The Dualshock 4, the flagship controller for the Playstation 4, shows that gaming can be fun, innovative and comfortable, all in one neat package.
PS4 Dualshock 4
|The Dualshock 4
The Dualshock 4 controller is, in my opinion, the best way to play games I have come across in the 30-odd years I’ve been doing so.
Now I know that many PC gamers will beg to differ, particularly where it comes to RTS games.
These often require a degree of accuracy that a controller just cannot handle.
However, as good as a mouse and keyboard can be for the mechanics of gaming, they are terrible when it comes to ergonomics.
The Dualshock 4 (DS4) is perfect for gamers like me, who get, or want to prevent, aches and pains in upper limbs and/or digits.
The DS4 also gives us a set of meaningful additions, which really do add to it’s overall value.
Read on to find out more.
All photos source: me, CC-BY 3.0
Dualshock 4 Specs and Features
You may think it’s just another games controller, but the Dualshock 4 has a laundry list of features that lift it above the ordinary.
I’ll get onto the exciting stuff in a minute, but lets start looking at the basics.
As with many controllers, it has two analogue sticks and a full list of buttons.
There is also a D-Pad, a couple of extra buttons labelled Share and Option, and a touchpad.
DS4 Buttons and Terminology
Sony have stuck with their naming convention from previous iterations of the dualshock, using coloured shapes on the face buttons – green triangle, red circle, and so on.
The two shoulder buttons and two triggers are labelled left and right 1 and 2, so for example, the left shoulder is L1 and the right trigger, R2.
As an ex-Xbox gamer, I still find this slightly confusing on occasion.
The Xbox used left and right “bumper” for the shoulder and left/right “trigger” for the er, triggers, which seemed a lot simpler to me.
It’s only a little thing, but I always feel like the DS4 triggers should be L1 and R1, because that’s where your fingers rest, in their most relaxed state.
|L1 and L2 a.k.a. bumper and trigger
Every now and then, I have to turn the controller round and double check which is which, but it’s not always easy to read the sculpted text.
I guess I’ll get over it, eventually.
The thumbsticks are easy to move and have a comfortable indent in the top, which means your thumbs don’t slip off.
They also double up as buttons when clicked and are labelled L3 and R3.
This is nothing new, the previous gen had thumb buttons too.
However, I always found myself clicking them accidentally on the 360, while I have yet to do so, on the PS4.
This gives a more robust experience and I have found it easier to distinguish between fast and slow movements, in games that cater for it.
As mentioned above, there is a D-Pad on the DS4.
There’s not much to say about this, except that it is actually 4 separate buttons, rather than the older “rocker” type arrangement I had on the 360 controller.
This means that it is probably down to 4 possible inputs, instead of 8, but I find this version more accurate, in the 4 that it has.
Dualshock 4 Charging
Previous console generations had the option of wired or wireless controllers.
This generation, there are no wires at all, at least, if you ignore the charging cable.
To charge the DS4, you plug the micro-USB cable into the front of the controller and the other USB end into the front of the console.
It will happily charge while you are playing, taking a couple of hours to do so.
If you leave it plugged in, it can also charge while the console is in “rest mode”, Sony’s term for standby.
You do have to switch on a setting to allow it to charge in this state, but it only takes a couple of moments to change.
The battery is built into the unit and is not removable, so when it eventually dies, it’ll have to be a new controller for you (*cough*).
Sony have banked on keeping good aesthetics and solid build quality, at the potential expense of long term battery life.
Only time will tell if this was a good choice or not, but it is likely they have been able to contain a larger/higher capacity cell, than if there had been a removable option.
Hopefully, by the time the battery is unusable, new controllers will be much cheaper – or we’ll be onto the next next-gen!
|R1 and Light Bar
The light on the front of the controller, officially called the “light bar”, serves several purposes.
- to show which player is which, if multiple folk play the same game, in the same room
- to help the Playstation camera (if you have one) locate you, part of the motion control features
- current charge indicator: a sickly orange colour when low or charging in standby, blue when ok
On the last point, games can change the colour too, so don’t get confused!
You can also check the current charge level by pressing and holding the PS button for a couple of seconds, when a dialog will appear.
However, it’s good to have the more immediate indicator in the light bar too.
I knew the DS4 had a built in speaker, but didn’t really think much of it, before I bought the console.
If you read my Shadow of Mordor review
, then you’ll see that I was pleasantly surprised by how much it added to the experience.
It sounds quite loud when you’re playing, so I was a little concerned that it might disturb others in the house.
I’ve checked though, and my wife hasn’t been able to hear anything in the bedroom, directly above our lounge.
The speaker is only a small part of the Playstation’s repertoire, but I will be interested to see how developers utilise it in the future.
The bundled microphone does the job and is just about good enough for basic use.
It plugs into the controller with a decent enough connector, but the cable between the two is so thin, that I’m always worried it will break.
It clips to your clothes in a manner reminiscent of phone headsets, prior to the bluetooth revolution.
This can be distracting because you don’t want to pull on that wire and it feels a bit of a faff to position correctly.
In test, I got ok (just ok) sound quality when I used it to voice over a gameplay video I recorded.
I even managed to get the PS4 voice commands to work reasonably well with it.
However, it’s not going to win any awards and becomes the one disappointing aspect of the console.
Dedicated online players will almost certainly want to upgrade it to a better quality, wireless model or gaming headset.
No true console controller could get away without a vibration function.
This adds useful haptic feedback to any game and the DS4 is no different.
In use, I have found it to be subtle and not over-bearing, to the extent that I almost forgot to include it in this review.
This will be personal to each gamer, but I prefer it to the Xbox 360 controller, which could nearly jump out of your hands in really exciting scenes.
Of course, you can always switch it off completely, if it annoys you.
The DS4 is a “SixAxis” controller, which means that in addition to all the buttons and sticks, the console can detect if you move or tilt it.
Originally intended to work alongside the Playstation Camera, some games are beginning to utilise the possibilities, outside of that arena.
I’ve only come across one or two instances where a game has allowed me to use it.
In those cases, it’s been a quick “tilt the controller down on the right” type thing.
Not terribly exciting, but novel, nevertheless.
It’s still early days in the PS4 lifecycle though, so look out for more in the future.
Touchpad – Sides and Slides
More marketing hype surrounded the touchpad at launch, but the more I use it, the more I’m impressed.
|Sleek and light, Touchpad front and centre
At first, I happened to play games that used it as one very large button, usually to open or close a map.
However, I soon discovered that there were multiple possibilities for it.
One game showed two different menus, one if you pressed the left hand side of the touchpad and the other, if you pressed the right.
Another game allowed me to slide my finger/thumb over the surface, then click to select specific inventory items – intuitive.
Finally, several games (and the PS4 system menus), allow text entry via a special dialog, activated with the touchpad and/or button presses.
An on screen keyboard appears when you go into a text field, just as you might expect.
However, instead of having to use the left stick to move the cursor laboriously from one virtual key to the next, you can slide your finger across the touchpad to get to the same place in less than half the time.
There are the usual shortcuts available too, so for example, you can press the Triangle button when you’re done.
While not quite as simple as a real keyboard, this system is head and shoulders above anything else I’ve seen on console.
You won’t be writing your thesis on here, but for short messages and naming your latest RPG character, it’s brilliant.
DS4 Comfort and Ergonomics
I couldn’t finish a review of a controller, without touching on a subject that is close to my heart – ergonomics.
I am very happy to report that the DS4 is extremely comfortable and I have experienced very few issues with it, even after 2 or 3 hours of solid use.
All buttons are easy to reach with fingers or thumbs, without either over-extending or feeling cramped.
I don’t have particularly large hands, though, so you may feel differently.
One thing I am appreciating is that the analogue sticks are aligned with each other.
I never really noticed this, until I started swapping between my PS4 and the Xbox 360, when I play with my kids.
The 360 controller has the left stick a bit forward of the right stick, with the D-Pad behind it.
From my extensive time with both, I find the DS4 arrangement much more comfortable.
I really am impressed by how well Sony have combined good design for gaming with an eye towards ergonomics and accessibility issues.
Doubly so, because I simply wasn’t expecting it.
Dualshock 4 Price
At £40 or $50, the Dualshock 4 isn’t cheap.
You will of course, receive one with your purchase of a PS4.
But if you want to share your joy with your friends or family, you’ll have to bite the bullet and get another.
The price feels a little steep at the moment, but is slowly coming down.
On the whole though, I think it’s justified by all the bells and whistles contained within.
So what do we have here?
We have a controller with lots of exciting features, the sum total of which, make the DS4 a genuine next-generation experience.
We have a quality device which won’t hurt your hands and will let you enjoy your games for long time periods.
To my unmitigated surprise, the Dualshock 4 turns out to be one of the best reasons for owning a Playstation 4.