- The PlayStation controllers have consistently had more features than their Xbox counterparts, from pressure-sensitive buttons to motion sensing capabilities.
- The Xbox controllers have had superior build quality and ergonomics, but have not introduced many new features or innovations.
- The DualSense controller for the PlayStation 5 has introduced truly next-gen features, including adaptive triggers and precise haptic feedback, leaving the Xbox Series X/S controllers lacking in comparison.
The gaming landscape has changed considerably since Sony released the PlayStation 1 in December 1994. Sega, Atari, Commodore, and several other big-name brands have stopped developing gaming systems. Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft are the only survivors competing in the console race, while powerful PC handhelds have dominated the portable gaming sector.
Over the years, home consoles have seen major changes in terms of hardware, with the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X being powerful enough to support ray tracing. The gamepads, too, have come a long way since the days of the PlayStation 1. But one aspect has remained consistent following the era of the PS2: Sony’s PlayStation controllers, despite their questionable ergonomics, have always had more features than their Xbox counterparts.
(Tie) The DualShock 2 was evenly matched with the Xbox controllers
Though it was more compact than its Xbox equivalents
Since there wasn’t an Xbox variant to the original PlayStation system, we’re starting off with the gamepad included with the second iteration of Sony’s home console. On the surface, it bore a similar design and buttons to the PlayStation 1 controller. However, it was slightly lighter and added pressure sensitivity to the face buttons and analog sticks.
Its Xbox counterpart, “The Duke,” also packed these features, though the first iteration of the controller was rather oversized and bulky. To address these issues, Microsoft debuted a lightweight and more compact variant called the Controller S, and it was received well by the gaming community.
The Xbox and PS2 gamepads were similar in terms of core functionality. Both incorporated the same features, albeit with different designs. However, this stalemate didn’t last for long as Sony decided to bring some unique additions to the PlayStation 3 controllers (yes, there were two official controllers for the PS3).
The PS3 controllers could sense motion and retained pressure-sensitive buttons
While the Xbox 360 controller was just a step-up in the design department
As the gaming industry transitioned into the seventh console cycle, Sony added Bluetooth connectivity to the Sixaxis controller for the PlayStation 3. If you’re wondering why Sony picked a weird name for the joystick, it’s because the Sixaxis controller was able to sense motion, allowing six degrees of freedom. The gamepad also retained the pressure-sensitive face buttons from the DualShock 2 and added support for Bluetooth connectivity. If you had a spare Bluetooth dongle, you could even pair it with your PC after a little tweaking.
A downside to the Sixaxis controller was that the vibration functionality was stripped from the controller due to Sony’s legal tussle with Immersion over haptic feedback. Luckily, it was added to the second revision of the PS3 controller, aptly named DualShock 3.
On Microsoft’s side, there’s no doubt the Xbox 360 gamepad had a superior build quality. Heck, I consider it to be one of the best controllers ever released. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as packed with features as its PlayStation equivalent. When Microsoft got rid of the pressure-sensitive face buttons, it instead added a 2.5mm TRS port that wasn’t even capable of playing audio!
The DualShock 4 brought a touchpad, AUX port, and more, to the table
On top of retaining the motion-sensing capabilities of its predecessor
With the PS4, Sony decided to revamp the DualShock controller. The new model called the DualShock 4, had a unique design compared to its forebears, with a new clickable touchpad in the center. Besides including three LEDs in the front, the successor to the DualShock 3 was also capable of sensing motion, though it dropped the pressure-sensitive face buttons. But the best quality-of-life feature added to Sony’s flagship gamepad was the inclusion of speakers and an AUX port.
Meanwhile, the Xbox One controller was just a refresh of the XB360 gamepad, and aside from a few design tweaks and improvements to the triggers, it barely had any worthwhile additions that set it apart from its predecessor. Heck, it took Microsoft almost two years to add an AUX connector to the Xbox One controller.
While one can argue that the Xbox Elite controllers had some unique additions, augments like interchangeable analog sticks, better grips, and extra paddles weren’t worth the extra price. Xbox’s Elite gamepads still paled in comparison to the feature-heavy DualShock 4. And then came the revolutionary PS5 controller…
The DualSense packs some truly next-gen features
Which aren’t just marketing gimmicks
The PlayStation 5 may have been a subject of ridicule because of its unique design, but there’s no denying the fact that Sony knocked it out of the park with the DualSense controller. For starters, it ships with adaptive triggers that, depending on your in-game actions, provide different levels of resistance when pressed. The touchpad and motion sensing capabilities were carried over from the DualSense 4, with the new controller adding a microphone array and replacing the micro USB connector with a Type-C port. Thanks to the addition of voice coil actuators, the DualSense controller supports haptic feedback, which is more precise and immersive than the rudimentary rumble functionality found on older controllers.
On the other hand, the Xbox Series X/S gamepads only feature limited haptic feedback that’s restricted to the triggers. Unlike the DualSense controller, the new Xbox gamepads lack any game-changing features, and the only new additions were a Share button, a slightly different D-pad, a USB Type-C connector, and Bluetooth functionality, with the last two being carried over from the Elite 2 controllers.
Microsoft needs to step up its controller game
While it may seem like I’m dissing Xbox controllers, they aren’t bad by any means. In fact, I’d place the Xbox gamepads above the PlayStation family of controllers when comparing their ergonomics and comfort. The problem is that while the DualShock and DualSense controllers have brought new innovations with every successive iteration, the Xbox ecosystem has continued to stagnate with the tried-and-tested controllers that don’t possess any experimental features.
With Sony releasing the DualSense Edge controller in 2023, the stakes are even higher for Microsoft. This year, the tech giant behind Windows plans to debut the Xbox Sebile gamepad, which finally brings a newer design to the Xbox family of controllers. It also features an accelerometer and better haptic feedback, though not to the extent of the DualSense controller. Nevertheless, it’s a step in the right direction, and I’m especially looking forward to the seamless pair-and-switch functionality of the Xbox Sebile.