Smith & Wesson recently released the M&P380 Shield EZ. It’s designed to be easy to operate, easy to shoot, easy to load, and easy to field strip. And, as reviewed here, they #NailedIt. But Walther’s PK380 has been a fit for recoil-sensitive shooters and for those with diminished hand strength for nearly a decade. So, how do they stack up?
On paper, the two pistols are extremely similar in size. Their length, barrel length, height, and width stats are all within a tenth of an inch. Weight of the two guns is within a half ounce. Their 8+1 capacity is identical, as are their $399 MSRPs.
But that still leaves significant room for differences, of which there are many.
While the spring in the PK380’s magazine is softer, the Shield EZ’s is easier to load to capacity thanks to the rimfire-style finger studs on either side of the follower. This allows the user to pull the follower down with one hand while sliding the next round in with the other.
With the slide forward, locking a fully-loaded magazine into the Shield EZ is far too difficult, but it’s a cinch in the PK380. With just a pinky finger I can slide the magazine up until it clicks with light pressure. In this category, the PK380 has a clear advantage over the Shield EZ. I fear any user buying the EZ for its ease of use will end up carrying it with a round under its full capacity.
Unfortunately for the Walther, slide-forward loaded magazine insertion is the just about sole category in which the PK380 is the better gun.
Right out of the box, there’s a big difference in perceived quality. The Smith just feels good. It feels like any other polymer-framed M&P series pistol. The Walther…less so. It does not exude the quality of, say, the PPQ, for instance.
The PK380 audibly rattles and wobbles. The squarer-than-a-GLOCK’s-slide slide (machining time costs money) is loose on its rails. It clacks around both top-to-bottom and side-to-side. It’s also Cerakoted, which is fine but, not as impressive or as durable as the EZ’s nitride treatment.
The Smith feels like a polymer-framed semi-auto should, with appropriate clearance between slide rails and frame rails. Its nicely-machined slide moves freely, but without the rattle.
Slide serrations on the PK380 are shallow, though the slide-mounted safety provides an annoying back-up for slipped fingers. Finger purchase on the Shield EZ is significantly better. Though its serrations span a shorter length of slide, they’re far more effective.
Furthering the overall cheap feel, Walther puts plastic sights on the PK380 whereas Smith chose steel for the Shield EZ.
Down to the frames and it’s a similar story. The Walther’s polymer doesn’t have the warm, quality feel of the Smith’s. It’s harder, smoother, and slipperier. Ergonomically it’s solid, with a more pleasing palm swell than the EZ. But the PK380 lacks grip texture and the shooter can’t grip the pistol as high.
Ease of use may also mean simplicity of use, and the Smith is simple.
If you choose the model with the manual thumb safety, that safety is mounted in an easy-to-reach location and it’s easy to operate. Likewise, the magazine release is easy to reach and works in the U.S.-standard manner. Field stripping the EZ is as simple as rotating the takedown lever down and pulling the slide off the front. Finally, the EZ has only one mode of operation. Oh, it also has a slide stop.
The Walther is complicated and difficult to operate.
Its slide-mounted safety is hard to reach and awkward to operate. Flip it up to fire and down to block the hammer. Which is also a bit awkward, as the lever serves solely to prevent the hammer from hitting the firing pin. The trigger is still fully functional, the slide can be racked, etc. For whatever reason, the owner’s manual still suggests pinching the hammer to lower it slowly after pulling the trigger instead of just pulling the trigger and letting the hammer fall home.
In fact, double action / single action external hammer operation is complicated in general. Multiple modes of operation adds complexity to what is often suggested as a beginner’s gun.
Additionally, the PK380’s magazine release is the Euro-style flappy paddle job along the sides of the trigger guard. And a sleek, small, smooth paddle it is. This is harder to reach and harder to operate than the Shield EZ’s thumb button.
Yes, while most shooters warm up to a paddle release after practicing with it for a while, for those with limited finger strength, reach, and dexterity the PK380’s release is objectively more difficult to use than the EZ’s.
Field stripping the PK380 requires the use of a special key. Insert the key into a hole in the left side of the frame, rotate it 135 degrees, and then pull the takedown levers down in order to release the slide. They key remains in the frame until the pistol is reassembled. Special tools are complicated.
Slide stop? Who needs a slide stop? The PK380 doesn’t have one. This is because…you see…nope, there’s just no good reason. Locking the slide back manually requires first inserting an empty magazine. When the slide locks back on empty, there’s no way to return it to battery other than ejecting the magazine and sling-shotting the slide (with or without inserting a fresh mag). This is weird.
Between the lack of a slide stop and a safety that’s really just a hammer block, allowing full-on trigger pulls and a dropped hammer in both SA and DA, and generally complicated operation all-around, I have safety concerns with the PK380. So did Walther, apparently, as half of 2012’s production was recalled for firing even when on “safe.”
Speaking of firing, the Shield EZ’s trigger is great. Though it’s internal hammer-fired rather than striker-fired, the trigger pull is closely akin to the M&P 2.0 series with a slightly subtler reset. The trigger itself feels good on the finger and is easy to reach.
Not so much on the PK380. Not any of that. The trigger pull in both DA and SA is horrible, despite Walther’s website stating “Best Trigger on the Market.” In fact, the trigger pull is heavy and gritty — generally unpleasant — and stacks hard right before the break. The tight curve of the trigger is uncomfortable, particularly when it’s far forwards in DA mode. Which will also make it hard to reach for smaller shooters. Its serrations actually create sharp edges that are also uncomfortable. This is not a nice trigger in any way.
It goes without saying that, with the hammer down on the PK380, racking the slide is comparatively difficult. Overcoming the mainspring takes considerable force, so for users with limited strength this is going to be difficult. Interestingly enough, even with the hammer down inside of the Shield EZ, the slide is much easier to rack than it is on the PK380.
So, PK380 owners will want to manually cock that hammer before manipulating the slide. But the hammer is small and cocking it takes real finger strength. This is not a good fit for much of the target audience.
Finally, when racking the slides with the hammer cocked, it’s still easier in the case of the Smith & Wesson. Not by much, but the Walther hits a noticeable wall when the slide contacts the hammer and pushes it even farther down, whereas the Smith does so to a significantly lesser degree.
Finally, out on the range the Smith & Wesson M&P380 Shield EZ is easier to shoot than the Walther PK380. Its name may be cumbersome, but the gun is anything but.
The Smith recoils more softly, both in felt recoil to the palm and in muzzle flip. Combined with a grippier grip texture and the ability to get a higher grip on the gun, it’s much more controllable and pleasant to shoot. That ergonomic, crisp, 4-lb trigger adds to the positive experience.
In this contest there is no contest. In nearly every possible way Smith & Wesson’s M&P380 Shield EZ is the superior pistol — especially for those seeking an easy-to-operate semi-auto — to the Walther PK380.
But stay tuned as our man Jon Wayne Taylor has the PK380 in-hand along with 500 rounds of Freedom Munitions .380 ACP ammo (use coupon code “TTAG” for 5% off everything on Freedom Munition’s website, including the 16 brands of .380 ACP they stock). He’s putting the little Walther through the full TTAG review process now.