Choosing the right games console can be confusing, with buying advice often dense with jargon and assumed knowledge. You might think it’s obvious that Xbox One X is the most powerful console. Or that PS4 has the greatest diversity of titles. But this level of knowledge represents a fraction of those who are interested in video games. There is no ‘right’ console for everyone, so your will choice depend on your answers to a number of simple questions.
- Who are you buying it for?
- What's your budget?
- Have you owned a console before?
- Do you like to play in real life or online?
- What console do your friends own?
- What games do you want to play?
- Do you own a 4K TV?
- How often do you watch Netflix and streaming services?
- What's your budget for hidden costs?
We'll address all of these questions in our common-sense guide to choosing the best games console for you, from the PS4, to the Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. We'll explain what each model means e.g. What’s the difference between a PS4 and a PS4 Pro? We'll keep our advice in plain english, for those who might not be familiar with backward compatibility, streaming services and 4K gaming. We’ll even pick an overall best console, based on all factors. Let's start with the big one…
Who are you buying it for?
The average age of gamers in the US is 35 years-old according to the ESA but consoles are, obviously, hugely popular with children, teens and young adults. Traditional stereotypes of people who play games are long outdated, with games that cater to all tastes and levels of dedication. Broadly, some consoles are a better fit for different people, based on their age and situation, as we outline below.
Nintendo Switch – Who is it best for?
Best for: Families, Younger Gamers, Anyone who loves good games
Nintendo is like the Disney of games, so it feels absurd to put an age limit on its consoles. However, there’s no denying that it makes the most wholesome, family-friendly games with iconic characters such as Mario, Link (The Legend of Zelda) and Pikachu (Pokemon). While Nintendo games tend to avoid realistic violence and bad language (check each game’s certification for a clear guide), it doesn’t mean that they’re lacking in gameplay, and can be as challenging for adults as they are for kids. The platform is home to role-playing games that offer a huge amount of depth, with the Nintendo Switch’s biggest launch title, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, ticking all of the boxes for the whole family. The Switch also has a great lineup of party games like Switch 1-2, Super Mario Kart that supports up to 4-players in split-screen races, and Let’s Dance. There’s even kid-friendly fighting game franchise, Super Smash Bros. to get stuck into, that caters to young players, newcomers, and hardcore fighting-game fans alike.
The Switch is a home console that you hook up to your TV, and also transitions to a portable handheld, making it ideal for both commuting, and keeping the kids entertained on long trips out and about. Nintendo further cements its family-friendly credentials through its online environment, where online chat is limited to a smartphone app. There’s no danger of your kids being exposed to the more colourful (or worse) language that you might associate with online games on other consoles, although in truth, all consoles use age gates, to varying levels of scrutiny. Nintendo Switch’s versatility and ease-of-use is a major factor behind its recent popularity.
- The best Nintendo Switch bundle deals
PlayStation 4 – Who is it best for?
Best For: Older Children, Teens, Adults, Online gamers.
The PS4 is perfect for anyone upwards of being a teen or young adult, and has an amazing selection of platform-exclusive games. You’ll find a wealth of mature, single-player, story-led titles like God of War, Days Gone, The Last of Us, and Horizon: Zero Dawn. The console is also home to a number of popular multi-platform online games, such as the FIFA, Battlefield, and Call of Duty series, as well as the all-consuming battle royale game, Fortnite. However, it is a little sparse on games specifically aimed at kids or families as a whole, once you move past the Lego titles or games like Knack 2, but you’ll find some decent party game packs for the older crowd. Sony’s online environment, including the PS The PS4 is perfect for anyone upwards of being a teen or young adult, and has an amazing selection of platform-exclusive games. You’ll find a wealth of mature, single-player, story-led titles like God of War, Days Gone, The Last of Us, and Horizon: Zero Dawn. The console is also home to a number of popular multi-platform online games, such as the FIFA, Battlefield, and Call of Duty series, as well as the all-consuming battle royale game, Fortnite. However, it is a little sparse on games specifically aimed at kids or families as a whole, once you move past the Lego titles or games like Knack 2, but you’ll find some decent party game packs for the older crowd. Sony’s online environment, including the PS Store, is easy to use, with an amazing diversity of both blockbusters and indie games, movies, TV shows, and demos.
- The best PS4 bundle deals
Xbox One – Who is it best for?
Best For: Older Children, Teens, Minecraft Fans.
The Xbox One offers a broadly similar experience to the PS4, but thanks to Microsoft’s purchase of Minecraft a few years ago, it’s the preferred platform for the brick-building phenomenon. Microsoft also offers the Xbox One S; a brilliant, high value, console for younger teenagers, as well as the Xbox One X which is the most powerful console available, and better suited for more generous wallets.
Best Option – Based on how you play:
What's your budget?
While consoles are relatively affordable compared to the best gaming PCs, from between coming in at around $300 to $500, those extra few hundred dollars can make a huge difference. It’s all about prioritising what’s important to you (e.g. 4K gaming, exclusive titles, volume of games, online play etc) and then seeking out the best value bundle for your needs. New deals come and go, so to help you out we’ve included special price widgets below, that constantly track the market for the best bargains.
Best Option – Price:
Winner: Xbox One S
It’s hard to beat the Xbox One S for pure value. You get a console that plays (almost) all the biggest games, a great online service, loads of multimedia options (Netflix, web browsing, movies etc), plus it looks good and is easy to use. During sales such as Black Friday, it’s possible to pick up a 500GB Xbox One S with two controllers and four games, including titles like Forza 7, Minecraft, Assassin’s Creed, and Doom, for around $199 / £179.
The PlayStation 4 is a close second, at only $30 / £30 more, and offers a better choice when it comes to console exclusive titles.
Have you owned a console before?
This isn’t as daft a question as it sounds, and concerns an area known as ‘backward compatibility’ i.e. do your old games work on your new console. While you can’t use your PS4 to play game discs from older Sony consoles, it is possible to access hundreds of older PlayStation titles via the PS Now streaming service, but you’ll have to pay a monthly subscription fee like you would Netflix. Alternatively, you can access the digital storefront on the console where you’ll find a smaller selection of classic games from the PS2 and PS3 era, and oftentimes these titles will have been remastered, like Okami HD, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, or Uncharted.
Xbox offers a far friendlier environment for older games, with the Xbox One able to play titles from the previous Microsoft console, the Xbox 360, straight off their discs. Xbox also offers a digital redemption scheme, so if you’ve bought an Xbox 360 game once and still own the physical copy, you can pop it into your Xbox One and download the game digitally, for free. The library of Xbox 360 titles that are eligible for this is currently sitting at over 500, but it will continue to grow. The same applies to the more powerful Xbox One X, which has the added bonus of running some Xbox One games enhanced in 4K, as well as playing some Xbox 360 games at a higher resolution. They will both also run a selection of games from 2001’s original Xbox, including cult shooter Black, with an initial 13 games offering backward compatibility.
Nintendo Switch might be perfect for families, but it’s anything but when it comes to old Nintendo games. You can’t run DS, 3DS, Wii, or Wii U game discs or cartridges (or anything older). The alternative is the Nintendo Switch Online service, which will offer a selection of NES games as part of the monthly subscription, replacing the Virtual Console from the Wii U.
Best Option – Backward Compatibility:
Winner: Xbox One
How important is playing in the same room with friends to you?
If you’re more interested in playing with collaboratively or competitively with friends and family in the same room, so they’re within high-five and throttling distance, the Switch is a great option. Lots of games on the console offer split-screen play, as well as games that display multiple players on one screen. Splatoon 2, Let’s Dance, Overcooked, Snipperclips, and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe all fall into these two categories.The PS4 and Xbox One also have games that can be played on one screen, like FIFA, PES or Madden to name a few, but split-screen is a rarity, giving way to to on online multiplayer experiences, rather than the more party-friendly vibe of Nintendo. Furthermore, the Switch’s Joy-Con controllers, that are used by a single-player in the default configuration, can be turned on their side, effectively becoming a pair of controllers to be used by two players, so shared experiences are encouraged by default.
Best Option – Playing in same room with friends:
Winner: Nintendo Switch
What console(s) do your friends own?
This is worth considering, since you'll need to own a game on the same console as your friends to play against them online e.g. FIFA 18 PS4 owners can only play against other PS4 owners. As a blanket rule, PS4 owners can't play online against Xbox One, Switch, or PC players, with a few rare exceptions, but this does not extend to PS4 and Xbox One cross-platform play.
It's also handy to know people with the same console so that you can swap games once you've finished with them. It's rare to replay most single-player games, so borrowing, lending, and swapping can really save some cash. That said, most high street stores offer game trade-ins, and you might expect to recoup £20-25 on a brand new game to fund the purchase of another new title. There are also lots of online game trading sites, such as GameXchange, Game or Music Magpie . It pays to shop around for the best trade-in prices, so be sure to do your research first.
Best Option – Most Popular Console:
PS4 – Sony has sold over 80 million PlayStation 4 consoles worldwide. Microsoft has stopped sharing the sales numbers for its console, but it was around 30 million at the end of 2017. The Switch, which launched in March 2017, has sold almost 18 million and is the fastest-selling home console of all time in the US. So while the answer to this question depends on what console your friends own, statistically, it’s likely to be a PS4.
What games do you want to play?
This is a question that can be split into parts, depending on your preference for single-player or multiplayer games, and your love of specific games franchises that are exclusive to each console. As explained, PS4 and Xbox One are by far the best choice for online gaming, with an equally great selection of single-player games. Nintendo Switch has some fantastic single-player titles, including The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which must rank as one of the best games of all-time – and also works as a brilliant spectator experience.
Switch isn’t your go-to for popular online games like Call of Duty, FIFA, etc. however. It's also less well-served with what are called ‘third party’ games (i.e. games made by other publishers that appear on multiple platforms), including big titles such as Destiny, Grand Theft Auto, Star Wars Battlefront, and Call of Duty.
The question of exclusive titles has long been a deciding factor in which console people choose over the other. As things stand, PS4 and Nintendo Switch have the greatest diversity of critically-acclaimed exclusive games, but Xbox should not be discounted. It’s difficult to make a definitive recommendation since tastes are subjective, but we’ve listed the key games on each console to help you choose:
Nintendo Switch – Games
Key Exclusives You Can Buy Now: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, Super Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Splatoon 2, Bayonetta 2
Key Exclusives Due For Release (or TBC): Metroid Prime 4, Animal Crossing, Pokemon, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Pikmin, Yoshi
Key ‘Third Party’ Games (i.e available on other consoles): FIFA, Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim, Fortnite
PlayStation 4 – Games
Key Exclusives You Can Buy Now: God of War, Persona 5, Gran Turismo Sport, Horizon: Zero Dawn, Uncharted 4, Nioh.
Key Exclusives Due for Release: Days Gone, The Last of Us: Part 2, Death Stranding, Marvel’s Spider Man, Ghost of Tsushima.
Key ‘Third Party’ Games (i.e available on other consoles): FIFA, Call of Duty, Destiny 2, Battlefield, GTA 5, Monster Hunter: World, Fortnite.
- The best PS4 Games
Xbox One – Games
Key Exclusives You Can Buy Now: Halo 5, Forza Motorsport 7, Cuphead, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, Sea of Thieves
Key Exclusives Due for Release: Crackdown 3, State of Decay 2.
Key ‘Third Party’ Games (i.e available on other consoles): FIFA, Call of Duty, Destiny 2, Battlefield, GTA 5, Monster Hunter: World, Fortnite.
Best Option – Games:
Winner: PS4 – for diversity and online gaming.
Runner Up: Nintendo Switch – for younger gamers and quality.
Do you own a 4K TV?
If all you care about is having a super-powerful console with the best graphics, then your choices essentially narrow down to a choice between the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X. The PS4 Pro is essentially a turbo-charged PS4. It plays all the same games, and has no meaningful exclusives (i.e. all PS4 games work on both PS4 and PS4 Pro), but a fair number of games now offer PS4 Pro enhancements, including 4K resolutions, improved frame rates, HDR effects and other subtle improvements. Xbox One X is similar: it plays the same games as Xbox One, but with some dramatic visual upgrades and the capacity for true 4K gaming. In raw computational terms, Xbox One X is the most powerful console in the world and it’s possible that, over time, that games developed exclusively for Xbox One X will look superior to their PS4 Pro counterparts. Right now, however, PS4 Pro is considerably cheaper than Xbox One X (by the order of $150-200), and the top games don’t look that different.
What's the difference between 4K gaming on Xbox One X and PS4 Pro?
While PS4 Pro offers 4K gaming, it tends to use what is known as ‘checkerboard 4K’, and delivers resolutions of 1440p or 1800p, which is less than the 2160p of 'true' 4K gaming. To be honest, you’d be extremely hard pressed to tell the difference on anything less than a huge 55”+ 4K TV like an OLED, and even then it would need to be viewed closer up.
However, if you’re a purist and want a *true* 4K gaming experience in 2160p, Xbox One X is your best choice. Microsoft’s console is claimed to be 40% more powerful than rival consoles such as the PS4 Pro, even if we’re yet to truly see the difference in action. The point stands: if you want the very best performance on, say, FIFA 18 or Call of Duty to show off your 90” OLED 4K TV (which feels like we’ve narrowed the field to financiers or Premier League footballers), then you want an Xbox One X. It’s the best way to experience the biggest third-party games.
Best Option – 4K Gaming:
Winner: Xbox One X – for 4K purists.
Runner Up: PS4 Pro – for value.
Which consoles support virtual reality?
There's only one console offering virtual reality: PS4, and its PlayStation VR headset. Whether PlayStation VR is worth the money is another question, but the technology is highly impressive and we've seen some significant price drops this year.
Best Option – Virtual Reality: PlayStation 4
How often do you watch Netflix and other streaming services?
This is quite simple. If you’re keen to watch Netflix, Amazon Prime, iPlayer or other streaming services – or want to rent digital movies or box sets – you’re far better served by PlayStation 4 or Xbox One than Nintendo Switch. You could even argue that Xbox One S (and Xbox One X) has the advantage for movie fans, since it’s the only console that offers 4K Blu-Ray playback. In fact, it’s pretty much the cheapest way to get a 4K Blu-Ray player *anywhere*, compared to standalone players. PS4 allows you to download or stream digital 4K movies, but doesn’t work with 4K Blu Rays. Nintendo Switch, meanwhile, doesn’t even support Netflix, although there were rumblings of support being added at a later date.
Best Option – Streaming and Entertainment:
Winner: Xbox (if you want a 4K Blu Ray player)
Runner Up: PS4
What's your budget for 'hidden' costs?
All consoles are good-to-go out of the box (apart from the TV to display it on), although some have ‘optional’ accessories and services that are more optional than others. This is largely a matter of personal taste, so we’ve listed the essential and not-so-essential extras and hidden costs below.
If you’re looking to play competitive online games, such as FIFA, Destiny, or Call of Duty, you can’t look further than an Xbox One or PS4. Both consoles have premium online services which require a monthly or yearly subscription fee. PlayStation Plus is $59.99 / £49.99 for 12 months, Xbox Live Gold is $60 / £39.99. However, both services have frequent sales, and you can pick up subscription cards at up to 50% discounts in Black Friday / Cyber Monday sales, which can be ‘stacked’ – so you can buy a discounted card and use it when your current deal expires. Alternatively you can sign up for a a few months at a time, with a rolling renewal.
The Switch has limited online capabilities, with basic co-op and competitive options, plus voice chat. The PS4 and Xbox One offer far more sophisticated and intuitive ways to connect to friends, create chat groups, and organise games. The Switch’s premium online service launchs in September.
Nintendo Switch – Additional Extras
Essential Extras: Carry Case (if you’re planning to play portably)
Desirable Extras: Additional Joy-Cons, Pro Controller, Joy-Con Charging Grip
Potential Extras: Racing Wheel, Joy-Con Controller Charge Stand, Car Charge Adapter
Xbox One – Additional Extras
Essential Extras: Xbox Live Gold, Play and Charge Kit
Desirable Extras: Stereo Headset Adapter, External Hard Drive, Extra Controller
Potential Extras: Racing Wheel, Xbox Elite Controller, Xbox Chatpad, Media Remote
- The best Xbox One controllers and accessories
PS4 – Additional Extras
Essential Extras: PS Plus
Desirable Extras: Headset, Extra Controller, Internal / External Hard Drive, PlayStation VR
Potential Extras: Racing Wheel, PS Move controllers.
Best Option – Hidden Extras:
PS4 – You'll need a PS Plus membership to play online, but the service is tremendous value giving you access to three or four full price games a month, across the PS4, PS3, and Vita. A spare controller is handy, and look out for deals.
Now you know what you're looking for – which console is best for you?
Before we award our overall ‘best console’ to buy right now, let’s summarise who we think each console is best suited for. Don't forget, these are just recommendations, and the best choice is a matter of personal needs.
Best For: Younger kids and families, but also older gamers who grew up loving Nintendo and are looking for a reason to return after the relative disappointment of Wii U.
Xbox One S
Best For: Students or Younger Teens (and their budget-conscious parents) who want a ‘proper’ console to play popular online games, or watch streaming services. There’s so many games to choose from, and an amazing back catalogue, so you can pick up old titles dirt cheap.
Xbox One X
Best For: Hardcore players for whom money is no object, and / or 4K TV owners who want the absolute best device to show off their new display.
Best For: Teens, Students, Adults… anyone who values online play, and is looking for the greatest diversity of games. If you’ve not bought a console yet, we’d advise buying a PS4 Pro though, unless you’re really budget conscious.
Best For: Dedicated gamers seeking a greater variety of online and single-player experiences, plus entertainment and VR. The best-value entry point for 4K gaming.
Our overall winner is… PS4 Pro
There’s not much of a difference between the PS4 Pro, the PS4, or Xbox One, but it’s currently the best-value way to future-proof yourself for 4K gaming – plus you get access to PS4’s diverse back catalogue, as well as free blockbusterand indie titles for free as part of your monthly membership. When it comes to console exclusives, the platform has a strong lineup of exclusives that can't be beat.
Our runner up is… Nintendo Switch
The Switch’s seamless transition between portable device and home console, plus its brilliant lineup of games, make it a great choice for anyone who loves games, especially for families. It’s the most exciting piece of console hardware in the last five years, with the possible exception of the innovative but niche PlayStation VR.
Please let us know in the comments below if there's any other questions you'd like addressed, or key considerations that you'd like to share with other readers.