Videogame consoles, especially portable ones, often see many hardware revisions throughout their lifespan. Sony’s PSP platform is no exception, having been slightly modified several times since it was first released to the public in 2004, but with much fanfare and speculation its most radical departure has arrived and the PlayStation Portable Go (PSPgo) is here. Smaller and considerably more compact, Sony’s all-digital iteration of their popular portable packs a punch – and higher price – than its predecessor. But is the loss of backwards-compatibility worth the gains in form factor and convenience? Let’s take a measured and honest look and see how the new model stacks up.
By just holding one in your hands its easy to tell that everything about the PSPgo has been reduced, from the actual size of the unit to the actual concept of the PSP, the width obviously prominent with the design taking both aspects of function and form. You’ll also notice relating to the size that the screen and controls are separated by a sliding mechanism where the controls can be pulled down whenever you need them – eerily, if not conveniently similar to Sony’s own internet media-ready Mylo device. The intentional removal of the PSP’s own Universal Media Disc (UMD) drive is perhaps the most obvious omission for the unit’s 43% reduction in mass. The PSPgo is certainly attractive, and is currently available in both piano black or ceramic white and both are glistening with a smooth shiny finish and small rubber grips on the back for more secure holding.
Everything might be smaller but that certainly doesn’t mean it’s not as comfortable to hold. Compared to the PSP 1000-3000 SKUs the revised placement of the controls do provide the hands with better support and the overall feel of the buttons are much improved, the analog nub has been updated providing an even less slippery radius (though playing a game with is still mildly annoying). The LCD screen is also noticeably smaller, a reduction from 4.3” to a 3.8” viewing area while maintaining the resolution of 480×272, meaning that despite less size games and media still look at sharp as they ever did. What this means is that games are still enjoyable to play if you’re willing to embrace the different digital approach and still willing to put up with the battery life, which internally built within the PSPgo and cannot be removed by the user.
What’s the big deal about the PSPgo then? Well for those looking to add peripherals to the unit, Sony has included strong Bluetooth support, which means accessories like headsets, in-game voice chatting, and better Skype calling are available. There’s also more support for the PlayStation 3 console as you can now link PSPgo control to a Sixaxis or DualShock 3, this is particularly useful if you play your PSP at home through the TV or require pinpoint accuracy (hello fighting games) the standard control scheme can’t provide. It’s too bad establishing such a connection isn’t easy the first time around, but dedicated PS3/PSP fans would do good to weather the challenge.
So indeed there is some potential but it’s nearly impossible not to ignore the significant changes that went into making Sony’s latest premium handheld what it is, especially what they just happened to change or entirely remove with questionable results and getting into connectivity you can literally see perverse habits that Sony doesn’t like to break.
The PSPgo allows Sony to make an even break with virtually every aspect of the platform’s older model, as nearly every cable and connector has been replaced with newer (and less compatible) versions you probably don’t currently own. Accessories like the traditional and widely available mini-USB cable (used by virtually every digital device, including Sony’s original PSP and PS3 consoles) is abandoned, replaced with Sony’s newer and included proprietary USB connector and AC adapter. The same break also applies to nearly all past accessories like the GPS receiver and camera, and must now be used with the company’s upcoming Go-Converter. Not even Sony’s own brand of Memory Stick Duo cards are spared as the PSPgo adopts the newer Memory Stick Micro (M2), which are half the size and consequently remain somewhat obscure and relatively pricey for most consumers.
The most radical and immediate casualty of of this handheld revision is the proprietary UMD format itself, initially praised by Sony but now seems destined for the scrapheap of failed propriety formats. The micro-discs have been ditched in favor of an all-digital delivery system through either Sony’s PlayStation Network (PSN) via WiFi, or through synching to a Windows-based PC (no Mac or Linux support as of this review).
The reality of this change is that current PSP 1000-3000 owners with UMD games are – quite literally – left out in the cold if they’re considering the Go. No UMD-based game or movie will work on the PSPgo and Sony (despite their initial promise) currently has no plans to convert old purchases to the new digital format. All games on the PSPgo are downloaded and played directly from the unit’s 16 GB internal drive, linked to the user’s PSN account and are not transferrable to other users PSPgo and/or older models of the console. Effectively, this means saying goodbye to rentals, borrowing, sharing, and the occasional bargain-bin treasure as you’ll be limited to purchases made over the network or via download codes some retail stores are choosing to carry.
Prospective PSP owners should be aware that the older PSP models can also download and play games via the PSN and download vouches exactly as the PSPgo can, provided they have a large enough memory card for storage.
I almost hate to admit it, but I really do like the PSPgo. It’s a tempting package for those who want all things trendy in a portable gaming handheld and has surface appeal for those who doesn’t mind having their collection of PSP games with them at all times. But it would be a disservice to recommend its purchase to anyone looking to invest in one, from needlessly proprietary peripherals, the unnecessary shift of the in-house Memory Stick Micro (M2), to exuberantly disappointing removal of the UMD drive it’s really difficult for me to understand why Sony even decided that this Mylo-inspired handheld was a structurally sound idea for consumers at this time. The PSPgo is simply a compatibility nightmare, and not worth the headaches.
I love the PSP platform, but like all star-crossed love-affairs, this version is either a generation early, or a generation too late. Stick with the current PSP models, which (apart from Bluetooth support) do practically everything the PSPgo does and more, for a considerably cheaper price-tag. You’ll be happier and feel better about investing in a game library that’s more flexible and transferable.
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