Looking for the best gaming console of 2021? You’re in the right place. The landscape has changed significantly since the early days of console gaming. Back then, there were only one or two consoles to choose from. That meant less choice but it was also easier to pick the right console for you. It went something like this: Mario fan? Get a Nintendo. Sonic fan? Choose Sega. Easy.
Fast-forward to 2021 and finding the right console for you, one that’ll suit your budget as well as your gaming tastes, is much harder. Sure, there are exclusives that might seal the deal for you and save you time deciding. But these days most of the new games are multi-platform anyway.
There are also resolution and frame rate capabilities to consider as well. This can make it even more difficult to work out which console will meet your needs.
Luckily, we’re here to help you make your decision a little easier. We don't play favorites and we don't have a preference for one company over another. In our guide below we simply play by the numbers and give you all of the things you need to consider on the best and brightest new hardware. That way you can make the best-informed decision for you.
We've included all of the best gaming consoles on the market and weighed up their most notable pros and cons – along with links to other dedicated pages and reviews if you want to dive even deeper.
If you prefer gaming on your PC, here are the best gaming PCs of 2021.
- PS5 vs Xbox Series X: which console should you pick?
- PS5 vs PS4 Pro: should you upgrade?
- Xbox Series X vs Xbox Series S: which Xbox will be right for you?
Coming in a standard edition or, slightly cheaper, digital edition (which comes without a disc drive), the PS5 is Sony’s newest PlayStation - and it’s as impressive as you would hope.
Sony has re-imagined the key parts of the PlayStation experience with the PS5 – from a simpler setup and new well-thought-out user interface, to a revolutionary controller and added bonuses for PS Plus members – and the result is a console that feels like a genuine step up from the PlayStation 4 and the PlayStation 4 Pro that came before it and we can’t help but be impressed.
Sure, there are problems with how few first-party games there are for the console at launch but thanks to titles like Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Sackboy: A Big Adventure and Demon’s Souls the PS5 does manage to outshine its next-gen counterpart, the Xbox Series X, in this area.
The PS5’s backwards compatibility does go some way to making up for this as it gives access to the PS4’s library of excellent games, many of which are first-party exclusives. That said, the PS5’s backwards compatibility isn’t quite as comprehensive as that offered by the Xbox Series X, which can play titles from every Xbox generation gone by. However, the PS5 is definitely an improvement on what the PS4 offered in terms of backwards compatibility and overall the PlayStation 5 feels like a solid investment and we’re confident that the PS5 experience will improve with age.
You may feel tempted to run out and buy a 4K/120Hz TV with HDMI 2.1 to take full advantage of the console’s peak capabilities, but even without one you’ll enjoy unbelievably fast load times and a gorgeous new UI that builds on what Sony has done in the past.
The PS5 caters to both primed and ready next-gen gamers and tepid PS4 owners looking to dip their toes into the future of gaming - and for the latter it’s a console that so seamlessly bridges the gap between the last generation and the next that you probably won’t need to boot up your PS4 ever again.
From big upgrades like the super-fast NVMe SSD and powerful GPU that enable higher frame rates and ray tracing, to subtle touches like the built-in microphone on the controller that can serve as a quick stand-in for a headset, the PS5 feels like it was built for ease of use as well as pure power.
Buy this if you want: a taste of next gen without losing your PS4 games, you're tired of loading screens and want higher frame rates and you plan on buying a next-generation game console in the next six months.
Anything the PlayStation 4 can do, the PlayStation 4 Pro can do slightly better. However, the PS4 Pro sits below the PS5 in terms of power and capability.
The PlayStation 4 Pro plays all the same games as the standard PlayStation 4, so if you're upgrading you won't have to start your library afresh and you won't need to pay any more for new 4K games either. You may, however, see an improvement in how they look and perform compared to the standard PS4 - though they won't look or perform as well as they would on PS5.
The PlayStation 4 Pro was the most powerful console in the PlayStation lineup (until the PlayStation 5 came along), capable of outputting native and upscaled 4K in games that have been patched to make that possible. Even games that haven’t been specifically patched can make something of this console’s greater power – you’ll find images look a little sharper and games will overall run more smoothly thanks to the PS4 Pro’s Boost Mode.
Like the standard PS4, this console has an excellent library of games and some fantastic exclusives as well as Playstation VR support. The PS4 PRo also offers access to new PS5 titles for the next while too, such as Spider-Man: Miles Morales, as many new releases are also cross-platform - but don't expect this to last.
Though it's capable, it's not every game that will output native 4K on the PS4 Pro – many of them will be upscaled as the console just doesn't have quite the degree of power required to maintain native 4K resolution and run a large game with consistent frame rates - if you want that then the PS5 is probably a better option.
The PS4 Pro also has the same problem as the PS4 in that there isn't good backwards compatibility for previous console generations. There's also no built-in Ultra HD Blu-ray player so if you're looking for a console that will play your physical 4K media, this isn't the one. It will, however, still play standard Blu-rays and DVDs, and can stream in 4K from compatible services.
If you don’t have a 4K HDR TV and super sharp visuals aren’t something that will drastically improve your enjoyment of a game then this console might not actually be worth the extra cash you’ll splash on it, particularly if you already own a standard PS4 console. But it is a cheaper gateway to 4K gaming than the PS5.
Buy this if you want: Native 4K and HDR gaming, PlayStation exclusives, VR gaming, native 4K for under £350/$400.
Available in standard or slim versions, the PS4 is the baseline console offering from Sony, sitting underneath the PS4 Pro and the new PlayStation 5 in terms of power.
Since it launched seven years ago, the PlayStation 4 has been a firm fan favorite, even cementing its place second bestselling home console of all time.
The console’s single biggest strength is its exclusive games - in a world of increasingly service-based online titles, PlayStation continues to push narrative-driven single-player titles such as Uncharted, Spider-Man, God of War, Horizon Zero Dawn, and The Last of Us. The PS4 also offers access to new PS5 titles for the next while too, such as Spider-Man: Miles Morales, as many new releases are also cross-platform - but don’t expect this to last.
It’s also the only one of the only two consoles (apart from the PS5) that offers access to virtual reality experiences (though you will have to purchase the PlayStation VR headset separately if you want to take advantage of this capability).
If you’re interested in 4K resolution everyone’s talking about, you won’t find that here. While even the budget Xbox One S offers 4K upscaling, the base PS4 is resolutely 1080p and it doesn’t play Blu-ray discs either. The PlayStation 4 also isn’t great when it comes to backwards compatibility. While Sony has decided to make the PS5 backwards compatible and able to play all of the PS4 games, the PS4 does not offer a similar bridge to the PS3 generation, so if you’re hoping you’ll be able to play your old PlayStation 3 library with ease by picking up a PS4, you won’t.
If you’re looking to enter the PlayStation ecosystem in the most affordable way possible and, you like the company’s exclusives, then this is the console to go for. However, it’s worth noting that cross-generational games will only last for so long and eventually will likely become PS5 releases only.
Buy this if you want: the latest generation games but don’t need 4K, you want PlayStation exclusive games, console VR, and a console for under £250/$250.
It’s the latest and arguably greatest Xbox console but the Xbox Series X isn’t an essential purchase – at least, not right now. But that isn’t to say it’s not a fantastic piece of hardware, with a lot of potential.
The next-gen Xbox is super-fast, surprisingly quiet, and delivers the kind of performance that we’ve previously only seen from high-end gaming PCs, ensuring that games – both old and new – look and perform better than ever before.
Gaming PCs, though, never come at this price tag for the same specs, and the Xbox Series X manages to pack a lot of power for under $500 / £450 / AU$750. The result is a console that’s not only technically impressive, with drastically reduced load times and significantly improved visual fidelity in games, but one which employs numerous quality-of-life features to make your gameplay experience more pleasurable.
However, while the Xbox Series X’s raw hardware power is hard to deny – and its new time-saving features are certainly welcome – it lacks in some critical areas.
The launch lineup isn’t quite as enticing as the PS5’s, lacking any ‘must-have’ exclusives or brand-new titles that will make you want to run out and buy the new Xbox on day one. To truly get the most out of the Xbox Series X at launch, we advise picking up an Xbox Game Pass subscription that enables you to access hundreds of games for a monthly fee and definitely helps the Xbox platform stand apart from its competitors. We found it helps soften the blow of this poor launch lineup and with mobile streaming available as part of Game Pass Ultimate, the Xbox is finally able to offer a portability that steps on the toes of the Nintendo Switch (but only very slightly) .
The Xbox Series X’s backwards compatibility is a major selling point of the console and it’s more comprehensive than what the PS5 can offer, giving access to all previous games on the Xbox platform and making the move to the new generation absolutely seamless. It will, however, see you playing older titles on your new console rather than brand-new games, which is a bit anti-climactic for a new console generation even if some games are optimized.
The lack of Halo Infinite, or any other big-hitting Xbox exclusives, is very noticeable once the novelty of the hardware improvements wears off and if you’re already playing on the older Xbox One or Xbox One X you’ll probably find you’re still playing the same titles just on a better console. In addition, we’d like to have seen more of an overhaul of the dashboard and UI like the PS5 to really drive home the fact that this is a whole new generation of console.
Microsoft’s flagship console is as powerful as you’d expect, then, but we’d hold off on buying one at launch unless you’re already heavily invested in the Xbox ecosystem, or simply want the best Xbox console experience possible right now. For everyone else, it may be worth waiting until the next-gen games library becomes more substantial.
Buy this if you want: You want minimal loading times and smoother gameplay, a great audiovisual multimedia experience, to keep access your older Xbox games and accessories and more control over your storage.
The Xbox Series S is a next-gen console that takes a radically different approach. It's designed to offer the same generational leaps as the Xbox Series X, such as high frame rates, ray tracing and super-fast load times, at a considerably lower price – and inevitably, this means it comes with a few key compromises.
It has significantly less storage than the Series X, and targets a resolution of 1440p for gaming and upscales to 4K when connected to an ultra HD display. A couple of titles are capable of native 4K, such as Ori and the Will of the Wisps, but this is a machine designed to run games at a lower resolution.
The Xbox Series S also does without the 4K HD Blu-Ray drive of the Series X, and while these might be too many compromises for some users, the Xbox Series S is a much cheaper and smaller device as a result and is still capable of playing next-gen games.
Games on the Xbox Series S are impressive, with smoother frame rates, increased resolutions (when compared to Xbox One and Xbox One S) and faster load times... even if they don't look quite as pretty as they do on the Series X due to the lack of 4K output.
That said, for gamers who have no qualms about buying games digitally, or subscribe to Xbox Game Pass, you’re getting the full suite of next-gen features on Microsoft's cheaper console. The Xbox Series S is a great entry point into next-gen gaming, then, without the sizable financial outlay required to own a full-blown next-gen console.
As we've alluded to already, there are drawbacks to consider. If you prefer to purchase games physically, or have amassed a large collection of Xbox One games over the years, the Xbox Series S's lack of disc drive may put you off.
It's only available with 512GB SSD storage too – there's no higher-capacity option. And while this SSD is dramatically faster than the old mechanical drives in the Xbox One X and Xbox One S, it can fill up fast.
The other factor that may deter people from buying Microsoft's more affordable Xbox is the fact that outputs at 1440p for gaming. This lower resolution is a firm favorite in the PC gaming space due to the superior image quality it provides over 1080p, and lower amount of graphical grunt it requires, which has allowed Microsoft to create a lower-spec machine that still boasts next-gen features.
If you own an Xbox One X, the drop to 1440p from native 4K can be noticeable, and the Xbox Series X is the console for you if you're after the outright best image quality possible. That said, because the Xbox One X was able to deliver games like Forza Horizon 7 at 4K/60fps, and is still capable of some sumptuous visuals, it's easy to think the Xbox Series S is a step back – but it's not.
Looking at the internals of the system, the Xbox Series S separates itself from the One X with its vastly more powerful CPU, and more technically capable GPU, courtesy of AMD's RDNA 2 architecture which enables cutting-edge features like ray tracing. Yes, the Series S has fewer teraflops than the Xbox One X (four compared to six), but teraflops are no longer the defining factor in how a GPU power is determined.
For Xbox One owners looking to upgrade without breaking the bank, the Xbox Series S is a great option, if you can accept what it's been designed to achieve. If you've already got the Xbox One X and a 4K display at home however, we suggest considering the Xbox Series X instead.
Buy this if you want: You're on a budget, but still want to experience next-gen gaming, you plan on mostly getting games from Xbox Game Pass and Xbox Live Gold, and you're tired of sitting through long loading screens.
Now that the next-gen Xbox Series X has been released, the Xbox One X is no longer the most powerful Xbox console on the market. If you can get your hands on one, it’s still a capable and powerful console but given it's been discontinued that could prove challenging.
Essentially, the Xbox One X is Microsoft’s counterpart to Sony’s PS4 Pro and it’s a pretty good one. Just like the PS4 Pro this console outputs native and upscaled 4K as well as HDR on games that have been patched to support these features. But because of its much better specs the Xbox One X offers native 4K on many more games than the PS4 Pro. And it’s often more consistent in maintaining a 4K output.
The Xbox One X's 4K capabilities means it outputs at a higher resolution than Microsoft's next-gen compromise console, the Xbox Series S, which sits at 1440p. That’s not to say the One X is more powerful than the Series S, though — the newer Xbox Series S has a more powerful CPU than the One X, and more technically capable GPU, courtesy of AMD’s RDNA 2 architecture which enables ray tracing.
Still, as good as the Xbox One X’s 4K output is, if you’re really looking for a powerful 4K-ready Xbox console the new Xbox Series X is probably going to be easier to get ahold of.
As with all of the Xbox consoles, the One X has excellent backwards compatibility support and Xbox Game Pass access, as well as a built-in Ultra HD Blu-ray player for your physical media collection. However, also like other Xbox consoles, it suffers from a lack of console exclusives that really show what it can do.
Something also worth noting is that you may find you have to purchase a sold-separately external hard drive for this console. While its 1TB of built-in storage seems like a lot, 4K game files are large and it’ll quickly fill up but this is a problem it shares with the next-gen Xbox Series X and PS5.
Buy this if you want: Native 4K and HDR support, Ultra HD Blu-ray player.
Key reads: Read our full Xbox One X review to dig into the details and peruse our list of games that take advantage of the console's power. Think the king of consoles is the one for you? These are the best Xbox One X deals right now.
Looking for an entry-level console but not interested in what PlayStation has to offer (or in next-gen)? Why not look at Microsoft’s Xbox One S. This console has superseded the original Xbox One for many reasons – it has a much smaller and sleeker design, and it’s just that little bit more powerful.
Something this console can do that the standard PS4 console can’t is upscaled 4K. The Xbox One S’s 4K capabilities aren’t at the same level as the PS4 Pro, PS5, Xbox One X or Xbox Series X as the 1080p images are largely just stretched to fit a 4K screen without any clever checkerboarding but this rudimentary upscaling is reasonably impressive in a console with price starting from only £170/$190.
To make up for a lack of good exclusives, Xbox consoles do have much better backwards compatibility capabilities than PlayStation consoles. On Xbox One S you’ll be able to purchase and play original Xbox and Xbox 360 titles, many of which have become key classics.
If you ever owned an older Xbox console and you still have the games from that, or you really want to catch up on a bunch of excellent titles you missed out on then the Xbox One S is a great way to do this.
An area where the Xbox One S completely outstrips its direct counterpart, the PlayStation 4, is overall home entertainment – while both consoles are able to stream from a variety of entertainment apps like Netflix and Amazon, the Xbox One S also has a 4K Blu-ray player built in.
The newer PS5 and Xbox consoles (with the exception of the Series S) also have this capability, though, so it’s not quite as essential as it was when these consoles were released. However, given the low cost of the Xbox One S, if you’re looking for a basic games console and want to continue using your large physical Ultra HD Blu-ray collection, the Xbox One S will definitely win your favor here as it's one of the cheapest ways to pick up an Ultra HD Blu-ray player.
One issue Xbox has compared to PlayStation is exclusive games. Where PlayStation has quite a robust collection of exclusives, Xbox is somewhat lacking. Franchises such as Halo, Gears of War and Forza might call this platform home, but their critical reception hasn’t quite hit the heights of Horizon Zero Dawn and Uncharted. What it does have on its side is Xbox Game Pass, which for a monthly fee gives access to a rotating library of games.
Though it does offer upscaled 4K, the Xbox One S’s upscaling method is far less intelligent than the checkerboard method used by the PlayStation 4 Pro so if you’re looking for a truly polished 4K experience, it’s best to splash the extra cash on the PlayStation 4 Pro, an Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S or a PS5.
Prefer to go disc-less? The the Xbox One S All-Digital Edition would be a better option if you can get hold of one but this could be hard as it's been discontinued. The digital console boasts roughly the same specs as the Xbox One S but without a disc-drive - making for a lighter, more convenient console.
Instead, we would recommend having a look at the Xbox Series S before picking up an Xbox One S or Xbox One S All-Digital Edition, as this digital-only, cheaper alternative to the Xbox Series X offers the benefits of next-gen gaming with a price tag not far off that of the Xbox One S.
Buy this if you want: Affordable but upscaled 4K, an Ultra HD Blu-ray player, excellent backwards compatibility, a console for under £250/$250.
Key reads: Make sure you read our full Xbox One S review as well as our picks of the best Xbox One games to see what you could be playing. Think this is the console for you? These are the best Xbox One S deals right now.
- Where to buy Xbox Series S: all the latest stock updates
- Where to buy Xbox Series X: prices, deals and stock updates
The Nintendo Switch is now three years old, and it's still proving to be very popular.
This is the most unique option on the market at the moment as you can use it both as a handheld and home TV console.
On Switch you'll find a quickly growing library of games that’s the most diverse offering from Nintendo in years. From thrilling exclusives like Super Mario Odyssey to essential indies like Stardew Valley, Nintendo's Switch offers all kinds of experiences.
It doesn’t have nearly the same power as the standard PlayStation 4 and Xbox consoles and it certainly won’t play games in 4K or support HDR (in fact its screen is a pretty low-res 720p) so if you’re looking for a console that will win the spec wars you won’t find it here.
You’re also less likely to find the latest and greatest third-party games on this console. While it now has titles such as Doom, Skyrim and LA Noire, many of these have been available on other platforms for months, if not years. We're slowly watching that change but the latest and greatest releases may still not make it here purely due to a lack of power.
Of course, where PlayStation offers VR, Nintendo has its very own something special in the form of Nintendo Labo. This cardboard peripheral is one of the most innovative things we've seen in years and it has the potential to be great.
It's also worth being aware that you're likely to need to purchase a separate microSD card for this console at some point as its internal memory is restrictive.
Buy this if you want: a console that can be played on your home TV and taken on the go, access to Nintendo exclusive games, and you don’t need the highest resolution and the most powerful specs.
Key reads: Looking to know more about the console? This is our full Nintendo Switch review. We also have a list of the best games the console has to offer. Think you're ready to Switch it up? These are the best Nintendo Switch deals at the moment.
The most recent addition to the Nintendo family comes in the form of the Nintendo Switch Lite, a dedicated handheld alternative to the original Switch.
The Switch Lite boasts the same power as its the original, but comes in a smaller - and lighter - package.
It's also worth noting that the Lite is a solely handheld device and, while you can connect Joy-Cons to it, it's meant to be used by a single player. That means you can't dock it and it doesn't actually come with any Joy-Cons in the box. It also means that you are can't play all the games in the Switch library - mainly those that require docked mode or are party games. While Joy-Cons will attach, the screen is a bit too small to play properly.
The Switch Lite is for those who aren't particularly fussed by the Switch's docked mode and would rather take their games on the go. The smaller screen makes for more comfortable portable play.
Like the Nintendo Switch, you may need separate microSD card for this console at some point as its internal memory is restrictive.
Buy this if you want: A more portable, comfortable alternative to the Nintendo Switch.
Key reads: Looking to know more about the console? This is our full Nintendo Switch Lite review. We also have a list of the best Nintendo Switch games the console has to offer - though some may not be compatible with the Lite. Interested in the handheld? Check out the cheapest Nintendo Switch Lite prices and bundle deals.
Best games consoles at a glance
- PlayStation 5
- PS4 Pro
- PlayStation 4
- Xbox Series X
- Xbox Series S
- Xbox One X
- Xbox One S
- Nintendo Switch
- Nintendo Switch Lite