The age of digital distribution is upon us. The shelves of your local electronics retailer may still be lined with cardboard boxes, but the aging optical disc is falling by the wayside in favor of bits and bytes wafted through the air from Wi-Fi access point to device. Services like Xbox Live, Steam and WiiWare have offered the option of digital distribution, but Sony has become the first company to nix the disc entirely with the PSP Go. No discs, no cartridges, just downloadable content. The lack of Sony’s old Universal Media Disc (UMD) makes it smaller, lighter and sexier than any prior PSP, but is the digital distribution system ready for prime time? Not exactly.
Size and Design
The new PSP’s deep roots in the World Wide Web expose themselves as soon as you pluck it from the box: The Go looks more like Sony’s Mylo Internet device than a new generation of the gaming device. It’s smaller in every dimension, shedding the buttons flanking the screen for a new set of slide-out controls.
That 16 percent reduction in weight and 35 percent reduction in size (from the PSP-3000) makes the Go the first PSP you might actually consider pocketing – it’s a bit like a beefed-up iPhone. However, as part of the compromise, the screen shrinks in size from 4.3 inches to only 3.8. Fortunately, native resolution remains the same, giving the PSP Go screen a sharp look and vivid, fluid performance in action.
Like the original, the shiny black finish on the Go starts to look dirty the moment you lay hand on it, and turns into a smudged-up mess after a few intense gaming sessions. Sony seems to at least half get it, though, opting for a matte finish around the control pads.
Although you’ll find all the same controls and buttons from the original PSP, they’ve been shuffled around a bit to accommodate for the new form factor. The directional pad, analog stick, start and select buttons have all been moved inside, along with the all-important triangle, square, X and O array. The shoulder buttons still sit up top, along with a volume rocker, display button and sound button. A Memory Stick Micro slot hides off to the left along with a Wi-Fi toggle, and the power switch is on the right.
Sony has kept the standard 3.5-inch headphone jack of the original PSP on the bottom, but taken a massive stumble backward from universal compatibility by ditching the old mini USB jack for a proprietary one. No more bumming cables and cables from other devices or using accessories design for the original PSP – Sony had to go the way of Apple and Microsoft by introducing a much larger jack of its own. Given Sony’s long-term preference for its own unnecessary Memory Stick card format, we’re hardly surprised, but no less disgusted.
The PSP Go uses the same processor and other guts as previous PSPs, but since it needs to store games internally, comes with 16GB of storage built in. That’s enough for about 30 games like Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, which weighs only 527MB, or less than half that for titles like Final Fantasy VII, which will eat a nice 1.32GB chunk. You can add another 16GB with one of Sony’s Memory Stick Micro Cards, but be prepared to pay at least $70 for one, even on the Web.
Life Without UMD: The Pitfalls of Digital Distribution
The drawbacks to wireless-only connectivity showed up bright and early: The Go wasn’t compatible with the WPA2 encryption on our resident Wi-Fi access point, leaving us with a totally impotent gaming machine until we could iron out technical issues. Even after getting it on the Web, performing the excruciating PSN sign-up process on the PSP itself is a bit of a buzzkill when you’re just itching to slay some zombies, and firmware updates (which you can’t skip) only slowed down the process. And don’t you dare walk out of Wi-Fi range with that 1.2GB game downloading, because you’ll have to start all over again when you get back. By the time we actually started splattering blood, the gaming experience felt more like what you might experience with a PC: A lot of work to get to your play. That’s tolerable for a machine that does Excel spreadsheets by day and Quake by night, but unsettling for a dedicated gaming device.
The lack of a UMD drive poses other problems, too. Without any way to make digital copies of UMD games, owners of existing PSP libraries will have to rebuy all of their favorite to play them on the Go. And Go owners also lose the ability to buy games from anywhere but directly from Sony, locking them out of sales at retail stores, and the market for used games.
Testing and Usage
The slightly shrunken controls didn’t pose much of a problem for our average-sized hands, but we wish the screen tilted up like some smartphones do to deliver a better viewing angle. The nature of the sliding design also means your fingers will ride against the back of the screen when working the shoulder buttons.
For a device so focused on tapping the Internet, the browser in the Go hasn’t progressed much since the device’s debut. It’s slow, cumbersome, and entering addresses with not even a touchscreen but a directional pad feels downright masochistic. Apple has brought has brought the gaming fight to Sony with its new, higher-powered iPod Touch, but Sony has not done much to return fire.
Sony’s Media Go software offers an iTunes-like interface to download and organize games on your PC before transferring them to the Go via USB, but like the Go’s own interface, it can be aggravating to live with. We got frustrated by having to plug the PSP in just for downloads, incompatibility with Google Chrome, and the general cludginess of selecting games.
The newfound pocketability of the PSP Go makes one undeniable step forward from the PSP-3000, but Sony takes too many simultaneous steps back to justify the $250 price tag. The missing UMD drive strips it of compatibility with old games, and introduces more technical hiccups than we care to deal with to get our game on. Old problems, like a pathetic browser, remain, and Sony even insists on introducing new ones with backward-moving features like proprietary jacks. The same system could have made a splash at a much lower price. But with Sony still selling the more capable PSP-3000 for $50 less, and the powerhouse PlayStation 3 for just $50 more, the Go is nearly impossible to recommend for anyone but the most space-conscious pocket gamers.
- Sharp, vibrant screen
- Significantly smaller form factor
- Smudgy black surface
- Proprietary power and data connector
- Proprietary Memory Stick Micro slot
- Smaller screen
- Lousy, unimproved browser
- Minor comfort sacrifices due to smaller size
- Less flexible than UMD-equipped PSPs