Sony’s new ‘slim’ PlayStation 5 is smaller but also weirder

I’ve always had a soft spot for Sony’s refreshed, slimmed-down consoles ever since the adorable PS One. All the Sony consoles I’ve owned were launch versions that are bigger and goofier-looking than their eventual redesigns — giving me massive FOMO — but I think my love affair for “slim” PlayStations is now at an end with the new PlayStation 5.

If there’s ever been a PlayStation in need of a glow-up, it’s the PS5. Sony’s white-and-black obelisk is a gargantuan console with a design that you learn to live with more than you grow to love. The thought of course-correcting the PS5 design like Sony did with the George Foreman grill-style PlayStation 3 should be a slam dunk, but what we’ve now got with the $499.99 new PlayStation 5 and $449.99 new PlayStation 5 Digital Edition are some weird half-measures.

Design-wise, the new “slim” PS5 is indeed smaller. Sony says it’s been reduced in volume by “more than 30 percent,” but up close and in person, I alternate between feelings of “Oh yeah, that’s much smaller” to “Okay, it’s smaller… but it’s still a big boi!” The swooping curves and contours of the new PS5 can have you changing your opinion on its design on a minute-to-minute basis depending on what angle you’re viewing it from. It’s a byproduct of such a fussy and busy (and frankly, kind of ugly) design.

The slim looks more refined than its bigger, clunkier older sibling thanks to its shorter white covers, concave top curve, and panel lines cutting across its sides that divide shiny and matte finishes. However, the new PS5 also makes some really strange design decisions: the disc drive looks even more like a strange growth jutting out of the console’s side, the lack of vent fins at the top makes its gaps look prototype-ish or incomplete, and the cat ear-shaped feet for propping it up horizontally are a joke for an included “stand.” The console stands vertically on its own, though, if you want more peace of mind that it won’t tip over, the vertical stand is now an additional purchase for $29.99. (The original PS5 had a convertible stand for both horizontal and vertical positions.)

But the new PS5 at least has a little more going for it than just Sony’s strange design choices — it now has 1TB of built-in storage (up from 825GB on the original) and two front-facing USB-C ports instead of one USB-C and one USB-A. The only other tangible benefit is that the location of the removable disc drive’s eject button means we can finally stop mixing up the power and eject buttons that have looked way too similar since the PS4 days.

As for the removable disc drive, I’ll hand it to Sony for making it easy to detach or attach the drive without any tools. (It’s even easier than adding an M.2 SSD to the PS5 — which is thankfully still possible.) But I’m also left asking, “Why?” Sure, someone with buyer’s remorse over their Digital Edition PS5 can simply get a disc drive and add it on themselves, but they’ll end up paying more in the process since the Digital Edition now costs $449.99 and the drive add-on runs $79.99. 

And setting up the disc drive requires an internet connection, as was first reported last month — even if the disc drive came attached to your console. Setting up your console with no internet? That may be unlikely for most people, but if you’re in that situation, you won’t be able to play anything until you at least connect once to Sony’s servers. You’re even given a warning that factory resetting your console requires an internet connection to properly unpair the disc drive, which raises the question of what happens if you sell or buy a secondhand drive that wasn’t unpaired. (I’ve reached out to Sony with several questions about drive pairing and will update this post if I hear back.) I don’t see how this glorified DRM benefits anyone, and it may lead to some messiness when it comes to preservation many years down the road.

The PS5 slim’s disc drive wonkiness, combined with some of its stranger design decisions, makes it a somewhat confusing mid-cycle refresh. Aside from its smaller size, modest storage upgrade, and rearranged port selection, this update seems like it’s doing more for Sony than its customers by getting them to pay more via accessories. If you own an original PS5, there’s hardly any reason to upgrade, and if you’re buying today, there’s really no harm in going with the “fat” PS5 — at least, until the slim becomes the only option.

Photography by Antonio G. Di Benedetto / The Verge