Reviewing new consoles during a pandemic is like being at a theater dress rehearsal. The experience is still a work in progress. Even so, testing the Xbox Series X and the PlayStation 5 gave me a strong impression of how these two kaiju-sized machines stack up.
Hardware: Both feature AMD's Zen 2 and RDNA 2 chips (but at different speeds) and custom hard drives along with ray tracing, a rendering technique that creates stunningly realistic lighting effects. Games will load at lightning speed. Multiplatform releases will likely look similar on both systems. As for monitors, the Series X supports several resolutions up to 8K. The PS5 works on high-definition and 4K TV but not on a 1440p monitor. The big difference comes in how the two consoles handle sound. Microsoft's support for different audio formats is friendlier and more flexible to gamers.
Controller: The new Xbox Wireless Controller remains mostly the same as its predecessor. By contrast, Sony's DualSense controller could be the defining upgrade of this generation. Its adaptive-trigger system essentially creates force feedback. If you've played an arcade racing game like "Daytona USA," you'll understand how this works. It's like the sensation of the steering wheel fighting you as your car crashes into a wall.
User interface and smartphone apps: Sony cleaned up its interface issues on the PS5. Navigating the menus and accessing information is snappier than before. The big PS5 quality-of-life improvement is the concept of cards. This feature zips players to different parts of the game, enabling a more positive gaming experience. Unfortunately, PlayStation's work on smartphone lags behind Xbox. Microsoft knows how important handheld devices are to everyday life, and made sharing easier than ever.
Final verdict: The Series X is all about stability and consistency, supporting older games with new tech, while the PS5 aims at the future. If you're looking for a next-gen system, the PS5 is the one to get. But when it comes to the long game, the Series X could have the edge.