Is the Sony PSP Go Worth the Hype?
What it is: Sony's third crack at creating the ultimate handheld gaming system. PSP Go takes what Sony has accomplished with the PlayStation Portable (PSP) and squeezes it into a significantly smaller form factor, and embraces a whole new approach to getting games onto the device. Sporting graphics output roughly equivalent to that of the PlayStation 2 (if not better in some respects), the PSP has been the brawny, straightforward alternative to the Nintendo DS -- no touchscreen, no dual screens, but significantly better graphics output and tech specs. Now shrunken to nearly iPhone-sized proportions (if somewhat thicker), PSPgo isn't, however, a more powerful system than its predecessor -- in fact, it uses the same processor and holds the same amount of RAM as the last PSP.
Why it's different: While the first and second releases of the PSP hardware were fairly similar to one another, save for a few ounces of weight and a few relatively minor design decisions, PSP Go attempts to reinvent the console in several ways. For one, the new profile: Rather than the flat, wide design of the original, PSP Go's vertically sliding screen reveals controls beneath, not unlike a Sidekick (and thankfully, it feels similarly sturdy). It also ditches the oft-maligned UMD drive (Sony's failed proprietary disc format) in favor of 16-gigabyte (GB) of onboard Flash memory. Now when you want a game, instead of buying UMDs at retail (and having to lug them around wherever you go), you download games directly from Sony's App Store-like online destination, directly onto the device using its built in Wi-Fi adapter. In shedding the bulky drive, PSP Go manages to be 50-percent smaller and 40-percent lighter than the original PSP.
What we like: This is the best PSP yet. Some games look every bit as good as the ones you play on your home console, thanks partially to the excellent screen (what with its vibrant colors and deep blacks). The system, while largely plastic, feels light without feeling cheap -- which means less hand cramping (a major problem with prior iterations of the PSP). Because it comes on the heels of an already established system, Sony has 225 PSP Go games ready for your downloading pleasure (over PC or Wi-Fi) at launch, meaning your selection is rather endless. Whether it's soccer, futuristic racing, role-playing, or old fashioned "shooting stuff" you're after, you've got plenty of options.
What we don't like: While it's still the best PSP yet (see above), the PSP Go could have been so, so much more. Instead of adding stuff that everyone has been asking for -- a second analog nub, primarily, but also a touch screen and perhaps even increased horsepower -- Sony chose to play it safe, and in doing so snatched the PSPgo out of the "must have" category.
There are other problems. The battery is no longer removable, meaning you'll have to deal with the 5-ish hour battery, without the help of a backup battery. The useful (and ubiquitously supported) mini USB port has now been ditched in favor of a proprietary port that charges the unit, connects it to a PC, and outputs video to a television set -- which means you had better remember the (included) cable when you travel. Note to all device manufacturers: STOP PUTTING PROPRIETARY PORTS ON YOUR DEVICES.
This hints at a larger problem the PSP Go faces: confusion in the marketplace. Essentially, it's not a very compelling option for those of us who already own a PSP. The need to re-purchase all of our games (Sony had talked about a UMD-to-digital conversion program, but has since nixed the idea), combined with the high price point and requirement to use the butt-ugly Go Converter to hook up your old accessories (GPS receiver, camera, etc) means you pretty much have to start from scratch. Finally, with the cost of 16 GB Memory Sticks dropping so low of late, you can quite cheaply fit plenty of downloadable games on your old model, and still use your UMDs to boot.
Which makes it even stranger that Sony chose not to upgrade the hardware in any significant ways. Essentially, they're catering to a new customer: one without a UMD collection, and ready to finally invest in a true portable gaming system. Why not give them dual analog nubs and a fancy touch-screen to use when the system is closed? As is, you're limited to the same dated control scheme as the original, and you have to slide the screen up and fiddle with buttons to do almost anything. Oh, and the PSP Web browser is same as it ever was: completely useless.
What it costs: $250
Does it live up to the hype? PSP Go coulda, woulda, and probably shoulda. But it didn't. As-is, it's a pretty cool gaming console for the first-time PSP owner (if he or she can get over the price tag, and the fact that it costs just $50 less than a PlayStation 3). It has most of what you'd expect from a modern day portable media device: downloadable content (games and movies), Bluetooth, and a nice form factor. But it's what the device lacks that's more significant: namely, the sort of forward thinking mentality that has put the likes of the Nintendo DS and iPhone on top. PSP2, where are you?