Editor’s note: This review was updated on October 9, 2009 with a rating now that Sony revamped its online store and expanded game offerings for the PSP Go.
On the surface, Sony’s PSP Go doesn’t really look like anything radically new for the PSP franchise. Yes, it’s more compact than the three earlier generations of the portable gaming and multimedia handheld device. And yes, it features such additions as built-in Bluetooth, slide-out controls, and a smaller, more pocketable overall design. But the real change here–the radical departure, if you will–is the fact that the Go is the first dedicated handheld gaming system to go completely digital and move away from cartridges or optical discs.
Is that a good idea? Well, with the success of Apple’s iPhone and iPod Touch as casual gaming devices, Sony has little choice to head down this path and it’s probably smart that’s doing it sooner rather than later (you can argue whether it should have done it four years ago, but that’s another story). That said, while we applaud the jump to a digital-download-based system, it’s certainly fraught with challenges, and how Sony overcomes them will go a long way to determining the PSP Go’s success.
While the features list differs little from earlier iterations of the PSP, the PSP Go is a complete redesign, with a focus on trimming the console down in almost every way. The initial version is available in black or white; don’t be surprised to see more colors or specially branded versions in the future.
For starters, Sony has removed the UMD media slot and opted instead for 16GB of internal storage. It’s also shrunk the screen from 4.3 inches (diagonally) to 3.8 inches while maintaining the same resolution at 480×272 pixels and its wide-screen aspect ratio. On top of that, the Sony-proprietary Memory Stick Pro Duo slot has been swapped out for the smaller M2 Micro memory card slot–another proprietary Sony format. And finally, a slider mechanism has been incorporated to hide the controls when not in use.
All these design choices pay dividends, as the 5.4-ounce PSP Go is noticeably smaller than the PSP 3000 , measuring only 5 inches wide, 2.75 inches tall (when closed), and just over half an inch thick. Particularly when it’s closed, it has a nice, minimalist look, and we’re happy to say that it’s the first PSP that can fit comfortably in your pocket (when the screen is slid open, the device expands to about 4 inches tall).
The screen itself does not seem to have the interlacing issue that plagued the PSP 3000, and it does seem more vibrant and a bit brighter than the 3000, as well. The smaller surface area does give you less of a viewing space, but since the resolution is still intact, some graphics do seem a bit sharper.
The body of the PSP Go is reminiscent of the glossy black plastic seen in all previous models and still remains a fingerprint magnet. The plastic surrounding the buttons and the D-pad, however, has more of a matte look. The back of the Go keeps the glossy finish, but also has two rounded rubber stoppers that help you grip the device.
The PSP Go feels great in your hands but we definitely had some gripes with how the new button layout performed in-game. Since the analog stick has moved to the right of the D-pad, you may feel off-centered. We tested our PSP Go with Motorstorm: Arctic Edge and could not help but notice that the new positioning felt a bit awkward. While it may not be as much of an issue to newcomers, veteran PSP users will certainly notice the change.
The analog stick is also smaller than in previous PSP models, but it feels more durable and sturdy. There’s also more friction when moving it around, which we prefer over the much looser analog stick we saw in the PSP 1000 through 3000.
For the most part, the buttons themselves feel and perform very well. The D-pad and face buttons all have a much more solid tactile operation to them, almost exactly like those seen on the Nintendo DSi. They are also a bit smaller compared with the 3000, and they aren’t as loose as in previous PSP models.
The L and R buttons are much more prominent, too, and we definitely prefer their feel over the clear shoulder buttons that adorn earlier PSPs. As for the Select and Start buttons, we felt that they’re placed too close to one another, and for some reason they don’t have the tactile click the other buttons have.
The display, volume, and sound buttons have also been moved: they now lie in between the L and R shoulder buttons. They all seem to work fine, but unfortunately you will need to glance at their location when the screen has been slid up in order to use them.
Most of the other switches and sliders remain basically in the same areas as preceding PSP models: the power/hold toggle is still on the lower right side and the wireless switch is on the lower left side, immediately below the new M2 Micro memory card slot.
As noted, the PSP Go does add Bluetooth 3.0 connectivity. That should make it easy to connect wireless headsets, though we could not get it to pair with one stereo Bluetooth headset that otherwise worked fine with an iPhone. However, the addition of Bluetooth does add the somewhat curious ability to control the PSP with a PS3 controller–though to set that up, you’ll need to link both the portable and the controller to a PS3 simultaneously via USB cables.
Like the PSP 3000, this model has a built-in microphone for such applications as Skype calls via Wi-Fi. The microphone is located in between the analog stick and Select and Start buttons. (You can also opt to use a mic-enabled wired or Bluetooth headset instead.)
Two things you won’t find on the PSP Go: a second analog stick and a touch screen. The former has long been on the wish list for the PSP, since it would effectively duplicate the familiar control scheme found on the PS2 and PS3. That would make (for instance) first-person shooters much easier to play. The dearth of a touch screen is notable because rival gaming platforms DS/DSi and iPhone/iPod Touch both utilize them. A touch screen on the PSP would also have allowed for an onscreen keyboard for Web surfing and data entry–both of which remain a chore.
Games and multimedia
With the removal of the UMD slot, all gaming and multimedia must be accessed via the 16GB of internal storage or a M2 Micro memory stick. Users can download software off of the PlayStation Store directly to their PSP Go (it’s got built-in Wi-Fi) or transfer data from their PC or PlayStation 3 via USB.
Sony will also be selling bigger-budget downloadable games (that will also be available on UMD) and for those titles we recommend transferring the data directly off your PC or your PS3 rather than using the Wi-Fi connection on your PSP. For example, our download of Motorstorm: Arctic Edge (520MB) took more than 2 hours to complete from the Go. When we grabbed it off our PC, it took less than 20 minutes.
As of October 1, Sony is pledging to expand the available online offerings to include more than 225 games, 2,300 movies, and 13,300 TV episodes. Among the key games will be brand new (and highly anticipated) titles such as Gran Turismo and MotorStorm: Arctic Edge. Other notable PSP favorites include PixelJunk Monsters Deluxe, Monster Hunter: Freedom Unite, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10, Madden NFL 10, Soulcaliber: Broken Destiny, Beaterator, God of War: Chains of Olympus, Daxter, Star Wars: Battlefront II, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Vegas, Tetris, and Fieldrunners. While you’ll be able to download these games directly from the PlayStation Store, the newly announced Amazon.com PSN store does not have access to some titles in the Sony store.
As we said, in an effort to compete with the microtransaction-based download system that’s been so successful with the iPhone and the iPod Touch, Sony’s doing its best add a similar element of casual gaming to its PlayStation Store. At the forefront of the initiative are PSP Minis, a new type of bite-size casual game offered exclusively on the PlayStation Store, starting October 1. To be clear, these games aren’t exclusive to the PSP Go (any PSP owner can download these games to a memory card), but their launch is tied in with the launch of the Go. Games can be bought online by loading up with PlayStation Store credits or buying prepaid cards at retailers (which provide a unique unlock code). As of now, PSP Minis range in price from $5 to $10–a bit more than what customers might be accustomed to paying in other places like Apple’s App Store.
The PlayStation Store isn’t the most intuitive experience we’ve had using an online app store. You can’t see screenshots of games and, for the most part, they aren’t necessarily organized in the most logical of ways. Plus, once you’ve started a download, your PSP Go is essentially locked down, meaning you can’t use it for anything else until your download is complete.
If you have content across multiple Sony devices, you’re going to want link the Go to your online PlayStation Network account to ensure that it will be able to play or view whatever you’ve purchased (games and video). This isn’t the most practical process, but it does work, and the fact that you can share content with up to five Sony devices (PSPs and PS3s) is really convenient. The best deals are the so-called PSone classics–games originally designed for the original PlayStation that can be played on either the PSP or the PS3. Buy them once, and download them to any of the PSPs or PS3s on your account, at no extra charge.
For those PSP owners who may be upgrading to the Go, you’ll have to manually move saved files over to your new system since your Pro Duo stick is no good on the new device. Of course, this process is only worthwhile if the game you’re trying to play has been downloaded off the PlayStation Store. The lack of a UMD drive prevents you from playing all of your old UMD-based games, and–despite early rumors–there’s also no trade-in program for existing UMD games at this time. That’s another reason current PSP owners will want to think twice before upgrading.
Beyond gaming, the PSP Go is also a solid multimedia portable. In addition to playback of videos, digital music, and photos, it’s also got a built-in rudimentary Web browser. Additionally, it’s got a dedicated Internet radio player as well (though, again, setting it up and accessing music is somewhat more convoluted than it should be).
Separate cables must be purchased in order to hook the PSP Go up to a TV. You’ll have the option of buying either a composite or component cable for displaying videos and games.
The PSP Go seems to be running a slightly modified operating system than the older PSPs. Our review sample is running a software version 5.70, while our PSP 3000 is updated to 6.00. There are slight differences between the two versions as far as we can tell, most likely due in part to the fact that the PSP Go’s slider affects the device’s behavior.
For example, when the screen is closed (slid down), the device enters a sort of screensaver mode, where an analog clock and date are displayed. You can hit both shoulder buttons together to bring up a calendar and scroll through the months by hitting either L or R. When slid back open, you’re returned back to the cross media bar (XMB). You can also change the way the PSP Go behaves when the screen is closed. Instead of the clock display, you can set it to go to sleep. While playing a video, you can close the display and continue watching. (If you really want to turn the PSP Go off, you’ll need to hold the power switch for about three seconds. Slide the switch or the screen to power it up again.)
The only other significant improvement on the PSP Go’s firmware is the option to pause a game and return to the cross media bar. During gameplay, hitting the PlayStation logo button in the bottom left corner of the screen will bring up a menu similar to the older PSP’s home button options. By selecting “Pause Game” you can essentially freeze your game and return to it later by clicking “Resume Game” under the game icon in the XMB. It does take about 10 seconds to pause a game, but we found this to be a very useful feature.
Performance and battery life
While there are some rumors that the PSP Go sports a faster chipset that may offer performance benefits in the future, we didn’t notice any discernible differences between our review sample and the PSP 3000 we had on hand. Playing the digital version of Motorstorm: Arctic Edge, the load times were virtually identical on both devices and the games played the same.
Much like the iPhone, the PSP has never been known for offering great battery life. And while the PSP Go seems to perform roughly the same as the PSP 2000 and 3000, it’s important to note that the battery isn’t user-replaceable, which means you can’t just carry around an extra battery to swap in during long road trips or flights. This seems to have been a deliberate move by Sony to combat piracy, as previous PSP models have been exploited via custom battery packs such as Pandora’s Battery.
Sony claims a fully charged PSP Go should net you around 3 to 6 hours of gaming time. We were able to squeeze just over 5 hours playing MotorStorm: Arctic Edge with the brightness on the lowest level and the volume only up 25 per cent. Of course your results may vary depending on your display settings. We were hoping for better battery life–especially considering there are no longer any moving parts–but the PSP Go’s battery performance appears to be on par with the 3000’s.
On a related note, we noticed that in other PSP models, you can manually check the battery’s current status, but we couldn’t find the same option in the PSP Go’s system settings. Perhaps that feature will arrive with the next firmware upgrade (as noted, our system had system 5.7 firmware even though system 6.0 is the current version for other PSP models).
Included with the PSP Go you get an AC adapter, a USB cord, Media Go software, and an instruction manual. Unlike previous models, the PSP Go does not offer a standard mini-USB port. Instead, everything has to be connected via a proprietary port. That includes the AC adapter, the USB cord (the Go charges when connected to a USB port on your PC), and the aforementioned PSP Go AV cable accessories that allow you to view games and videos on a TV screen.
The included Media Go software lets you convert most videos for playback on the PSP Go and can rip audio CDs to the device as well. The software acts as a mediator (think iTunes for an iPod) between your PC and PSP Go. (Plenty of other software–such as Format Factory–is also available to handle the conversion of videos to a PSP-friendly format.)
As we said in the intro, the PSP Go represents a bold move for Sony. In terms of design, this model, which is the sleekest and most pocket-friendly PSP yet, is very appealing, though not without a few downsides. However, its success will largely depend on the software that runs on it and whether Sony is able to get a large number of developers on board to produce inexpensive, compelling games, along with a core staple of AAA titles that fully exploit the PSP’s graphics and gameplay advantages (yes, this remains a powerful little system) .
Because we’ve yet to see what Sony will offer as far as PSP Minis or additional nongaming applications, it’s hard to pass final judgment on the Go at this time. For now it’s safe to say that this is a sexy gaming handheld that’s got potential but is overpriced at $250. If Sony had launched its PSP franchise with this model we wouldn’t be as nitpicky. But as it stands, with the existence of the perfectly good $170 PSP 3000, it’s really hard to tell people to go run out and buy the Go, which is limited by the number of games it can currently play.
Of course, as Sony works out the transitional kinks, builds out its PSP Minis offerings, and perhaps offers up some interesting, nongaming apps, we’ll update our review accordingly.
Make no mistake: the PSP Go is a work in progress. Buy it if it strikes your fancy but realize that it’s got some maturing to do. And also be aware that by the time it hits its stride, it will probably cost less–or may even be replaced by a better model.
In the meantime, if Sony were to lower the price of the PSP Go, create a smoother, more intuitive PlayStation Store experience, and offer all the titles available on the PSP platform in the PlayStation Store, we’d have a much easier time recommending the system over the current PSP 3000.