The world always seems to be going through tough economic times, but a gaming console under the Christmas tree is usually a surefire recipe for happy kids. If you’re not much of a gamer yourself, it can be hard to make sense of all the console options on the market. Don’t sweat it; we’ll discuss the options for which console is best for you.
Beware of Counterfeit Products
One of the most painful and avoidable mistakes many make is buying counterfeit consoles. There’s an entire industry of cheap knockoff consoles that superficially look like new consoles. They’ll have names and branding close enough to the real thing that someone who doesn’t know anything about gaming consoles might be fooled.
A simple rule of thumb is that if you’re being offered the chance to buy a console that looks like a PS5 or Xbox but costs $50, it’s a knockoff. Only buy these devices from reputable retailers such as Amazon or Walmart, and carefully check the branding and product description. If in doubt, ask someone who knows what the real console looks like and what games it can play to look at the online description before you purchase the console.
Picking the Right Console Brand
There are three major console brands to choose from: Sony PlayStation, Microsoft Xbox, and Nintendo. We’ll go through them in detail, but one of the first decisions you’ll have to make is which of these brands is right for the gift recipient.
There are two important factors: which games they want to play and where their friends play. Every brand has several exclusive games. So if you want to play a Super Mario Bros game, you must buy Nintendo. If you want to play God of War, you’ll need a Playstation. Like Halo? You’ll need an Xbox. So try to understand which video game franchises they like and choose the console brand accordingly.
If they love online gaming, it’s usually best to get them the same console brand that their friends use. Although more games allow players on different systems to play multiplayer games together, there’s no guarantee this will be the case with the games they want to play. Call of Duty Modern Warfare II, for example, allows for “crossplay” between PlayStation and Xbox.
PlayStation 5 & Xbox Series X|S
While stock shortages have begun easing significantly, you may still have trouble securing one of these consoles, especially at their official prices.
The PlayStation 5 comes in two varieties: one with a Blu-Ray drive and one without. The disc-less PS5 Digital Edition is around $100 less expensive. Still, we strongly recommend avoiding this model if you decide on a PS5. The advantages and flexibility of the drive outweighs the $100 you may save. Simply having access to cheap used games will already save you much more money compared to being stuck with digital games as your only option.
The two Xbox consoles play the same games and are the same console generation. The Series S is a cut-down, cheaper model of the Series X. The Series S lacks a disc drive. It has half of the internal storage, a weaker GPU, and less memory.
This is balanced out by the fact that the Series S generally targets 1080p-1440p, whereas the Series X targets 4K visuals. Therefore, the Series S is a great option for kids playing on 1080p TVs or monitors. The lack of a disc drive is a major drawback of the Series S, and we recommend getting the X if possible. However, Series S consoles are much easier to find, so if it’s your only option, it’s still a brilliant little next-gen console. Especially for kids who love titles like Fortnite and Minecraft, which don’t benefit much from 4K graphics.
Choosing between the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X largely comes down to the factors mentioned in the previous section. Cross-platform games, released on both systems, are generally indistinguishable from each other. The Series X has a slight graphical advantage, while the PS5 has more advanced haptic feedback in its DualSense controllers and faster game storage for quicker load times.
If they currently own a PS4 or Xbox One console, it makes a lot of sense to buy the corresponding new console since both PS5 and Xbox Series X|S has backward compatibility with last-gen consoles. With the Series S unable to play discs, digital games will transfer forward with no additional purchase.
A Note On Subscription Services
While the PS5 and Xbox Series X are similar, they both offer game subscription services that are somewhat different. You don’t have to buy games with the console in both cases. Paying for a game subscription grants access to 100s of current- and older-generation games.
In the case of Xbox Game Pass, you get all first-party exclusive games if you’re a subscriber, along with heaps of rotating third-party AAA and indie games. With PlayStation Plus (depending on your subscription tier), you get a similar library size, but the first-party games only arrived sometime after their release.
Nintendo also offers a subscription service, but it only includes access to retro games from the NES, SNES, N64, and (strangely) SEGA Genesis era.
Which subscription service you like more may be a much more significant factor in deciding between a PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X|S than the actual consoles themselves. So take the time to go over the exact offerings before committing.
Nintendo’s Switch is on track to be the company’s best-selling home console of all time, and it continues to receive new titles and will for a few years, even when the next Nintendo console comes out.
If they enjoy playing handheld mode games, love games like Pokemon, Animal Crossing, or the Legend of Zelda, and aren’t bothered by simpler graphics, lower resolutions, and lower frame rate gameplay, the Switch is a no-brainer.
Of the three Switch models to choose from, we’d recommend the Nintendo Switch OLED, especially for handheld mode players. The OLED screen is a massive upgrade. If they’ll only ever play docked, save your money and buy a standard Switch.
We don’t recommend that anyone buy the Nintendo Switch Lite, unless they know that only handheld mode and pocketability matter. It’s a significant concern that the Switch Lite does not have removable Joy Con controllers, so if they develop controller drift, you have to send the whole console in for repair.
The Steam Deck
The Steam Deck is an interesting alternative option. Although it looks like a handheld gaming console, it’s actually a handheld PC that plays a growing selection of PC Steam games. The base model costs just a little more than a Nintendo Switch, and Steam games are generally much cheaper than Switch games.
If the person you’re looking to buy a gift for is already a PC gamer, many of the games they own will work on this handheld system. Alternatively, the Steam Deck can be an affordable entry into PC gaming. Any games bought for the Steam Deck will work on any future gaming PC they might get years later.
The downside is that the Steam Deck is more complex to set up and run than a console and has shorter battery life. Valve, the creators of the Steam Deck, have done a lot to make the Deck more console-like, but it’s still not as plug-and-play as a console.
Given how tight the stick situation has been for the PS5 and Xbox Series X, it can be tempting to buy a PlayStation 4, PlayStation 4 Pro, Xbox One S, or Xbox One X. Plenty of games are still being released for both current- and last- generation consoles, so getting one of these older consoles may seem like a good deal.
However, we recommend you avoid buying last-generation consoles at this point simply because they are a dead end. These consoles will soon stop receiving new games, and those they do get will offer a seriously degraded gaming experience compared to the current generation.
Of all the last-generation consoles, the one that comes closest to being a good deal is the PlayStation 4 Slim. This small, quiet video game console still has access to new Sony exclusives such as Marvel Spider-Man, God Of War Ragnarok, and Horizon Forbidden West. However, if you don’t place a high priority on Sony-exclusive games, the Xbox Series S is the best gaming console to buy if you can’t find a PS5 or Series X. It’s better than last-gen consoles in almost every way.
While the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X do target 4K rather than 1440p, the Series S will keep getting games just as long as the Series X, it offers fast loading times, and higher frame rates with better visual settings.