DualSense Edge

Teardown: Sony DualSense Edge

Image credit: Sony

The elite PlayStation controller is exciting, but not as big a step forward as many wanted.

The global e-sports market was last year worth $1.9bn (£1.6bn), according to Statista, and is one of the fastest-growing entertainment industries. Some of its biggest teams are already being valued in the hundreds of millions. It is not surprising then that leading console developers are now looking to develop upmarket wireless controllers. The gaming equivalents of a pair of Air Jordans include Microsoft’s Xbox Elite and, now, Sony’s DualSense Edge.

The Edge has just launched, going on public sale after initial exclusivity via the PlayStation site. It costs a hefty £209.99, a number worth comparing with the £59.99 it costs to buy a standard DualSense should you need one more than that which comes bundled with a PS5. Microsoft has priced the Elite at £140.

The target is the upper end of the gaming market – e-sports professionals and those who wish to emulate them. The Edge’s buttons and pads are almost fully customisable, and supported by software that allows you to alter sensitivity as well as the functions for each button. It also has several interesting physical features.

There is a pair of ergonomic rear buttons – small and large – and you can toggle the triggers so that they can, for example, have a ‘hair’ response (good for a first-person shooter) or a more gradual one (well suited to racing games).

DualSense Edge

Image credit: Sony

From a design point of view, the feature catching most attention is that the Edge’s thumbsticks are modular and replaceable. New units cost £20 each and the units pop out thanks to an external switch and an internal lever.

As a nod to repairability and the wear-and-tear that heavy-duty gamers put their machines through, that is very welcome. What has disappointed some reviewers is the fact that the thumbsticks still use potentiometers rather than Hall effect magnetic sensors, even though this is a premium product.

One of those critics, teardown specialist iFixit, has done some useful research as to why potentiometers are a bit of a pain. Gamers call the main problem ‘drift’.

The technology is based on a physical wiper measuring what is happening to a resistive pad as the player manipulates the stick. There are typically two potentiometers, measuring left-right and up-down instructions. Wear and tear can lead these devices over time to gradually misread the user’s intentions.

Sony Playstation Dualsense Potentiometer Inline

Image credit: Sony / iFixit

Specifically, the leading manufacturer of potentiometers, Alps, says that its products have a lifespan of approximately two million cycles. That sounds a lot, but as iFixit points out, for reasonably intense gameplay – if you measure thumbstick movements – that can translate to 25,000 minutes, or 417 hours, or 209 days at two hours a day of use: a lifespan of around seven months. For more intense play, that figure can, iFixit argues, potentially be just four months.

Of course, a typical user might not use a controller so frequently or intensely. But, again, the Edge is aimed at serious gamers.
By contrast, because Hall effect sensors measure magnetic fields, the same level of wear and tear does not apply. Fields can weaken but lifespans for controls based on this technology can potentially run into years.

“With a modular thumbstick replacement, Sony acknowledges that potentiometer-based sticks are a problem. However, that’s not quite enough,” says iFixit’s Shahram Mokhtari. “We need to take it a step further and do for thumbsticks what we did for lightbulbs: end the farce and adopt a longer-lasting technology. For lightbulbs it was LEDs, for thumbsticks it’s magnets and Hall effect sensors.”

Then, there is replacement cost. Sony is charging £20 per joystick, so £40 a pair. First, this is not far off what it would cost to buy a whole replacement standard Dual Sense. Second, while potentiometers are not exactly ‘jellybean’ price components, the retail price also suggests that Sony is looking for a hefty mark-up, particularly given that it will be able to buy the parts in massive volume.

Then, while this step towards repairability and modularity is welcome given the trend towards more sustainable electronics, it has also involved trade-offs that have raised further concerns among hardcore gamers. Specifically, replaceable parts – Sony has also swapped from solder to generic connectors for the Edge’s rumble motors – take up more space, and one victim of that appears to have been the battery.

Possibly because these innovations still take up more space inside the controller (and it is necessarily the same size if not weight as a standard DualSense), the battery is smaller.

Sony Playstation Dualsense Rumble Inline

Image credit: Sony / iFixit

“At 1050 mAh, the Li-ion battery in the Edge is about a third of the capacity of the 1560mAh battery in the original DualSense,” notes Mokhtari.

According to reviewers, this reduces play time to between four and eight hours, with more serious gamers tending to have experiences towards the shorter end of that range. Sony has sought to mitigate this by also including a long four-metre USB cable with the Edge, but it is a bit disappointing.

Despite these issues, the Edge is being generally well-received as some serious kit for serious competition. It’s also being noted that in using some more robust springs as well as making replacement and repair easier, Sony has responded to concerns that have been raised by some of its biggest customers. Particularly – if not perfectly – over drift.

Mokhtari speaks for many when he notes: “There is value in retaining a familiar design and iterating on it as opposed to starting from scratch on a new platform. And though the new DualSense Edge is a redesign from the inside out, it’s clear that lessons from the original DualSense have made their way into the iteration of this new design. I’m looking forward to seeing more of that.”

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