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The days of rallying all your friends to get the same gaming console are over. With the emergence of cross-platform play in today's gaming world, the console you choose can be based purely on your preference -- or simply availability, as the last few years of PlayStation 5 shortages have taught us.
From the quick speeds of the newest PlayStation to the versatility of the Xbox Series X, the features consoles provide today are impressive.
But choosing a console has never been more difficult, especially with the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X battling head-to-head -- and that's not to mention the versatility of handheld consoles, or the options available if you want to remember your childhood and enjoy something more retro.
However, with advances in gaming technology, there can also be a high price tag. If you're undecided about what gaming console to invest in, check out ZDNET's top picks below.
Tech specs: CPU: AMD Zen 2-Based CPU with 8 Cores at 3.5GHz | GPU: Oberon CXD90044GB | Internal Storage: 825GB | Optical Drive: 4K UHD Blu-ray drive
You know your console is a good one when you can't keep it on the shelf even two years after you released it. That is the case with the PlayStation 5. A combination of chip shortages and high demand from gamers around the world has made it difficult for many to secure this next-generation console.
Being unwilling to bend to the will of scalpers, I was only able to purchase one in the past few months. The experience on the PlayStation 5 is unlike any other console we've seen in the gaming realm. 4K graphics, lightning-fast loading speeds, and a new DualSense controller are just a few of the features that set this console above the rest.
The new controller for the PS5 allows you to feel every step, gunshot, and surrounding movement, so you can take full control of your gaming experience. With haptic feedback, adaptable triggers, and a built-in microphone, this controller is unmatched by competitors, and it's the best we've seen in console gaming.
Personally, I've found them to be far more comfortable than the PlayStation 4 controllers. Although, if you're continually pressing L2 or R2 during a game to pull off combos, for example, I've found it can be a strain on your fingers.
There are two models available: a digital download-only version, and one with a disc drive. Generally, as the digital edition is cheaper, this one tends to sell out quickly. If you're trying to buy one on Amazon, it is currently invitation-only due to high demand.
A question I'm asked is whether or not keeping your PlayStation 5 vertical will damage it. With rumors circling around social media, it's worth noting that the original claim was based on a 'misunderstanding' and, aesthetically, you can choose either vertical or horizontal without worry.
Tech specs: | CPU: Custom Zen 2 CPU with 8 Cores at 3.8GHz | GPU: 12 TFLOPs, 52 CUs at 1.825GHz Custom RDNA 2 GPU | Internal Storage: 1TB | Optical Drive: 4K UHD Blue-ray Drive
When the next-gen consoles were released, the PlayStation 5 emerged as the top console in the gaming realm. But while the Xbox Series X is behind in competitive gaming, it's ahead in the versatility category. The Xbox Series X can be used as a top-tier gaming console or as an expensive Fire Stick with its library of apps including most major streaming platforms.
While games made specifically for the Xbox One are compatible with the Series X console, Microsoft has games specifically designed for the Series X and S consoles that reduce load times and showcase 120fps capabilities. While playing with such a high frame rate, you can enjoy 3D spatial audio so you know what's around you at all times.
This console is easier to obtain than the PlayStation 5, so if you're looking for a powerful console you can get right now, this is the best choice. From binge-watching your favorite shows to gaming with your friends across the world, this console checks all the boxes.
Also: Xbox Series X vs Xbox Series S: Which console is right for you?
Tech specs: CPU: 1GHz Cortex-A57 | GPU: NVIDIA Tegra X1 | Internal Storage: 64GB | Optical Drive: N/A
In a world where most gamers focus on getting high-performing monitors or the biggest TV, the Nintendo Switch is doing things differently. While this console gives you the option to play on your TV, the handheld 7-inch OLED screen provides gamers with a gaming experience you can transport with you.
With so many uses, you can race against your friends in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, watch YouTube on your TV, or venture through the world on The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening. If you're interested in using a Switch for cozy games, you could opt for titles including Stardew Valley or Potion Permit.
Along with the various things you can do on the Switch, the place you can play it varies just as much. With a built-in stand on the back and the TV dock, you can play the Switch while you're flying on a plane, at the kitchen table, or on the living room TV.
Nintendo estimates that battery life will last between 4.5 - 9 hours. As you can see, that's a broad spectrum, but in my experience, it seems about right. If I'm playing games that are less graphics-heavy such as This War of Mine, or retro games like Grandia, power consumption is lower and I can reach the higher points of this estimate. However, fast-paced options like Zelda will burn power more rapidly.
While the specs for this console aren't the flashiest, the Nintendo Switch is the perfect gaming console for families due to the abundance of family-friendly games and multiplayer options, such as Overcooked, offered through the Nintendo eShop.
Also: Nintendo Switch OLED vs Nintendo Switch: How to choose
Tech specs: CPU: AMD APU Zen 2 4c/8t, 2.4-3.5GHz | GPU: 8 RDNA 2 CUs, 1.0-1.6GHz | Internal storage: 64/256/512GB | Analog sticks | 7-inch display | 60Hz refresh rate
Our top choice for gaming consoles if you love Steam is Valve's Steam Deck. Steam is a popular gaming platform, for major titles and indie games alike, which now accounts for millions of players.
Typically, you would be tied to your desk, tower PC, or laptop to access your library; however, the Steam Deck was released last year which changes the game.
This gaming console can be docked or handheld and is based on Linux. The interface is user-friendly and the analog sticks -- as well as the top controls -- are familiar and comfortable. When it comes to playing resource-heavy games, the graphics are incredible and, in my opinion, far superior to the Nintendo Switch.
However, while the Steam Deck is a handheld console, I wouldn't consider it particularly portable or suitable for use on the morning commute. Valve estimates between two and eight hours of battery life, and while it is possible to reduce the brightness or refresh rate to save power, you are best off using this device near a power source or outlet.
Tech specs: CPU: 8 Zen 2 Cores at 3.6 GHz | GPU: 4 TFLOPs, 20 CUs at 1.55 GHz Custom RDNA | Internal Storage: 512 GB | Optical Drive: N/A
The Xbox Series S is the less advanced counterpart to the Xbox Series X. Though this console is noticeably smaller than the Series X, it comes at a cost: the lack of an optical drive. Along with having no disk drive, the Xbox Series S displays games at 1440p, while the Series X displays games in 4k. But, being more affordable, if you're willing to sacrifice picture quality for saving money, this Series S is a perfect option.
With an all-digital gaming library on this console, you will be able to access all of your games without leaving your sofa. While this console provides ease of access to your full library of games, it also provides up to 120fps while playing said games in part to a custom SSD.
Similar to the Series X console, you can immerse yourself in the gaming action with 3D Spatial Audio created from the console. With access to the Game Pass from Microsoft, a service provided just for Xbox gamers, and expandable memory in the rear of the console, you can store loads of games available at any time.
Also: What are the best PC gaming headsets, and is wired or wireless better?
When it comes to gaming, most people are either Team Xbox or Team PlayStation, and the Nintendo Switch is typically ignored. But you can't discount the Switch, because it offers exclusive games and you can play it when you're on the go or at home.
Here are a few features of each console you should be aware of before making that big purchase.
Xbox Series X
Nintendo Switch OLED
Xbox Series S
Finding a game console that works for your gaming needs can be challenging unless you're like me and have purchased a console based on title exclusivity alone (Horizon Zero Dawn, anyone?). However, when you are making your choice, you should think about how often you intend to play it, whether multiplayer is important to you, and how much you are willing to spend.
Consider this before selecting which game console you want to buy.
Choose this game console...
Play high-quality games on a competitive level
Xbox Series X
Game casually but want to use the console for other purposes
Nintendo Switch OLED Model
Need a console with a wide variety of games for the whole family
Want a Steam platform-focused gaming system
Xbox Series S
Want a cheap console that can do most things top-tier consoles can do
When I was first looking at making my newest console purchase, I researched heavily before making that hefty purchase of a PlayStation 5. Let me tell you, I don't regret it at all. The PS5 is a clear front-runner in the game console industry due to its elaborate design both inside and out.
Though the clear top pick was the newest PlayStation, the competition is tough. With the Xbox Series X's versatility in the gaming world as well as the streaming world, the console had to be included as Microsoft went all out with this unit. In contrast, the Xbox Series S is less powerful but still worth the money if you are a casual gamer.
The Nintendo Switch OLED Model was selected because of its ability to not only be a console but also a handheld system. Nintendo games are very popular, with Mario Kart being a staple in the Nintendo community, but you can only find those games on the Switch or other Nintendo products. The Steam Deck, too, is an excellent handheld, although the storage available does let it down in consideration of the price tag.
The game and game console market has been slow in recent years due to the pandemic, economic issues, and chip shortages. However, as supply chains return to something approaching normality and gamers are actually able to get their hands on new consoles, development can now continue.
We can't showcase every option on the market, but if the above doesn't interest you, there are other machines -- large and small -- that might appeal to you, as shown below.
If none of these game consoles speak to you, you can also check out our best gaming PCs.
There is an ongoing chip shortage that has hindered the tech industry since the pandemic began, making it hard to keep the PlayStation 5 on shelves. However, in recent months, the supply of chips has improved and, therefore, more stock is now becoming available without the need to go to scalpers who purchase them only to sell them on for a higher price.
After two years, the PlayStation 5 is still one of the hottest-selling consoles we have seen. You can find them at PlayStation Direct, Amazon, Best Buy, and Walmart. But you have to act quickly if you want to get one before they're out of stock, especially if you're trying to purchase one of the digital editions.
I would recommend the Nintendo Switch as the best console for beginners. The Switch -- whether you opt for a legacy device or the new OLED model -- is simple when it comes to controls and many of the games available are puzzle, turn-based, or cozy. With the Switch's portability, comfortable controls, and large screen, this device is a great introduction to modern gaming without throwing someone into the challenges of Frostpunk or the fast pace of Elden Ring.