Sony DualSense – Design and Features
The general shape may look very similar to the DualShock 4, but the DualSense makes some incredibly bold changes to the formula, both big and small. Though the overall shape has changed just slightly – 6.25 x 4.22 x 2.47 inches (WDH) versus the 6.22 x 3.94 x 2.44 of the DualShock 4 – it has longer, beefier handles, which rest and fit in your hands better because there’s simply more controller to grip. Weighing 282 grams, it’s considerably heavier than the DualShock 4’s 215 grams. That weight is well-balanced, though, and ultimately leads to a more comfortable feeling as you hold it.
Aesthetically, the DualSense feels like a dramatic shift from the DualShock 4. Its smooth curves and two-tone color scheme – white with black accents, including the analog sticks and triggers, by default – feels like a paradigm shift after three generations of discreet, single-color Sony gamepads. And there’s an incredible attention to detail: From the way the side panels flare up just a little bit on either side of the touchpad, to the textured grip on the back panel, which is actually made using tiny, almost indistinguishable versions of the PlayStation face button shapes.The layout of the DualSense comes over intact, more or less, from the DualShock 4, but there are some interesting new changes to some of the buttons, as well as new features that enhance gameplay in exciting ways. The buttons and D-pad, now white with grey symbols, push back faster than their predecessors and have a little more travel: both of which make them feel less squishy and provide a better sense of feedback. Though I wouldn’t call them clicky, there is a clear sound and feeling when you fully press the face buttons or D-pad.
In the center column, the “Share” button has been replaced with a “Create” button, and it pulls up a system-level menu that lets you choose between taking screenshots, recording a clip of what just happened, or starting a new recording. The DualShock 4 touchpad returns, but is now matte white, with an RGB light bar around the rim. Below that, the built-in speaker is also back, alongside a logo-shaped PS button.
Below the PS button you have the new built-in microphone. Like the internal microphones on the Pulse 3D headset and Sony’s Bluetooth headphones, the mic just looks like a tiny dot on the outside, but is capable of picking up anything and everything directly around it. In at least one game, it also technically adds extra control options: in Astro’s Playroom, you are asked to blow into the mic to advance at certain points. If you find the idea of having a hot mic in your hands unnerving, there’s a thin, clear mic mute button just below the PS logo.
If you swing around back, the biggest, most exciting changes deal with the triggers. L2 and R2 are longer, with a deeper pull, which I imagine help maximize the impact of DualSense’s two most substantial new features: precision haptic feedback and the so-called “adaptive triggers,” which creates resistance in them to simulate tension or otherwise provide physical feedback. And although the haptics are present throughout the controller, the most interesting, precise feedback comes through the triggers. The two features, working in tandem, make the triggers the centerpiece of the DualSense. They aren’t just critical inputs, but the primary conduits through which you “feel” what a game’s trying to tell you.
Also on the back: The PS4 light bar has been removed, and the microUSB charging port has been replaced with a USB-C port, which enables both quick charging and is reversible for easier inserting of the plug. The life of the internal rechargeable battery, however, is still a low point in Sony’s controllers that the DualSense hasn’t come up with a solution to. In my personal testing, I’ve found a full charge lasts around 10 to 13 hours, which is long enough so that you don’t need to charge it every day, but short enough that you will frequently find yourself running low on power if you don’t.
Finally, at the bottom of the gamepad, you have a 3.5mm audio jack for a wired headset and copper pick-ups, which allow it to connect to Sony’s charging cradle.
Sony DualSense – Gaming
The leap from the DualShock 4 to DualSense truly feels like a next-gen experience. In playing some of the PS5’s launch lineup, including Astro’s Playroom, Spider-Man: Miles Morales, and Bugsnax, the refined design and new features of the DualSense do wonders for PlayStation gaming.
Independent of the new features, the DualSense is Sony’s best controller to date. It’s larger chassis makes it easier to hold for long stretches. Its buttons are more responsive and have a more satisfying press. The textured grip, while only very slight, is enough to hold your hands in place even when they get sweaty. Even if it couldn’t do anything new, it would still be a huge upgrade.
But, of course, it also does a lot of new, very impressive things. As we’ve already discussed, the new haptic feedback and the “adaptive” trigger resistance blend to create a sense of tactile response in the controller, that can be used in all kinds of ways. Astro’s Playroom, which serves as a demo showcase for the DualSense’s new and old features, shows all kinds of ways in which the haptics and adaptive triggers can be used to make games more immersive and provide a natural sense of feedback. When Astro draws a bow and arrow or gets ready to slingshot himself in a catapult, you can feel the tension grow in the trigger as you hold it down, allowing you to naturally gauge how charged the launch will be. In another moment, a large creature walks towards Astro, and you can feel what direction it’s coming from and how close it gets based on how the controller vibrates.
To me, the most impressive use of the haptic feedback was purely immersive. In the opening cutscene for Spider-Man: Miles Morales, you can feel the subway train shifting and tilting on your fingers as Miles rides it. The rumbling sensation diminishes and intensifies as it turns, or shakes because of the speed. It’s only a short moment, but as someone who lived in New York for many years and rode the subway often, I recognized the sensation. It was astounding.
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The microphone is a great equalizer, in theory, as it means that every PS5 player using a DualSense always has access to a microphone. In practice, the built-in mic works fine in a pinch, but isn’t a replacement for a good headset. The mic can clearly pick up your voice without moving the controller close to your face, which is great, but it will also pick up any noise in your immediate vicinity, like a phone ringing or the sound of a mechanical keyboard typing notes.
The bigger problem, I found, was that incoming chat audio from other players comes through the DualSense’s internal speaker when you’re using the controller mic. While the microphone could hear me easily, I found it difficult to hear my teammates over the game audio coming through my TV. Playing the PS4 version of Apex Legends on PS5, my partners and I had to rely primarily on non-verbal communication because I couldn’t always hear them.
The Sony DualSense wireless controller is available now for $69.99 at the PlayStation website, as well as from retailers, including Amazon, Best Buy, and Target. Unlucky when trying to preorder a PS5? Find out where to get a PS5 on launch day with our buyer’s guide.