PS4 vs Xbox One – a Usability Review (Part 2)
State of Digital | Industry Savvy

PS4 vs Xbox One – a Usability Review (Part 2)

on / by Oliver McGough

This is the second part of our test of the PS4 and Xbox One using our Usabilla Survey. Part 1 can be found here.

You can view/download the full PDF of the review here.

With the scores tied 1-1 from part one, we return to the bout.

Question 3: Where would you expect to find your friends?

Another simple instinct test, aiming to see how quickly users can identify where their friends are on the screen. Again, this tests the complexity and intuitiveness of the interface.


The PS4 was previously praised for its simplicity, and it is here that this simplicity is most apparent.

Average response time: 3.3 seconds

Nothing much needs to be said about the results. Every participant hit the right spot: the friend notification. Sony have been consistent, the image the same as on the PS3. This may have helped its case, though the pure simplicity of the interface also has a major hand in things. There is little else to confuse this icon with on the page, and the icon is plain to see – top and centre.

Xbox One

The cluttered interface makes for a messier result. Yet, the results are equally as impressive, with the selection perfect – other than one rogue click on the Xbox logo.

Average response time: 4.6 seconds

All but one participant hit the correct spot, a success for the Xbox. Yet this highlights flaws. This test proves just how much information there is on the screen – an overload of which results in a slower response rate. Two distinct areas display friend information, and it is this split that has created such a spread response. Is this really necessary?

Round 3: Result

This test, more than anything, highlights the difference between simplicity and complexity. The Xbox chooses to display friend information in two distinct areas. The idea to show the profile pictures as a quick, visual cue. Yet the separation from the text appears to have left users confused – resulting in the greater response time (4.6 seconds, 1.3 slower than the PS4)

So it is here pure simplicity of the PS4’s interface reigns supreme. No mess, no confusion. The results perfect, and the response time blowing the Xbox out of the water. The simplicity offers the appropriate visual cue, and it is quickly noticeable.

Round 3 Winner – PS4

The cleanest of victories, and the PS4 takes the lead. A faster response rate, a cleaner result. The intuitiveness of its interface proving superior in both tests.

Question 4: Is there anything on the screen that you are unsure of?

Here we asked participants to show and tell us exactly what they were unsure of on the screen. This again is down to intuitiveness. How understandable and interpretable is the interface to the uninitiated?


Simplicity has thus far been the PS4’s forte. Using simplistic icons and a clean interface to offer up just enough of a visual clue to help the user. Here, that simplicity takes a battering. Icons which may prove understanding to previous users, provide little information to those fresh to the console.

Notes placed: 94

Playstation Store (1)

  • “Is this a marketplace?”
    “Is this the shopping area? It is a shopping bag…”
    “I guess maybe some app shop, but confusing icon”

The participants have the right idea, so the icon is doing its job. The lack of accompanying text is perhaps an issue, but it wouldn’t take too much to explore further. Overall, the icon is a success.

Notifications (2)

  • “Icon doesn’t give much info like this”
    “Information about what?” (x 3)
    “Is this for help, system settings, troubleshooting etc. ?”

As before, the Playstation uses a simple icon with no description. This is great, if you know what you’re looking at. However, using an ‘i’ offers the wrong impression, with users thinking they’re looking at a ‘further information’ icon. After all, you wouldn’t normally associate ‘i’ with ‘notifications’.

Trophies (3)

  • “I didn’t know what this was until I checked it”
    “Does this tell me my rating”
    “I guess this is awards/badges, but not sure”

Again, to the uninitiated, it makes no sense. In this case we can perhaps let it slide. Trophies are earned through using your console, playing games. Yu will inevitably learn what they are as you become more experienced. However, this does again highlight the over-simplicity of the interface.

What’s New (4)

  • “A bunch of symbols doesn’t tell me much. I can’t tell what this does without interactivity”
    “It takes up much space but unsure what it does. Also unclear if the ‘What’s new’ belongs to this block or not”
    “I expect it to be the most played game, but the thumbnail is confusing (no album art?)”

I covered this earlier, but again the comments highlight the main issue with the interface. The symbols are nonsensical and have no meaningful relation to the content on the screen, which is devastating considering this is the most prominent feature. What’s also interesting is that some weren’t sure the text related to the picture – which makes matters even worse. The participant expecting this to be a game is perhaps onto something. After all, this is supposed to be a games console, and not a Facebook feed for the living room.

System Icons (5)

  • “I initially associated this icon with a ‘display on TV’ feature, until I realised that a PS4 is already displayed on a TV. Not sure what this does.”
    “This looks like it could be some kind of video wall, but I’m not sure what the benefit of such a thing would be.”
    “These icons tell me nothing” (x4)

Again, mentioned earlier. The system icons are far too simplistic, they have no text on them without moving to view them. As a result it appears no one has a clue what they do. There could surely be a more appropriate image?

Xbox One

Thus far, the Xbox has been a victim of clutter. Throwing too much information at the user. It is here then, that we would expect that clutter to be fruitful. With textual descriptions for each button, we’d expect the interface to be more self-explanatory.

Notes places: 73

Friend Pictures (1)

  • “Not sure I like all of these avatars – unless you have a 60″ display it seems it would be difficult to quickly see who’s online.”
    “No idea what these icons are for. (x4)”
    “Are these friend’s avatars? (x5)”

The usefulness of placing friend information in two areas was questioned earlier. Now it becomes more apparent that this is an unnecessary gimmick. The first quote has a good point – the relative size of the pictures does make it difficult to make sense of what we’re looking at. Many people guessed correctly, but many also wondered what it’s doing here. It adds very little to the interface, and I feel wouldn’t be missed.

Xbox Logo (2)

  • “Does this take me home? Or it is just decoration?”
    “Not sure if this is just a branding thing, or if it actually has a purpose.”
    “Is this an icon? Or just a logo?”

Using a white logo on the black background, contrast is used to great effect here. Unfortunately it has no real purpose, other than to reaffirm to the user which console they are using. I won’t deny it looks good, breaking up the area of white (or black) space. Though it’s useless other than as a visual logo. As an area that draws so much attention, perhaps something more important should be here. Especially as it seems that in its current state it only confuses users.

”Snap an App” (3)

  • “No idea what “Snap an app” means. Sounds like someone was trying to be clever by making it rhyme at the expense of making sense.”
    “No idea what this means.”
    “I would expect that I can download/buy an app here…”

Though experienced users would instantly understand the use of this feature, it remains ambiguous. I especially enjoy the first comment here. It is perhaps a case of marketing lingo taking precedent over sense. You can imagine the corporate marketer, waxing lyrical about the ‘genius’ name – which makes little sense from a consumer perspective.

”Upload Studio” (4)

  • “Need clear labels as to what these icons are for. Does it start the app? Or are they adverts? Why should I click them?”
    “Not sure what I could upload here and why. But I understand I can upload something”
    “Not sure what I need to upload on a console”

Again, the focus is largely down to participants not knowing the console. Upload studio is an app used to edit/upload game clips. There is no one to blame here, as – being a user of the console – you would learn the use and meanings for apps like this.

Round 4: Result

It is here that the PS4 appears targeted to the advanced, knowledgeable user – over beginners. True, all owners will become initiated in time, but the speed at which they can pick up and play is important. It is always difficult to strike a balance between these [levels of interaction], and it is here I feel the Xbox One – with its mix of iconography and text – performs the better.

On the Xbox, icons are relevant, and have text offer a helping hand. Two of the issues were in areas that we wouldn’t expect non-users to be sure of anyway. This is the opposite of the PS4’s approach. Over simplicity and an over reliance on iconography. Iconography which will make sense to PS3 owners, but not to those new in the Sony universe – creating more questions than answers on startup.

Round 4 Winner – Xbox One

With two closely matched interfaces, we can see from the amount of notes placed who wins. The Xbox with only 73 wins out here with a slightly more complex interface, accommodating to all.

Result – Which proves to be the better interface?

Over the the four questions, both consoles scrape an even tie. This isn’t quite good enough – it’s too easy an answer. I feel one option is certainly the more usable.

Whilst both consoles embrace flat design, the PS4 opts for a more minimalistic approach. The player navigates across a linear menu – the frequent items pushed to the front. This may speed things up reaching your most recent items, but causes the opposite for lesser played. There is also the ‘issue’ of the social feed. The feed itself isn’t quite so bad, and may well appeal to certain users. Using such a large, non-descriptive icon is confusing. It was highlighted numerous times by our participants. It attracts a lot of attention, yet fails to actually do anything. Intended to lead attention towards the feed, it fails to do that. The icon is useless. I feel this is the major flaw of the interface. It may look elegant, but is functionally flawed by over simplicity and a lack of logical structure.

And it is in logical structure that the Xbox performs much more effectively. Everything is on the screen. Icons are labelled. The most important item – the most recent played item – takes front and centre. There are flaws, mistakes seen in question 3. Yet on the whole I feel Microsoft serve up the greater interface. It pushes the important information to the fore, proves easier to navigate, and easier to understand. The tests and the numbers don’t lie.

I feel the Xbox wins this bout, as would be expected from a software company as historic as Microsoft. If truth be told, it is the best of a bad bunch. Which performs the better in-game, is up to you.

You can view/download the full PDF of the review here.

Thoughts and questions in the comments. Which do you think comes off the better?

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Article by

Oliver McGough

Passionate UX Designer and Marketer.

Share your thoughts

  • Christiaan

    Cool to see my comments on here :)
    Thanks for sharing the insights from the review!

    • Oliver McGough

      No problem, couldn’t have happened without people like you! :)

  • Batavier

    Great comparison. I have the Xbox 360 and PS3 and their interfaces are quite comparable to their younger siblings. Indeed the Xbox has a cluttered interface, but it’s easier to navigate. Both for new users (my GF…) and more experienced users. I think mainly because even though there’s a lot of things happening on the screen, they are where you expect them to be. I’m still getting used to the PS3 interface after owning it more than a year now.

    • Oliver McGough

      Thanks for the input :) I’ve admittedly not used either the PS4 or Xbox One, but used both previous iterations like you. I also always found the PS3 horrible and clunky to use. Both weren’t perfect but I definitely preferred the xbox. Totally agree with you on it being cluttered though. Was nice to find that was an inherent issue with the design through the test!

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