After months and months of PlayStation 4 “Neo” rumours, the slimmed down PlayStation 4 was a bit of a surprise when it leaked a fortnight before last week’s PlayStation Meeting. A new, more powerful console on the horizon, who does this console serve? Is it worth side-grading to?
Simply put, it’s the new baseline model to reach the mass market, and no, it’s not worth buying if you already own an original model PlayStation 4.
Note: To avoid confusion within this review and needless verbal acrobatics, we’ll be referring to the original PlayStation 4 as “PS4” and the new PlayStation 4 as “PS4 Slim”, despite the lack of such a distinction from Sony.
Much as I love the PlayStation 4’s original obelisk-like design, looking for all the world like the latest skyscraper of some billionaire businessman when stood upright, it has been done away with for the new model. The PS4 Slim is just that; it doesn’t reduce the actual footprint all that much, but slims down the machine’s thickness very noticeably. It’s easy to forget just how svelte and compact the original hardware was, but it’s been shrunken further.
The key visual differences are the disappearance of the glossy removable panel, the segmented design with the dividing LED light strip and the pointed corners. Though it still has the slopes front and rear, the PS4 Slim feels friendlier almost, because of the rounded corners, the all over matte finish and the clickable power and eject – the light strip is replaced by a strip of tiny pinpricks in the power button that can light up white, orange and blue.
In many ways it feels like the PlayStation 3 Slim did in relation to the showy glossiness of the original PlayStation 3. It’s just not as severe a design, feeling more inviting while allowing Sony to cut corners (literally) and production costs. Importantly, it also acts as an effective halfway house between the PS4 and PS4 Pro’s easily lampooned triple decker form.
This thing is quiet. Quite impressively so when idling at the main menu. Where my original PS4 is quite audible at all times, I can often only hear the click of the hard drive on the new model. Of course, play an intensive game or have a game idling while you return to the system menu and the fan can spin up to a noticeable level. It’s not to the same degree as my original PS4, though, and with a different tone that lacks a certain whining undertone.
The reason for this? A die process reduction, as AMD and their manufacturing partners move down to 16nm FinFET technology. If that means nothing to you, it makes the APU smaller and uses less power, leading to less heat and less need for a big fan. Sony claim it’s more than a 34% reduction in power consumption, and while we haven’t been able to test this ourselves, it’s a figure easily borne out by other analysis of the PS4 Slim.
Elsewhere, the WiFi chip now has 5Ghz support and system options, and hopefully the new chipset will help those who struggle with a steady WiFi connection. The HDD has been moved to the back of the console and is now behind a thin bit of plastic at the left rear, but the Blu-ray drive is the same. It still makes just as much noise when spun up and isn’t a UHD drive as has appeared in Microsoft’s own slimmer console.
Alongside this, another shortcut in the PS4 Slim is with the omission of the optical output. It’s a niche component, most definitely, finding most use from those with high end gaming headsets or older sound systems, but it’s also the only port on the rear that could conceivably be seen as redundant. Ethernet is something of a necessity even alongside Wi-Fi, as is the PS Camera’s AUX port for PS VR compatibility, but audio output can be achieved through HDMI, USB or via the DualShock 4’s 3.5mm jack. It allows Sony to shave off a tiny part of the console’s cost, but also identifies this as the entry level model to the PlayStation 4 family.
There’s still plenty of cute little nods and winks for PlayStation fans, with the rubber feet underneath made to look like the PS symbols – bafflingly, the console can still wobble if you push down on the back corners – which also appear beneath the hard drive panel on the screw that holds the drive in place.
In the right hand side groove are four more of these symbols, but the circle is actually a threaded hole, used to secure Sony’s new shadow-like stand. It’s a clever solution to keep that side of the console’s air intake free from obstruction, which was something of a problem with the original vertical stand and the cheap, ventless knockoffs seen online. Of course, those cheaper third party stands will still exist, but might not be as elegant as Sony’s own solution.
The PS4 Slim launches alongside this week’s Firmware 4.00 update – though it’s at 3.55 from the factory – and this is a fairly major spot and polish to the PS4’s system software, the PlayStation Dynamic Menu. For one thing, there’s now support for folders, the overall look has been tweaked, and the in-game PDM now only consumes one third of the screen and is customisable. Oh, and the 4.00 update adds HDR support.
For anyone considering the PS4 Slim or PS4 Pro, an important new feature is the direct system transfer. It brings up a series of simple on screen instructions to follow, initiated from the PS4 you wish to transfer data to, but it’s not flexible enough for my tastes. In particular, it’s of no use if you’re transferring from a console with a larger hard drive. I long ago upgraded my PS4 with a 2TB drive, but the transfer utility is an all or nothing affair and won’t let you transfer individual games, just as with the system backup. Those switching HDDs will be in the minority, but for anyone that has done so and plans to upgrade to the PS4 Pro which has a 1TB drive built in, this is something worth bearing in mind.
The minor revision of the DualShock 4 is also a nice one to see. Its most distinctive feature comes from the slice that has been carved out from the inside of the touchpad, leaving a translucent bar through which the RGB LED’s light can travel. There’s no second light, and so there’s no added drain on the already curtailed battery life of the controller, but it’s a clever tweak, putting the lightbar in your peripheral vision much better than it being on the rear of the controller.
Beyond that, it’s minor points of fit and finish. The buttons and thumbsticks are a dark grey colour instead of being black, while the plastic surrounding the buttons have been given the same matte black plastic as the rest of the upper part of the controller, removing the smudge and thumbprint magnets of the glossy black plastic from the original controller. It might be my imagination or simple wear and tear, but the buttons do also seem to be ever-so-slightly softer to depress with a fractionally lessened travel.
The PlayStation 4 Pro changes everything about how this console will be seen. That is a new tier, a console designed for those with money to spend on HDR UHD TVs or those who simply want the best that there is to offer. The PlayStation 4 is no longer king of the castle, but it’s still a fine machine for those with standard HD TVs. As the official RRP has dropped down to $299 / €299 / £259, you can expect that to see downward pressure from retailers this Christmas and into next year, pushing it closer to the reaching that magic £199 mark.
And really, with the quieter fan and the lower power consumption, the PS4 Slim is a better machine than the PS4 is. It’s really not intended as a console for existing owners, rather a way for Sony to reach a wider audience, but with them side by side and excusing the lack of optical output, I’d almost certainly pick the newer, slimmer, quieter, more efficient console.