A Switch console that can’t be switched. Preposterous right? Well, not exactly. When the controversy stirred up about the Lite not being able to be docked came about I wasn’t on board with that. The Switch is a portable system as well and that’s its main appeal. Nintendo’s data also shows that a good majority of Switch owners use it exclusively in handheld mode. The Switch itself isn’t the best handheld device. It’s very large, a little heavier than a large iPad and the Joy-Cons aren’t that great (sorry they aren’t). When I can I always use the Switch in tabletop mode with a Pro Controller, or I just keep it docked. When I saw that there was a slightly more powerful smaller version I was excited actually.
When holding the Switch you notice everything right away. The console is about a third of the weight of the original console thanks to attached Joy Cons. Yes, people complained about the Joy-Cons not being detachable, but at that point just buy the regular Switch, yeah? The buttons actually feel better than the Joy Cons themselves. We get an actual D-pad and not chiclet buttons, tighter joysticks, and better feeling shoulder buttons. The screen is slightly smaller, but in the format, you won’t notice. It just looks slick and like it was always meant to be played this way.
Outside of the slick form factor (it’s just a joy to hold and use), the system boasts better battery life than the original Switch, but an hour or two less than the revised model. The original Switch’s battery life was pretty bad with most games only lasting 3-4 hours. The system still has 5Ghz internet speed, an SD card slot, and a game card slot. This isn’t a digital-only Switch which they could have easily done and didn’t. Outside of all of this, physically the system is rock solid and is only missing the ability to dock. If you can only afford, or only wish to have one Switch, think about how much you will use the system in handheld mode. If the answer is most of the time I would pick this guy up instead honestly. The system isn’t more powerful than the original model, but has a more efficient processor allowing for better battery life. My only main complaint is the system doesn’t have HD rumble, so you would need to connect Joy Cons or a Pro Controller to have that feature. It really sucks, and I miss it, but with all the other pros it outweighs this major con.
I do have to mention that the system only comes with 32GB of onboard memory which is a shame, but large micro SD cards are under $30 these days so it’s not an issue. The $100 price tag difference is great, so with a 128GB SD card, the system still costs less than the original model. I don’t have much else to say about the system except that the new colors and overall sleekness of the system just looks better than the original. That flat black tablet against brighter colors didn’t look too hot, but this new portable system with a universal color scheme just looks sharp. I haven’t seen a better-looking handheld since the PSP was released 14 years ago. While the 2DS XL looks super sharp as well, this is clearly Nintendo’s replacement for the 3DS, they just haven’t officially announced it yet.
If you do own two Switch systems I highly recommend having a Nintendo Online account as cloud saves can be transferred between the two systems easily so you don’t have to manually transfer the saves every time. As far as I know, the only game as of this writing that can’t do that is Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Sadly, the game data can’t be transferred so you’re stuck downloading all the software again. Overall, the system has a slightly smaller screen, but it doesn’t feel smaller due to the overall lighter form factor, and the speakers are surprisingly really good as well.
This console cycle is really strange as we are now seeing updated hardware with more powerful components rather than just slimmer sizes. This is due to using off the shelf parts rather than proprietary hardware which won’t change the coding for the games. Using 64-bit architecture allows Sony to just give users and developers more powerful hardware rather than just giving consumers a cooler looking system. To me, this seems worth the upgrade price as you’re not just getting the same system as you had before. We saw this back with the New Nintendo 3DS that had a faster processor allowing for more advanced graphics.
The problem with all these hardware changes is the confusion for consumers. Unless you have a 4K TV is it really worth the upgrade? Yes, as the PS4 Pro can “Boost” games that aren’t patched for it allowing supersampling anti-aliasing on 2K or lower resolution TVs allowing for crisper images while still getting higher framerates, but is it really worth it? If you are really into how your games run or making them pop on your TV then yes, otherwise just stick with your original PS4.
With that said, the Pro not only looks bigger but looks better than the original model. The top illumination strip is now laid in the front horizontally with actually marked eject and power buttons on the left and right. The same two USB slots are up front with a USB 3.0 slot in the back for external hard and USB drives. The Pro comes with a 1TB HDD standard now which is a must-have if you have more than 10 PS4 games. The system even has PlayStation symbol rubber feet on the bottom which I found quite interesting. It’s a much bigger system, but the bulk is sheered away with shelf appeal and just seems more round and sleeker looking. I also have to note the PS4 finally has 5Ghz support! This means faster downloads, less cutouts, and reduced ping times. I can’t tell you how excruciating it was to be stuck on 2.4Ghz wifi when it’s been a standard feature since the late 2000’s.
Outside of the physical appearance the PS4 software experience is exactly the same outside of some exclusive features such as 4K rendering, power options, and the Boost mode for older games. You will notice the biggest change when actually playing games. I tested the system with God of War and the difference is astounding. The visuals were crisp, vivid, and night and day from the standard PS4. The game ran smoother, and while not in 4K for that title, the framerate difference was the big winner here.
Next, I tried The Last Guardian which was one of the biggest performance increases I have seen. On the standard PS4 the game ran in the low 20’s, but in 4K the game rarely dipped that low and ran at a smooth 30FPS. After that, I tried Shadow of the Colossus and it ran smoothly with noticeable performance increases. Crash Bandicoot: N.Sane Trilogy didn’t really see much of a performance increase, but seemed to look a bit sharper in a higher 2K resolution that it renders at.
Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection ran at a locked 60FPS and looked buttery smooth with zero slowdowns anywhere. I am still continuing to test out games and noticing stark differences that make the upgrade well worth the purchase (or you know…just trade in that old PS4 when a deal hits). Note that the PS4 rarely renders natively at 4K but uses checkerboard rendering (just like the Xbox One X) to gives an image that looks 4K and usually you won’t notice a difference, and I sure don’t. Most movies aren’t true 4K either as we just don’t have the graphical power on smaller systems to render this just yet at a cost-effective level.
Overall, the PS4 Pro gives games a resolution and performance boost this generation desperately needs. While not every game is patched to support all the Pro features, the Boost mode will help older games run smoothly with rare framerate drops if not at all. I highly recommend this system if you have a 4K TV with HDR, and 1080p TV users will benefit as well with added clarity to their images. My only critique of the system is the need for games being patched and there is no UHD Blu-Ray support. You will need an Xbox One S or X for that.
Colors: Gray Joy-Con version, Neon Blue+Red Joy-Con version, Red Joy-Con version
I wasn’t a believer. I saw the Switch as a gimmicky train wreck straight into financial debt as Nintendo revealed the system last year. The concept was neat, the first home console that was built into a tablet which felt like the last 2 Nintendo consoles smushed into one. The only issue that still remained was graphical power and online play as Nintendo is notoriously known for not doing well in these two departments.
Fast forward over a year later and I have one sitting next to me. To be honest, it was a spontaneous purchase during Black Friday weekend as there were more and more games coming out that I really wanted to play. It was still a gamble as there’s a huge divide on the Switch. Nintendo fanboys refuse to admit faults in the system, and naysayers refuse to admit the originality and fantastic games that are available, as few as there are.
As I opened the box I was actually surprised how much smaller the system was than I originally thought. I thought it was going to be some hefty, unwieldy thing with controllers slapped on it. The tablet is just slightly bigger than any standard 7″ Android tablet on the market (Nvidia Shield K1 for example) and looks sleek, ergonomic, and not too heavy, really. The buttons are nicely laid out on top of the unit with volume control, power, the card slot, and a headphone jack. There’s a USB-C charger power at the bottom as well as a kickstand. They seemed to have thought of everything and didn’t overthink too much else, which is surprisingly nice. The system is meant to be used in landscape only so this helped solidify their design ideas.
Once I popped the Joy-Con controllers out I was also surprised, these things are surprisingly small and light, but also feel nice and have great ergonomics. These could have easily been messed up and killed the system, but it feels like the Wii Remote mixed with 3DS buttons, which is a good thing. It’s also designed with offset thumbsticks like the Gamecube controller which is a huge plus here. The aligned sticks on the Wii U pad were uncomfortable. The design is also meant to be symmetrical so each controller can be used separately. The left Joy-Con then turns the directional buttons into face buttons, but the only small complaint is that the left stick is closer to the edge of the controller while the right is further in, so playing Mario Kart, for example, made me want the right Con so my hand didn’t cramp. There’s also an issue with the screenshot button (which works amazingly well and just like it should) not turning into the Home button.
Joy-Cons: Is the Name a Premonition?
The controller frustrations aren’t really all of that, the Cons are interchangeable with a grip that turns these things into an actual controller, they slide right in, but the release button on the back is small, hard to get a grip on without pressing buttons, and having to take them off to slide them on the tablet in docked mode to charge is annoying. Then you have the side rails with the SR and SL buttons for playing with the controller landscape or separately for motion controls. These rails go on easily but are a pain to get off and I’ve scraped and cut my fingers pulling these off. They are tight and require more strength than needed to get them off. The easiest mode to get these out of is tablet mode. Sliding them on the side of the tablet is easy enough as well as getting them off. I just wish there wasn’t so much configuring for each game as with Skyrim, I had to slide the side rails off to put on the grip as I was tired of holding them for motion controls. Then I had to slide them off the grip and onto the tablet when I went and played in the bedroom.
Switch: The New DS
Speaking of tablet mode, this is the main attraction for this system. Nintendo wanted the power of a home console in your hands, and this is the first time it’s done correctly. The PSPstarted this with being sold as a portable PlayStation home experience, but it didn’t have the power or the controls to do this correctly. Sony sold that same idea with the Vita, and while it did have both, the pirating from the PSP caused developers to back away. Nintendo has never sold their portable systems as home experiences, but here we have it. The games play in 720p while undocked, which is a bit disappointing seeing as tablets can display up to 2K resolution these days, but a lot more power would have to be built in causing bulkiness, less battery life, and more cost. It still looks clean and crisp in this mode and most people won’t notice.
The Big Screen
Docking the console is easy enough, but there was another problem here. There’s no click, no satisfying “snap” of the system connecting to the charge port, and no sound or feedback of any kind. The system kind of just flops in the dock and rests there. The only indication is the green light flashing on the dock and that’s it. This could have been done much differently, with better feedback. While docked, games usually run in 1080p, but with some graphical hits like frame rate cuts or aliasing. The Switch is intended to perform better in the docked mode as the CPU isn’t underclocked to save battery life, but there are varying theories about how all that extra power is used to render the picture in higher resolution and not really performing better. It’s something Nintendo needs to iron out, and even 8 months later, it’s still a tad bit of an issue. Battery life is also not that great in portable mode. You will maybe squeeze 4 hours out of the system on a game that doesn’t push it to its limits. I haven’t been able to time it just yet so I will update this as time goes on to see if I can get 4+ hours.
Under the Hood
Let’s take a look at what runs this device first. For starters, the system has 4GB of RAM in the form of LPDDR4 which is what is seen in phones. I was surprised to not see X RAM which is much faster, but it’s a good start. The system has a Nvidia Tegra X1 chipset which is seen in the newest Shield device from Nvidia. It has an 8-core CPU running at 1.20GHz, and the GPU is Maxwell based running at 768MHz docked and 384 undocked and has a 6.2-inch screen in 720p. As you can see it’s a very powerful portable device, but clearly doesn’t have any power close to the other competitors, but can easily be seen as the most powerful tablet on the market. Why Nintendo chose off the shelf parts instead of custom hardware is very interesting, it definitely is easier to program for. The SD slot can hold up to 2TB (which isn’t available yet) in microSDXC format.
Let’s talk about the software. The Switch features a much more streamlined UI over the Wii U. No longer is a huge ring of bubbles with Miis running around everywhere. We get a clean and minimalist UI that just shows a row of “blocks” that are your games. Near the bottom, you can select settings, Joy-Con arrangement, eShop, and brightness. I love this UI and it’s even better than the 3DS UI. This is designed to be easy to navigate with the touchscreen in portable mode. Another nifty feature is being able to “archive” games, so when you’re done with them you can delete the game data, but it will keep all your saves to free up HDD space. If you run out of the 24GB (8 are taken up with OS) you can insert a microSD card which is something that was much needed on the Wii U and really hurt sales. 24GB is plenty for physical games, but if you have a large digital collection you can move screenshots and those games onto that SD card which is awesome.
So, Is It Worth It?
Overall, the Switch is well worth the $300 purchase if you like all the games available. If you’re just a Nintendofile, or just like one genre of a game then you should stay away. This is a great system that is revolutionary in its own right that takes a traditional home console and takes it on the go, but with the usual sacrifices that Nintendo is willing to make. It’s not very powerful (for a home console), the Joy-Cons are cumbersome to configure, the battery life isn’t too great, and the graphical difference between docked and undocked various way too much and needs to be ironed out. There’s also the lack of games to mention that has been an issue since the Wii. The ones that are available are fantastic, there aren’t a lot of games that are downright awful on this system, with Nintendo’s own games being some of the best games in years, period.
To Nintendo’s credit, people are giving this system a harder time than it deserves. The Wii U deserved all the backlash it got, it was a terrible console, that was terribly marketed and executed. The Switch is actually trying to be something completely new with some of Nintendo’s past, and best, ideas at play. With the support of more third party developers (as we’re seeing as the year comes to a close) Nintendo could be back on track as the best video game company out there. Only time will tell, but they don’t have long.
Colors: Crimson Red (2TB Gears of War 4), Storm Gray (500GB Battlefield 1), Special Blue (500GB Gears of War 4), White, Army Green (1TB Battlefield 1)
Every console generation has newer slimmer hardware that brings about a new chapter in that generation. Usually, these are to promote blockbuster first party games or brand new peripherals that only work with that console version. Sometimes it’s just to cut down manufacturing costs as hardware gets smaller and easier to make as time goes on. We saw this all the way back to the 16-bit era. The most popular transition was the Fat PS2 to the Slim PS2 that everyone has grown to love. It was one of the most attractive and compact consoles ever made and kept all the features of the PS2 minus the HDD bay.
The last generation saw three iterations for each console and here we are with the first new transition to a smaller console. This time around things has changed as the hardware inside has also gotten more powerful which is a first the console scene. Normally everything gets smaller as the same hardware becomes cheaper and easier to make. In 2016 consoles are taking a page from PCs and getting more compact with more powerful hardware. With the PS4 Pro and Xbox One S in the light, we can see a trend starting. Now the versions with older hardware also have a new iteration called PS4 Slim and Xbox One Slim. It’s a strange move as you would think the older versions would be discontinued. This has mostly to do with a fidelity shift in the industry where 4K is finally affordable, but most people haven’t adapted to it yet. Sony and Microsoft released a console geared toward 4K users but keeping the 1080p users happy with new versions as well.
The Xbox One S is 40% smaller than the original version and you can really tell. Even the large power brick is gone in favor of just a two prong cable. The system looks sleeker, sharper, and the newly redesigned features are beautiful. The Xbox One is completely rectangular with all sharp corners. The power button is in the same spot, but it is now a physical button instead of a touch button. The disc eject button is now a small dot next to the drive and the controller sync button has been moved to the bottom of the console in the front out of the way. You will also gladly find a USB port up front and center instead of on the side. All of the same ports are in the back like TV IN, Optical Audio, Ethernet, and other ports. The console is also much lighter and not so much of a giant building.
Once you plug the console in I immediately ran into a major problem. There was a system boot loop every time it tried to connect to Wifi. I had to open up my wifi to allow the Xbox to connect to get the latest firmware update because it won’t let you into the dashboard without connecting. This is completely insane and needs to be fixed immediately. I only figured this out after an hour of research and trial and error. Outside of that, the system booted up quickly and I was ready to set everything up.
This is where I have to say that you need a 4K TV with HDR to warrant the price of the Xbox One S. If you don’t have a 4K TV then don’t bother because you’re not getting anything besides slightly better running games. Everything is upscaled to 2160p as the Xbox One S does not render games natively in 4K like the PS4 Pro does which can be a major turn off for most customers. However, this is the only console that plays 4K UHD Blu-Rays which is a major plus. The PS4 Pro does not which is very odd. Each console has a major trade-off so you decide which is more important to you. To be honest, even games being upscaled look fantastic and there’s a huge difference from game rendered natively in 1080p. HDR is a huge addition to next-generation games and movies and it adds a layer of fidelity and beauty that you can’t get anywhere else.
Even older Xbox 360 games looked pretty damn good upscaled in 4K as it made the game sharper and less blurry. I did notice some games loaded a tad faster and ran slightly better, but most won’t notice a difference. The Xbox One S has 11% power increase over the previous model Microsoft overclocked the GPU to 914Mhz over 853 and the ESRAM bus speed was increased from 204GB/s to 219GB/s. This allows for faster load times which are noticeable. Secondly, the system comes with a slightly redesigned controller which is for the better. If the Xbox One controller wasn’t amazing enough the new model has better Bluetooth, a new home guide bezel, less clicky bumpers, and can work on Windows 10 PCs via Bluetooth without the dongle. The back of the handles have textured plastic and the thumbsticks have wider concaves for better grip. I love this new controller design and can feel and see the difference from the previous model.
Overall, the Xbox One S offers awesome new colors, features, and parts where they should have been, upgraded hardware, and 4K upscaling that makes games look clearer and sharper. The addition of a 4K UHD Blu-Ray player is something that will steer some people away from the PS4 Pro. However, unless you have a 4K TV with HDR there are not enough added benefits to justify a purchase.
Here’s something funny. All these years I passed up the original Xbox as just a failed experiment by Microsoft. Not until recently did I realize just how great this system was, what is was capable of, and how advanced it was for its time. I honestly think it got so much hate and low sales because no one understood what it was trying to do. No one really caught on until the Xbox 360 came out which was nearly the same system and design process, but because it was 5 years later everyone got it? I don’t think so.
I have to say that the size of the system didn’t help. Sure, the original PS2 wasn’t the slimmest system ever, but it was nearly half the size. This thing is the biggest console I have ever owned or seen. The reason for the huge bulk is that Microsoft thought to make a PC into a home video game system was a good idea, and it was. The main bulk of the system is the standard IDE DVD-ROM drive and 8GB HDD. These things are massive and heavy, and this is what contributes to the majority of the weight. The system has the power to throw around though being 3x as powerful as the PS2 and GameCube. The system was the first to feature PC type architecture with an Intel Pentium III at 733 Mhz and a Nvidia GPU called the NV2A at 233 Mhz. This made the system very easy to program for thus the frequent PC game ports and higher end visuals. Games like Half-Life 2, Halo 2, Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory and many others looked astounding on the system and even most multi-platform games were superior on the Xbox.
That’s not to say the Xbox is better than the PS2 software wise. The PS2 was a much simpler system to use with just a memory card and disc drive. The Xbox Dashboard and Xbox LIVE were revolutionary causing Sony to push their PS2 Network Adapter faster and thus the eventual creation of PlayStation Network with the PS3. The Dashboard is the baby version of what we know today. You can change your system settings, and these stay stored thanks to the HDD, rip music to the HDD which was a huge feature and allowed custom soundtracks in games, and allowed soft modding the system which became a huge scene online. Sadly, Xbox LIVE was taken down a few years ago, so this is a single player system only. The system firmware can actually be updated to the latest with a copy of Halo 2 that has the firmware on the disc. DLC is also no longer available unless you soft mod your console and download them online. However, most DLC for the Xbox was multiplayer maps which are really no good anymore.
So with a bunch of processing power, a built-in HDD, and a proprietary online service, what stopped the Xbox? Japanese developers did. While Sega had an exclusive deal with Microsoft to create over a dozen games for the system, Square Enix cut off nearly all support thanks to Microsoft execs snotty and arrogant attitude toward foreign developers. This is what gave the PS2 a huge boost and quadruple the sales thanks to many Japanese exclusive that we have known to love such as Final Fantasy, Okami, Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, and many other Japanese developed games. Microsoft was stuck with their own in-house studios and everything but the Japanese market. That’s not to say the Xbox didn’t have it’s own excellent suite of games.
One feature I love about the Xbox is that it supports HDTVs which the PS2 and GameCube did not. The Xbox was so far advanced that it even supported 1080i which very few TVs touched back in the early 2000s. Growing up, I didn’t know a single person with 1080i input let alone know what that was. The Xbox also supports widescreen making it a perfect retro console for newer TVs. I plugged the system in via component and set the Xbox to HD output and all the game looked crisp and clear. The PS2 had very few games that supported 480p output as the system didn’t have the power to do so. With that said, the Xbox has 5.1 Dolby Digital and DTS which sounds great even on newer systems. This is supported by the system thanks to the extra power that can process these channels.
The Xbox also had a fantastic S controller after the infamous Duke was discontinued. The S controller went on to evolve into the Xbox controllers we love today. I’m still not a fan of the Start, Back, Black, and White buttons that are on the arms of the controllers. It’s also odd to not have the bumpers on top, but most of the bulk is from the two memory card slots in the controller that were used to transfer saves to other systems. On a down side, the Xbox does not use the controller to play DVD movies which required a separate remote and dongle. This seemed like it was to get more money into Microsoft’s pockets as the controller could easily by programmed to work.
Overall, the Xbox is a fantastic system that had many flaws, but many high notes that make it a must buy for game collectors. It’s really cheap to collect for the Xbox and the system run around $50 on average. They are easily moddable and it has a vast library that you won’t get bored with anytime soon.
I’ve finally done it. I know have all three current generation gaming systems. What’s the positive side to that? Being able to enjoy each console’s strengths and exclusives. The bad side? More games than I can play in a week. Why did I wait so long for the Xbox One? It’s game exclusivity release windows were far and few between and it didn’t offer anything the PS4 couldn’t…well that anyone cares about anyways. There’s a lot of nice features on the Xbox One that no other system has, but are they what sells the console? At this point Microsoft doesn’t really have anything to sell the Xbox One outside of its already built up user base as well as their three trump cards: Halo, Forza Motorsport, and Rare. While Microsoft used Killer Instinct, Forza 5, and Halo 5 to get people excited about the launch, Microsoft’s launch was very weak outside of a few strong games.
Let’s face it, the look and design of a console can really matter. Just look at the Atari Jaguar with the CD add-on…it looks like a toilet. The original Xbox was geared towards PC gamers who were already used to bulky cases. While it wasn’t as sleek as the PS2 or cute as the GameCube, the monster box meant power — and power it had. Being the first system to have an online infrastructure and having a built in HDD, the Xbox shipped with an 8GB HDD, but Xbox LIVE wasn’t up and running until long after the console’s release. Then a little game called Halo swept the gaming and entertainment industry by storm and Halo 2 helped kick start and raise the bar for first person online gaming. It was massively successful and even made Nintendo and Sony rush for a proprietary FPS. Sony made Killzone (stank), and Nintendo made Metroid Prime (awesome). However, neither garnered the attention that Halo could and Killzone was quickly forgotten. What else made the Xbox so successful? It’s hardware. It had a whopping 733 MHz CPU based off of Intel’s Pentium III Coppermine chipset and a 233 MHz GPU made by Nvidia. This meant off the shelf parts and was easily programmable similar to a PC. While the PS2 was extremely completed to develop for, the Xbox had great looking games from the start. From Halo, Forza Motorsport, Blinx, and Fable, the Xbox had a great lineup, but it quickly died out towards the end of the life cycle. The Xbox showed its age and games were looking better on PS2 for some reason (God of War, Shadow of the Colossus) and Microsoft quickly lost interest from Japanese developers and thus the PS2 made waves.
With that little history bit, the Xbox 360 had a year head start and was powerful, but met the same fate as its little brother. Great games from the start, but many exclusives jumped ship and Microsoft lost steam once the PS3 sales were climbing. While still a good system, it doesn’t have the exclusives it did 5 years ago and isn’t as unique as it was at launch.
Out of the Box
The Xbox One takes the original design and the Xbox 360 S design and smashes them together. You have the sleek box shape the like 360 S and the hard lines of the original system. The Xbox One is huge, bigger than the PS4 and somehow less powerful. More on that later. The Xbox One logo on the front brings subtle attraction along with the glossy panels and chrome disc drive bezel. The box is sleek and Microsoft’s best looking one yet. It’s also surprisingly light for the size of the system.
Under the Hood
The Xbox One is actually a little weaker than the PS4. I know fanboys are going to scream and have a tantrum, but the numbers and facts don’t lie. Sure, it’s powerful, but not as much as you’d like to think. While the Xbox One and PS4 both have an 8-core AMD CPU that is similar to that in phones, the Xbox One is clocked at 1.75 GHz while the PS4 is clocked at 1.6Ghz. Yeah, go ahead and laugh but the GPU is probably more important in consoles than you think. While the Xbox One has an 853 MHz AMD GPU the PS4 has an 800 MHz one, but has more compute units. The PS4 has 18 while the Xbox One has 12 meaning the PS4 can outperform the Xbox One with this. To make it easier the Xbox One has a GPU equivalent to an AMD 7790 or Nvidia GTX 650 Ti. The PS4 has a GPU equivalent to an AMD 7890 or Nvidia GTX 670. While those GPUs have now been left in the dust, the PS4 and Xbox One are stuck with them. Sadly, this means lower resolution on Xbox One, and due to only having 8GB of DDR3 RAM, loading times could be much longer towards the end of the life cycle over PS4 which has 8GB of GDDR5 RAM. The Xbox One also has 3 USB 3.0 ports, one is cleverly hidden on the left side rather than being in the front. I also have to commend Microsoft for making this the very first console to have 5 GHz WiFi which is a huge win over any other console for download speeds. I could download a 62GB digital game 5 times faster than I could on another console. I love this.
I hate to say this but…Xbox One looks too much like Windows 8. I know, I know, go ahead and say it. It is the most difficult system I have ever had to navigate. For starters, I couldn’t find the system settings. Why is it an app? Why is everything an app? I like apps on consoles, but everything on the Xbox One is an app and it relies on the internet more than any other console. If you pin your favorite stuff to your Home area you can’t use them when you are offline. It doesn’t end there, I couldn’t find anything in the game store. Yeah, that’s probably important right? The game store looks empty and completely unintuitive. There’s a small featured section as well as Top Paid, Free, Newest Games, etc. However, I could NOT find the Games with Gold section anywhere except at the home dash in a featured box. That’s completely ridiculous. I still don’t know what’s for sale for gold members and I can’t find it. This is the WORST game store setup I have ever seen.
Let’s talk about some of the Xbox One exclusive features. Microsoft is seriously trying to push the set-top box thing, however, this is probably only something that less than 10% of users will use; mainly sports fans. The Xbox One does feature a TV Out HDMI option so you can plug-in your HD set-top box or even another console while plugging in consoles isn’t recommended due to lag, it’s an option for people short on ports. Hell, you can play Killzone via the Snap app on your PS4 while someone is playing Halo right next to you…God forbid. There are features in the system to set up your TV and sound system to use voice commands via the Kinect, but only users who bought the launch consoles will have a Kinect. I feel many people from here on out will never see this feature happen.
Another function is the Snap app. This is actually really nice as it cuts out a quarter of the screen for using other apps on the Xbox One. This includes TV, walkthroughs, web browsing, the media player, you name it. This comes in handy for people who love to multi-task but I noticed some bad slow down when playing graphics heavy games. Another feature that is new to Xbox is Blu-Ray. Yeah, Sony fans are saying “Ha Ha” but it’s a smart choice. Games are just too big for dual layer DVDs these days, so with their own high-capacity media disc being burned out by Blu-Ray, Microsoft didn’t have a choice. This means you no longer need a separate Blu-Ray player or PlayStation 3 or 4 to play Blu-Ray movies.
Another small feature is the Xbox One Smartglass app you can use with your phone or tablet. The layout is pretty much the same as the Xbox One itself and was responsive and worked well as something that can be used to control your console. This is great for watching videos or listening to music so you don’t have to keep turning on your controller.
Outside of these features I did find something disturbing and is probably the Xbox One’s most fatal flaw. Slow install times off discs. The PS4 takes less than a minute and you can play the full game right away. For some reason, Microsoft thought it was cute that you can play what’s installed, but that’s literal. I booted up Killer Instinct and all characters were locked until the game finished installing. Wonderful, so now I can stare at the menus for 3 hours while the game installs. Oh yeah, another thing, games are fully downloaded from Xbox LIVE rather than installed off the disc. This is one of the dumbest things I have ever had to deal with. I booted up the Xbox for the first time at 5PM on a Saturday and I left Killer Instinct installing all day; took forever. The trick is to disconnect from Xbox LIVE before installing so it only takes roughly 15 minutes. Connect again to download the current update. Even if you have a fast connection the games take forever to install as they need to download then install rather than doing both at the same time like on PS4. One positive thing came out of this and that’s being able to play digital downloads while you wait which is something that can’t be done on PS4.
I won’t talk about the controller much as I already did an extensive review on that, but I will say that the controller is amazing and is an evolution of the Xbox 360 controller. I also want to mention the DVR and capture feature that the Xbox One has. The Xbox can snap moments when you unlock achievements, and even the father of the achievement system has evolved. They are more informative when they pop-up no longer leaving you puzzled as to what caused the achievement to unlock. Outside of the name, a description of the feat will also appear.
It all boils down to the games right? I played Forza 5,Killer Instinct, and Halo: The Master Chief Collection and was seriously impressed. Microsoft actually released better looking games at launch than Sony. Forza 5 and Ryse: Son of Rome are truly impressive launch titles. They look absolutely amazing and wipe the floor visually over any PS4 launch title; even Killzone: Shadowfall. Games played just like you expected they would, however, Microsoft has a trump card that will come in handy towards the middle of the Xbox One’s life cycle and that’s cloud computing. This allows AI and even graphical features to be processed of the Xbox One which is a super powerful tool that no other competitor has. Forza’s Drivitar AI is computed on a server rather than inside the Xbox One. While this feature is slow starting, it’s sure to bring some impressive stuff to Xbox One later on.
Xbox One for All and All for One
The Xbox One isn’t a perfect system and has many flaws in its GUI and various functionalities, but it’s a great system and a worthy successor to the Xbox 360. While it lacks the exclusives that the Wii U and PS4 have, it will grow in time and hopefully carve its own unique experience that previous consoles from Microsoft failed to do. If Microsoft can keep exclusives exclusive to Xbox One forever it will help a lot. If they can help grow the system over time like they did with Xbox 360 it will help quite a bit. It’s impressive seeing where Xbox One is now after the disastrous launch and reveal 2 years ago. Xbox One is well worth a purchase for the handful of excellent exclusives available right now.
While Nintendo may have dominated the handheld market before smartphones were even aforethought, there was something about them that made them just seem…ugly. Bulky, low-end specs, battery suckers; these are just a few names that early handhelds received from the original GameBoy, the Atari Lynx, all the way to even the GameBoy Advance. Handhelds required large casings as CPUs hadn’t quite been perfected yet and were large and bulky, not to mention screen technology was the same still being used in Texas Instrument calculators. LCD was extremely expensive and not cost effective for small devices yet. Same went for battery power. Lithium-ion batteries were extremely expensive and not ideal for handhelds. Then came the GBA SP. A sleek fold-up GameBoy with a rechargeable battery. It was the first of Nintendo’s handhelds that shed the disposable batteries and improved on-screen technology.
The first thing you will notice is the sleek form factor. The GBA SP is an awesome looking device. The original model was bulky and didn’t quite fit in your pocket, thus having to walk around with those dorky GBA bags. The button placement was perfect and the battery lasted for an amazing 10 hours on one charge (15 if you didn’t use the backlight). There was just this perfect square in your hands and it would amaze schoolyard kids and gaming fans alike. I actually remember having one of these in junior high and original model owners were extremely jealous due to the form factor and the backlight.
Speaking of backlight it was a huge deal. Self-lit LCDs were quite available yet so Nintendo stuck a backlight in the screen to brighten it up as the original model needed an actual flashlight clipped on top. While the screen is still quite dark it made a world of difference and was so much better in the dark. Kids who stayed up late playing their GameBoys were grateful as they no longer needed a flashlight to see the screen and catch their parents’ attention. Later on, however, Nintendo release a newer model SP with an even brighter screen. These models are harder to find and were released towards the end of the GBA’s life cycle.
One major downfall of the SP is the lack of a headphone jack. The speaker is hard to hear in noisy areas with the volume all the way up, so headphones would be ideal. An adapter was required and went to the Link Cable port as an actual output would not have fit into the casing.
Aside from those issues, the GBA SP was the portable gamers dream. A strong library with backward compatibility for the GBA Color and original GameBoy what more could you want?
The GBA SP also came in several colors which weren’t seen too often in the States. Flame Red, Onyx Black, Cobalt Blue, and Silver were amongst the colors available, while a pink model and a retro NES style model were released later on. However, due to the GBA SP’s age, it really shows its teeth. Let’s take a look at the actual specs of the machine.
Powering the entire system is an ARM7TDMI CPU at a whopping 16 MHz. Yeah, it’s ancient tech even for 2003, but it got the job done. It had 128 KB of VRAM and 256 KB of DRAM. Yes, that’s kilobytes. The resolution was 256×160 and displayed an astounding 512 colors. However, those dinky specs were home to some of the greatest games of all time; it just goes to show that power isn’t everything.
With that said, the GBA SP is a must buy even for today. We have smartphones that are nearly as powerful as laptops now, the 3DS, and Vita that trumps the GBA in every aspect, but it’s the games that those devices cannot bring back. While the $130 price tag was well worth it back in 2003, you will pay close to that or more for one in nearly perfect condition. Honestly, they don’t exist. They are scratched up, dinged, and chewed on. I had to buy my new one with a refurbished third-party shell. If you’re a collector go this route on eBay. $60 will get you a new looking GBA SP. However, if you just want the games and don’t care, they run as low as $30 in pawn shops or eBay.
So here we were are. Everyone who grew up in the 90’s has gone through four PlayStation console cycles. I remember 11 years ago when I got my PS2 I thought that the PS3 was going to be something incredibly futuristic akin to something out of a sci-fi movie. While that wasn’t the case at all, the PS4 gets us one step closer. The PS4 may not be the huge leap that the PS2 to PS3 was, but it’s enough to completely create a whole new generation of gaming.
First Time Look and Setup
When you get the big blue hefty box home you realize that the thing is huge. It makes the PS4 seem 5 times as big as it really is. Outside of the design of the box to get you to buy it it’s rather plain inside. The first thing your eyes are drawn to is the sleek edges of the PS4. It’s has a much better design than the George Foreman grill esque design of the original PS3. It actually looks like a space monolith. A third of the console has a sleek black look that is known to Sony products (and the fingerprints). While the rest of the top has the rough black material similar to the slimmer PS3’s. The front bezel is designed like it was cut at an angle with a knife. It’s double tiered with the disc drive to the left and the USB ports nicely hidden to the right. The power and disc eject button are well hidden and lined up with the LED line separating the slick and rough part of the top casing. The rear of the console shows the vents and a simple Ethernet, HDMI, power, and audio optical cable. Very simple and easy to understand. The PS4 logo is shown nicely on the front left bezel of the console. This is a sexy console and probably the best designed one from Sony since the slim PS2.
Setting the PS4 is really simple and easy. Once you get your HDMI and power cable in you must power it on via the console button. Now I didn’t know where the power button was until I read the quick start guide. It’s really hidden and you wouldn’t even think of it being lined up with the LED bar. After it turns on you must connect the PS4 controller with the USB cable included to pair it with the system. After this, you log in to your PlayStation account and set up your WiFi. It’s really as simple as that.
UI and Settings
The PS4 UI breaks away from the XMB that was born with the PSP and used on the PS3 along with some early Blu-Ray players. However, the system still uses the foundation of the XMB bar mixed with the Vita’s app switching. Settings, friends, PS Store, messages, and all that stuff is one click above your games, movies, and media library. I like this double stack instead of a long menu full of submenus. However, it’s very plain. There are no themes or wallpaper settings even as of this review. Hopefully more are to come.
There are a good amount of settings that allow you to pretty much adjust everything on the PS4. The PS4 now has a standby mode that is more advanced than the PS3. You can charge controllers, download updates, and various other tasks including (at a later time) immediately resume a paused game. The only issue is that the standby mode uses more energy than previous consoles ever have.
The system also records your gameplay footage and will snap screenshots with the touch of the Share button on the controller. I thought this would be useless but have actually captured some awesome footage and shots that I thought was only possible on PCs.
Under the Hood
The PS4 is the most powerful of the three next-gen consoles. The PS4 has finally moved away from custom-made hardware seen in previous Sony consoles that made coding a pain. The system uses 64-bit hardware that is seen in PCs today. The system has two quad-core Jaguar CPUs developed by AMD. The GPU runs at 2.75 GHz and can compute 1.84 Teraflops. The system also has 8GB of GDDR5 RAM which is faster than standard RAM seen even in the most high-end gaming computers. The system has a 500GB HDD which can be swapped by the user which is a nice gesture by Sony. The USB ports are 3.0 instead of 2.0 seen in previous consoles. For the first time ever this is the first Sony console that does not have an analog output, this is HD only. What does this all mean? That the PS4 is 16 times as powerful as the PS3 and is the most powerful next-gen console (a little like the last generation as well).
My biggest complaint about the hardware would be no 5 GHz WiFi card. The system only supports the slow 2.4 GHz bandwidth which will not give Sony the faster downloads speeds they need for the larger next-gen games and streaming of games. If you can set your 2.4 GHz band to wireless N mode if you can to get the most speed out of the PS4. This also causes issues with the Vita’s remote play over WiFi. I could not get a stable connection and ultimately the PS4 had to connect directly to the Vita itself for stable true remote play.
My favorite part of the PS4 is the amazing controller. The PS3 controller wasn’t all that great, but Sony made a huge come back with the DualShock 4. The ergonomics of the controller are just fantastic. The handles are longer, the analog stick is concave with better rubber grips and are spread further apart. The triggers (R2 and L2) are much improved and no longer make your fingers slip. The newest addition is the touchpad on the front of the controller. Most people probably shake their heads wondering what Sony is doing to their controllers again, but this thing is actually useful. It doesn’t get in the way and can be used to navigate maps, quick time events, and text input among other features that haven’t been thought of yet. This is probably technology left over from the rear touch pad of the Vita. The DualShock 4 also has a strange LED light on top that has had many gamers upset. It’s extremely bright and is really leftover tech from the Move. It’s used to track the controller with the PlayStation Camera. However, it is used as indicators in games such as health and notifications. The controller took a page from the Xbox 360 controller and added a headset jack to the controller to get rid of the long cables having to connect directly to the console.
This controller even tops the Xbox 360 controller if you can believe that. Another major move is the banishment of the Start and Select buttons so often remember on PS controllers. Now there is an Options and Share button on either side of the touchpad. The Options button is used to start and well…options. It’s rather useful and is the evolution of the select and start button. The Share button is for social media goers, and I promise you will be hitting that button more and more as you have the console.
In the end, the PS4 delivers some great content, but it’s very limited as the first batch of next-gen games gets released this holiday. The PS Store is pretty empty and lacks demos for new buyers. There are not many features to keep you busy for days and even the games are slightly limited. But the PS4 has great hardware and a great future ahead. The $400 price point was a smart move compared to the terrible launch of the PS3.
The Wii U is a system I swore up and down I would never get. My girlfriend brings one home and I’m standing there looking at the thing like after you had an awkward fight. There’s Injustice: Gods Among Us sitting there in it’s tantalizing glory waiting for me to play it. I pull open the box and hook it up. Setting up systems is a nice feeling and doesn’t happen very often.
After setting it all up, I realize that the first feature to really get me to like the console is the TV remote feature. It’s really neat and not something that has ever been implemented into a console before. After I create my Nintendo account and pop in Injustice I start liking the system. The gamepad is easy to hold and super light. This was key to be sure that long periods of play time didn’t cramp your hands. The dual analog sticks are very nice and the button layout is perfect. The ergonomics of the gamepad are just spot on. Anyone in doubt, even hardcore haters, just know that this is one of my favorite controllers. The DSi XL stylus comes out and that even surprised me. The triggers and bumpers in the back are laid out perfect. I applaud Nintendo for getting this right. It’s so useful! There’s so many possibilities with this thing, but the system is only 6 months old.
I then notice that the game is playing on the screen. Even if you hate Nintendo it will make you giddy. It’s a really cool thing to see. You can take the gamepad, plug in headphones, and play while someone’s doing something else on the TV. Why wasn’t this around 20 years ago?! This is only for games that don’t use the gamepad for much though. My only major complaint is the battery life. Nintendo made this huge oversight and it needs to be fixed.
The Wii U was designed for people who already own a Wii, that’s obvious. It comes with a Wii sensor bar but no Wiimotes? Pretty stupid actually. I do like that it emulates the Wii menu and you can still use the Wii shop channel. It’s nice to see Wii games upscaled into HD, not as crisp as the Wii U games, but still nice.
This is also Nintendo’s first HD console. They are behind in times (they always are) but the Wii U looks razor sharp on my 50″ 1080p plasma. The colors are rich and vibrant, and some of the games look pretty good. The only issue is that the Wii U has weaker hardware than current gen consoles when it comes to processing power. Nintendo fan boys can scream all they want that it’s a next-gen console, but in terms of power it isn’t. This is what the Wii should have been.
The Wii U has a tri-core 1.24 Ghz “Expresso” CPU. Sad. I think Nintendo was trying to keep down costs, but the gamepad seems to have cost them more than the unit itself because it seems like two systems in one. The Wii U has a 550 Mhz GPU “Latte” that is AMD based and totally custom made. Combined the Wii U is about 4x as powerful as the PS3, but that’s not that big of a jump. The GPU has slightly faster clock and BUS speeds. The Xbox 360 has a tri-core 3.2 GHz CPU while the PS3 has an 8 core CPU (1 PPE 7 SPEs) so right now the Wii U is only about 4x as powerful as the current gen consoles. It’s not the big jump that everyone expects. It’s like from the GameCube to the Wii (the Wii was only 4x as powerful as the GameCube). It isn’t nearly as powerful (about a fraction) as the top PC rigs and Xbox One and PS4. The big disappointment is that the Wii U doesn’t support DirectX 11 architecture like the Xbox One and PS4 do. Don’t expect seeing Crysis 3 or any other DX11 game on the Wii U. The Wii U has 4GB of DDR3 RAM at 1600Mhz which is about slightly above average RAM speed that people use in PCs. 1GB is held off for system stuff so developers still only have 3GB to work with. Still better than the 256MB that’s on current gen consoles, so this is the only leg up the Wii U has. It’s still 10x as powerful as the Wii, but that’s not saying much.
In the end it comes down to games, right now the Wii U is lacking. There are quite a few high budget ports, but they’re ports. These games people have played on other consoles. Thankfully there’s a huge Wii library out there you can play while you wait, but even the eShop is pretty much empty. I’m impressed with the hardware, but not so much the software. All we can do is wait and see.
The Xbox 360 has probably struggled the most hardware wise since its launch in November of 2005. With extreme overheating issues, loud disc trays, and high-pitched disc spin-ups it’s been rough. After the new Xbox Elite came out with fixed some issues with a smaller 45-nanometer processor for slightly faster load times and less heat. It featured a bigger 250GB HDD and more solid hardware, but it was still having overheating and RROD (Red Ring of Death) issues. Now that the Xbox 360 S is out it fixes all these issues with grace.
The console has a new slick gloss finish design with stylish air vents and the whole concaved thing is out the window. All the buttons are touch panel buttons and release an awesome “ding” tone when touched. The tray is quieter, and the HDD is now built inside as well as there is a much smaller power supply/brick. This is all noticed right out of the box and makes it worth another purchase. The biggest addition is probably the built-in Wi-Fi as well as a Kinect port. The Xbox memory unit slot has been removed since you can now back up saves on a flash drive, but people who have items saved on one will be out of luck here.
The console also has built-in HDMI and can support up to 1080p, but other than these new features nothing else is really new. The console also can’t technically RROD anymore due to there being no red LEDs. The console’s plastic casing does feel a bit cheaper and less sturdy than the other consoles, but with being 10x lighter it really makes up for it. I highly recommend upgrading to the 360 S if you really hate your old console or it’s about to bite the dust. Trading in your old console could make up the difference and make it well worth the purchase.
Note: There’s an unknown misnomer that the Xbox 360 displays true 1080p, it does not. The PS3 does, but this is mainly due to the fact that the original Xbox 360 didn’t have HDMI and only Component. HDMI was added later in the Elite systems. Some games are upscaled making them look blurry and messy and a 1080p display and even the dashboard is upscaled. People will say, “But it says 1080p!” Yeah, it supports 1080p but isn’t displaying true 1080p resolution. Games are just upscaled in the hardware (think stretched out) thus why PS3 games look much clearer and sharper. Can the GPU really render games in 1080p? Probably not when you push the console to its limits. The PS3 does have a slightly more powerful GPU with the custom-built RSX card by Nvidia. The RSX runs at 550Mhz while the ATI Xenos GPU in the 360 run at 500Mhz. I thought I would clear that up.