So you’re finally thinking of buying a video game console and you want to know what the best gaming console is. If you’ve done any preliminary research, then you’ll know that, while there are only a few major players in this market, it’s actually pretty difficult to make a choice.
All of them seem pretty good and they all have rather ambiguous model names, making it hard to tell the difference even across brands. What’s the difference between the Xbox One S and the Xbox One X? And what about the PS4 and the Xbox One in general?
Are there certain games that only work on certain consoles and not on others? If you wanted to buy the perfect gaming console, which would it be?
I can’t tell you what the perfect gaming console is, really, since there is no such thing as a perfect anything. But I can tell you which are the best for different purposes and then you can pick the one that meets your needs.
Another thing I can tell you is, among the major players, there isn’t really a bad console. At least none so bad that the others are lightyears ahead. It really all comes down to what matters most to you.
And I would like you to remember that, as you read this review. All of the current gaming consoles on the market fit some roles very well. Some of them fill more roles than others, while others have practically taken over a particular niche.
But that niche is still important enough that the gaming console is a viable choice, even if it lags in other areas. At the end of the day you should pick whichever console fits your preferences.
I can’t tell you what your preferences are! But I can list for you which consoles do what well. I’ll rank them from best to not-so-best (I don’t want to say worst – as I mentioned, they are all pretty good).
If you want to learn a little more about each, then you can read their individual in-depth reviews below. If you want to know even more about gaming consoles in general, then you can read the even more in-depth buyer’s guide that comes at the end.
Best Video Game Consoles – Quick Ranking
Last update on 2021-01-22 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
- Best Video Game Consoles – Quick Ranking
- Best Gaming Consoles 2021 – Reviews
- 1. Sony PlayStation 4 Pro – Best Overall
- 2. Xbox One S – The Best Gaming Console for Multimedia
- 3. Nintendo Switch – Best Hybrid Gaming Console
- 4. Nintendo Switch Lite – Best for Portable Play
- 5. ASUS ROG Phone 2 – Best Android Gaming Device
- 6. Microsoft Xbox One X – Best for Gaming addicts
- 7. PlayStation 4 Slim – Best Starter Console
- 8. SNES Classic – Best for Classic Game Lovers
- 9. Google Stadia – Best for Online Gamers – Great Streaming Platform
- 10. Apple iPad Pro 11 – Best iOS Gaming Device
- Gaming Console Buyer’s Guide
- A Note on Other Types of Consoles
- A Note on PC Gaming
- What’s the Future?
- Best Gaming Console Offers
Best Gaming Consoles 2021 – Reviews
1. Sony PlayStation 4 Pro – Best Overall
2. Xbox One S – Best Gaming Console for Multimedia
3. Nintendo Switch – Best Hybrid Gaming Console
4. Nintendo Switch Lite – Best for Portable Play
5. Asus ROG Phone 2 – Best Android Gaming Device
6. Microsoft Xbox One X – Best for Gaming Addicts
7. PlayStation 4 Slim – Best Starter Console
8. SNES Classic – Best for Classic Game Lovers
9. Google Stadia – Best for Online Gamers
10. Apple iPad Pro 11 – Best iOS Gaming Device
1. Sony PlayStation 4 Pro – Best Overall
The PS4 Pro’s design is derivative of the standard PS4 that preceded it, though we wouldn’t say that it’s an exact copy. Actually, a common running joke about the PlayStation 4 Pro is that it looks like 2 PS4s stacked one on top of each other. As a result, the PS4 Pro takes up way more space than its predecessor.
Sony also did a bit of work on the interior. The 8 Jaguar cores of the AMD processor are now clocked at 2.1GHz instead of 1.6GHz. RAM capacity remains the same with 8GB of GDDR5 but it is now running up to 218GB/s against 176GB/s for the standard PS4.
The hard drive, at 1TB, has 500 more gigabytes than the standard version. There is also a more powerful 802.11ac Wi-Fi antenna, as well as a Bluetooth 4.0 receiver/transmitter.
As for the controller on the PS4 Pro, some changes were noted over the predecessor, though it still is, at its heart, a Dual Shock 4 controller. The touchpad has a light bar to tell you which player you are, and the buttons feel a lot lighter and more responsive.
The switch between Bluetooth and wired mode is also seamless in the controller.
The performance of the PS4 is high enough that, if you play VR games or have a 4K TV, you’ll notice the difference over other screens. The data transfer process from an earlier PS4 is easy, as all you need to do is hook them together with an Ethernet cable. It can, however, be a slow process.
That said, this console’s increased processing power improves the performance across the table, including HDR, 4K, and VR games, which are growing each year. That improved performance can come in a variety of ways. Either you have games playing at 30fps at a 4K resolution, or you have more refined textures, or the ability to play a 1080p game at a higher fps.
Those with 1080p resolution TV screens may not be able to enjoy the improvements meant for 4K TV owners, but they will enjoy better frame rates in their favorite games.
Those with 4K television will see the biggest advantages by far, including older games playing in native or upscaled 4K with HDR.
The VR experience is also bound to improve with the PS4 Pro. They run better on this console and titles with PS4 Pro Mode activated look better and have faster frame rates.
2. Xbox One S – The Best Gaming Console for Multimedia
The Xbox One S is a feat of engineering that wows anyone who decides to give it a try. It manages to put a powerful power supply and a 2TB hard drive in a chassis that’s at most 40% as large as its predecessor, the Xbox One.
The only sad part is that we may never know just how Microsoft did it. It probably has a lot to do with rearranging the parts on the inside and making for better airflow so the entire console is more densely packed but also more efficiently cooled. It might also include employing Santa’s elves, and a bit of magic.
The console also has an interesting overhaul over its predecessor in terms of the exterior design. Physical buttons have replaced capacitive for turning the console on and ejecting game discs, and the USB 3.0 ports have been moved to the front face of the console.
Unfortunately, the Kinect port from its predecessor is conspicuously missing – you’ll need to buy a separate adapter if you want to use Kinect.
The console is normally only sold in white, so you don’t get much variety there. So at first blush, there aren’t many style options. However, they do have special edition consoles in different color schemes that coincide with game releases.
You can also have a 3rd party skin installed on your Xbox, and controllers can be customized through Microsoft’s Xbox Design Lab program.
Microsoft said that the chip on the Xbox One S is the same as that of the Xbox One that preceded it. However, the disc drive is Ultra HD Blu-ray capable of 4K and HDR.
The Xbox One S does very well with Ultra HD televisions, though we wouldn’t put it on the same level as the PS4 Pro. It is capable of 4K resolution, either upscaling games for you or offloading that task to your television.
It also loads content much faster, even at the higher resolution, than the Xbox One, which was slower despite dealing with standard resolutions.
If you use your gaming console to stream apps like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, and YouTube, then you will be happy to know that each of these apps has a 4K version running on the Xbox One S.
When it comes to games, they look much better than they do on the Xbox One, even though they’re only upscaled on the One S. This console will run your favorite titles smoothly, ensuring a great experience. Something interesting to note, however, is that Microsoft does not intend to make any exclusives for the Xbox One S.
The Xbox One S controller looks almost exactly the same as the Xbox One controller. However, it natively supports Bluetooth, and is the first Microsoft controller to have this support. That means you can use it not only on your console but on your PC as well.
The One S controller also has a textured grip, which makes it more comfortable to hold for long stretches, unlike the controller to the Xbox One.
It also has a more powerful wireless antenna that makes it possible to sit farther away from the television than you could from the Xbox One.
It comes in many different color variations, as well as in some really cool limited designs like the Cyberpunk 2077 edition.
Older Xbox One controllers will also work on this console, which is great for those who are used to them. The only thing I would have preferred on this new controller is rechargeable batteries.
3. Nintendo Switch – Best Hybrid Gaming Console
Take a look at the Nintendo Switch and you’ll realize it’s trying to do many things at the same time. Nintendo is trying to do something unique, much like they have done before. After all, these are the same guys that brought us 3D without 3D glasses on the Nintendo 3DS, motion controlled gaming on the Wii, and now a hybrid console on the Switch.
Understandably, when you set out to trailblaze like that, expectations and risks are going to be very high. However, the Nintendo Switch certainly found its target and over the years the sales have taken a significant uptake.
When you buy the Nintendo Switch package, you’ll find:
- a console
- Two Joy-Con controllers that are detachable
- A grip that enables you to combine them into a single gamepad for play on the TV
- Two straps for turning the Joy-Cons into individual controllers
- A dock which you can use to connect your console to the television for traditional gameplay
Those are a lot of accessories, and they all come with great quality construction and ergonomics. The whole setup is not only novel, but also has a great cool factor.
The handheld mode, with its analog controls, is something like the PlayStation Vita. The screen resolution is way better, though, at 720p. In fact, it’s the best screen resolution I’ve seen on a handheld console yet.
The Joy-Cons themselves have quite a lot of functionality built into them. The right hand has the A, B, X, and Y buttons that Nintendo has used since its SNES days and a rather awkwardly placed analog stick. There’s also a start button that’s shaped like a plus.
On the left we have a minus button that’s the select button, a share button for taking screen grabs, an analog stick, a d-pad and 2 shoulder buttons.
The console mode requires docking the console in order to connect it to your TV. The console actually does the viewing transfer rather seamlessly from the handheld screen to the television screen without even needing you to pause your game.
The Nintendo controllers themselves are jacks of all trades. They have lots of different configurations, though they’re not all the most comfortable. My greatest niggle with these was the rather awkwardly placed right analog stick, which needs some finger acrobatics to operate effectively.
The library on the Switch, comparable in size and popularity to those of the PlayStation and Xbox, is still growing every year. In fact, compared to what Nintendo has offered for previous consoles, it is probably the most diverse.
A major drawback of the Switch is that it isn’t nearly as powerful as either the Xbox or the PlayStation. It definitely won’t support 4K game playing. The handheld will give you 720p while connecting it to the TV will give you a max resolution of 1080p.
However, this is good enough if you’re not particularly looking for the latest visual specs on the market.
Another problem with the Switch is that there aren’t that many third party titles available for it. Sure, it has The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt and Doom, among others, but the majority of these have been available on the other platforms for a while already.
In terms of VR, there’s the Nintendo Labo, but it’s more of a cardboard peripheral than a fully-fledged VR headset.
Overall, the Switch is a great console for portability and versatility, and also if you don’t absolutely need power or the latest selection of the most popular games. If you’re comfortable with Nintendo exclusives and Indie games, then this should be an okay console for you.
4. Nintendo Switch Lite – Best for Portable Play
The main difference between the Switch Lite and its sibling, the Switch, is that the Switch Lite can only be played in handheld mode. You can’t dock it for use with the television. As a result, it is lighter and more compact than the Switch. It comes with a smaller screen, at 5.5 inches compared to the Switch’s 6.2-inch screen, but maintains the same 720p display.
A direct result of this greater compactness is that the Nintendo Switch Lite feels much more comfortable as a handheld than the Switch. This is especially important if you have small hands. That said, I still think the most comfortable handheld Nintendo device is the 3DS, which isn’t as wide as either the Switch or the Switch Lite.
The controllers on the Switch Lite are also fixed. So no Joy-Cons with this device. On the Switch, the Joy-Cons were removable so you could dock them to a central hub for use with the TV.
Here, the controllers are fixed in place. I would have called them fixed Joy-Cons, except they don’t have all of the controls that the Joy-Cons had. In place of the directional buttons is a D-Pad which, to be honest, I prefer. It feels more natural to operate.
Both the Switch and Switch Lite allow Bluetooth and Wireless connectivity, though I have to point out that you still cannot connect wireless headphones to them. They also both allow for external storage via MicroSD. The 32GB internal storage can therefore be easily extended.
In terms of performance, there is very little difference between the Switch and the Switch Lite. The only major differences I experienced were that the Switch has a slightly longer battery life, doesn’t have the HD Rumble feature that the Switch has, and lacks an IR Motion Camera.
You also can’t play games built exclusively for TV on the Switch Lite. It only works with games that support handheld mode.
Okay, maybe I should take that back.
Technically, you can play games that don’t support handheld mode if you buy Joy-Cons separately (plus their charging grip). You’ll even be able to use HD Rumble.
But that does involve spending more money, and I’m not sure it would be that comfortable to use the Joy-Cons in TV mode with a screen as small as that of the Switch Lite. It sounds like a bit of a stretch compared to just buying the Switch.
5. ASUS ROG Phone 2 – Best Android Gaming Device
That’s right; this is a phone that’s also a gaming console. The value is in the specs, like the fact that the ROG 2 comes with an octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 Plus processor. Ultimately, it can reach up to just shy of 3 GHz processing power, meaning this phone can play some games better than even some mid-level gaming rigs on a budget!
But there’s lots of other hardware that makes this gaming phone worth your time. For instance, it comes with a whopping 12 gigs of LPDDR4X RAM packed into a chassis so small that it can still fit in most pockets. All that RAM ensures fast response times and rapid loading of modern games.
The included 1 TB of storage means you can have multiple games installed at the same time, too.
Add to all that a 6.6-inch display capable of projecting at 2340×1080 resolution at 120 Hz, and you’ve got a great piece of gaming hardware on your hands. It even features a 1 ms response time, so you’ll be able to play competitively in many of your favorite games without suffering compared to those on traditional consoles.
We also really like that you can play a plethora of top-tier titles on this gaming phone. Over 100 games are available at 120 FPS, including several modern classics like Minecraft, Temple Run 2, and more.
It’s a little unfortunate that several battle royale titles, such as Fortnite, are locked to 60 FPS, so they can’t take advantage of all that this phone has to offer.
As a piece of gaming hardware, the ROG 2 features several vents to keep the interior cool as the hardware works to deliver a phenomenal visual experience. A 6000 mAh battery provides enough juice for about two days’ worth of use before you need to recharge, even when you factor in the 120 Hz refresh rate.
Recharging this gaming phone is pretty easy thanks to the side charging slot, and there’s an additional USB-C charging port on the bottom, alongside a headphone jack. Other ports include a dual nano-SIM card slot, plus volume and power buttons on the right-hand side of the device. It’s ultimately a pretty easy phone to use.
Furthermore, the ROG 2 comes with a durable “aero” case that can improve heat dissipation without compromising the overall integrity of the device. Since it comes with the purchase, you don’t need to waste time picking up a dedicated case after the fact.
Even with all the excellent gaming-focused features, this comes with a pretty solid dual camera as well. The camera can take 48 or 24 MP photos depending on whether you use the rear or front lenses, and it’s compatible with most GSM networks, including several staples like AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and more.
All in all, the ROG 2 is essentially a small gaming PC you can keep in your pocket for quite a hefty asking price. If you can stomach the cost, it’s a great way to enjoy a more mobile gaming experience without sacrificing graphics or processing quality too much.
6. Microsoft Xbox One X – Best for Gaming addicts
The Xbox One X is all about power. If you really want the cutting edge of power in terms of gaming consoles currently on the market, then it’s hard to outdo the One X. Of course it will be outdone by Microsoft’s new Series X slated for later this year, but for now the One X remains the king.
The real win for the Xbox One X is just how much raw power it packs. It comes with an 8-core CPU clocked at 2.3GHz with a 12GB GDDR5 RAM chip. It also offers 6 teraflops of GPU power via an 1172MHz (clocked speed) GPU.
This is some serious computing power for a gaming console, and it’s all for good reason, since it’s all to enable native 4K HDR gaming. The only fail in the hardware department is the HDD, which is locked at 1TB of storage space. 4K games are large, and so the HDD has a tendency to fill up pretty quickly.
Because of its immense power, the Xbox One X performs very well. All the games look way better, whether they’re 4K or only 1080p.
In fact, for 1080p games, the Xbox One X does supersampling to improve the images. Supersampling works by forcing the game to render in 4K as if it were connected to a 4K television, leading to about 4 times the amount of detail as you would get at a 1080p resolution.
Now, of course, this data can’t all be displayed on a 1080p screen, but the detail will still be richer than it would otherwise have been.
As a result, images look sharper and less jagged. Not everyone will appreciate this feature, but people who really care about quality will love it.
The full power of the Xbox One X is unleashed on a 4K HDR screen, where you can see output from native 4K HDR games in its full glory.
The Xbox One X also improves frame rates. Even the best consoles struggle to hit 60fps and often drop down to 55 or lower. The Xbox One X has a lot fewer of those drops, offering a more consistent frame rate overall.
In terms of design, the One X is similar to the One S. In fact, I would say the only difference between the two are the color scheme and the positioning of the disc tray. Another difference between the disc trays, though this one isn’t a visual difference, is that the disc tray on the One X can play 4K Blu-ray discs.
7. PlayStation 4 Slim – Best Starter Console
The PS4 Slim is an excellent starter console. All the exclusives that are available on the PS4 Pro are available here. However, if you don’t want to fork out extra dollars for all the performance perks of a PS4 Pro, then this is an excellent alternative.
This standard PS4 will get the job done for most games, with a respectable 30FPS and 1080p resolution. The truth is that these specs are good enough for most people to enjoy their favorite games, and only the most tech-savvy consumers will yearn for something more powerful.
I would say that, at best, the PS4 Slim is a 1080p console, and really can’t go beyond that.
The one major place I would say it beats the PS4 Pro is in terms of energy efficiency. Sony claims that this console consumes up to 28% less power than the PS4 Pro. I can’t test that, but I can say the fan wasn’t as noisy as the one on the PS4 Pro.
Fan noise is a good indicator of how much power a machine is using, as an overworked machine will draw more air to cool itself down.
That said, I still felt like the disk drive was quite noisy, whether I was installing a game or just playing a Blu-ray.
Pretty much everywhere else this console is similar to the PS4 Pro. The UI seems a bit more responsive, but I’m not sure it’s such a significant improvement that you’ll notice the difference.
The network performance on the PS4 Slim seems just as fast as the PS4 Pro. This is understandable. Considering how many streaming services are built into this console, including a game download store and online gaming, it is heavily reliant on network performance.
The PS4 Slim features an 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac 5GHz connection coupled with an Ethernet jack. This is an improvement over older PS4s, which only had a 2.4GHz connection.
Sharing gameplay videos and images is also super easy on the PS4 Slim. A dedicated ‘Share’ button on the controller allows you to save up to 15 minutes of gameplay, which you can then save to a flash drive or upload to Sony’s PSN network or YouTube and Facebook. Holding down the Share button will take a screenshot.
The PS4 Slim also supports livestreaming on Twitch, though you’ll need to make sure you have a fast internet connection to make this possible.
8. SNES Classic – Best for Classic Game Lovers
The SNES Classic is a great choice for Nintendo fans who are nostalgic about the 16-bit generation of gaming consoles and games. These were the times when great titles like Earthbound, Super Metroid, and Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past were released, many of them gaining a reputation as some of the best games ever to be released.
In terms of design, the console looks very similar to the NES Mini, right down to the power and reset buttons found on top of the console. There’s even a fake ‘Eject’ button to complete the retro feel.
On the front are fake controller ports, which you would need to remove in order to get at the real ones behind them.
This may have seemed like a good idea to the designers, but it actually leads to a cluttered look when you’re using the console, since it looks less well put-together than its predecessor.
While the controller cords are fairly short at 56 inches, the controllers themselves feel quite comfortable in the hand. While the buttons might not feel as clicky as those on the Nintendo Switch, they’re certainly usable and responsive.
You can even plug the controllers into your Wii or Wii U via a WiiMote and enjoy games that aren’t in the SNES Mini.
More good news is that the SNES Mini Classic comes with 2 controllers in the box, meaning you can enjoy multiplayer games without having to separately buy an extra controller.
The user interface on the SNES Classic is the same as the original. By scrolling left or right you can choose from a list of games sorted by number of players, name, publisher, release date, or even how recently the games were played.
The games are excellent emulations of the originals, though they come with a smoothing algorithm to make the pixels feel less rough than the original. You could, however, opt for picture perfect emulation or a CRT filter that emulates old CRT screens if you want.
The game library includes only 20 games, which not everyone will be happy with. That said, there are lots of reports that the SNES is as hackable as the original, which means you might be able to extend the game selection if you want. But that’s all unofficial.
Luckily, many of the games already included are pretty cool and have aged well, including Super Metroid, Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Final Fantasy III and Super Mario World.
The most notable game inclusion, however, is Star Fox 2. This game was never released, until now. It was meant to be a sequel to the original but was canceled at the last minute. It doesn’t come easy. You’ll need to complete a bit of the original Star Fox to unlock it.
However, once you do, I guarantee you will enjoy it. I certainly did!
9. Google Stadia – Best for Online Gamers – Great Streaming Platform
Google Stadia refers to two things. First is the game-streaming service provided by Google and second is the store where you’ll be buying the games you stream. You’ll get to keep all your games, but you’ll also probably be paying full price for those games.
The main selling point of Google Stadia is that it will be possible to play games from anywhere and any device. Provided you have a good enough internet connection. That way you can stream games on various devices, including Smart TVs, PCs, and Chromecast.
If your internet connection is weak, you can reduce the graphical fidelity to make the game easier to play. There is also a development studio for developers who would like to build exclusives for the platform.
Google Stadia has a proprietary controller that can directly connect to Wi-Fi. And it can also work with third party controllers, including the DualShock 4 and Xbox controllers. The proprietary controller, however, is very convenient as it gives you access to special social features available on the platform.
This game platform requires a fast internet connection, though not so fast as to be impractical. 10Mbps is enough for standard gameplay while 4K HDR games will require at least 35Mbps.
Another thing you’ll need is a Stadia Pro subscription. Google is planning to make it possible for you to play games you have already purchased without paying for this subscription. However, for now you have to pay the monthly subscription to enjoy 4K HDR games.
This offers you a couple free games and a discount on some others. That said, it’s not a Netflix-style buffet. The exact structure isn’t well defined just yet, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to play just any game you like because you have the subscription.
When it comes to game selection, this platform is a bit mixed. There’s good stuff, like Mortal Kombat 11 and Red Dead Redemption 2, and some other games that are slightly interesting at best. That said, the selection is expected to grow rapidly as the year wears on, with more exciting games coming to the platform, including many great exclusives.
Google Stadia is an exciting concept, since Google is trying to bring streaming, gameplay, and social media in one place, and migrate gaming to the cloud, like many other sectors. It’s still in its infant stages, but it’s the kind of thing that has immense potential.
10. Apple iPad Pro 11 – Best iOS Gaming Device
If you’re in the mood for a mobile gaming platform, the Apple iPad Pro 11 might be a great pick for many of your favorite games. For starters, it features an 11-inch liquid retina display, which provides higher levels of pixels per inch compared to other LCDs.
This means that individual pixels simply can’t be viewed by your naked eye; in other words, games look great on this device’s screen.
Other technical upgrades, like ProMotion and True Tone additions, make the display truly captivating, capable of projecting a wide variety of color and detail no matter what you want to play or view. It’s also exceptionally bright (though it can be turned down for eye comfort when necessary).
It’s also a pretty fast tablet, even compared to many PCs. It features an A12Z Bionic Chip and octa-core processing capabilities, allowing it to outpace many budget gaming rigs. As a result, it’s a good choice for games like Fortnite, Civilization VI, and more.
It’s powered by a battery with enough juice for up to 10 hours of use before needing to recharge. It also comes with four speakers around its perimeter to let you blast decent-sounding audio around as you play your favorite games.
Five studio-quality microphones ensure that your gaming experience won’t be hampered by the onboard speakers or force you to use headphones.
Of course, even beyond all the gaming benefits, this tablet comes with several features that make it a versatile device for other digital needs. For instance, it features a phenomenal camera with 7MP TrueDepth technology for truly phenomenal shots.
The camera features 12/10MP lenses for the front and back, respectively, and a LiDAR scanner for better light collection and saturation. Also included are typical Apple tablet device additions, like Apple Pay functionality, and Face ID options for secure unlocking.
You can easily use this as your staple tablet in addition to a gaming device thanks to these inclusions.
You’ll also be able to add various attachments like Apple Pencils, a Magic Keyboard, and more. A USB-C connection port can be used for charging and for connecting different accessories to the main device.
All in all, it’s a quality all-around tablet and a decent gaming platform thanks to its excellent internal hardware and versatility. While it’s not nearly as high-power or appropriate for graphics-focused experiences as a dedicated gaming PC. It’s a good middle ground if you’d like something more mobile for household enjoyment.
Gaming Console Buyer’s Guide
Let’s start with a fundamental question: what is a video game console?
When the concept of a gaming console started, the devices made it possible to play games on your television, even though televisions had no inherent gaming capabilities.
You would connect the gaming console to the television and then play games using controllers that came with the console, or after-market controllers that were compatible with the console.
Some games were built into the gaming console, but for the most part you could buy game cartridges, and later DVDs and other storage media that allowed you to expand your list of games. As long as the game was compatible with the console you could play it.
There were also handheld gaming consoles, which you could carry around and play games on, instead of having to wait till you got home and sat in front of the television.
Today, gaming consoles have evolved far beyond this. You can stream video with them, allowing your friends online to follow your game in real play. You can also record your games and share them with people.
Gaming consoles can follow voice commands, have built-in browsers for surfing the web, allow you to use streaming services like YouTube and Netflix, and a whole lot of other things.
We even have the next generation of gaming: Google Stadia, which won’t need gaming consoles, or powerful and expensive PCs, to play. You’ll be able to do it all by logging into the platform and leveraging its powerful computing abilities to process the latest and most resource-intensive games.
Another question you have to think about before you buy a gaming console is: Who is it for?
You can bet your money that you will be getting a unique experience from each of the consoles listed in this review. They all have strengths that make them best suited to certain types of players.
It’s not just about thinking what the edge is for the player you’re buying the console for, even if that player is you. You also need to consider how that player intends to use the gaming console.
Some people buy gaming consoles only for gaming, but some also want to use them as a multimedia platform to watch movies or stream Netflix.
All modern devices are moving away from specialization to generalization. Over the years, for example, your smartphone has grown more capable of doing the stuff your laptop or desktop PC are capable of.
The same applies to your smartwatch, your smart television, and of course your gaming console. They became, with the latest generation, a real multimedia hub.
One can even argue that we’re tending toward a future where not only storage capabilities, but most of computing power, even on a retail level, is migrated to the cloud.
And we will all carry a single device with which we do everything, switching from platform to platform when we want to carry out specialized tasks.
Anyway, that’s something we will talk about more some other day. For now, let it suffice to point out that our gaming consoles have grown to be capable of much more than just gaming.
Where was I? Oh, right: who are you buying the console for?
Just one more thing to mention here: some people might want traditional gaming with the traditional controls while others might want motion-control or even VR. Just think about it while you’re picking out a gaming console.
Something else you should think about is the possibility of spending more than the purchase price of the gaming console.
The truth is that consoles themselves don’t inherently do that much out of the box. In order to play games, you’ll need to buy them, which usually cost at least $50. If you want online play and to access additional features on the console, there’s usually a subscription fee to be paid.
Also, you may have to buy more controllers if you want to play with your friends.
By considering these things, you will have cut your options down significantly and will have a smaller pool of consoles to choose from.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let us look at the individual gaming consoles.
To be honest, this market is something of an oligopoly. There are a few major players who control something like 70-80% of the market, and then the rest are pretty much fighting over crumbs.
I don’t know whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. On the one hand, there is so much competition between the main market players that quality shoots up every year and you’re guaranteed to be getting a great console if you’re buying from any one of these major players.
On the other hand, who knows what incredible new products and ideas we would have in the industry if there were more brands fighting for top position.
I can’t tell you much about what we might be missing, but I can tell you a lot about what we have, and most of it is really about a comparison of the top 3 gaming console manufacturers:
Together, these 3 brands control the majority of the market share. As a result, they will pretty much control this buyer’s guide as well.
There are a few different gaming consoles, but the information on them is brief enough that I have included it in their individual reviews. As for the buyer’s guide section, let us look at the 3 largest brands and compare them.
We’re in the 8th generation of gaming consoles, and the buzzwords of the year are “4K” and “VR.” We also have the hybrid console, which can be both handheld and connected to a television.
We’ve had the PlayStation 4 by Sony and the Xbox One by Microsoft for many years now. Sure, there have been upgrades during that time, but there has been a general mood that it’s time for an overhaul.
Those overhauls should be coming this year with the PS 5 and the Xbox Series X coming out later in 2021. I can’t wait to see what those consoles have in store. In other news, the Nintendo Switch has really carved out a niche for itself.
While it doesn’t really hold a candle to the graphical capabilities of its main competitors, it certainly has made huge progress in the retail market.
What I want us to look at is how these major brands compare to each other based on a few factors.
For gaming consoles, the anchor price seems to be about $300. Most base versions of the major brands in the market hover around there, including the Nintendo Switch (despite its weaker graphics).
That said, you will have to pay extra if you want to enjoy the full benefits of 4K gaming. That’s around $100 to $200 extra, depending on whether you’re upgrading a PS4 or an Xbox One. For the PS4, better VR performance and 4K gaming will cost an extra $100, bringing your initial total to $400.
For the Xbox One, 4K gaming will cost an extra $200, bringing the initial total to $500. And all of this is before considering the extras I mentioned earlier, such as online gaming, extra controllers, streaming services and so on.
For most of these, there is a tie between Xbox and PS 4, and both will run you a few hundred dollars extra, depending on what kind of upgrade you’re getting.
For you to really enjoy the gaming experience, you need to have good controllers. The PS4 and the Xbox have done well in that respect, with both having some well-designed gamepads. Both work pretty well, and whether one works better than the other has more to do with a little ergonomics and a lot of aesthetics than it does functionality.
The Xbox One controller is an evolution of the Xbox 360 controller. The major updates are that the trigger buttons each have their own feedback while the pad as a whole has a lot more curves.
A great aspect of the Xbox One controller is that it is compatible with PCs and has excellent Bluetooth connectivity. This is expected, considering that Microsoft owns both Windows and the Xbox. T
here is also a great service offered by the Xbox Design Lab where you can design your own Xbox One controller. You can choose your own custom patterns and colors and get an Xbox Controller that looks like no other. You don’t get that service from Sony.
As for the PS4 controller, the DualShock 4, there seems to be a much greater overhaul. It’s definitely based on the PS 3 controller, but it works much harder to differentiate itself, keeping only the very best aspects of the DualShock 3 while doing away with all of the worst.
The trigger buttons respond faster, the analog sticks are more comfortable, and the controller fits nicely in your hand. It has a touchpad in the middle, which can be useful, and a built-in speaker which definitely ups the cool factor.
Things get even more interesting when you consider the Nintendo Switch. You can use it as a game console at home and also as a handheld system. The Joy-Con controllers can either be snapped on the sides when it is handheld or connected wirelessly when used as a home console.
These controls feel pretty comfortable in the hand, though I wouldn’t say the direction buttons are as responsive as those on the Xbox One or PS4 controllers.
That said, the technology in the Joy-Con controllers is just something else. They have an NFC reader for special Nintendo figures (Amiibo), an infrared camera, and a great rumble effect.
You also have the option to either attach them to each other like a traditional gamepad or use them separately, with a Joy-Con in each hand, giving you much more freedom during gaming. You don’t get the ability to separately hold half a controller in each hand with the DualShock 4 and Xbox One controllers.
Not only do you get to use the versatile Joy-Cons, but you can also use the Switch Pro, which feels more like an Xbox One, as well as high quality third party controllers.
With the PS4 and Xbox One, there isn’t widespread support for third party controllers. There are a few wired options, and also products from Evil Controllers and SCUF, though you can expect to pay a pretty penny for those.
There isn’t too much you can compare between different game consoles. For starters, they all have different architectures and operating systems. There also isn’t any kind of benchmarking that is consistent among all gaming consoles.
That makes it pretty difficult to compare their hardware components. But there is one thing we can compare fairly well, and that is the graphics of each gaming system.
In terms of graphics capabilities and game performance, the Xbox One and PS4 are ranked about the same. When it comes to individual games, some will run better on one than the other, but the differences aren’t so huge that most people will notice.
What happened is that somewhere in the middle of the 8th generation, Microsoft and Sony both launched 4K-enabled versions of the Xbox One X and PS4 Pro. These versions were capable of both HDR (High Dynamic Range) and 4K as well as being much more powerful than their predecessors.
Something to note here is that, even though these consoles are 4K capable, that doesn’t mean every game you play is going to be in 4K. This is an issue with individual games, rather than the console or your 4K television.
What typically happens is that the rendered resolution of the game is somewhere in the UHD range (between 1080p and 4K). The gaming console then up-converts the resolution to 4K before sending it to your TV.
There isn’t much to say about the raw power of the Nintendo Switch, which falls behind its competitors here. Remember that the Switch is more of a tablet than a powerhouse console. As a result, it just can’t be as powerful. It does, however, have a great form factor.
When you play it as a handheld, you get 720p. When you connect it to the TV, the max resolution is 1080p. It also has a lower frame rate than its more powerful competitors.
However, you’re not going to get that many handhelds with a 720p resolution, and the frame rate on TV is good enough for most purposes.
The largest game publishers, such as Activision and EA, make mostly cross-platform games, that is games that can play on a variety of consoles. Some games, however, are exclusive to a particular console.
If you have your eye on a particular game, you should check whether it’s cross-platform or exclusive. If it’s an exclusive, and you don’t have the right console, you’ll have to make the tough decision on whether or not buying a whole console just to enjoy one game is worth it.
Sony games tend to only be available on the PS4, while Microsoft games tend to only be available on the Xbox One. There is a bit of an extra here, which is that Xbox exclusives can be played on your Windows PC, owing to Windows 10 availability for most Microsoft releases.
PS4 exclusives are only available on the PS4. This gives Sony an advantage, but not its customers. Exclusive games make life harder for the consumer, and only really benefit the console manufacturer and game publishers.
If we were to compare the exclusives, the selection seems to be better on the Sony side, with titles like Death Stranding, God of War, Horizon: Zero Dawn, Gran Turismo Sport, and Bloodbourne. Of course Microsoft also has some great games like Gears 5, Halo 5: Guardians or Forza Horizon 4. The final call is entirely a matter of individual taste.
While we’re talking about exclusives, it almost seems like Nintendo prefers nothing else. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey are some of the best in their series. Pokemon Sword & Pokemon Shield, Luigi’s Mansion 3 and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate are other great titles.
There are lots of great games that are available only on Nintendo. The major trade-off here is that you don’t get that many AAA games, such as Call of Duty. That looks like it might change, however, as some major titles have been porting to Nintendo, including Doom from Bethesda and The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt from CD Projekt Red, among others.
Another area where the Nintendo Switch shines is its great support for third party publishers in general and indie developers in particular. The fact that you can play games both on TV and on a handheld has made it possible to reimagine lots of smaller and older titles that previously only worked on TV.
Great indie titles have also come up, including Hollow Knight, Dead Cells, Stardew Valley, and Night in the Woods. Considering the fact that the Nintendo Switch has been around for just a few years, the selection is amazing.
The PS4 and the Xbox One S can both access online streaming services like Netflix and play Blue-ray movies. With the Xbox One S you get a little more, since it can play Blu-ray in Ultra HD and also has television integration.
There’s an HDMI pass-through that allows you to run your satellite or cable box through the console. You may want to have a Kinect to control it easily, or buy a third party infrared blaster.
With the HDMI pass-through the Xbox One’s menu will include your cable provider’s live television. A third party USB tuner allows you to watch over-the-air television.
The Snap feature allows you to split the screen so that you’re playing a game or browsing on one half and watching television on the other.
The OneGuide program guide shows you what’s available on Machinima and Hulu Plus while displaying live television, giving you lots of control. The PS4, unfortunately, doesn’t have the ability to play ultra HD Blue-Ray.
Nintendo doesn’t offer nearly as much variety. You can only stream Hulu and there are no streaming services for music.
If you want to watch Netflix, or even play games online, you’ll have to connect your console to the internet. The PS4 connects you via the PlayStation Network while the Xbox One uses Xbox Live.
Even more interesting, Microsoft has the Xbox Game Pass, which includes the Xbox Live Gold and allows you to access to over 100 Xbox One and Xbox 360 games, including greatest hits such as Red Dead Redemption 2 or NieR:Automat.
Nintendo also has its own premium subscription service, which it launched recently: the Nintendo Switch Online. While it doesn’t have as many features as the PS4 and Xbox One services, it is usually cheaper and offers some free games and has a growing list of NES titles, which is an incredibly good deal.
With game-streaming services like Twitch growing massively in popularity and recordings of game play on YouTube being a big thing, it has become mainstream to capture game footage. The PS4 and Xbox One are both onto this and so have built-in game capturing features.
With the Kinect, all you have to do is say “Xbox, record that ” or double tap the Xbox button on the controller and then press X to save a screenshot and Y to save a video clip. You can also record up to 5 minutes of game footage on the fly by snapping the DVR app to the side of the screen.
The PS4 is not to be left behind. It has a dedicated share button on the DualShock 4. You can use it to take a screenshot, save up to 15 minutes of gameplay, and even start live streaming to Twitch or the PlayStation Network.
The fact that the PS4 has a longer capture time (15 minutes compared to 5 on the Xbox One) and greater convenience in the setup than the Xbox One puts it ahead on this particular feature.
The Nintendo Switch has a dedicated Capture button. However, not all games support recording videos and you can’t live stream, making the Capture button not nearly as functional as the Share button on the DualShock 4.
Also, if you want to retrieve whatever screenshots you took, you’ll have to remove the microSD card and transfer the files to your PC via a card reader.
Virtual Reality Capabilities
Sony is a major player in this field, since it launched the PlayStation VR just a few years ago. The PlayStation VR headset is not only compatible with the PS4, but is also very comfortable and affordable, compared to other tethered headsets in the market. It also has a great selection of games.
Microsoft has the Windows Mixed Reality platform on Windows 10, which is compatible with both Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. The problem is all of these work only on PC and aren’t compatible with the Xbox One. I also haven’t yet heard Microsoft announce plans to launch a VR headset for the Xbox.
Nintendo is a no-show here, with no VR capabilities whatsoever.
A Note on Other Types of Consoles
Not all of the consoles on this list are from the big 3 manufacturers. Some are retro gaming consoles, such as the SNES classic, and others are Android consoles. The retro gaming consoles are nostalgia machines, taking us back to the days of Atari, Super Mario, and Sonic.
The greatest drawback is that they of course won’t be compatible with the games available today.
On the other hand we have mobile gaming. Over the last couple years it has captured a large part of the market and will continue to grow.
This mobile gaming world is made of 2 continents: Android and iOS. Google’s operating system is installed on around 85% of the smartphones while Apple occupies the 15% left. That represents something like 2.4 billion mobile gamers worldwide.
The way you will play on your phone or tablet is very different than what you do with your gaming console. You can bring your games everywhere with you, play on the bus, in the subway, while waiting at the doctor… wherever and whenever you want.
There are tons of games available, allowing you to find all types of games: shooter, sports, arcade, reflexion.
Players will have shorter sessions for sure, but they will play more often as they carry their gaming device with them all day long.
That is the strength of playing on mobile.
Mobile platforms also don’t suffer the exclusivity problem. Smartphones. Smart TVs. Tablets. They all use the same operating systems. The Xbox, PS4, and Nintendo consoles are pretty much walled off, with almost zero cross-compatibility, making it hard to form a truly boundless gaming community.
If your device is running Android or iOS, then it doesn’t matter which device you have. You should be able to play just about any game. Benchmarking is also much easier since the basics (architecture and OS) are similar. It’s easy to compare performances of phones or tablets.
As a result, mobile gaming is expected to take up more and more shares of the market. They may not yet be as powerful as any of the big 3. Still, every year they gain stronger processors, faster RAM, faster and larger storage capabilities, more accurate and responding displays. The potential they have is immense.
A Note on PC Gaming
There certainly is a case to be made for PC gaming. For example, PCs and shooter and strategy games seem to be made for each other. Sure, you can play games like Fortnite and PUBG (Player Unknown Battle Ground) on consoles as well. However, it’s really hard to rip team based competitive games like Counter-Strike: Global Offense and DOTA (Defense of the Ancients) away from the PC.
There are also publishers that seem to only release PC exclusives, with many of these titles, like League of Legends, remaining among the most popular games in the world. You also cannot ignore MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Role Playing Games) like World of Warcraft, which have practically generated their own economies and are majorly played on PCs.
It’s not just that many publishers are making games purely for PC. Many titles that used to only be available on consoles are also being made for PC. With platforms like Steam bringing us the next generation of gaming marketplaces, more and more console-only games are becoming available on PC.
The main drawback of PC gaming is that there is a bit of expense to it.
If you want to be able to play the latest games, with the same visual and performance experience as you would get on a console, you should expect to spend north of $2,000 on a gaming laptop or PC, and that’s even before considering the peripherals, like the keyboard and mouse. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that if you spend that much on a gaming PC setup, you’re probably going to live through a few generations of gaming consoles without needing to upgrade.
These are all cutting edge laptops and PCs with extremely advanced tech (so advanced that GPUs, which were initially a gaming phenomenon, went on to find applications in emerging fields like bitcoin mining and now AI).
If you have that kind of money, then you can trust that buying a gaming PC will be a pretty good investment.
One way to get around this is to build your own gaming PC, rather than buy a complete one.
Not only is it cheaper, since you can source the components more cheaply, but it’s also lots of fun if you’re the kind of person who enjoys DIY projects. On the other hand, if that’s not your type of thing, then you’re probably better off just getting a complete build from a manufacturer that you trust.
What’s the Future?
The future is already here. Sony is expected to release the PS5 later this year. Microsoft is also expected to release the Xbox Series X. All technical specifications have been revealed to the public.
These two consoles will provide massive power with AMD Zen processors, AMD RDNA 2 graphics and SSD storage. They will be able to unleash from 10 to 12 TFLOPs, which is huge compared to the 1.4 TFLOPs and 1.8 TFLOPs from, respectively, the Xbox One S and the PS4. It’s also pointed out that current generation games will be compatible with the next console generation.
Some of these games will benefit, at no cost for the player, from graphics improvements in order to use the full power of the PS5 or Xbox Series X. I’m excited to see what both come up with when they finally launch the games.
The real kicker, however, is Cloud Gaming. Major actors like Google with Stadia platform, Nvidia with GeForce Now or even Microsoft with Project Xcloud are pushing that way.
Video streaming is already a success, so now the age of game streaming has truly begun. With such services, the problems associated with having to upgrade to more powerful machines might be a thing of the past.
As I’ve mentioned in the individual review of Stadia platform, I’m really excited to see where modern consoles are going.
And with that we come to the end of our review. Whether you’re getting a console for yourself or for someone else; whether you deeply enjoy gaming or you’re just looking for something to help you stave off boredom while you’re at home, the solid consoles in this review should keep you and yours highly entertained for a long time.
No matter what your tastes, I’m pretty sure you’ll find something here that works well for you, and I’m confident you’ll enjoy it. Until next time, have fun!
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Last update on 2021-01-22 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API