Which console has the better controller, PS4 or Xbox One?

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I prefer the Xbox One controller. More comfortable in my hands and the stick placement is far superior to me. The PS4 controller has advanced much more this generation while I feel that the Xbox One controller lost the usability of the bumpers when compared to the Xbox 360 controller, but it is so superior ergonomically for the way that I hold a controller that I still prefer the Xbox One controller.

Anyway, here’s a more detailed comparison according to my experience using both controllers:

Analogue Joysticks

The placement on the Xbox One controller is the same as it’s always been since the original Xbox – the sticks are offset, with the left stick located in the upper left, as the main controlling input and the right stick located at the lower right. This location makes the sticks very comfortable for my hands.

The placement on the PS4 controller is the same as it’s always been since the original Dual Shock on the PSOne: low in the middle of the controller, both sticks parallel to each other. Most people don’t seem to mind, but I have always considered it an ergonomic nightmare. My hands feel cramped when I play games that use both sticks and even though Sony has used this design for so many years, I just can’t get used to it.

The construction and feel of the sticks are pretty much perfect on the Xbox One controller. They’re firm and sturdy. I’ve had my Xbox One for 3 years and the sticks are still in pristine condition. I don’t really need the texture that supposedly improves the grip but some folks seem to think that’s an upgrade. I’m indifferent to it.

The sticks on the PS4 controller are a better design than on the PS3 controller, but still not as good as the Xbox One sticks. They feel a little looser to me (granted, I only have 2 PS4 controllers as opposed to 4 Xbox One controllers so there’s less for me to compare there) but they’re still much better than the typical third-party controller. Unfortunately, the construction is not as high quality as on the Xbox One joysticks. After three years, one of my PS4 controllers started to show wear on the top of the stick and I had to buy a cover for it. It was a cheap fix, but I don’t think that should have happened, especially because I use my PS4 a lot less than my Xbox Ones (I actually own two of them: one on the living room TV and another in my office).

The Xbox One controller wins here.

D-Pads

There is little to discuss here. While the Xbox One controller has a better D-Pad than the Xbox 360 controller, it is still a sub-par D-Pad. It takes too much pressure for presses to register and it is all around painful to use. Bad Microsoft! The only redeeming quality on the Xbox One’s D-Pad is the placement. Modern games use the D-Pad as a secondary input, usually to switch weapons or items and thus its placement is spot-on.

The PS4 controller D-Pad is a dream. It still looks funky because of the Playstation weird sectioned off D-Pad design, but it registers presses accurately and without much of an issue. If I were to play a fighting game with the stock controller, the PS4 D-Pad wins hands-down. No contest here. The only problem that I have with the PS4 D-Pad is the placement. It sits up as the primary input of the PS4 controller and the truth is that most modern games don’t use the D-Pad enough to give it main input location. However, if maybe Sony wanted to highlight what is possibly the controller’s best feature, it makes sense to place it where it is from that point of view.

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The PS4 controller wins here.

Face Buttons

Not much to say here. Both controllers have very good face buttons and I can’t honestly say which is better in this category. Both controllers even have them located in pretty much the same spot as far as their ergonomics go. It’s a tie.

Tie.

Bumper Buttons

The Xbox One controller has horribly stiff bumper buttons. There, I said it. I thought the Xbox 360 had great bumper buttons. Easy to press, smooth, nice location. Pretty much ideal. Some idiot at Microsoft apparently thought that they were too good, so they had to Vistafy them. They look prettier now, all glossy in a separate plastic shell than the controller’s face but they are stiff. They are not unresponsive; you can tell when you pressed them and that press certainly registers; they’re just uncomfortable to press. They’re nice and shiny though. Like Vista when compared to XP. Way to miss the bus Microsoft.

The PS4 controller has much, much nicer bumper buttons (known as L1 and R1 in Playstation lingo) than the Xbox One controller. They’re nice and smooth to press, as usual in a Playstation controller.

The PS4 trounces the Xbox One controller here. No contest.

Analogue Triggers

I prefer the Xbox One’s analog triggers. They are the same they’ve always been in the Xbox line, except for a slight side angle to make them more welcoming to index finger grip. They have nice travel and they’re very accurate when you need the sensitivity for driving games and just don’t need a simple fire trigger. I really enjoy the vibration motors in them as they really enhance the experience when playing driving games (I am a big Forza fan and all Xbox One Forza games are pretty much showcases for the analog triggers).

Sony has seriously stepped up their game in their triggers. What used to be one of the weakest parts of their controllers is now a very good input. I still prefer the Xbox One’s triggers, but I can no longer say that the Playstation’s are crap. They are actually very, very good now. Just not as good as the Xbox One’s, but getting there. As a pet peeve, I really dislike the gap that forms when you depress the triggers. Sony needs to fix that.

The Xbox One controller wins but a small hair.

Bells and Whistles

The Xbox One controller is fairly bare bones. Besides the vibrating analog triggers (which Microsoft calls “Impulse Triggers”), the Xbox One controller doesn’t really add that much. Yes, it seems to have no wireless lag, but I can’t say that’s an issue with the PS4 controller so the fact that it uses WiFi Direct as a connection protocol seems more of a marketing ploy to me than a real improvement. Early Xbox One controllers lacked a standard 3.5mm plug so that was a bad design decision. It’s been fixed, but you don’t have that feature if you own an old controller (like I do).

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New Xbox One controllers also support Bluetooth but again, you don’t have that feature if you own an old controller. At least you can now charge the rechargeable batteries with any micro-USB cord instead of needing a weird cable but that’s not a feature, it’s an improvement over a bad design decision on the Xbox 360 controller. It also lacks internal batteries, which I like. That means that if the battery is dying then I just need to replace that and not the entire controller. I use Microsoft rechargeable batteries on two of my controllers and AA Eneloops on my other two. Choices are great.

The Xbox One controller is really good at going to sleep on its own and saving battery life. This seems silly, but it’s important when you consider how awful the PS4 controller is on batteries precisely because it won’t go to sleep!

The PS4 controller seems like an amazing controller in this area until you realize that these bells and whistles don’t really mean much because developers aren’t using them.

The PS4 controller has a huge touch strip that runs through the middle of the controller that can also be pressed as a button. Most games I own just use this as a huge extra button, taking no advantage of the touch functionality so that’s disappointing. More games need to get on that for the menus and other mechanics!

The less said about the light bar the better. For the longest time you couldn’t turn that thing off and it emitted a glow that reflected on the TV screen and just distracted the heck out of me. That glow probably contributed to the poor battery life on the controller which seems to take forever to go to sleep if you have to suddenly leave your game in pause but didn’t have the time to hold the PS button down and choose the turn off controller option. This sounds silly, but sometimes adults need to leave the game paused in a hurry to take care of something and in the case of the Xbox One, the controller turns off and it has battery left. In the case of the PS4, the controller stays on with the light bar eating up the batteries.

In theory, the PS4 controller should win this category with ease. Unfortunately, developers aren’t being quite so interesting at the use of the touch strip and poor battery optimizations make it stumble. I call this a tie.

Ergonomics

I need to get the deal with the PS4 controllers and its odd cylindrical grips out of the way first. They are not natural. They are not ergonomic. They are slightly better than the grips in the PS3 controller, but Sony has a long way to go here. There is some slight texture on them, but it’s not to my liking. Bad Sony!

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The grips on the Xbox One controller are a dream. They’re nice and beefy, making the controller comfortable to hold. I can see how they could be an issue if you have smaller hands though.

The placement of the analog sticks is far more intuitive and comfortable to me on the Xbox One controller than on the PS4 controller. My hands feel cramped on Sony’s controller. Oh, it is an improvement over the PS3 controller, but Sony still has ways to go.

The placement of the Share and Options button on the PS4 controller is awkward for me. I guess that’s why many games opt to use the touch strip as a huge button. It’s just tough to find these buttons without looking at the controller and they are tough to find by touch.

The View and Menu buttons on the Xbox One controller are in the same spot as they Back and Play buttons were on the Xbox 360 controller. Make no mistake, they are not easy to find if you are not used to the Xbox ergonomics, but they are easier to use than the PS4’s Share and Options buttons.

For me, the Xbox One controller wins here. I can see how someone with smaller hands may prefer the PS4 controller though.

Overall

It’s interesting because I think that Sony improved far more than Microsoft did this generation. In fact, for the most part, Sony went ahead and gave us a much better controller than they ever have. Very good job on their part!

Microsoft seems to have taken a few steps back. They added Impulse Triggers and improved the grip on the analog sticks, but they messed up the bumper buttons! They are horribly designed this generation. Incremental updates such as the 3.5mm plug and Bluetooth are welcome, but they don’t benefit old models of the controller.

I guess that at the end, my preference for the Xbox One controller isn’t so much that Microsoft did a wonderful job with it, but more like they lucked out with a truly comfortable and iconic design with the Xbox 360 controller, so as much as they tried to Vistafy the Xbox One controller, the base was too good for them to end up with a bad controller. In fact, they ended up with the controller that I prefer, but I am concerned for future revisions if they continue on this pattern.

The Xbox One controller wins for me, but it’s a close race. I can certainly understand people who prefer the PS4 controller.

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