So you both are looking for a console, or does your friend already have one? If it’s the latter, then you have to get that particular one, as cross play (where you each have a different brand or iteration of console) is limited to certain games. Messaging each other is also limited to the same console. And yes, you would make an account with a user ID.
If you are both starting fresh, then it probably comes down to the type of games you want to play:
Nintendo = think cartoony and fun (Mario, Zelda, Smash Bros, Mario Kart, etc)
Sony/Xbox = think more graphically realistic, “mature” games (Uncharted, God of War, Witcher, Final Fantasy, etc).
As far as which version, the latest for Nintendo is the Switch. The latest for Sony is the PS4. And the latest for the XBox is the XBox One. The PS4 and the Switch are not backwards compatible (cannot play old games previously made for earlier console iterations). The XBox One is backwards compatible with XBox 360 games.
Nintendo’s Wii U, XBox’s 360, and the PS3 have their full slate of games, but you have to get everything secondhand now, including the consoles, as I don’t think they are being made anymore.
Don’t go back any further than that if you want online functionality.
Neither of us have a console. But would we have to pay for an account?
Thanks for your advice.