge will be finding one in the next few months.
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