Best Gaming Console 2021 – Buyer’s Guide

Best Gaming Console 2021 – Buyer’s Guide

So you’re finally thinking of buying a video game console and you want to know what the best gaming console is. If you’ve done any preliminary research, then you’ll know that, while there are only a few major players in this market, it’s actually pretty difficult to make a choice.

All of them seem pretty good and they all have rather ambiguous model names, making it hard to tell the difference even across brands. What’s the difference between the Xbox One S and the Xbox One X? And what about the PS4 and the Xbox One in general?

Are there certain games that only work on certain consoles and not on others? If you wanted to buy the perfect gaming console, which would it be?

I can’t tell you what the perfect gaming console is, really, since there is no such thing as a perfect anything. But I can tell you which are the best for different purposes and then you can pick the one that meets your needs.

Another thing I can tell you is, among the major players, there isn’t really a bad console. At least none so bad that the others are lightyears ahead. It really all comes down to what matters most to you.

And I would like you to remember that, as you read this review. All of the current gaming consoles on the market fit some roles very well. Some of them fill more roles than others, while others have practically taken over a particular niche.

But that niche is still important enough that the gaming console is a viable choice, even if it lags in other areas. At the end of the day you should pick whichever console fits your preferences.

I can’t tell you what your preferences are! But I can list for you which consoles do what well. I’ll rank them from best to not-so-best (I don’t want to say worst – as I mentioned, they are all pretty good).

If you want to learn a little more about each, then you can read their individual in-depth reviews below. If you want to know even more about gaming consoles in general, then you can read the even more in-depth buyer’s guide that comes at the end.

Best Gaming Consoles 2021 – Reviews

1. Sony PlayStation 4 Pro – Best Overall
2. Xbox One S – Best Gaming Console for Multimedia
3. Nintendo Switch – Best Hybrid Gaming Console
4. Nintendo Switch Lite – Best for Portable Play
5. Asus ROG Phone 2 – Best Android Gaming Device
6. Microsoft Xbox One X – Best for Gaming Addicts
7. PlayStation 4 Slim – Best Starter Console
8. SNES Classic – Best for Classic Game Lovers
9. Google Stadia – Best for Online Gamers
10. Apple iPad Pro 11 – Best iOS Gaming Device

1. Sony PlayStation 4 Pro – Best Overall

$395.45View on AmazonLast update on 2021-07-01 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

The PS4 Pro’s design is derivative of the standard PS4 that preceded it, though we wouldn’t say that it’s an exact copy. Actually, a common running joke about the PlayStation 4 Pro is that it looks like 2 PS4s stacked one on top of each other. As a result, the PS4 Pro takes up way more space than its predecessor.

Sony also did a bit of work on the interior. The 8 Jaguar cores of the AMD processor are now clocked at 2.1GHz instead of 1.6GHz. RAM capacity remains the same with 8GB of GDDR5 but it is now running up to 218GB/s against 176GB/s for the standard PS4.

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The hard drive, at 1TB, has 500 more gigabytes than the standard version. There is also a more powerful 802.11ac Wi-Fi antenna, as well as a Bluetooth 4.0 receiver/transmitter.

As for the controller on the PS4 Pro, some changes were noted over the predecessor, though it still is, at its heart, a Dual Shock 4 controller. The touchpad has a light bar to tell you which player you are, and the buttons feel a lot lighter and more responsive.

The switch between Bluetooth and wired mode is also seamless in the controller.

The performance of the PS4 is high enough that, if you play VR games or have a 4K TV, you’ll notice the difference over other screens. The data transfer process from an earlier PS4 is easy, as all you need to do is hook them together with an Ethernet cable. It can, however, be a slow process.

That said, this console’s increased processing power improves the performance across the table, including HDR, 4K, and VR games, which are growing each year. That improved performance can come in a variety of ways. Either you have games playing at 30fps at a 4K resolution, or you have more refined textures, or the ability to play a 1080p game at a higher fps.

Those with 1080p resolution TV screens may not be able to enjoy the improvements meant for 4K TV owners, but they will enjoy better frame rates in their favorite games.

Those with 4K television will see the biggest advantages by far, including older games playing in native or upscaled 4K with HDR.

The VR experience is also bound to improve with the PS4 Pro. They run better on this console and titles with PS4 Pro Mode activated look better and have faster frame rates.

2. Xbox One S – The Best Gaming Console for Multimedia

The Xbox One S is a feat of engineering that wows anyone who decides to give it a try. It manages to put a powerful power supply and a 2TB hard drive in a chassis that’s at most 40% as large as its predecessor, the Xbox One.

The only sad part is that we may never know just how Microsoft did it. It probably has a lot to do with rearranging the parts on the inside and making for better airflow so the entire console is more densely packed but also more efficiently cooled. It might also include employing Santa’s elves, and a bit of magic.

The console also has an interesting overhaul over its predecessor in terms of the exterior design. Physical buttons have replaced capacitive for turning the console on and ejecting game discs, and the USB 3.0 ports have been moved to the front face of the console.

Unfortunately, the Kinect port from its predecessor is conspicuously missing – you’ll need to buy a separate adapter if you want to use Kinect.

The console is normally only sold in white, so you don’t get much variety there. So at first blush, there aren’t many style options. However, they do have special edition consoles in different color schemes that coincide with game releases.

You can also have a 3rd party skin installed on your Xbox, and controllers can be customized through Microsoft’s Xbox Design Lab program.

Microsoft said that the chip on the Xbox One S is the same as that of the Xbox One that preceded it. However, the disc drive is Ultra HD Blu-ray capable of 4K and HDR.

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The Xbox One S does very well with Ultra HD televisions, though we wouldn’t put it on the same level as the PS4 Pro. It is capable of 4K resolution, either upscaling games for you or offloading that task to your television.

It also loads content much faster, even at the higher resolution, than the Xbox One, which was slower despite dealing with standard resolutions.

If you use your gaming console to stream apps like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, and YouTube, then you will be happy to know that each of these apps has a 4K version running on the Xbox One S.

When it comes to games, they look much better than they do on the Xbox One, even though they’re only upscaled on the One S. This console will run your favorite titles smoothly, ensuring a great experience. Something interesting to note, however, is that Microsoft does not intend to make any exclusives for the Xbox One S.

The Xbox One S controller looks almost exactly the same as the Xbox One controller. However, it natively supports Bluetooth, and is the first Microsoft controller to have this support. That means you can use it not only on your console but on your PC as well.

The One S controller also has a textured grip, which makes it more comfortable to hold for long stretches, unlike the controller to the Xbox One.

It also has a more powerful wireless antenna that makes it possible to sit farther away from the television than you could from the Xbox One.

It comes in many different color variations, as well as in some really cool limited designs like the Cyberpunk 2077 edition.

Older Xbox One controllers will also work on this console, which is great for those who are used to them. The only thing I would have preferred on this new controller is rechargeable batteries.Pros

  • Small compared to its predecessor
  • Great HDR and 4K streaming
  • Great price point

Cons

  • 4K gaming capability limited
  • Can’t connect to Kinect without an adapter

3. Nintendo Switch – Best Hybrid Gaming Console

Take a look at the Nintendo Switch and you’ll realize it’s trying to do many things at the same time. Nintendo is trying to do something unique, much like they have done before. After all, these are the same guys that brought us 3D without 3D glasses on the Nintendo 3DS, motion controlled gaming on the Wii, and now a hybrid console on the Switch.

Understandably, when you set out to trailblaze like that, expectations and risks are going to be very high. However, the Nintendo Switch certainly found its target and over the years the sales have taken a significant uptake.

When you buy the Nintendo Switch package, you’ll find:

  • a console
  • Two Joy-Con controllers that are detachable
  • A grip that enables you to combine them into a single gamepad for play on the TV
  • Two straps for turning the Joy-Cons into individual controllers
  • A dock which you can use to connect your console to the television for traditional gameplay

Those are a lot of accessories, and they all come with great quality construction and ergonomics. The whole setup is not only novel, but also has a great cool factor.

The handheld mode, with its analog controls, is something like the PlayStation Vita. The screen resolution is way better, though, at 720p. In fact, it’s the best screen resolution I’ve seen on a handheld console yet.

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The Joy-Cons themselves have quite a lot of functionality built into them. The right hand has the A, B, X, and Y buttons that Nintendo has used since its SNES days and a rather awkwardly placed analog stick. There’s also a start button that’s shaped like a plus.

On the left we have a minus button that’s the select button, a share button for taking screen grabs, an analog stick, a d-pad and 2 shoulder buttons.

The console mode requires docking the console in order to connect it to your TV. The console actually does the viewing transfer rather seamlessly from the handheld screen to the television screen without even needing you to pause your game.

The Nintendo controllers themselves are jacks of all trades. They have lots of different configurations, though they’re not all the most comfortable. My greatest niggle with these was the rather awkwardly placed right analog stick, which needs some finger acrobatics to operate effectively.

The library on the Switch, comparable in size and popularity to those of the PlayStation and Xbox, is still growing every year. In fact, compared to what Nintendo has offered for previous consoles, it is probably the most diverse.

You get great exclusives like Legend of Zelda Link’s Awakening, Super Mario Odyssey or Animal Crossing: New Horizons, as well as great indie titles, like Stardew Valley.

A major drawback of the Switch is that it isn’t nearly as powerful as either the Xbox or the PlayStation. It definitely won’t support 4K game playing. The handheld will give you 720p while connecting it to the TV will give you a max resolution of 1080p.

However, this is good enough if you’re not particularly looking for the latest visual specs on the market.

Another problem with the Switch is that there aren’t that many third party titles available for it. Sure, it has The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt and Doom, among others, but the majority of these have been available on the other platforms for a while already.

In terms of VR, there’s the Nintendo Labo, but it’s more of a cardboard peripheral than a fully-fledged VR headset.

Overall, the Switch is a great console for portability and versatility, and also if you don’t absolutely need power or the latest selection of the most popular games. If you’re comfortable with Nintendo exclusives and Indie games, then this should be an okay console for you.Pros

  • Great hybrid design
  • Controllers are very dynamic and easy to use
  • Handheld console screen is very crisp with great resolution for handheld

Cons

  • Right analog stick has odd placement
  • No 4K resolution on TV
  • No VR

4. Nintendo Switch Lite – Best for Portable Play

The main difference between the Switch Lite and its sibling, the Switch, is that the Switch Lite can only be played in handheld mode. You can’t dock it for use with the television. As a result, it is lighter and more compact than the Switch. It comes with a smaller screen, at 5.5 inches compared to the Switch’s 6.2-inch screen, but maintains the same 720p display.

A direct result of this greater compactness is that the Nintendo Switch Lite feels much more comfortable as a handheld than the Switch. This is especially important if you have small hands. That said, I still think the most comfortable handheld Nintendo device is the 3DS, which isn’t as wide as either the Switch or the Switch Lite.

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