After roughly a decade at the top of the home console industry, Sony decided to tackle the portable system market -- one heavily fortified by Nintendo's Game Boy Advance and DS. Sony sought to take down Nintendo by adopting the tactic that made the PlayStation 2 such a runaway success: by offering sophisticated, graphically intensive games and a heavy dose of multimedia functionality.
The device is called the PlayStation Portable (PSP), and in addition to playing games of PS2 graphical quality, it can play music and movies (downloaded or via disc), as well as surf the Web, with many new features on the horizon. It may not be the best handheld media product on the market, and the games lack the innovation of ones on Nintendo's portables, but as an all-in-one device, the Sony PSP is king of the hill.
The Sony PSP is available online in a number of bundles. Two of the most common are the base model pack, which is just the console, battery and the AC adaptor, for around £150, and the Giga pack, which usually has a carry case, a pair of headphones and a 1GB Memory Stick Duo, for around £200. Games are around £30 and UMD movies around £17 for the latest titles.
From an aesthetic perspective, the Sony PSP is a gorgeous device. It's one of those gadgets you immediately want to get your hands on but vigilantly want to protect once you set it down; fortunately, a simple neoprene slipcover is included with the £180 Value Pack. Weighing essentially the same as the Nintendo DS (176g, including removable battery) and measuring 170 by 74 by 23 mm, the body feels well built and solid in your hand. Although not a lightweight, it's by no means a brick, nor, we suspect, would it be especially durable in a fall; you'll want to treat the PSP just as gingerly as an iPod or a Palm-style PDA.
The centrepiece of the handheld is its especially impressive 109mm (4.3-inch) wide-screen display (480x272 pixels, 16.7 million colours). The screen is flanked by controls that will be immediately recognisable to fans of past PlayStations: the directional keypad is to the left of the screen, and the familiar square, triangle, circle, and X buttons are to the right. We dug how Sony managed to include an analogue 'joystick' below the directional keypad. The stick isn't raised like the analogue controls on a PS2 or an Xbox, but it conveys that multidirectional element that gives it a joystick-like feel.
In lieu of the PS2 controller's four total shoulder buttons, the PSP has two: one per shoulder. Ergonomically, the device is okay but not great; as with most handheld gaming devices, you'll have to do a little finger stretching every 15 minutes or so to keep from cramping up.
The PSP uses Sony's recently created 'cross media bar' interface. You use the directional keypad to horizontally navigate through Settings, Photo, Music, Video, and Game icons, and each section has other icons attached to it on a vertical axis. All in all, it's a simple and elegant way to access the PSP's many features.
Games and officially licensed movies come on Sony's proprietary UMD (Universal Media Disc) media, which are housed in protective cartridges. The UMD drive is grafted to the back of the unit; you load it and snap it shut just as you would a camcorder. The top edge also sports infrared and a USB 2.0 port that you can use to link the device to your PC or Mac, though no USB connection cable is included. The USB port will also be the home base for any future accessories you might add, such as a keyboard or a camera attachment.