PlayStation 5 review

By Brittany Vincent,
At long last, the PlayStation 5 has finally arrived. With each new tidbit of information Sony eked out throughout the entirety of 2020, there were days when it felt like the new console would never arrive. Our collective patience has paid off, however, and the PS5 is available in select regions around the world.

We've spent the last few weeks digging into the PS5 and testing out Sony's most unique console yet. If you're looking forward to adding a PS5 to your repertoire of Sony consoles, we've got a set of general impressions and overview below. Is it worth your hard-earned money? Yes, and we've got plenty of reasons why below.



What's In The Box?

So, you've brought your PS5 home and you're wondering what you can find within the attractive blue and white box when you break it open. There's a handle on the box for easy carrying, and that slips right off to reveal plain white cardboard box with tabs you can pop open. Inside the top of the box (open it on its side for easier access), you'll find a manual, power cord, and your DualSense controller in a foam bag, charged up and ready to go.

Afterwards, you'll find an HDMI 2.1 cable coiled up tightly below the controller and power cord, in addition to the circular stand you can rest the system on whether you decide to orient it vertically or horizontally. It's all packed very neatly, and you can get in and straight to the PlayStation 5 quickly without little fuss. Unfortunately, you don't get any other niceties like a headset or any other fun extras. The Pulse 3D Audio headset will have to be purchased separately when you can find them on store shelves again.

Beneath these accessories, packaged firmly within waffle-like foam, is the beast-like PS5. It's jacketed in a few layers of covering, and the first thing you'll notice is that it's actually way larger than the Xbox Series X, by a long shot.



Connectivity

The science fiction-like design of the PlayStation 5 has most of the ports and any relative connectivity-centric slots designed on the center of the console where the glossy black core can be found. This is naturally where you'll end up with the most fingerprint smudges, so of course it's glossy. That's one demerit against it in terms of aesthetics: get used to cleaning it up if you end up swapping cords out.

In this center area you'll find a USB-A and USB-C port on the front, then two USB-A ports, an Ethernet jack, an HDMI port, and a slot for the power adapter when the system is flipped around. In terms of wireless connectivity, the PS5's Wi-Fi antenna actually supports Wi-Fi 6, which allows it to reach maximum speeds of up to 9.6 Gbps, dwarfing Wi-Fi 5's connectivity ceiling of 3.5 Gbps. This is actually more than what the Xbox Series X is capable of, as it does not support the newer Wi-Fi 6 standard.

Audio connectivity comes in the form of an included jack in the DualSense controller. You can hook up any standard 3.5mm headphones or headsets here, but you can also utilize compatible equipment like the Pulse 3D Wireless headset wirelessly.



Form Factor

When I mentioned the PS5 is a beast earlier, I meant it. It's a 15.4 x 10.2 x 4.1-inch beast, to be exact. It's far larger than the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 4 Pro, but despite how large it looks, it's only about 9.9 lbs and feels surprisingly light and manageable. While the Xbox Series X is quite dense, the PlayStation 5 feels like its weight is better distributed throughout its chassis, giving it the illusion that it's much lighter, when in reality it's 0.1 lbs heavier than the Xbox Series X.

It looks just like something out of a science fiction novel with swooping, concave sides sandwiching the glossy black abyss of the center. The disc drive is positioned on the bottom left, just under what would be the most narrow part of the system if you purchase the Digital Edition. Standing vertically, it resembles something of a blossoming flower with a rounded top that finds the concave white "wings" opening up to the flat black edge at the top of the system. The matte white and glossy black work in tandem to make an extremely eye-catching system, whether you choose to stand it up or position it horizontally.

The circular base is much less awkward if you decide to stand up the system than if you set it out horizontally. The stand feels a bit as though it moves to the side if you lay the system down, and for that reason it just feels better overall to orient it vertically. In terms of noise, the PlayStation 5 is incredibly quiet. Even up close to the system, where you're right near the fan, there's only a slight hum. In comparison to the PS4's fans that would often sound like a plane getting ready to take off (I jest, but you all know what I'm talking about), the unit has only the slightest hum that's mostly only audible when you get up close and personal. This is during playing even visually intensive games and outside of game time. It's whisper-quiet, which is an impressive feat, even when running a physical disc.

Additionally, the console rarely if ever heated up to the point where it was even slightly warm to the touch. Even during lengthy play sessions of games like Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales or my most recent session with Demon's Souls, it never once felt as though it was going to overheat or even approach any sort of warmth. In fact, while heading through one of the game's expansive, shadow-soaked hallways before slaying a massive spider, the PS5 seemed to be blowing what felt like cold air.



Controller

The DualSense controller is Sony's most unique release since it debuted the DualShock. Not only is it aesthetically different than anything you're used to seeing before, but it also feels solid, hefty, and extremely comfortable in your hands. It's somehow more grippy than an Xbox Series X controller with a textured back, and better, more textured analog sticks that never end up making your fingers feel fatigued after a long play session.

The controller itself is larger and more substantial than any DualShock before it, and it retains the same button layout and symmetrical stick layout of previous controllers. There are a variety of fun design decisions that come along with the controller as well, such as the tiny PlayStation symbols that make up the textured grip.

The triggers feel absolutely fantastic and require more effort to push down, which is appropriate for shooting gumball gatling guns in Astro's Playroom or, as Sony loves to remind everyone, drawing back a bowstring. The advanced haptic feedback really does let you feel so much more of what's going on in the world, whether that's Astro toddling about or the weight of slinging webs as Spider-Man. The built-in speaker is loud and crisp, and the touch pad remains simple and reliable.

Luckily, the controller uses USB-C for charging, though you won't need to for some time, even after spending hours with a game that requires use of the haptics and adaptive triggers. I charged the controller just once after completing Astro's Playroom and nearly completing Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales. Overall, the DualSense controller is a massive step forward and a fantastic companion to the PS5.

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Specs

CPU: 8X Cores @ 3.5 GHz Custom Ryzen Zen 2 CPU
GPU: 10.3 TFLOPS, 36 CUs @2.23 GHz Custom RDNA 2 GPU
Memory: 16GB GDDR6/256-bit
Memory Bandwidth: 448GB/s
Storage: Custom 825GB NVMe SSD
Credit: SonyCredit: Sony


Performance

The PS5 is packing a powerful 8-core AMD Zen 2 processor under the hood, as well as a series of other flashy specs that combine to make it an impressive specimen when it comes to performance. Though there were only a few games available during the review period either specifically crafted for use on PS5 or enhanced for the system, what little was there did bode extremely well for what the system is capable of, and continues to do so even now as additional games slowly trickle out.

Each game I tested on the system had more in common with well-lit, crisp-looking titles on PC than what I had seen previously on PS4. On my TV, colors bloomed and popped in games like Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Godfall, as well as the rich blues of the ocean in Astro's Playroom. In Miles Morales, I appreciated the ray tracing effect throughout New York City, zipping through Manhattan and admiring Miles' reflection in the buildings.

But while ray-traced visuals are impressive and all, as well as the way each game I tested looked, what really impressed me was the improvement in loading and boot times overall.I appreciated being able to get the system booted and into a game in under 30 seconds, which truly felt like next-gen to me, especially with the Activities menu involved. The Activities feature lets you jump into various parts of each game without having to sit through the opening rigmarole of each title. I couldn't believe how quickly I could turn on the system and be challenging a portion of Miles Morales, and that to me felt like one of the most impressive moments of the entire experience.

I clocked a remarkable 32 seconds in total from booting up the system to being in Miles Morales, already playing the game. Similarly, Astro's Playroom took about 25 seconds in total. In addition to gameplay that felt smooth as silk as well as appropriately quick and dizzyingly fast to load up, I enjoyed how simple it was both to get games going and how smooth the new menu felt over the previous iteration.

What I didn't appreciate was how easy it is to fill up the hard drive space, unfortunately, and being without the ability to use an external hard drive at present to store PS5 games, by design, even though I had a compatible NVMe drive to do so. Right now, PS5 titles can't be run from an external hard drive, though Sony has indicated is is working on allowing this eventually for USB drives. Though even when I filled the PS5 to brim with games, I never saw any performance issues. I just needed more space.

Credit: SonyCredit: Sony


Interface

While there are some changes to the familiar PlayStation menu, the PS5 really doesn't switch things up so much that things begin to feel alien. The UI, however, feels smooth and fantastic to use. You'll still scroll through your games in a horizontal line, and the background will typically change to the game you're about to play with most games (including the sound), such as with Devil May Cry 5 and Bugsnax.

There are still some major changes, however. For one, the Control Center has been revamped so that it pops up simply when you press the PlayStation button on the DualSense controller, and offers up a variety of features for players to sift through without having to pause the game.

Activities and their attached cards are a literal game-changer. They offer ways for players to watch different levels or get assistance by way of picture-in-picture boxes that pop up. Players can jump right into the game from the moments illustrated in Activity cards, and they can get information about how long their current mission will take to complete as well as progress made toward finishing.

The friend and party menu now pops up within the Control Center, and users can look at their parties, create new ones, or otherwise interact with friends while waiting in their game. This same area allows you to check your controller battery life, download status, and more.

The Explore feature is another new addition, which Sony has added with a special selection of curated news for titles players end up following. It's useful if you'd rather see updates straight from your console, but an interesting addition for anyone who might want refreshes straight from Sony.

The PlayStation Store feels much snappier and reliable than before. While the old iteration could take quite a long while to load and get hung up on certain areas, the PS5 has improved it considerably, and it now feels much less like a chore to deal with, which is great news if you conduct a lot of business there.

Credit: SonyCredit: Sony


Verdict

Though the PlayStation 5 is still very much in its infancy, it's easy to see that it's an impressive and vastly improved system over its predecessor. Our early looks at a few games created for the system are promising, as are the titles that were backwards compatible or otherwise enhanced for the system. There's an air of newness that a system like this one needed, and glimpses of the future in the system design as well as the DualSense controller make it feel even more like a premium purchase.

There are a slew of titles coming to the PlayStation 5, but the spotlight is firmly on games like Demon's Souls and Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales at the moment. There will be plenty of showcases of the PS5's power in the days to come, and we can't wait to see more of what it's capable of.