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Trends Sony PSP go

High Technology Product Reviews | Trends and News | Trends Sony PSP go
The Sony PSP has been a premier mobile gaming platform for the past five years, but it was always a bit large for a portable system. Sony's answer: The PSP go ($249.99 direct), a shrunken-down version of the PSP that eschews the UMD optical drive and game cartridges for 16GB of internal storage, download-only titles, and a new slider design. The screen is bright, the controls are responsive, the storage is sufficient, and Sony's online download store is reliable and robust. The problem is that the PSP go is really only for gamers who are new to the PSP platform, not the faithful who have stuck with Sony for a half-decade. If you fit into the latter group, you're better off sticking with your original, albeit chunkier, PSP-1000, or buying the slightly smaller PSP-3000 ($169.99 direct) if you want to get in on multiplayer games.

With the PSP go, Sony is poised to compete with other portable gaming platforms, including the Nintendo DS Lite and Apple's iPod touch—at least as far as portability is concerned. The PSP go measures 2.7 by 5 by .65 inches (HWD), making it roughly half the volume of the original PSP-1000. This PSP will slide right into your jeans pocket; it's a far cry from the older model that really only fits in a bag or oversized jacket pocket. All the controls are where you'd expect them: The analog stick, the d-pad, and the game buttons are under the sliding screen. Controls for power, the shoulder buttons, and the switch for the 802.11b Wi-Fi are positioned near the bezel.

You get a 3.8-inch screen—smaller than the 4.3-inch LCD on older PSPs, but it offers the same 480-by-272 resolution, so it's a bit sharper. And the display is bright, and shows less motion blur than the screen on older models. The LCD and body are glossy, so the device is a fingerprint magnet.

To get the PSPgo so small, Sony had to trim some fat, removing a variety of components: The battery is now non-removable, and the separate connectors for remote control, USB, power and AV-out are combined in a new proprietary connector. The PSP go also uses compact M2 memory instead of Memory Stick Pro Duo, and the UMD drive is gone. For the most part, it's a fair tradeoff for new users, but if you've built up a library of UMD titles and peripherals for your older PSP, you won't be a happy camper. None of the older accessories (save maybe the earphones) will work here, and Sony will make you buy all your games over again as downloads (provided they are available at all). The only new addition to the PSP go's repertoire is Bluetooth for wireless connectivity to smartphones and other compatible devices—but this doesn't make up for all the things that had to be removed to achieve the device's compact size. Essentially, previous PSP owners upgrading to the PSP go might as well be migrating to a completely different platform.

In my tests downloading games directly from the PSP go was excruciating. Including 802.11b Wi-Fi on the device means that Sony didn't have to upgrade hardware to support downloads, but the slow speed also means that a game install can take an hour or more. Using a PS3 or PC with the included Media Go software is much faster, but it adds one more step to the process. One benefit offered by the download-only model is that once a game is on your account, you can download and use it on up to five PSPs. You can also download TV shows, movies, themes, and original PlayStation (PS1) games to the PSP go.

Download game pricing on the PlayStation Store is on a par with the price of games on UMD, ranging around $20 to 40 depending on the title. The online store, however, is unlikely to lower prices much when a game becomes older, which happens regularly at brick-and-mortar stores. It's also worth noting that if you buy games to turn around and sell them, you can't do that with downloaded titles since they're tied to your PlayStation account.

With its download-only model, the PSP go is a direct competitor to the Apple iPod touch and Nintendo DSi. The PSP go has better 3D graphics than the DSi, and it has a lot more titles available for download. But the DSi can play thousands of older DS cartridges. The iPod touch can download tens of thousands of low-price or free games via the iTunes App Store. The iPod touch's accelerometer, touch screen, 3D processor, and faster CPU give it more gaming potential than the four-year-old technology in the PSP go. Besides, the iPod touch is a much better music and video player, it's more compact, and it comes with 32GB of storage for only $50 more than the PSP go. Few PSP titles are available for the iPod touch, however, and the hardware controls on the PSP go do make for a better experience for some on-the-go gamers.

As for actual gameplay, the PSP go has a smaller set of controls than the original PSP. The four action buttons on the right side take a little getting used to, since they're closer together and are tinier. I could see them being a bit of a challenge if you have large hands. Games with a lot of motion, like Gran Turismo, look a little better on the PSP go, since the smaller screen seems to refresh faster than the older PSP's larger display. This also means that detail may be harder to pick out on the smaller screen, however. Otherwise, the experience with the user interface is the same as with the old PSP, and games run just as fast on the PSP go.

If you're new to the PSP platform and want to play, say, Gran Turismo or any other Sony-sourced game wherever you are, then the PSP go is an attractive option. The problem is, a $170 PSP-3000 paired with a 16GB Memory Stick Pro Duo will let you play more games for about the same money. If you're a current PSP user, you'll need to wait for Sony to offer a solution for using previously purchased games, or an option to enable UMD owners to authenticate and download their games on the PSP go via the PlayStation Network.

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