With an upgraded PS4 Pro only two months away, why would you buy a PS4 slim?
"Its solid and the rounded edges are tactile – much more welcoming than the sharp corners of the launch model. The singular shiny PS logo is the only flamboyance on an otherwise subtle machine."
And just like that, we're into a new round of hardware from both Sony and Microsoft.
Sony's redesigned PlayStation 4 hasn't made as many changes as Microsoft's new Xbox One S has to the basic system, and it's not officially taking the "slim" moniker. But it does freshen up the appearance of the PS4 and make a number of tweaks that should interest anyone considering buying a new PS4.
So should you be upgrading to a new PS4 console or will your older model still do the job perfectly well?
how much does the PS4 Slim cost?
This is the big decision for most of us. The PS4 slim comes in two models and two prices. The standard 500GB model launches September 15 for $299 / £259, while the 1TB model arrives on September 29 and comes in at £309, with a US price yet to be set by Sony. You can also buy the new DualShock 4 controller separately if want it, for $61.99 / £54.99.
If you're on budget and happy with the performance of your current PlayStation 4, you'd be a little mad to upgrade for the sake of it. If, like me, you've been having trouble with your launch console, you're going to want to look a little deeper than the price.
PS4 Slim - what's new and what's changed?
From the official photographs the PS4 slim looked a little cheap to me, but holding it in my hands there's not that feeling at all. It's solid and the rounded edges are tactile - much more welcoming than the sharp corners of the launch model. The all-matte finish is a nice touch, taking away that 1990s glossy plastic vibe. I don't miss the light bar across the top either. I never saw the point in that, and without a groove running across the top of the console there's one less dust trench to spark your OCD cleaning twitch. The singular shiny PS logo is the only flamboyance on an otherwise subtle machine.
Those awkward power and eject buttons have been done away with too. If you were too lazy to remember the difference you'll be pleased to see the buttons on the left - larger, and actually like buttons rather than recessed nubs with no feedback. The power button in particular sets off cool orange pinpricks when it's powered down, patiently waiting for you to tap it when you're ready to play. There's still that piercing bleep on startup though. Urgh.
The two front USB 3.0 ports are much wider apart, which is handy if you're constantly charging one controller while using the other for a headset wireless adapter. It's much easier to grab whatever you're plugging in with thumb and forefinger across its width rather than just pinching the top and bottom. These are the sort of things that keep me awake at night (as they should any good product designer). Little touches like this tell me this is more than just a redesign to bring costs down, with changes made to function based on three years of use in the real world.
Underneath the console are stumpy legs with the PlayStation symbols on them, but they don't seem to give much more grip than the previous console had due to its weight, although there's no wobble as there are eight of them.
At the back of the console you're able to access the hard-drive by loosening a single screw, making it easy to slide out and replace with something a little bigger if that's your bag. The optical out slot has been removed as well.
"The disc drive is only marginally quieter and the heat build up happens just as quickly as the older PS4 model."
What the PS4 slim has as more of a design feature than the regular PS4 is the option to stand on its side. You'll have to buy the stand separately, but I know a lot of people who will be happy they can save space by standing the console upright - and show it off a little. I'm not one of those people. Ever since the Xbox 360 I'm wary of consoles that stand up and the possibility of scratching discs. If you're mainly a digital person this won't bother you as much, but when I'm installing I don't want any hiccups. Disc drives were not made to stand on their side. Plus, I have children, and when those little bastards are hopped up on sugar, nothing is safe from an elbow, fist or accidental headbutt.
Fan noise, heat and power consumption are supposedly less with the PS4 slim. I've got to say, the fan is still noisy when installing games, although it admittedly doesn't rev up so often. If you're expecting it to be quieter when playing from disc, you're going to be disappointed.
Putting my palm to the top of the machine in a well ventilated room it still gives out a fair bit of heat. That's not science, but it's certainly a noticeable increase in temperature. However, when playing games and putting the blu-ray drive through less intense pressure, the fan is markedly quieter and the roof of the console much cooler. I point it out because it's noticeable as I'm switching to the PS4 slim as my new default console, so in its first week it's getting a heavy workout of installs and downloads. If you want real thermometer-up-the-bottom science tests on temperature and decibels, you should check out Digital Foundry's report here. But in short, I found that the disc drive is only marginally quieter and the heat build up happens just as quickly as the older PS4 model.
Update: After 5 days of use, I can say that the fan noise and heat is still higher than I would have expected. I've spent the week installing older games and new ones (such as the For Honor alpha) and it still feels like the internal parts of the PS4 slim are getting a real work out - and you can hear it. It's a little disappointing that this new iteration of a great console doesn't do more to lessen the noise and heat it produces.
The smaller size of the PS4 slim is interesting. It will still take up a similar space when laid flat - the exact measurements are 26.5cm wide x 3.9cm high x 28.8cm long. The difference is most noticeable in height and that's supposedly around a 40 percent difference in overall size. So you're getting a more compact console overall, with the rounded edges giving it the illusion of a smaller machine.
DualShock 4 - are those sticks any better?
There's a slight change in colour to the d-pad and analog sticks on the new DualShock 4, with a grey tone contrasting with the solid black of the original controller. The light bar can also now be seen if you're looking directly down onto the pad, rather than having to twist it up at you.
For me the big question is will the grips on the thumbsticks go soft and peel away as they have done on the older DualShock model? Because both my controllers suffer from that and it's probably the biggest flaw with the original PS4. Only time will tell, unfortunately, but they do feel a little harder to the touch - that may be because this controller is straight out the box so I'm just going to have to wait and see.
The chore of swapping consoles
"To get the most out of both PS4 Pro and HDR you’re going to have to have a compatible TV, so that’s another cost you have to consider before taking advantage of either of these graphical upgrades."
This is unavoidable in the digital age but nothing brings it home like setting up a new console. Changing consoles means you need to bite the bullet and re-download a bunch of games, re-install your favourites from disc and download all the latest patches. As exciting as getting a new console is, it's a drag to re-install GTA 5 and download 10GB worth of content and patches. Now times that by the ten or so games I keep going back to on the regular, as well as the ones I'll forget about until I want to play them (hello Rocket League!), and all my TV options like Netflix and Amazon Prime along with their respective account details and yeah - first world problem and all that - but all I really want to do is fire up Overwatch and bounce around with a silly gun. Part of the problem is the slow download speeds I suffer with because I live in the sticks, but that's my lifestyle choice. I'd rather live on a mountain than a city. What I'm saying is, brace yourself if you want to get back to where you left off, or use it as an opportunity to start a whole new bunch of games. It's a bit of a rigmarole.
PS4 slim or PS4 Pro - which is better?
Let's pause a little to consider this; should you buy the PS4 slim or the PS4 Pro, which is due for launch November 10 with a price of $399 / £349. The headline difference for the PS4 Pro is that is plays games in 4K resolution, although it lacks a 4K Blu-ray player. Now consider that all PS4 consoles will now support HDR for free with the latest firmware and read this interview with Naughty Dog's Christian Gyrling, where he infers that HDR is the real visual game changer, and you might wonder if it's worth holding out for a Pro at all. To get the most out of both PS4 Pro and HDR you're going to have to have a compatible TV, so that's another cost you have to consider before taking advantage of either of these graphical upgrades. Maybe you're better offer with a PS4 slim and a nice new television?
PS4 Slim: the verdict
Are you happy with your current PS4? Is it still performing as it should?
My launch day PS4 has taken a bit of a battering after daily use and a house move. It's got all the knocks and scratches you'd expect after three years and that shiny surface looks like a couple of mice have been figure skating on it. But more importantly the disc drive started to fail around 14 months ago. I've struggled to install a number of games from disc in the past, with the laser and drive grinding, clicking and whirring to a stop. That's always been a little disconcerting but despite expecting it to give up the ghost it has soldiered on. It never has, but it always felt like it might. It also tended to overheat quickly with the fan ramping up like a jet engine on warmer days and I once came home to find it smoldering after an auto update with the windows closed.
"The big question now is do you hold out for a PS4 Pro, which comes out in just two months time?"
The other thing to consider is if this is your first PlayStation 4 and you don't mind buying an older model, can you buy one for much cheaper than the slim? As this slim version replaces the other model, retailers will be looking to get rid of dead stock and that means there will be bargains to be had. If you want a PS4 and aren't fussed about the latest chassis, you might save a significant amount of money picking up old stock online.
But for me, my PS4 is battered and tired after daily abuse. I'm also a big fan of neat and tidy. I like things in their right place, so yeah, I always look forward to a slimline console release. I don't use my Xbox One nearly enough to justify buying a One S but my PlayStation 4 is my default console, and so it's really a no-brainer for me. The big question now is do you hold out for a PS4 Pro, which comes out in just two months time? Unless you're desperate for something new, or know right now you can't afford the extra cost, you might want to hold out until the Pro is in the wild and you can assess both with your fancy new TV and compare the 4K resolution with the HDR upgrade released today.
The PlayStation 4 slim launches September 15.