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Top 4 Best game consoles of 2021

Daniel Hessel

Updated February 26, 2021

Which is the best game console? Is Nintendo best for children? We tested a range of game consoles to clarify all these questions. Our best in test is the PS4 Slim, because it has the best range of games and is really good value for money.

Top 4 Best game consoles of 2021

How we did the test

A game console is never better than the games available for it. And if you play online it’s a bit pointless if you don’t have the same machine as your friends. But all the same, we’ve taken on the task of evaluating the machines that make up the wonderful and enormously diverse world of game consoles.

We’ve lived, tested and played on consoles for a long time, often from when they were released, and we update our reviews on an ongoing basis. At the same time, we’ve taken into account a couple of key parameters when we made our assessment.

  • Range of games. A game console without enjoyable games is completely pointless. So the range of games both now and in the future is, if anything, even more important than the console itself.

  • Controls & Hardware. Game controllers are your most important tool and of course they must be top class. But there may also be different special controls or functions in the hardware that distinguish them from the rest.

  • Services & Software. Do you have to pay to play online? How easy is it to buy games and to find friends to play with or any subscription services? It’s also very important that the console’s interface is easy to navigate and straightforward. So that, for example, during a game you can easily check what your friend wrote or invite other people to play.

  • Media. Today you can do a lot more than play on a game console, such as watching films on Blu-ray or via a range of streaming services. How they work and the opportunities they offer are also considered in our test.

The factors above have been evaluated in view of the price for the console, its accessories and subscription services to give an overall score.

We tested some of the market’s most popular game consoles, and you can see all the prices and offers for games consoles here.

1. Playstation 4 Slim – BEST CHOICE GAME CONSOLE 2021

Wide range of games and a smaller price tag

Product type: Game console Dimensions: 265 × 39 × 288 mm Weight: 2.1 kg Processor: AMD Jaguar Graphics: AMD Radeon RAM: 8GB GDDR5 (shared) Storage: 500 GB or 1 TB Video: Games and videos at up to 1080p resolution Optical device: Full HD Blu-ray Wireless communication: Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 2.1 Connections: HDMI, 2 USB (3.1), Aux Accessories: Simple headset, hand controller

Sony Playstation 4 Slim 1TB - Black Edition

The PlayStation 4 Slim, or PS4 Slim, or quite simply the now normal edition of the PlayStation 4 because the previous “fat” model has been discontinued – many fond names for the same thing. And this really is a favourite in the console world; one that’s now starting to reach veteran age and has a fantastic game library.

Slim version with new controller

Just as Sony did with all the previous versions of the PlayStation, the PS4 Slim is an intermediate model where it’s been possible to shrink the technology, resulting in a rather smaller console than the original. Not that it actually makes much difference, because the machine tends to sit hidden in a TV unit.

The updated hardware comes with an improved cooling system that means the machine is also significantly quieter than its big brother. But after a period of intense play it’s not exactly silent – as you’ll notice if you’re playing late at night on low volume. In fact Xbox have succeeded better here.

The console includes an updated version of the Dual Shock 4 controller. Looked at from the outside, you’d be forgiven for not seeing any differences, because they’re almost identical. But the built-in battery is a bit more powerful and now you have some dots on the analogue sticks that are intended to increase your grip.

Unfortunately, the Blu-ray player only plays normal discs, not 4K UHD films like the corresponding slim edition of the Xbox (and neither does the PS4 Pro, which can cope with 4K games).

The interface is the same as a normal PS4 – in other words simple and straightforward without too many confusing elements.

Mature console

The PlayStation 4 is approaching the end of the line, with the PlayStation 5 just around the corner. The PS4 Slim can cope with the same games – including with the amazingly successful PS VR virtual reality headset. This means that it may not be the console for you if you want the very latest technology – you might as well just wait for the PS5. But if you’re interested in a really substantial games library with some of the most influential titles of this generation of consoles, it’s a must-have. The games library is an extensive one, with something for everyone.

But if you play online a lot or want to take advantage of a subscription service for games, the PS4 lags behind the Xbox. Both matching and socialising in and around games are much more natural there. PlayStation Now is also a slow and rather meagre subscription service compared to the Xbox equivalent.

But if it’s single player games you’re after, the PlayStation 4 Slim is a mature machine with some of this generation’s very best exclusive games.

Good range of gamesgood interfacenice controllers
Lacks 4K at least for filmsrather poor game subscriptionquickly gets noisy

Price Comparison

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Sony PS4 Brand New - Jet Black - 1 Tb

£298.98
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Sony PlayStation 4 - 1TB - Black

£329.99

2. Xbox One S – BEST BUDGET CHOICE

Product type: Game console Dimensions: 300x240x60 mm Weight: 3.8 kg Processor: AMD Jaguar 8x1.75 GHz Graphics: AMD Radeon RAM: 8GB DDR3 RAM Storage: 500 GB/1 TB/2 TB Video: Games and videos at up to 4K resolution Optical device: UHD Blu-ray Wireless communication: Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac Connections: HDMI in+out (HDMI 2.0b), 3 USB (3.0), optical S/PDIF, IR out Accessories: Controller, 1 month Xbox Gold trial subscription, HDMI cable

Microsoft Xbox One S 1TB - White Edition

The Xbox One S is a modern and well thought out game console. If you've ever played a lot on the Xbox 360, you’ll also appreciate how quiet the One is.

And the controls are just as nice as they’ve always been. They’ve been given a slightly textured grip that’s unfamiliar and a little disturbing to begin with, but if you play long sessions they really help with your grip and over time you get used to them and feel that this is exactly how things should always have been. The ergonomic and comfortable controller is actually one of the big advantages with the Xbox.

The only thing we’re lacking is actually a battery pack so you don’t have to change batteries two or three times a week.

Easy to find new friends

Another advantage is the software. Not the appearance of it, but the content. For example, the subscription service is really good, both in terms of price and value for money. It’s also easy to stream – provided you have the right equipment – and there’s support for upscaling to 4K for film.

The software contains a number of apps – in any case the most important ones such as Spotify, Netflix etc. Even if the range could have been broader given that the One has been out for a while now.

As well as apps, you also have the game streaming service Mixer integrated (Twitch is available as an app), the possibility of sharing games with other people and the wonderful Groups.

Groups is a great function if you enjoy playing together with other people but don’t have many friends to play with. You can post that you’re looking for players for a particular game and enter tags for your requirements. You can also apply to join other people’s groups. This is a great way of quickly finding gaming buddies and makes many multiplayer games more fun.

Sluggish menus

The menus flow really well even though there’s some lag. The main problem with the menus is actually the interface. You have to click far too many times to get where you want and even the in-game shortcut menu has this problem. In spring 2020, the interface was updated a little and has become slightly cleaner, but it’s still essentially the same messy system that’s far behind the PlayStation 4 interface.

Despite its minor shortcomings, the Xbox One S is the ultimate gaming console given its price and the fact that it’s so easy to play with other people. Of course PlayStation players won’t change platform, but if you were disappointed in the original Xbox One when it was released, you might want to think again. And if you still haven’t decided between PlayStation and Xbox, the One S is a really good buy – particularly if you enjoy multiplayer games.

  • The difference between the Xbox One X and Xbox One S is primarily that the X is slightly more powerful and therefore supports true 4K, while the S can only upscale full HD content to 4K. If you have a 4KTV – or intend to buy one relatively soon – you’ll probably want to go for an X instead.
Groups makes it easy to find gaming buddiesreally good hand controllerquietgreat subscription serviceintegrated Mixer is convenient
No battery pack for the controllerunnecessarily complex UI

3. Nintendo Switch Lite – BEST PORTABLE GAME CONSOLE

The best portable console you can buy

Product type: Game console Dimensions: 91.x208x13.9 mm Weight: 275 g Processor: Nvidia Tegra Graphics: Nvidia Tegra RAM: 4 GB Storage: 32GB flash memory, expandable with micro SD card Video: 5.5 inch LCD-screen with 1280x720 pixel resolution Optical device: No, only slots for Nintendo Switch cartridges Wireless communication: Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, NFC, Bluetooth 4.1 Connections: USB-C Speaker: Yes, stereo Accessories: Charger Miscellaneous: Motion sensor camera and vibration in hand controller, light sensor in screen

Nintendo Switch Lite - Grey

The Nintendo Switch Lite has a lot of things going for it. It has a slightly smaller screen than the standard Nintendo Switch – 5.5 instead of 6.2 inches, but with the same resolution. The battery life is about the same too, but many of the Switch’s unique characteristics are gone.

Focuses only on portability

It doesn’t include a dock to connect the Switch Lite to a TV, because there’s no support for one. This is a portable game console in every way. This also means you can’t remove the controllers, as they’re fixed to the console. The folding stand on the back of its bigger sibling has also been removed.

Other than that, everything’s pretty much as it has been on the normal Switch for a couple of years now. There’s no problem connecting extra controllers wirelessly, you still charge it with USB-C, and all of the games work. Well, the latter is partially true. If you have games that require separate controllers and motion control, things get a bit tricky, but you can do this by buying them separately.

Nintendo’s wonderful Labo cardboard folding workshop only partly works, because many of the constructions are intended to fit the screen part of the Switch.

Same advantages, same disadvantages

If we look at the Switch as a portable console, however, it’s fantastic. The smaller format makes it much nicer to hold and the fact that the screen is a bit smaller is never a problem. Even big games load and perform in the same way as they did on the original Switch.

Because you’re locked into portable mode, it’s worth knowing that this is one of the very best portable game consoles Nintendo have ever built.

All the same, sharing material between old and new Switch units isn’t optimal. Moving a game profile isn’t a problem, but although trying to share it (and games downloaded via that account) between two consoles is doable, it's a frustrating process that requires both a lot of time and constant connection to the internet to keep both consoles working.

A similar frustration, which also applies to the standard Switch, is that Nintendo deals with online stuff the same way that the rest of the industry did ten years ago. Impossible friend codes still appear instead of the online profile we’ve actually created. The store is very slow, difficult to understand and there are a few options to sort and navigate.

You don’t notice this if you buy your games in physical format. Digital purchases also work well, but the process for accessing anything online feels much more complicated than for the Xbox or PlayStation.

At the same time, it’s the games and the experience that’s most important. Over the years the Nintendo Switch has been around, a really strong game library has built up from both big and small developers. This means the Switch Lite was launched with what’s probably the most extensive game library in history – particularly for an entirely portable console.

The Nintendo Switch Lite is one of Nintendo's best portable consoles ever. The smaller size fits both younger players and those with larger hands. The main disadvantage is actually sharing purchased material between two consoles, and Nintendo should really have been able to make this easier. If they’d done that, the Switch Lite would have got full marks both as a portable console and extra family console.

Convenient formatgood to holdgreat game library
Complicated account management and online experiencepoor battery life

4. Xbox One X

The best 4K console in the world despite few games

Product type: Game console Dimensions: 300x240x60 mm Weight: 3.8 kg Processor: AMD Jaguar 8x2.3 GHz Graphics: AMD Polaris, 1172 MHz RAM: 12GB GDDR5 (shared) Storage: 1 TB Video: Games and videos at up to 4K resolution Optical device: UHD Blu-ray Wireless communication: Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac Connections: HDMI in+out (HDMI 2.0b), 3 USB (3.0), optical S/PDIF, IR out Accessories: Controller, 1 month Xbox Gold trial subscription, HDMI cable

Microsoft Xbox One X 1TB - Black Edition

The Xbox One X is Microsoft's most powerful game console. It can play the same types of game as all other versions of the Xbox One. The difference is significantly more powerful hardware that means some games load faster, but above all that you can play some titles in 4K resolution.

Resolution, resolution, resolution

The resolution of games is the big thing about the Xbox One X. The slim Xbox One S model also supports 4K, but only for films via streaming or UHD Blu-ray. This distinguishes both of the later Xbox models from the PlayStation 4 Slim and PlayStation 4 Pro. The Pro version of the PS4 can play games in 4K, but weirdly was never equipped with a Blu-ray player capable of reading UHD/4K discs.

If you have a TV with 4K resolution, it’s obviously attractive to get potentially better graphics through higher resolution. But while the range of 4K titles for the Xbox One is slightly better than for the PS4 Pro, few titles really take advantage of it.

There’s no difference if you play two-dimensional indie games in 4K, and major titles like Crackdown 3 look awful regardless of the resolution. If you really want to experience the higher resolution, it's Microsoft's own Forza series that really takes advantage of the technology. But on the whole, titles are pretty sparse.

At the same time, we’d have liked to see a little more difference between the One S and One X. For example, it would have been nice if the Elite luxury controller was included here, or at least a rechargeable battery. As usual, the Xbox controller is powered by normal AA batteries, and if you want a rechargeable battery you have to pay for it.

Great at the online bit, terrible interface

Other than the resolution, most things on the two Xbox One versions are the same. You still get an interface stuffed with advertising that’s verging on the impossible to navigate regardless of what you do. A new interface was released in spring 2020 that’s a little tidier, but it’s still based on the same messy foundation. It takes far too many steps to get where you want and positioning and so on are often illogical.

At the same time, the Xbox is far ahead of the PlayStation when it comes to putting together online matches, talking to your friends and fellow gamers and everything else related to online gaming. Microsoft have also been really successful with their Game Pass – their subscription service for games – which contains a huge number of titles and particularly lots of new games, add-ons and game packs.

When it comes to the difference in the overall range of games between this generation’s PlayStation and Xbox, it’d be true to say that the PlayStation is ahead, but not by much. And the Xbox One is superior when it comes to being able to play games on disc from previous console generations.

The Xbox One X is a premium console and the best way to enjoy 4K games on console today. At the same time, the range of such games isn't convincing enough to wholeheartedly recommend the One X over its little brother, the One S. If you want to play 4K Blu-ray discs, there’s nothing to choose between the two versions.

Excellent online supportgreat game subscriptionplenty of power for a consolereally good multiplayer service
Controllers not rechargeableterrible interface

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