I’ve been an Xbox fan since I can remember. When Halo was released back in 2001, I saved as hard as I could to buy my own console and overstayed my welcome at friends’ houses until I had enough cash to get my own.
When the Xbox 360 was released a few years later, I got it immediately. I had three Xbox 360 consoles over the years; weathered the red-ring-of-death drama, sold one to make rent during university and got another a year or two later when Halo 4 came out.
Naturally, when I heard about the Xbox One I figured it was a must-have. I’ve had one since launch day and while the console has managed to avoid the hardware issues that plagued the previous generation, it feels like a massive step back from where we were.
When Xbox One launched, Microsoft promised it to be the centre of your home that can do everything. What it’s turned out to be is a slow, confusing, somewhat disappointing console that launched far before it was ready.
I hadn’t tried the PlayStation 4 since it launched, simply because I had no desire to switch in the past. Xbox always worked well enough, but as I’ve become more disenfranchised by Microsoft’s slow progress with Xbox One, I started getting curious about the other side of the fence.
For the first time I have a PlayStation in my home since at least 1996 — when I was hooked on Crash Team Racing — and I’m realizing that things on the other side of the fence might just be better right now.
So, Xbox One or PS4? Ahead of Microsoft’s big Fall update, here’s what I’ve discovered so far.
The PlayStation 4 is hands-down faster at doing everything.
On the Xbox One basic tasks often take an age because of the slow window-snapping feature. The screen snapping feature is similar to that found in Windows 8, but wow is it awful.
For example, snapped apps take a long time to load, so whenever you want to add someone to your multiplayer game, check the leaderboards or use Twitch you’ll be waiting far longer than reasonable for it to actually show up.
Most of the time I just give up waiting.
Basic apps, like the friends one can take a long time to start, then take even longer to load their menus.
Oh, you just got an achievement? See you in a minute or two, while you wait to find out what it is.
It’s a cumbersome mess to get anything done when all you want to do most of the time is game. I’m not the only one that feels this way; it’s a problem that’s been expressed over and over again and while it’s improved slightly in recent times — once you’ve opened an app once, it’s fast — it’s still frustrating.
Snapped apps probably should have stayed on touch screens rather than being ported to the console, because it seems like the hardware can’t keep up.
On PlayStation 4, it’s the compete opposite. Menus are buttery smooth — probably in part thanks to that delicious WebGL underneath — and apps open fast, with little lag.
It’s frustrating, because Microsoft has had a few years to fix the speed problems, yet it’s still an issue.
The interface works better
For some reason, the kind of tasks you want to do a lot on the Xbox One are convoluted beyond belief. A common example is playing games with friends:
- Double tap the Xbox button
- Snap the friends app
- Create a new party
- Invite your friends
- Switch back to game
- Invite party to game (and hope it works, as it often just doesn’t)
It’s odd, because it was dead easy on the Xbox 360: slam the centre button and invite friends. The amount of hours I’ve spent struggling (and cussing over the microphone) to get friends successfully into an Xbox One game are countless and no less frustrating.
There are other ways to invite friends — using in-game mechanics — but those vary wildly in how they work and can be inconsistent.
Window snapping is cool, but a little slow and frustrating to use. Every time I use it, I wonder if a menu could have served it better than shrinking the game and making the system run slower.
Recent improvements, like the ability to double tap the Xbox button to access split-screened apps and take screenshots have improved snapping, but it needs a lot of work to make it more useful, particularly around performance.
The port of Windows’ touch-friendly design to Xbox was one I was initially excited about, but over time it’s just come to feel empty. The dashboard feels like little more than an advertisement that happens to show a few of my own apps.
The thing is, the PS4’s dashboard isn’t all that attractive, but it’s far more functional and alive than the Xbox — getting things done is far easier and it feels like there’s a little more life going on.
Going into a game’s overview offers information about the game, guides, updates and the achievements you’ve unlocked so far. As you play, the console automatically takes screenshots of notable moments where you earned a trophy for easier sharing, which is awesome.
The PS4 interface is designed as a timeline, so the apps and games you use appear in the order they were last used from left to right which is a nice and coherent way to browse the console.
Tiles on the Xbox One were a great idea, but they were never fully implemented to update with ‘live’ information like on Windows, so they are a little dull after two years.
I really dig the Xbox One controller — it’s a great improvement on a timeless design — but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the PlayStation’s controller.
It’s more comfortable to hold for longer, is much smaller and feels less like a plastic toy. Most of all, the PlayStation’s dedicated ‘share’ button is a winner, coming from the Xbox where you either need to speak out loud to take a screenshot or slam the Xbox button twice, then hit ‘Y.’
From that button you can take a screenshot, record a video or go live on a video stream with a single tap. Being able to stab the share button and start a broadcast in a few seconds with almost zero friction is addictive and encourages you to do it often.
The fact that the controller includes a rechargeable battery feels futuristic, even though it’s something that should be normal by now. Microsoft offers rechargeable batteries but they come at an additional cost, which I find ridiculous. The same goes for the PS4’s built-in headphone jack, which I had to pay $35 for the privilege of getting via a peripheral on my Xbox.
The tilt/pitch control on the PlayStation controller has produced a few ‘wow’ moments, like in Journey, where you can survey the scenery by simply moving the controller around a little.
What I like most, though, is the trackpad. It seems ridiculous, but it’s an amazing way to enter text. I always hated having to sign in or send messages to friends on the Xbox One because entering text on a console is stupid, but the trackpad makes it a lot easier to type things out.
Microsoft has finally addressed this with its new Chatpad that nestles in-between the handles of the Xbox One controller, but I can’t imagine most people having that attached most of the time. The only thing I miss is the lovely offset joysticks from the Xbox.
The Xbox has some interesting games that I love — namely Halo and Titanfall — but I’m enjoying the fresh air on the other side of the fence too.
Journey has been one of the most compelling console games I’ve played in years and just happens to have been the first thing I played when I turned on the PS4; a good first impression. Infamous: Second Son is crazy addictive and I’m excited to try more indie titles like No Man’s Sky.
Perhaps it’s because I’ve been using Xbox so long that I’m growing bored of Microsoft’s traditional exclusives — it’s nice to try something else for once.
Microsoft could turn it around
There is hope for the Xbox One, though. Microsoft is about to launch its first major dashboard overhaul that’ll see a new design land on the console for the first time, alongside an upgrade of the operating system to Windows 10.
We haven’t seen too much of the new dashboard outside of Microsoft’s promotional materials, but it looks promising.
It’s expected to roll out in September to testers as part of the preview program and I’m hopeful it will offer significant performance improvements while rejigging the console to actually work a little more coherently.
It makes me wonder if Microsoft simply shipped the Xbox One too early, with unfinished software, to compete with Sony.
I’m not giving on up the Xbox One, because despite the console’s flaws Microsoft has major improvements on the horizon that give me hope.
I just long for the days of the Xbox 360, where it wasn’t loaded up with internet-first features, instead focusing on playing games and getting you into the action.
Featured image credit: Shutterstock