At the PS4's launch, the Dual Shock 4 felt like a robustly constructed unit - a well crafted pad with a number of key improvements over its predecessor. But after just a few weeks of use, it was surprising to find the rubber material of its analogue sticks starting to flake away, in some cases leading to an outright tear. Having despatched two controllers in this way, we decided enough was enough. It was time to explore upgrade options - and since this required performing surgery on the pad, why not attempt to address the controller's lacklustre battery life too?
It's the somewhat perishable nature of the sticks that is our primary concern here and the first and most obvious route is to simply buy like-for-like replacement sticks for Sony's pad, easily found online at around £10 a pair - but in our experience even these eventually wear down too. Games like FIFA 16 tend to cause this wear and tear, and likewise for any sports or action title relying on heavy analogue rotations. In the end, the answer was a surprising one; rather than constantly replacing these Sony parts once they shred, why not fit the Dual Shock 4 with Xbox One sticks instead?
As it turns out, Xbox One replacement sticks use the exact same interface to lock into the pad's spindles. The dimensions match up too, meaning the sticks don't jam with the innards of Sony's pad. However, the process of doing this is rather protracted, and involves opening up your PS4 pad entirely - no easy feat the first time you do it. For those attempting to match our step-by-step video tutorial (see below), we must warn that there's a real risk of breaking your controller if you're not careful. Proceed with caution.
The process is rather simple at first; remove all four tiny screws at the controller's back with a 2.4mm screwdriver (though in our case we make do with a Philips PH1). From here, it's the more trying matter of wrenching the two halves of the pad apart, requiring the use of a plastic spudger. This tool lets us separate its light grey back plastic base from a dark grey one up top. You start by pulling apart the controller grips, using the tool to work your way down the controller sides gradually, prising it apart up to the L1 and R1 buttons - and then behind the touchpad.
Order the replacement Xbox One sticks compatible with Dual Shock 4 controllers:
Again, we must stress this is not an easy process at all, and once it does eventually give way, the springs for the triggers are apt to fall out. Fortunately, these are relatively easy to plant back into position, and from here after it's far easier to navigate the controller chassis. For more depth, refer to the video - but in short it's a matter of detaching two ribbon cables for the pad's LED and touchpad, taking away the battery, and removing a fifth black screw beneath it. After this, the worn-down sticks are revealed - and by gently pulling and rotating each they'll simply slip off, leaving the spindles available for the new Xbox One sticks.
While reassembling the unit, there's also a chance to upgrade your battery. Unofficial 2,000mAh units are doing the rounds online, which in theory stand to double our usage time with the pad compared to Sony's official one. These are often dubiously packaged, with English language typos lining their side - and in fact, all unofficial batteries we bought from separate sources turned out to be the exact same model. Equally curious is the fact these batteries have the exact same dimensions and weight as Sony's standard 1000mAh model.
Having made all of this effort, the final, modified Dual Shock 4 has its pros and cons. On the plus side, the implanted Xbox One sticks work beautifully. Even with the huge stress of dissecting the pad, the travel is just right, there's no friction as we rotate them around the circular gate, and their firm rubber contours prevent your thumb from slipping off (an issue on PS4's standard solution). It's a perfect fit, and for those who prefer slightly taller sticks that require more torque, this is a great way to play sports and FPS titles. The only snag is the sticks we bought aren't quite a 100 per cent match for the ones used on Microsoft's pad (missing the gloss near the dimple), though they're almost perfect.
Unfortunately, the battery upgrade didn't work out. In stress-testing the 2,000mAh model against the official one, both depleted at almost the exact same time. In this case we used GTA5's settings menu to rapidly switch the vibrate toggle on and off (by holding the right stick at an angle with an elastic band), and force a constant vibration on both pads. We also had LED brightness on the Dual Shock 4 set to maximum, and from full charge, both drop out at exactly three hours and 20 minutes.
Bearing in mind this demands a ceaseless, intensive use from Sony's pad, the figure itself is pretty reasonable, but the parity seen here in results is telling. Even with its allegedly higher mAh rating, it's disappointing that the third party battery replacement gives you absolutely no advantage whatsoever, and you'll still reach for the USB charge cable just as often. Factor in the potential reliability issues of using an unknown brand, and you may as well stick with Sony's default battery for now. If there are any other recommended replacement batteries to try, we'd be happy to check them out - so do let us know if there is a viable replacement out there.
But the good news is that the flaking stick issue is now a thing of the past. The upgraded Dual Shock 4 now has the durable sticks it needs and months on, they're still performing well with no wear and tear issues. What's impressive is just how seamlessly these Xbox One sticks simply slotted in - though we appreciate personal preference factors in when it comes to which is a better fit for games. Either way, by route of patience and the right tools, it's a surefire way to sidestep the Dual Shock 4's flaking analogue issues. A battery upgrade would have been a tidy bonus, but we'll take what we've ended up with.