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Nintendo Switch vs. PlayStation 4: Which should you buy?

Just like the Wii U and the original Wii before it, Nintendo wants it’s next console, the Nintendo Switch, to differentiate itself from its more standardized competition, the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One. The Switch, which can play games on a TV when connected to a dock, or played on the go as a portable console, certainly stands out, but also features plenty of small touches similar to what you’d find on the PlayStation 4.

In the past, Nintendo has positioned its consoles as complementary machines. Instead of serving as your primary game console for third-party releases like Mass Effect: Andromeda or Madden NFL 17, the Wii and Wii U offered unique, primarily first-party experiences that are only possible on a Nintendo system through motion control and touch support. The Switch is capable of offering similar experiences as we’ve seen in demonstrations for games like 1-2 Switch and Arms, but it’s also positioning itself as a capable home console, potentially being the only one you need in your living room.

We would hold off on throwing out your PlayStation 4. Aside from the fact that the Nintendo Switch won’t be available until March 3, Sony’s console remains a fantastic option for playing both exclusives as well as multiplatform releases, and still offers a number of features absent on the Nintendo Switch. Below, we’ve detailed the differences and similarities to expect with each console in order to help you make the best purchasing decision.

Specs

Nintendo Switch

PlayStation 4

Dimensions 10 × 4.2 × 0.5 inches 11.3 × 10.4 × 1.5 inches
Weight 0.65 pounds 4.62 pounds
Processor GPU/CPU: “Nvidia customized Tegra” CPU: 8-core x86-64 AMD “Jaguar”

GPU: 1.84 TFLOPS AMD Radeon

RAM 4GB 8GB GDDR5
Internal Storage 32GB of flash storage 500GB removable hard drive
AV Output HDMI out HDMI out
I/O Output 1 USB-C 2 Super-Speed USB 3.1
Communication Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1, LAN with adapter Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0
Controller Joy-Con or Pro Controller DualShock 4 or PlayStation Move
HDR No Yes
4K No No
Built-in screen 1,280 × 720 No
Battery life Up to six hours N/A
Physical media Proprietary cartridge Blu-ray disc
Price $300 $300
Availability Now: GameStop Now: Amazon, GameStop

Design and features

The PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch don’t exactly feel like “competing” consoles. The PlayStation 4 is significantly larger and heavier, taking up a much larger amount of space on your shelf or entertainment center. The Switch, meanwhile, fits in your hands, and takes up much less space, even when docked into the base station that connects to your TV. The Switch’s small size makes it a much easier addition to your shelf than the PlayStation 4, and its simple, primarily black construction has a “modern” look that the Wii U sorely lacked.

The Switch has a number of ports and slots on its outside to make up for its small size. In addition to the proprietary game card slot — the system is far too small to use discs — the Switch features a microSD card slot capable, which supports microSDXC cards with up to 2TB in of storage (That’s far more than the largest card currently on the market, which stores 512GB). You won’t be running out of room for your games with one of those installed! Taking a page out of Apple’s book, the console also features a single USB-C port.

In its portable configuration, the Switch gets up to six hours of battery life, and requires about three hours in its base station to charge. In portable mode, you can use the Switch’s standard headphone jack, accelerometer, gyroscope, and brightness sensor. These features are primarily replicated by hardware in the Switch’s various controllers when the console is docked.

The PlayStation 4, in contrast, is a relatively “normal” home console, featuring two USB 3.1 ports, as well as HDMI out and a PlayStation camera port —the camera port is necessary for using PlayStation VR, which the PlayStation 4 must connect to via both USB and HDMI, as well. New PlayStation 4 models — commonly referred to as “slim” systems — have replaced the sensor-based buttons of past systems with physical buttons, which cuts down on unintended disc ejections.

Though the PlayStation 4 can’t be played “undocked,” if you have a PlayStation Vita, it can stream games from its bigger sibling, letting you play games untethered from a television via WiFi. It’s not an ideal way to play games and they are rarely optimized for this, but it’s the closest corollary to the Switch on the market today.

With multiple controller configurations, total portability, and a tiny footprint, we think the Nintendo Switch will likely offer a more versatile experience.

Winner: Nintendo Switch

Controller

PlayStation 4

The PlayStation 4’s DualShock 4 controller is relatively unchanged from previous PlayStation controllers, featuring a normal face-button layout, symmetrical control sticks, triggers, and a “share” button that enables users to instantly save images, take video, or even stream on Twitch. Inside is a motion sensor, allowing for additional ways to control games, particularly through PlayStation VR. The PlayStation 3’s “Move” controllers are also compatible for use in some PlayStation VR games, but they have largely gone ignored thus far.

The Nintendo Switch has several different control schemes that can drastically change your gaming experience. In the system’s docked configuration and with both Joy-Con controllers attached in its portable configuration, the control scheme is similar to the PlayStation 4, with two sticks, buttons, and triggers. By removing the Joy-Con controllers, however, each can be used independently to throw punches in a game like Arms, and by handing one to a second player and turning them both sideways, the Joy-Cons can be used much like the Nintendo Wii’s remotes, with a single control stick and four buttons letting players control simple games such as Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.

While the Nintendo Switch features a wide array of controller options, based on what we’ve experienced so far, none of them are quite as comfortable as holding a DualShock 4. At the same time, with so many options to choose from, the Switch does offers players the unique ability to adopt a play-style that works for them.

Winner: Nintendo Switch

Power

The Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4 aren’t on even footing in the technical department, as the Switch’s portability means it is forced to sacrifice some of the processing power available on larger consoles. Nevertheless, the console is rumored to only feature 4GB of RAM — half of what is available on the PlayStation 4 — and its Nvidia Tegra processor, if based on the X1 version, will have about 1 TFLOP of power, which is considerably less powerful than the 1.84 TFLOPs of the PlayStation 4. Though the difference between the processors appears to be minimal, that same slight edge has enabled the PlayStation 4 to routinely outperform the Xbox One this generation and could spell trouble for the Switch’s third-party support.

Winner: PlayStation 4

Display/Resolution

The Nintendo Switch is capable of displaying games in 1080p on a television, while the system’s built-in screen features a 720p resolution. The standard PlayStation 4 (not the PlayStation 4 Pro), meanwhile, is also capable of 1080p resolution, as well as high-dynamic range, or HDR, which allows for much better contrast on black and white colors. For traditional home console play, the PlayStation 4 is the better choice, though the Switch does provide the added benefit of a portable display.

Winner: Tie

Games

The PlayStation 4 has been out for more than three years now, and its library of both exclusive and multiplatform games is incredibly strong. Series like Assassin’s Creed, Dark Souls, and Batman: Arkham have seen multiple entries hit the PlayStation 4, while Sony’s first and second-party games have consistently been among the top titles each year. Below are a few of the best PlayStation exclusives:

The software lineup for the Switch’s launch “window” leaves much to be desired. Aside from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, there really aren’t any games on launch day that make a strong case for owning the system on day one. Over the course of 2017, however, Nintendo will launch a decent number of first-party games, including the following:

  • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
  • Super Mario Odyssey
  • Arms
  • Splatoon 2
  • Shin Megami Tensei
  • Fire Emblem Warriors

As it stands, the PlayStation 4’s back catalogue of games is just too strong to overlook. The Switch can definitely become a challenger, but it currently trails Sony’s machine in this category.

Winner: PlayStation 4

Price and availability

The Nintendo Switch will retail for $300 when it launches on March 3, making it among the cheapest systems that Nintendo has ever released. Unlike the Wii U, it isn’t available in separate bundles featuring more storage capacity, but the console’s low price has also made it an extremely quick-seller. Pre-order allotments for the system have already been filled, making it very unlikely that you’ll be able to get the Switch when it launches.

The PlayStation 4 also retails for $300. The hardware packages change throughout the year and vary from retailer to retailer, but most hardware packages come with a game or two in the box, such as this bundle with Uncharted 4 and Final Fantasy XV. It’s also quite easy to find both online and in retail stores.

Winner: PlayStation 4

Conclusion

The PlayStation 4 has emerged as one of the greatest game consoles ever created since it launched in 2013, with an impressive lineup of games, great social features, and a huge community of players. Its low price point and continuous stream of software support make it a great addition to anyone’s collection.

The Nintendo Switch, meanwhile, remains a largely unknown quantity. With a very small game library and less processing power, it will be up to Nintendo to make the case for its unusual machine over time with fresh and innovative software. For now, if you must choose between the two systems, we recommend choosing the more stable, established platform, the PlayStation 4.