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

PS4 vs. Switch: After weighing the pros and cons, which one comes out on top?

PS4 slim deal

In the past, Nintendo has positioned its consoles as complementary machines that rely on first-party games and the occasional gimmick. As a hybrid console-handheld, the Nintendo Switch, too, has a gimmick that differentiates it from the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Well over two years past its launch, the Switch has proven it’s more than just a novel concept, as it became the fastest-selling home console of all time. But in the battle of Nintendo Switch vs. PS4, which console comes out on top?

Note: Spec comparison is between the Switch and PlayStation 4 Slim. The PS4 Slim has the same internal specs as the PS4, but with a sleeker design.

Specs

Nintendo Switch

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PlayStation 4 Slim

playstation 4 slim 1tb standard 2 900x600

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
Storage 32GB of flash storage (expandable through microSD) 500GB removable hard drive
A/V output HDMI out HDMI out
I/O output 1 USB-C, USB 3.0, USB 2.0 X 2 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 1280 × 720 No
Battery life Up to six hours N/A
Physical media Proprietary cartridge Blu-ray disc
Availability
DT review 4 out of 5 stars 4 out of 5 stars

Design and features

Nintendo Switch review
Nate Barrett/Digital Trends

The PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch don’t exactly feel like competing consoles. The PlayStation 4 is significantly larger and heavier, taking up more space on your shelf or entertainment center. Meanwhile, the Switch in its portable form fits in your hands and when docked, takes up barely any space at all.

The Switch has a number of ports and slots on its outside to make up for its small size. In addition to the game card slot, it features a MicroSD card slot that supports MicroSDXC cards, which currently store up to 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.

The Switch has a sturdier feel and a sleeker look than both the Wii U gamepad and Nintendo 3DS but its plastic screen can scratch easily from regular use and from sliding it in and out of the dock. We highly recommend purchasing a screen protector. The plastic screen does help keep it from shattering when dropped.

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. It’s important to note that intensive games such as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey will get closer to three hours of battery life between charges.

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 Joy-Cons or Pro controller when the console is docked.

Nintendo Switch also has the Nintendo Labo line of construction kits, which turn pieces of cardboard and stickers into accessories for the console. Some of these are small toys like Joy-Con cars or a miniature piano, but the VR Kit also allows you to make the Switch itself into a rudimentary virtual reality headset. While a neat idea in theory, reactions thus far have been less enthusiastic with its supported games, due in large part to the low resolution of the Switch’s screen. Compared to the more powerful capabilities of the PS4 and its dedicated PlayStation VR headset, there’s no question which one is superior.

The PlayStation 4 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. The PlayStation 4 Slim also replaced the sensor-based buttons of past systems with physical buttons, which cuts down on unintended disc ejections.

In terms of storage, the PS4 Slim comes as a 500 GB or 1 TB device, depending on the model, and that hard drive can be replaced with a larger storage option or supplemented by an external drive.

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 Wi-Fi. It’s not the ideal way to play most games, though. Unlike the Switch, few games are optimized for remote play, 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 Switch offers a more versatile experience from a design perspective.

Winner:  Nintendo Switch

Controller

Sony PlayStation 4 Slim
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The PlayStation 4’s DualShock 4 controller is relatively unchanged from previous PlayStation controllers. It features a standard face-button layout, symmetrical control sticks, triggers, and a “share” button that enables users to instantly save images, record 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, none of them are quite as comfortable as holding a DualShock 4. That changes if you pick up a Pro controller separately, but from a pure comfort and ease-of-use perspective, the PS4’s DualShock 4 takes the cake.

Winner: PlayStation 4

Power

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The Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4 aren’t on an 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 only features 4GB of RAM — half of what is available on the PlayStation 4 — and its Nvidia Tegra processor has 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 is minimal, that same slight edge has enabled the PlayStation 4 to routinely outperform the Xbox One.

Based on third-party games available for both Switch and PS4 like Doom and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, it’s clear that the PS4’s power consistently outperforms the Switch as well.

Winner: PlayStation 4

Display/resolution

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The Nintendo Switch is capable of displaying games in 1080p on a television, while the system’s built-in screen features a 720p resolution. Not every game meets these thresholds, though. The Switch re-release of Bayonetta 2, for example, only achieves 720p when docked.

The PlayStation 4, 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 quality portable display.

Winner: PlayStation 4

Games

Digital Trends favorite games of 2017 horizon zero dawn sp11
Horizon: Zero Dawn

The PlayStation 4 has been out for more than four years now, and its library of both exclusive and multi platform 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:

In the Switch’s first two years, a handful of superb first-party games arrived, including:

The Switch has also gotten off to a promising start for third-party support, with Doom, Skyrimand L.A. Noire already landing on Nintendo’s latest console. Nintendo is even getting support from companies that had long abandoned its consoles, including Blizzard, which launched Diablo III: Eternal Collection on the system in November 2018. Mortal Kombat 11 was supported at the same time as its PS4 and Xbox One releases, as well, and the fighting experience saw very few compromises.

It has also become a fantastic indie machine, with many smaller studios releasing their games on the Switch at the same time as other consoles, but they are occasionally higher in price. Sine Mora EX, for instance, costs $30 on Switch and less than $10 on PlayStation 4.

In November, the Nintendo Switch got the exclusive Pokémon: Let’s Go, which quickly became one of our favorite games on the system. It blurred the lines between the mobile Pokémon Go and the more traditional Pokémon role-playing games, and it’s particularly attractive to those who aren’t familiar with the series or haven’t played it since the first generation.

December saw arrival Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, which quickly became one of the best-selling games for the system and stands out as a system-seller. With a robust offering of modes and multiple control schemes, including GameCube controllers, it’s a can’t-miss fighting game.

2019 should be even better for the Nintendo Switch, as several games are on the way. Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Bayonetta 3, and Luigi’s Mansion 3 are among the biggest exclusives releasing for the system, and ports of Wii U games like New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe continue to release as well, helping to bridge the gap for those who didn’t own the Wii U.

As it stands, the PlayStation 4’s back catalog of games is just too strong to overlook. The Switch can definitely become a challenger, but it currently trails Sony’s machine by a significant margin.

Winner: PlayStation 4

Online gaming

No contest here. The PlayStation 4 has a robust online service dedicated to providing community-based multiplayer experiences. The Nintendo Switch, on the other hand, has a very primitive online system that doesn’t allow you to voice chat with friends without the use of an external headset and phone app. Unlike previous Nintendo systems’ online services. Both PlayStation Plus and Nintendo Switch Online are needed to access cloud saves.

The only area in which the Switch beats the PS4 in the online department is the price. One year of PlayStation Plus (required for playing online) costs $60, whereas Nintendo Switch Online only costs $20 per year. But since the PS4 is the place to be for online console gaming, the price difference hardly factors into this comparison.

Both do give you a catalogue of games along with your subscription, but these couldn’t be more different. While PlayStation Plus includes PlayStation 4 games as part of the price, the free games available on Nintendo Switch Online are enhanced NES games, and they come at the expense of the Virtual Console.

If you plan to primarily use your console to play with friends online, the PlayStation 4 should be your choice.

Winner: PlayStation 4

Price

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A new Nintendo Switch costs $300, making it among the cheapest “home consoles” Nintendo has ever released. The PlayStation 4 Slim also goes for $300, though it has gone on sale for $250 to $270 in the past. At that price, you can almost always buy a seasonal hardware bundle that throws in a game or two.

The PS4 generally offers a better short-term value than the Switch.

Winner: PlayStation 4

Overall Winner: PlayStation 4

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 a continuous stream of software support make it a great addition to anyone’s collection.

The Nintendo Switch, meanwhile, has burst onto the scene as a surprisingly popular force to be reckoned with. Its portability gives it a unique advantage that the PS4 simply cannot replicate.

For now, if you must choose between two systems, we still recommend the more established platform, the PlayStation 4.

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