The Playstation 4 has been out for over a month now all over the world (with apologies to those in the Asia-Pacific region) and rest assured I have found plenty of time to become acquainted with it. So after a month of intimacy with Sony Corporation (NYSE:SNE) (TYO:6758)’s new console, what is my verdict on this much anticipated and hyped piece of hardware?

Playstation 4

Well, the first thing to note is that you don’t feel as if you’re lifting a dumbbell when you pick it up. It is an extremely light unit compared to the original Playstation 3, and the design has generally been well received. I’m one of the few people that liked the physical design of the PS3, and I don’t necessarily agree that the PS4’s unit has topped it, but I appear to be in the overwhelming minority.

Playstation 4’s customer service seems impeccable

Before going any further, we all love consumer electronics when they work, but what about when they don’t? Unluckily, I’ve had the opportunity to test this out in practice, as my first PS4 began ejecting discs continually when there was no disc in the drive. It didn’t work too well after that. I must report that this was almost certainly due to damage in transit, as I bought my Playstation 4 from a well-known online retailer (who are not known for overpaying in the tax department). Queuing up through the night for a PS4 at the end of November in Britain was not really on my radar.

So I’ve had the opportunity to test out Sony Corporation (NYSE:SNE) (TYO:6758)’s customer service, and I must say that it was very good. I had no complaints at all. Naturally it was annoying when the console malfunctioned, but Sony were pretty helpful on the phone, very clear with their instructions, replaced it no problem at all, and renewed the warranty from the time I received the new console, which was about 72 hours later. I haven’t had any problems whatsoever with the new one.

The PS4 runs extremely quietly once it is booted up, with the fan virtually silent, and only occasional murmurings from the disc drive audible. I wasn’t overly keen on the front end of the new PS4 interface initially, which is referred to as the PlayStation Dynamic Menu, but after using it for a month I can see that it is in fact vastly superior to the XrossMediaBar, with useful options constantly available from the first layer of the interface at all times.

Many of the bugbears of the PS3 have also been eliminated completely. For example, you don’t have to sit around for hours waiting for games to install and download; you can play them as soon as they begin installing. FIFA 14 launches you straight into a fixture between Real Madrid and Barcelona, NBA 2K14 gets you right on the court immediately, Madden 25 enables you to play the computer with your favorite NFL team while the game installs in the background. This is an extremely nifty and much welcome feature.

A powerhouse of a system

Zipping around the PS4’s interface while you’re playing is also extremely slick and intuitive. You can run Internet applications and games at the same time, and never notice a fall in processing speed. In fact, I have used the web browser on the PS4, and actually forgotten that I had a game running in the background, such is the lack of interference.

The ability to stream your gameplay at all times, and to watch other users doing the same is also an interesting feature. In a sense, this is a bit of a niche element of the console, given that you might as well play it if it’s switched on. But it can be interesting and informative to watch others play certain games, as long as you’re not expecting politically correct content! Because, trust me, you rarely get it!

Before discussing the games, I will briefly mention the downsides of the machine. Firstly, much of the media functionality from PS3 has yet to be migrated. This isn’t a big issue for me, and will undoubtedly change once the PS4 is established, but Netflix is still there, and it’s obvious that such features will be integrated over time. If you want a multimedia machine then the XBox One is the better choice.

Secondly, the hard drive really isn’t that big considering every game you play has to be installed on it. This is negated somewhat by the fact that Sony has made it extremely easy to fit external drives of your own denomination and choosing.

Thirdly, although the controller is brilliant and vastly superior to the PS3 gamepad, it also has a light contraption on the top of it which saps the battery rather quickly. This doesn’t really bother me, as I feel 18 hour sessions on a games console are not conducive to good health, but I have seen many people moaning about it on forums.

You cannot help being blown away by the visuals in game initially, with everything running like a dream in 1080p, and the graphics incredibly immersive. Even though these are merely souped up PS3 games essentially, they still look awfully impressive, and it is extremely exciting to imagine what the first batch of really original content is going to be like next year.

Networking has been a little ropey at times. Again, this is something that people get incredibly steamed up about on forums. Is there a more demanding and less reasonable community anywhere in the world than gamers? Personally, I believe a few teething troubles are inevitable, but I’ve been able to play online a lot, the Playstation store works fine, and overall the experience of playing on the PS4 is a massive step up from the PS3, even before we see the likes of Watch Dogs and Drive Club.

Unfortunately, the days of free Playstation Network are over. You have to pay a nominal fee each month for online play, which I don’t consider to be unreasonable as you cannot really expect Sony to provide servers for free indefinitely. If you sign up for Playstation Plus, you get two PS4 games free, including the beautiful Resogun which is a standout shooter which many believe to be a killer app anyway. Also, if you’ve kept your PS3 and / or have a Vita, then you can download around a dozen games for free for the older consoles.

I enjoyed the PS3, but I don’t recall being blown away by it. The Playstation 4 really has impressed me. It does not surprise me in the slightest that it has apparently outsold the XBox One. Gaming with it is such a vastly improved user experience from its predecessor. It has even been reported that it will run future games in a fashion close to that of high end PCs. Considering it costs half the money out of the box, and will last for around a decade, this really is a fantastic machine that promises to go from strength to strength in 2014.