On the surface, Sony's PSP Go doesn't really look like anything radically new for the PSP franchise. Yes, it's more compact than the three earlier generations of the portable gaming and multimedia handheld device. And yes, it features such additions as built-in Bluetooth, slide-out controls, and a smaller, more pocketable overall design. But the real change here--the radical departure, if you will--is the fact that the Go is the first dedicated handheld gaming system to go completely digital and move away from cartridges or optical discs.
Is that a good idea? Well, with the success of Apple's iPhone and iPod Touch as casual gaming devices, Sony has little choice to head down this path and it's probably smart that's doing it sooner rather than later (you can argue whether it should have done it four years ago, but that's another story). That said, while we applaud the jump to a digital-download-based system, it's certainly fraught with challenges, and how Sony overcomes them will go a long way to determining the PSP Go's success.
While the features list differs little from earlier iterations of the PSP, the PSP Go is a complete redesign, with a focus on trimming the console down in almost every way. The initial version is available in black or white; don't be surprised to see more colors or specially branded versions in the future.
For starters, Sony has removed the UMD media slot and opted instead for 16GB of internal storage. It's also shrunk the screen from 4.3 inches (diagonally) to 3.8 inches while maintaining the same resolution at 480x272 pixels and its wide-screen aspect ratio. On top of that, the Sony-proprietary Memory Stick Pro Duo slot has been swapped out for the smaller M2 Micro memory card slot--another proprietary Sony format. And finally, a slider mechanism has been incorporated to hide the controls when not in use.
All these design choices pay dividends, as the 5.4-ounce PSP Go is noticeably smaller than the PSP 3000 , measuring only 5 inches wide, 2.75 inches tall (when closed), and just over half an inch thick. Particularly when it's closed, it has a nice, minimalist look, and we're happy to say that it's the first PSP that can fit comfortably in your pocket (when the screen is slid open, the device expands to about 4 inches tall).
The screen itself does not seem to have the interlacing issue that plagued the PSP 3000, and it does seem more vibrant and a bit brighter than the 3000, as well. The smaller surface area does give you less of a viewing space, but since the resolution is still intact, some graphics do seem a bit sharper.
The body of the PSP Go is reminiscent of the glossy black plastic seen in all previous models and still remains a fingerprint magnet. The plastic surrounding the buttons and the D-pad, however, has more of a matte look. The back of the Go keeps the glossy finish, but also has two rounded rubber stoppers that help you grip the device.
The PSP Go feels great in your hands but we definitely had some gripes with how the new button layout performed in-game. Since the analog stick has moved to the right of the D-pad, you may feel off-centered. We tested our PSP Go with Motorstorm: Arctic Edge and could not help but notice that the new positioning felt a bit awkward. While it may not be as much of an issue to newcomers, veteran PSP users will certainly notice the change.
The analog stick is also smaller than in previous PSP models, but it feels more durable and sturdy. There's also more friction when moving it around, which we prefer over the much looser analog stick we saw in the PSP 1000 through 3000.
For the most part, the buttons themselves feel and perform very well. The D-pad and face buttons all have a much more solid tactile operation to them, almost exactly like those seen on the Nintendo DSi. They are also a bit smaller compared with the 3000, and they aren't as loose as in previous PSP models.
The L and R buttons are much more prominent, too, and we definitely prefer their feel over the clear shoulder buttons that adorn earlier PSPs. As for the Select and Start buttons, we felt that they're placed too close to one another, and for some reason they don't have the tactile click the other buttons have.
The display, volume, and sound buttons have also been moved: they now lie in between the L and R shoulder buttons. They all seem to work fine, but unfortunately you will need to glance at their location when the screen has been slid up in order to use them.
Most of the other switches and sliders remain basically in the same areas as preceding PSP models: the power/hold toggle is still on the lower right side and the wireless switch is on the lower left side, immediately below the new M2 Micro memory card slot.
As noted, the PSP Go does add Bluetooth 3.0 connectivity. That should make it easy to connect wireless headsets, though we could not get it to pair with one stereo Bluetooth headset that otherwise worked fine with an iPhone. However, the addition of Bluetooth does add the somewhat curious ability to control the PSP with a PS3 controller--though to set that up, you'll need to link both the portable and the controller to a PS3 simultaneously via USB cables.
Like the PSP 3000, this model has a built-in microphone for such applications as Skype calls via Wi-Fi. The microphone is located in between the analog stick and Select and Start buttons. (You can also opt to use a mic-enabled wired or Bluetooth headset instead.)
Two things you won't find on the PSP Go: a second analog stick and a touch screen. The former has long been on the wish list for the PSP, since it would effectively duplicate the familiar control scheme found on the PS2 and PS3. That would make (for instance) first-person shooters much easier to play. The dearth of a touch screen is notable because rival gaming platforms DS/DSi and iPhone/iPod Touch both utilize them. A touch screen on the PSP would also have allowed for an onscreen keyboard for Web surfing and data entry--both of which remain a chore.
Games and multimedia
With the removal of the UMD slot, all gaming and multimedia must be accessed via the 16GB of internal storage or a M2 Micro memory stick. Users can download software off of the PlayStation Store directly to their PSP Go (it's got built-in Wi-Fi) or transfer data from their PC or PlayStation 3 via USB.
Sony will also be selling bigger-budget downloadable games (that will also be available on UMD) and for those titles we recommend transferring the data directly off your PC or your PS3 rather than using the Wi-Fi connection on your PSP. For example, our download of Motorstorm: Arctic Edge (520MB) took more than 2 hours to complete from the Go. When we grabbed it off our PC, it took less than 20 minutes.
As of October 1, Sony is pledging to expand the available online offerings to include more than 225 games, 2,300 movies, and 13,300 TV episodes. Among the key games will be brand new (and highly anticipated) titles such as Gran Turismo and MotorStorm: Arctic Edge. Other notable PSP favorites include PixelJunk Monsters Deluxe, Monster Hunter: Freedom Unite, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10, Madden NFL 10, Soulcaliber: Broken Destiny, Beaterator, God of War: Chains of Olympus, Daxter, Star Wars: Battlefront II, Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Vegas, Tetris, and Fieldrunners. While you'll be able to download these games directly from the PlayStation Store, the newly announced Amazon.com PSN store does not have access to some titles in the Sony store.