After selling over 40 million consoles, Sony is refreshing the PlayStation 4. That starts with the PlayStation 4 Slim, available now for $299, along with the PlayStation VR headset (out next month) and the higher-powered PS4 Pro, which comes out in November. Sony has said that the PlayStation 4 Slim will become the new standard PS4, replacing the tried-and-true model that launched in 2013. So how does it compare?
HardwareAs its name suggests, the Slim is indeed a more compact version of what came before. The Slim drops over 2 pounds in weight, down to 4.63 pounds from 6.17, and it measures 10.43 x 11.34 x 1.54 inches, versus 10.83 x 12.01 x 2.09 inches on the older model. From the front, the PS4 has always looked like a sandwich cut at a funny angle. Both pieces of "bread" were an inch tall. That changes with the Slim. The bottom piece of "bread" is 7/8ths of an inch, and the top is 7/16ths of an inch. The Slim is 25 percent lighter, according to Sony, but it manages not to feel cheap or hollow. All of which is to say that the console is even more portable than its predecessor.
Much like the original PlayStation 3 and the PS3 Slim, the PS4 Slim retains the overall shape of the PS4 and drops its glossy black plastic in favor of a textured matte finish. This makes it much less prone to collecting dust, fingerprints and scratches. Meanwhile, sharp corners have given way to softer, rounded ones. It's up front where you'll notice the biggest changes.
The touch-sensitive power and eject buttons have been replaced with physical buttons. The power key is physically larger, while the eject button is a cute circle. Both are slightly recessed, but differentiating between them in the dark shouldn't be a problem. The power button also acts as a replacement for the color-changing LED strip that adorned the top of the original PS4. Ten pin-size LEDs glow white when the system is powered on and orange when it's in standby. They turn off completely when the system is powered off. I always thought the launch model's strip was a little much; meanwhile, the new power button conveys the same information in a less obnoxious way. I'm a fan.
Above those buttons is a slot-loading Blu-ray drive. The system's two USB 3.0 connections are now spaced roughly 6 inches apart, with one next to the optical drive and the other sitting next to the console's right edge. Along the right side where the "meat" of the sandwich is, there's a threaded hole halfway between the front and back where you can screw in a stand for setting up the console vertically. Around back are ports for the power cable, PlayStation Camera, an HDMI 2.0a socket and an Ethernet jack. If you have an older A/V receiver or are using certain types of gaming headphones, the lack of an optical audio port is going to sting quite a bit.
When I asked Sony about this omission, a spokesperson said the decision was based on "market trends and the needs of the audience we're targeting with the new standard PS4." Basically, Sony is saying that you should upgrade your other A/V gear to accommodate its cost-cutting measure.
There's also a flimsy L-shape piece of plastic covering the hard-drive bay, granting easy access for future storage upgrades. Seemingly it's an admission on Sony's part that the pack-in 500GB hard drive is much too small. Usually, the underside of a video-game console doesn't warrant any sort of attention (who even looks there?), but the Slim's is kind of neat. The rubber feet at each corner are triangles, circles, squares and Xs in a nod to the platform's face buttons, with a PlayStation logo in the center.
Any internal changes here should have minimal impact on day-to-day performance, but Sony says power consumption has been reduced an impressive 34 percent. That's a significant change, yet you aren't likely to notice any differences in performance. Load speeds on Doom and Uncharted 4: A Thief's End are still lethargic, but even with some of the more-demanding sequences from each, I didn't hear the fan kick into overdrive the way it does on my launch model. And yep, I blow the dust out of that once a year, so this isn't a case of my console overheating due to dirty innards.
One of my biggest gripes with the original PS4 was its reliance on aging wireless standards. Sony has addressed that with the Slim by stepping up to an 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0. Finally. Connected to my 5GHz network, I'm getting similar download speeds on both WiFi and Ethernet, but as you'd expect uploads over 802.11ac still aren't as fast as on a wired connection. That will matter if you're planning to jump into Street Fighter V or maybe some Star Wars: Battlefront online, but if all you need to do is download a few games and aren't physically near a router, you shouldn't have to sacrifice much speed, if any.
The DualShock 4 is one of my favorite gamepads ever, but its battery life is absolutely awful. When images of a revamped controller started surfacing along with leaks of the Slim console itself, I hoped we'd get a more-power-efficient gamepad, or at least one with a bigger battery. The product label on the controller's underside reveals that there's an 800mAh battery tucked away, the same capacity as on the original. That's a huge missed opportunity on Sony's part, especially when you consider that with the Xbox One S, Microsoft retooled its standard gamepad to address shortcomings on the original controller.
That's not to say there aren't a few differences here, though -- it's just that they're mostly cosmetic. The thumbstick pods feel a little smoother in motion, while the share and options buttons aren't as stiff. The spaces where the face buttons and D-pad sit have changed, and have a matte, not glossy, finish. Oh, and all the touch-points, save for the touchpad and PlayStation/home button, are a carbon gray color versus monochrome black on the original.
Speaking of the touchpad, you can now see what color the controller's lightbar is without flipping the gamepad over. That's because the TV-facing distraction has been given a narrow window at the top edge of the touchpad. It's subtle enough that in play it didn't distract me from slaughtering hordes of demons in Doom. When the controller is turned off, you can't even see where the top light would come through.
Perhaps the biggest change, though, is that the DualShock 4 will now transmit data over USB. For folks who count animation frames in Street Fighter or do competitive gaming, this is a big deal because it eliminates lag between the controller and the console. But if you're casually playing single-player games like Darksiders 2 or Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, you probably won't notice a difference.
At this point, it's impossible not to compare the PS4 Slim to the Xbox One S. The revamped Xbox One went on sale last month starting at $299, with an Ultra HD Blu-ray drive and support for HDR gaming. In terms of pure specs, the Xbox One S is a much better value. That UHD drive future-proofs you, making it hard to dismiss even if you don't currently have a 4K TV.
Movies are one thing, though -- it's the games that make or break a game console. If you want to play Gears of War, Forza Motorsport and Halo, or catch up on a raft of Xbox 360 backward-compatible titles, the Xbox One S is the console for you. But if Uncharted 4, Until Dawn, The Last Guardian or virtual reality are more your speed, then buy a PS4 Slim. That is, unless you're waiting until next month for the PS4 Pro, which boasts 4K output (but no UHD Blu-ray drive), more power and HDR gaming. Just keep in mind that the Pro will set you back $399 versus $299 for the Slim.
The PS4 Slim is a great console. It's smaller, quieter and less obtrusive than the PS4 that launched in 2013. The addition of 5GHz WiFi is incredibly welcome, but no UHD Blu-ray drive makes it a tough sell against the comparably priced Xbox One S. The only reason to buy the Slim is if you need a new console right this minute and have a hard budget of $299. If you can hold out until November and sock away another $100 for the PS4 Pro, though, you absolutely should.