The PS5 DualSense and Xbox Series X Controllers Show Evolution Over Revolution

The PS5 DualSense controller looks like a departure, but under the hood, like Xbox, it’s a series of small evolutions over what we have now.

April 24, 2020

When Sony revealed the PlayStation 5’s DualSense controller a couple weeks ago, the initial reaction to it, for the most part, was shock from how different it looked. From its form factor and aesthetic to the name change itself, the DualSense is a pretty drastic shift — relative to its predecessor, that is — from the DualShock line that Sony has kept in place with every PlayStation console. That’s aside from the PS3’s brief run with Sixaxis controls and its experimentation with the infamous “Boomerang” before its 2006 launch. It also became the best piece of evidence towards guessing what the PS5 console itself will actually look like.


But once you get past the new look, the DualSense isn’t that dramatic of a change from the current DualShock 4. Instead, it seems to be building off of what the DualShock 4 introduced with a series of additions and refinements. Sony said, in PR speak, that the DualSense would “deliver a new feeling of immersion to players” when paired with the PS5’s new 3D audio tech.

It’s evolution for sure, at least on paper, but probably not revolution.

We still need to see PS5 games in action to get a grasp of how developers will make use of the DualSense’s feature set. But what’s out there right now is enough to make me wonder how it compares to the Xbox Series X controller. From what we’ve seen of the Xbox Series X controller so far, it appears to have made just a few minor tweaks on what has worked so well for the last 15 years. We still have to see how far those extra bells and whistles in the DualSense might go, considering how the DualShock 4’s unique aspects are utilized now.

As a quick recap:

The DualSense:

  • Will keep the same general layout as the DualShock 4, but with an ergonomic design that appears to bring it closer to what Xbox has, likely meaning the controller will feel fuller in your hands.
  • The touchpad and speaker return, along with the lightbar, which now outlines the touchpad instead of resting on topside of the controller.
  • The “Share” button has been replaced with the “Create” button, which Sony said will keep the same function of capturing clips and screenshots to share later, but will also add to that in a way that has yet to be discussed.
  • The DualSense will have haptic feedback, likely similar to the HD Rumble present in the Nintendo Switch Joy-Con and Pro controller. It can replicate sensations like the feeling of driving a car through mud, as Sony gave as an example.
  • There will also be adaptive feedback in the triggers that can replicate tension, like if you were drawing a bow string.
  • A built-in microphone to enable quick chat online, likely in a similar fashion to what the PlayStation Camera has allowed with the PS4. However, a headphone jack remains to plug a headset in to the bottom of the controller.
  • It’s rechargeable via USB-C, which will likely mean much faster charging and much less broken wires.

The Series X Controller:

  • Aside from a concave D-pad inspired by the Elite controllers, it looks to be pretty close to where the Xbox One controller is currently at, which likely means that the rumble placed in the triggers will also return.
  • A share button has been added to the center of the controller, though. It’s an obvious inspiration from the DualShock 4, but will make sharing clips and screens on the Series X much more efficient.
  • Emphasis has been placed on accessibility and compatibility, meaning both the Series X and Xbox One controllers will be compatible between each other’s consoles, and helps ensure that Microsoft’s controllers remain the go-tos for use on PC.
  • The controller will still be powered by two AA batteries, but the separate rechargeable packs, like with PS5, will also be rechargeable through USB-C.

Now, this isn’t to argue that any one controller is better; rather, it’s to find the similarities between the two. Because while features like the touchpad, speaker, and light bar that will carry over from the DualShock 4 over to the DualSense are nice, they were added functionality exclusive to PlayStation, and likely held back from becoming game changers as a result.

A handful of games had some creative uses of these features on the DualShock 4, sure. But for most games, the touchpad became a much larger replacement for the select button, the speaker was just something to maybe run in-game phone conversations through if devs wanted to, and the light bar mostly became known more for being a drain on the battery than a cool way to indicate your health in the Resident Evil remakes.

What’s clear right now is that the share button, or whatever either console manufacturer decides to call it in the future, isn’t going anywhere. The ability to easily share gameplay moments on social media was a breakthrough this generation, and one of the select features that went through all of it mostly as it was originally introduced.

More advanced means of rumble, in the triggers more specifically, also appears to be a direction that Sony and Microsoft (and Nintendo) want to continue to head in as well. This is along with just trying to find the most comfortable possible fit that works for most people’s hands. Granted, Microsoft has been the most successful on that front, while Nintendo seems to have done pretty well at least with the Switch Pro Controller. Sony, however, has been hit or miss depending on the person with the DualShock line. Maybe the DualSense will come along to change that. It seems like Sony is hoping it will.

From what we’ve seen of the DualSense controller, it will only be small tweaks or improvements that just tighten up something that’s already been fundamentally sound for a long time.

That said, this is all based on what’s in writing. The true test comes when we can finally hold each of these controllers in our hands, and get to see how developers make use of the extra tools at their disposal if they opt to. That’s when we’ll truly know if something’s substantially different. Ultimately though, it feels like we’ve pretty much nailed down what a game controller is supposed to be at this point. The fact that the DualSense controller is white and had a slightly unusual design were the main things that caught our attention when it was revealed.

That doesn’t mean there will never be any room for improvement. There always is. But so far from what we’ve seen of the DualSense controller, it will only be small tweaks or improvements that just tighten up something that’s already been fundamentally sound for a long time. To me, it seems like there will never again be a left turn that’s as hard as say…the Wii Remote and Nunchuck.

In DualSense’s reveal on the PlayStation Blog, Sony wrote that “We want gamers to feel like the controller is an extension of themselves when they’re playing – so much so that they forget that it’s even in their hands!”

Thing is, we kind of already do.


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