When the PlayStation 4 first released in November 2013, the console’s UI was a breath of fresh air. It felt fast, responsive, and intelligent – not to mention that it was a significant step up from the PlayStation 3’s user interface. However, as the weeks and months went by, the significant number of flaws in the UI became painfully clear. These issues ranged from the cluttered state of the Library, the inability to view trophies if the console was offline, and the occasionally convoluted processes certain features involved. Consequently, there were times when day-to-day use and navigation were downright painful. Thankfully, Update 4.00 – released yesterday – represents a relatively huge upgrade to the UI, overhauling a number of features and interfaces, finally giving us the PlayStation experience we deserve.
Folders & Library
Yes, that wonderful invention that has been available since the 1950’s on computers – folders, has finally come to PlayStation. Honestly, it is embarrassing that folders, a feature requested from launch, not to mention a feature that is available on the PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita – heck even the Nintendo 3DS! – is only being implemented two months away from the PlayStation 4’s third birthday.
Putting aside the snail’s pace with which Sony has updated the PlayStation 4’s system software, users who implement folders effectively will circumvent the problems of navigating the previously cumbersome library. Folder’s are easy to create, edit, and delete, and the same is true for adding and removing games from folders – simply click on the options button and you can access a number of functions, such as the ability to edit the folder’s name, what items are inside the folder, and not only delete a folder, but also delete all games within the folder. Games can be added to a folder one at a time or on bulk, and moved from one folder to another. Games and apps can also be moved to different a location within a folder so that can users can sort them into any order of choice. That being said, there is no ability to sort folders according to presets such as A-Z, or by recently used – not a major flaw, just an occasional minor annoyance. The number and size of folders also appears to be unlimited, with my largest folder holding over thirty games, and a total of eleven folders in all. The folder system is both intelligent and simplistic.
That being said, there are a few problems with the folder system – with two major problems emerging during the small amount of time I have spent with my PlayStation 4 since Update 4.00. The first problem, is the inability to sort the folders themselves, with all icons on the home screen being sorted according to the order they were last used. As such, navigating to a specific folder is more tedious than it should be. Ironically, the folder section under the library allows for sorting according to A-Z, Z-A, recently used, and creation date. As such, the ability to sort icons on the home screen according to the same parameters, or even being able to move the folders to a position of your choosing – as is the case with games within a folder – has risen to the top of my list for revisions I would like to see in the next update. The second problem, is the inability to change the cover of a folder, with the cover featuring the artwork of the first three items contained within the folder, and then a folder icon in the bottom right corner. As such, my home screen now looks like endless reams of folder-spaghetti – leaving me unable to tell where one folder ends and the next one starts. The ability to dictate the cover of folders will not only provide a much needed aesthetically-pleasing upgrade, but also make folders easier to recognise, and therefore easier to navigate to. Another problem that some users will have with the folder system, is that games can only be sorted into one folder, although most users will not find this a problem.
Finally, the Library has undergone some previously necessary updates – although the new addition of folders potentially removes the need to access the Library? The Library is now separated into six categories; All (which displays all currently installed apps and games), Folders, Games (which displays all currently installed games), Applications, Purchased (which displays all software installed or not), and TV & Video. While there is no section that allows users to explore purchased but uninstalled content only, the Purchased tab can be sorted according to install status, which will display all uninstalled games first. Annoyingly, the Install Status search displays results according to purchase date, making navigating to a game you bought some time ago tedious. However, if you have a specific game in mind that you would like to re-install, you can use the new search function, which displays all matching results regardless of install status. The search function (which thankfully uses a virtual QWERTY keyboard as opposed to the PlayStation Store’s letter-at-a-time approach) is fast and effective, and while I doubt it will be utilised much, the inclusion is nevertheless a welcome addition.
Outside of the addition of folders, the major update to how users will interact with their PS4’s is the redesigned Quick Menu. Featuring a more minimalist design – that no longer fills the entirety of the screen – the redesigned Quick Menu is easier to navigate and can be somewhat customised to reduce clutter. As a result, using the Quick Menu no longer ‘pulls you out’ of the game, in addition to feeling quicker and more responsive. New features added to the Quick Menu include the ability to access trophies and see which friends are playing the same game as you, in addition to browsing all online friends, the ability to create, manage, and join chat parties, and to change your online status. The snappy Quick Menu makes all of the above easier to navigate to, and in turn makes those features appear both easier and faster to use. Admittedly the customisation options for the Quick Menu are bland, allowing you to decide if elements such as online friends, favourite groups, and power options are displayed, although the ability to sort said elements allows for quicker navigation to the most used items. All in all the Quick Menu’s delightful redesign offers a faster, more hassle-free experience, that results in a far more enjoyable day-to-day experience.
Similar to the redesign of the Quick Menu, the Share Menu has also been redesigned with a minimalist look that allows certain features to be used without filling the entirety of the screen. Sadly, the only aforementioned features are the ability to save a screenshot or a video clip. Sharing a screenshot or a video clip, starting a gameplay broadcast, or accessing the sharing settings will bring up the full screen menu’s users are accustomed to. As such, while there are strong design tenants behind the refreshed share menu, Update 4.00 only brings a half-step at best. Furthermore, the strength of the updates above makes the menus of ‘yesterupdate’ feel archaic and unnecessarily cumbersome. Hopefully Sony is already hard at work at completing the share menu’s redesign, as the potential for a far superior interface is clear.
PSN Profiles have also seen a design refresh, with a focus on bold impressions. The profile picture has been shrunk down, while the About Me section has grown in size, appearing much more prominently. Cover images have been added, allowing users to select a screenshot or upload any image of their choice (Probably best not to select anything too offensive considering said images can be viewed publicly), adding a nice touch of personalisation to profiles. In addition, profiles now include a games section which displays the number of games a user has played and the trophies they have earned for said games. This section can also be used to compare games and trophies, with sort options to display mutual games to make the process easier. Recent Activities has also been refreshed in attempt to make the accompanying social features easier to interact with, as has the What’s New section – it’s cute that Sony thinks anybody uses these features.
It is worth mentioning at this point in time that PSN ID’s still cannot be changed! There is no excuse, Sony, no excuse!
Below is a list of some of the smaller updates included with Update 4.00, in addition to our thoughts.
Notifications have been overhauled with a minimalist approach, relying on white and grey background set against black text to increase clarity and make them easier to read. Vibrant colour has also been injected to icons such as the screenshot icon to give notifications more pop. While the workings of notifications have not been altered, the new look is a vast improvement over the old white text on black background, and helps give the PlayStation 4 a feeling of freshness, emphasizing the changes Update 4.00 has brought.
Trophies have seen a number of fairly significant updates, with the main upgrade being the ability to view trophies offline – a much requested feature. In addition to being able to view trophies offline, the information of hidden trophies can now be temporarily revealed so that players can view the requirements to earn those pesky trophies. Finally, the rarity icon has been redesigned to make the rarity of a trophy clear. However, the ability to sort the games on your trophy list according to any order other than the most recently updated, is frustratingly still absent.
High Dynamic Range
Announced at the PlayStation meeting last Wednesday, Update 4.00 brings with it the ability to display games supported games in HDR, on any supported displays. The update to HDR is hardly a small addition, especially as if effectively brings users equipped to utilise HDR an all-new mid-generation refresh to graphics. That being said, users will have to wait for games and patches to begin utilising the PS4’s new HDR capabilities.
While two-step verification was added as part of an update that released shortly before the 4.00 update, it is nonetheless a great new feature that is worth talking about. Two-step verification allows users to add a phone number to their account, so that when the account is logged into for any purpose, an SMS containing a verification code is sent to the provided number. You can enable two-step verification here, a move we strongly recommend given the horror stories surrounding Sony’s horrific approach to customers whose accounts have been hacked. After the hack of 2010 I would be hard pressed to say the I feel secure on the PlayStation Network, but certainly two-step verification is a step in the right direction, even if it has taken Sony this long to implement it.
Update 4.00 is a great refresh of the PlayStation, almost system wide. Many frustrations with day-to-day navigation and use have been eradicated, while also adding a fresh lick of paint that makes the system feel fresh and new. Even so, there a number of changes that could still be made to improve the UI even further. Below is a full list of the features we would still like Sony to make to the PlayStation 4.
- Custom folder cover images.
- Ability to sort icons on the home menu.
- Sort function for items within folders.
- Create a more cohesive share menu, where all share features are designed according to the new minimalist approach.
- More responsive friends list and messages.
- Update store UI – particularly search function.
- Improve store loading times and remove sluggishness.
- Allow users to change their PSN ID’s.
- Allow games on trophy list to be sorted by A-Z or by percentage completed, at the very least.