March 24 is the day that Nintendo begins its slow and unavoidable death. Having been trumped in the console market by Sony and Microsoft, it now finds its portable gaming crown threatened by its primary console competitor. With a machine that’s technologically, functionally and aesthetically superior, Sony has come into the portable gaming scene with both barrels ablazing and has its sights set on conquering the throne.
We wanted to hold off a couple of weeks before posting our review as to get over the initial awe factor of the PSP. It’s easy to be entranced by the system once you take it home and pull it out of the box as it is easily the sexiest device we’ve ever laid eyes on. It’s actually much smaller than we had imagined and is only one-tenth of an ounce heavier than the Nintendo DS, and much much sexier. Aside from this, the most impressive aspect of the PSP is its amazingly crafted LCD screen which is unlike anything we have ever seen. When its crystal-like clarity isn’t impressive you the amazing viewing angle is. Sony really outdid themselves with this screen and is easily the most beautiful screen available on a handheld device.
Currently, the PSP is only available in the United States as a value package that includes a 32 MB Duo (used for media and saves), a leather wrist strap, a neoprene sleeve, a cleaning cloth, a wired remote and headphones and a copy of Spider-Man 2 on UMD. All of these inclusions are nice but we have to wonder how practical they are. For some unknown reason, Sony decided to jump on the iPod bandwagon and make its headphones and wrist strap white, iPod white. It’s a stark contrast to the system and one that really diminishes its look and impact. This is especially true about the absolutely horrendous wrist strap. In Japan, kids were getting beaten up because they had PSPs. In America kids wouldn’t get beaten up for having PSPs, they’d get worked over for using that lame wrist strap.
At least the remote is kind of useful and it includes a clip that allows it to attach to a shirt or a bag. In a smart move, the remote actually has an input on it (as opposed to being a remote/headphone combination) that is compatible with all headphones that utilize the mini-jack input. This is especially important because the included earphones are garbage and should only be used in moments of desperation. The layout of the buttons on the remote is a little awkward, but they get the job done.
Music and media can be transferred to the PSP by connecting it to PC via USB, or by removing the Memory Stick and inserting it into a card reader. The PSP utilizes the proprietary USB format that it uses for its digital cameras. This is great news if you already own a CyberShot but horrible news if you don’t. Those who lack the cord will have to pay upwards of $19.99 just to be able to transfer the files from their computers to their PSPs.
The front of the PSP is constructed of a highly glossy plastic that attracts fingerprints like geeks to a Star Trek convention. The button placement mimics the Dual Shock 2 controllers with the d-pad on the left side of the screen, the four buttons on the right side of the screen. Due to space constraints the system only has two shoulder buttons but that hasn’t become an issue yet. The PSP is the second portable gaming device to use analog control (the Zodiac was the first) and instead of going for a full analog stick, the designers came up with a little nub.
In an effort to streamline the look of the system, the nub barely extends above the surface of the system and has a different feel to it than most analog sticks. It’s useful in most games, but it takes a little getting used to. At the moment, the d-pad suffices for the majority of the game as it retails the same solid feel as the d-pad on the Dual Shock 2. The buttons and d-pad exhibit a real satisfying sense of tactile feedback that will be familiar to PS2 fans. Without a doubt, this is the best construct ever seen in a portable device. Also, it should be noted that the system lacks vibration functionality; sorry to disappoint all five of you who were hoping this would make it into the system.
Gaming is Sony Computer Entertainment’s forte and the PSP delivers in an amazing way that we never thought was possible. When Sony announced at E3 2003 that it would be putting the power of the PlayStation 2 into the hands of gamers no one thought it was possible. We admit that we were a bit skeptical at first but our interest eventually grew as the months progressed. The first batch of screenshots were amazing, as were the videos, but watching is one thing and doing is quite another. Now that we’ve had a chance to play games for ourselves we can confirm that the PSP is an amazing piece of technology that is capable of bringing the dreams of handheld game designers the world over into reality.
What’s most amazing is the library that SCEA managed to scrap together for the launch. It even beat Nintendo at its own game by releasing a killer puzzle title, Lumines
. All of the other games do their part to showcase the technology of the system while demonstrating that the system is more than just great graphics, but great gameplay as well. Get Lumines
if you want an addictive game that doesn’t let up, pick up Ridge Racer
if you’re looking for a game that will showcase the power of the system.
Oh and let’s not forget about the system’s awesome wireless capabilities. Using built-in Wi-Fi, players can play wirelessly from ranges of up to 100 feet.
The PSP can be used as a music player but some roadblocks stop it from being more than serviceable. Sony had the opportunity to provide players with custom soundtracks, like the Xbox, but whiffed on it completely. Instead, you have to use the dedicated music player in order to listen to the tunes and the methods of organization are lacking. Users can create one subdirectory for each band, but cannot divide their music into specific albums or performances. So while it’s possible to have a Music/SpeechwritersLLC directory, it’s impossible to have a Music/SpeechwrittersLLC/Clones directory. Playlists are possible but only for all of the songs in the current directory as opposed to all of the songs on the PSP.
If you choose to use the PSP to play music you’ll be happy to know that the battery drain is minimal and won’t eat too heavily into your playing time. After a set amount of time the LCD screen turns off and the remote can be used to navigate through the library, iPod Shuffle style.
The PSP is also a highly capable movie player, although it takes a lot of sweat and tears to tap into that capability. For the movies, Sony decided to go with the MP4 format that it utilizes on its Clies handhelds. This is great for the fifteen people who own Clies, but it’s an absolute pain in the ass for everyone else. The system has trouble reading filenames such as “Family Guy Disc 2 Season 1” as well and instead only responds to an awkward numbering sequence such as “MV10101.” At least the movies look phenomenal once they’re on the system, due in large part to the small screen. The lower resolution allows for you to encode the movies at a much higher bitrate, leading to crisp video that soars at a faster frame rate.
The easier way to watch movies is via UMD, the PSP’s proprietary multimedia format. Packaged with each of the first million PSPs is Spider-Man 2
on UMB and boy, is it gorgeous. It fits perfectly on the PSP’s 16:9 ratio screen and is easily the most beautiful portable video we’ve ever seen. Sadly the UMD lacks special features of any sorts and seems to be the barebones version of the title. This might ultimately be the direction that Sony takes with the UMDs, and while this isn’t too bad for the portable community, it’s tough to swallow considering that UMDs run the same price as fully loaded DVDs.
The last bit of multimedia functionality comes in the form of a picture browser which allows you to use the PSP as a portable photo album of some sorts. What makes this function especially nice is the gorgeous LCD screen which glosses over all of the images. Before this, I had used the Zodiac as my portable album but now that I’ve seen the pictures on a PSP, there’s no comparison. It’s like looking at a glossy photo and one printed from a dot matrix printer; they’re in entirely different leagues.Show the PSP to a friend and the first thing they’ll notice is the screen. Its sharpness is a key component to its success, but its relatively large size and excellent viewing angle makes it the greatest LCD screen to ever grace a portable electronic device. It completely dwarfs the competition and its widescreen format makes it perfect for movies and gaming.
Amazingly the battery drain on the system isn’t as bad as we had initially thought. This is an aspect that most people were concerned about when the system was announced, and it still remains an issue, albeit a small one, after the system’s launch. On a full charge, the Lithium Ion battery can provide anywhere from 2-to-10 hours of usage. If a graphics intensive game such as Ridge Racer is running, you can expect to see results towards the lower end of the spectrum while playing music resides on the high end. Luckily, Sony included a battery monitor that gives you a visual representation of how much juice you’ve got left along with an approximate amount of playing time you can get out of that juice. What’s horrific though is that when you run low on battery, there are no indicators or warning signs. The screen just turns blank and the dreaded battery with a line through it pops up before the system shuts down. It would have been nice had there been some kind of indicator or warning system that popped up so that I could at least save my progress.
To contrast this I once went a whole month without having to recharge my GameBoy Advance SP. I played about two hours of Final Fantasy Tactics
each day and still had enough juice to carry me into the next month. I can get about eight hours out of my Tapwave Zodiac
before it has to be recharged while the N-Gage
can go about four hours before it needs to be plugged in. Overall the battery life isn’t all that bad and considering that you’ll probably never be more than six hours away from a power source, it shouldn’t be an issue.
Analysts have concluded that Sony has priced the PSP too high, but we beg to differ. Its supposed competition is the Nintendo DS which retails for $150 but Sony has bigger things in mind. In reality its main competition is the iPod and multi-faceted titles such as the Tapwave Zodiac. But unlike the iPod, it provides a wide array of options including netbrowsing and Wi-Fi gameplay. In fact, there are a ton of hacks out there already which allow you to browse the ‘net, read books and check out comics on the PSP. There’s a whole world of potential and we cannot wait to see what the world’s brightest minds can come up with.
Overall, the PSP is an amazing piece of technology that will drive innovation in the portable gaming industry. Before this product hit the market, we thought that having a Super NES in the palm of our hands was amazing. Now thanks to Sony, the dream of having a portable PS2 is a reality. Amazing doesn’t begin to describe this product, buy one today if you’re remotely interested, you’ll be the envy of everyone around the office.