The story here, then, is all about design, and it's generally a good one. For starters, the Slim is 33 percent smaller and 36 percent lighter than its predecessors, and it really does look significantly more compact when you put it up against the "fat" PS3. Beauty, of course, is in the eye of the beholder, and many people, including this reviewer, think the Slim's new frame is fairly fetching.
Yet, we've also heard people say that the new "textured," or matte, finish gives the system a cheaper look. Maybe so, but pick the Slim up and it feels quite substantial. And while we're sure Sony doesn't want people referring to the Slim using adjectives like cheap (except when it comes to the price tag), the company does want this PS3 to appear more "casual" and appeal to a wider audience (read: casual gamers).
In that regard, the PS3 Slim's new design and finish seem well thought out. And the new system is not without a little glam--there's a mirrored strip on the front of the unit next to the opening of the slot-loading disc player and some glossy plastic on the sides. Those shiny finishes, like the glossy finish on the "fat" PS3, do pick up fingerprints, and it's also worth noting that the matte finish does absorb the oil from your skin and attracts smudges. In other words, if you end up handling your PS3, expect to have to wipe it off from time to time just like the old "fat" model.
More important than some branding changes (the PS3 logo and lettering has undergone a redesign), the touch-sensitive power on/off and eject buttons on the front of the unit have been replaced by standard push buttons and the master power switch that was on the back of the old unit has been removed (alas, you still can't charge the controllers while the system is off).
Some people will like that the master power switch is gone, but parents with small children would probably prefer if Sony had left it on the back to keep their toddlers from accidentally turning on the system. The new button in front is nice and responsive and doesn't require too firm a touch to turn the system either on or off (this system appears to boot up just as quickly as the old system--in just less than 20 seconds), so your little ones will have no problem firing up your PS3 in your absence.
According to Sony, to achieve the new small size, the internal design architecture of the PS3 Slim has been completely redesigned, "from the main semiconductors and power supply unit to the cooling mechanism." As always, we're impressed that Sony engineers have been able to build the power supply into the system itself rather than forcing you to deal with a giant external power supply like the one found on the Xbox 360.
The PS3 Slim is powered by a new 45nm version of the Cell processor, which runs at the same speed as the 60nm processor in the "old" PS3 but is smaller and more energy efficient. Company representatives said that power consumption for the Slim has been cut from 280 watts to 250 watts. (We'll be verifying the Slim's power consumption with our own independent testing soon.)
Ramping down the power consumption and, more importantly, the heat the system generates has let Sony tone down the cooling fan. With the Slim, you'll still hear some fan noise if you're close to the unit, but the hum is fainter, and it shouldn't bother you during quieter scenes in movies so long as you're not sitting right next to the PS3. (Fan noise on the previous systems varied wildly; some were noticeably loud, others were all but silent.) We also noticed that after playing a game and Blu-ray Disc for more than an hour, the light breeze the fan emitted was warm but not hot (you can hold your hand up to it without fear of getting scorched).
A couple final notes about the design: With earlier PS3s you could prop your unit up vertically or lay it down horizontally. Out of the box, the Slim is designed to be used in a horizontal position, but Sony will sell a $24 stand that lets you stand it up vertically and not worry about having it tip over. And in case you were wondering, you can also upgrade/replace the hard drive without voiding the warranty, though Sony has moved the hard drive from the side of the unit to the front for easier access. (To remove the hard drive, you simply unscrew two screws on the bottom of the Slim that are covered by a small door that snaps open and closed.) The only caveat: the Slim uses the smaller 2.5-inch drive size generally found in laptops. They're more expensive than the larger 3.5-inch hard drives that go into desktop computers.
We ran some tests of disc load times and some basic Blu-ray performance tests and came to the conclusion that the Slim runs just as well as the older model and keeps the PS3 near the top of our Best Blu-ray Players list.
At this point, as we await the release of version 3.00 of the PS3 firmware (it comes out September 1, 2009), there's not a whole lot to say about our experience using the PS3 Slim because it was, well, pretty much like using the "fat" PS3. That leaves us with some pre-existing qualms with the PS3 experience versus that of the Xbox 360. While we like that the PlayStation Network is free (versus Xbox Live's $50 per year fee), it's also a bit less full-formed. Yes, downloadable movies, TV shows, and games are available (all for per-download prices), and now the system includes the Netflix streaming subscription found on the 360. However, PS3 owners must use a BD-Live Blu-ray Disc every time they want to stream a movie. Hulu video--once available through the browser--is now blocked (Hulu's fault, not Sony's). Thankfully, the Play On software offers a work-around, but it'll require you to leave your PC running to view those services.
At the end of the day, you can quibble about the Slim's new casual look, the lack of backward compatibility for PS2 games, no IR port, and such former extras as a built-in memory card reader and extra USB ports (we'd still like one on the back of the unit). But the fact is the PS3 Slim costs half of what the original PS3 cost when it first launched. It's also smaller, more energy efficient, quieter, and retains virtually all the impressive gaming, multimedia, and home-theater functionality of previous PS3s. In short, there's a lot of machine here for $299.