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Sony PlayStation 3 Super Slim review: Sony shrinks down new PS3 -- except for the price

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Sony still hasn't confirmed when we'll see a PlayStation 4 -- bet on late 2013 as the earliest. In the meantime, though, the venerable PlayStation 3 has gotten a face-lift. We've dubbed it the "Super Slim PlayStation 3," since this third iteration of the console is the thinnest and smallest yet. It's logical to assume that this will probably be the last PlayStation 3 design change before its successor, so it allows us to take a look at the console as a whole to see how far it really has come.

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8.4

Sony PlayStation 3 Super Slim

The Good

The <b>Super Slim PlayStation 3</b> shrinks a powerful gaming machine into an even tinier package while maintaining the same features as its predecessors: a great gaming library and a strong array of streaming services, including Netflix, Amazon, Vudu, and NFL Sunday Ticket.

The Bad

It seems Sony isn't yet able to bring down the price of the PS3, even though some cost-cutting design choices have been made. The Super Slim PS3's odd sliding disc tray and glossy plastic encasing make it appear cheap. Also, a few annoyances like not including HD cables and the lack of an infrared IR port should have been resolved by now.

The Bottom Line

The latest PS3 slims down to its smallest size ever while retaining everything we like -- and a few things we don't -- about the PlayStation 3 gaming console.

If you're someone who hasn't yet purchased a game console this generation or owns another system, or is simply trying to discover if the Super Slim is worth the upgrade, this review should serve as an answer to all of those scenarios.

What you need to know about the Super Slim PS3 is that it will first be available in two bundle-only packages. The first, a 250GB model, will ship September 25 for $270 and include Uncharted 3 plus the full download-only game Dust 514 (along with some subsequent DLC).

The second bundle will go for $300 and include a 500GB PS3 with Assassin's Creed III packed in. That version will go on sale the same day as the game it's bundled with, October 30.

It's likely the Super Slim PS3 will be offered outside of a bundle (especially given I discovered the Uncharted 3 box was just a removable sleeve on top of a "plain" PS3 box), but as of this writing it's offered only in those two bundles. Of course, each of these bundles includes one DualShock3 controller.

The entire PS3 family.

Design

In look, shape, and design aesthetic, the Super Slim PS3 resembles something of a hybrid between the PS3 Slim and the original PlayStation 3 that was released back in 2006. That said, it's much smaller, measuring 11.4 inches wide by 2.36 inches tall by 9.05 inches deep. It's 20 percent smaller and 25 percent lighter than its immediate predecessor, the PS3 Slim.

At first look, the Super Slim PS3 is surprisingly small. It lacks the bulk the original PS3 had and the surface area the Slim PS3 takes up. It's much more in line with the size of the smaller Xbox 360 and won't be as inconvenient in your home theater setup.

With this PS3, Sony has adopted a non-motorized sliding disc cover instead of a slot-loading disc tray. It's completely analog, meaning you can open it manually by sliding the plastic cover right to left, or by hitting the eject button that rests on the front. This also means the cover must be manually closed. Sometimes it doesn't catch and you feel like you're using one of those old credit card imprinter machines. In short, it feels cheap. You don't realize how convenient autoloading disc trays are until they're gone. Whether it was to cut costs or save space, this move is ultimately a step back.

At least you can swap out games while the console is off.

This disc tray might be a bigger deal than you think, especially if you're like me and keep your consoles in a shelf or cabinet. Now that it's a top-loading device, you'll really need to make sure you store the PS3 in an area that gives you enough room to pop discs in and out. Also, keeping the PS3 on a shelf doesn't give you whole lot of visibility, so you may find yourself fishing around the slot to make sure the disc is properly mounted on the spindle. This leaves room for damaging the parts inside the PS3 and possibly scratching a disc.

Like the others before it, this PS3 can sit horizontally or vertically. Sony recommends using a stand for the vertical orientation, but I was able to play games reliably without one.

The Super Slim PS3 feels sturdier vertically than the PS3 Slim.

Aside from the disc tray, the Super Slim PS3 is the same powerful gaming machine we've all come to know and love, just in a smaller box. It definitely lacks the heft and sense of build quality of the original PS3, and the move from matte plastic (of the Slim PS3) back to the fingerprint-magnet shiny gloss is a disappointment.

While this doesn't come as any surprise by now, the Super Slim PS3 does not have an infrared (IR) port for remote controls. I'll never understand the decision to leave it out again and again, but I guess Sony has its reasons.

There are also only two USB ports up front just like on the Slim PS3, but with all the Move and other USB-powered peripherals Sony has put out over the years, bumping those slots up to four would be a better idea.

Around back are all the usual suspects: Ethernet, HDMI, optical out, and AV multi out. But, for reasons that exist well beyond my comprehension, included once again in the box is a completely useless composite AV cable. One of the most powerful 1080p Blu-ray capable HD video gaming machines on Earth and they include a composite cable in the box. You cannot get an HD signal from composite cables. It was forgivable in 2006 but now it's a joke.

Accessing the HDD is simple.

If there's one thing I'm really impressed with in the Super Slim PS3's design, it's the user-replaceable hard drive. Just like with the original and the Slim, owners can buy their own SATA hard drive and replace the stock one. Best of all, replacing the HDD in the Super Slim is the easiest yet. Simply sliding off the side panel reveals the drive bay, which can quickly be unscrewed.

Features

Keep in mind that the new Super Slim PS3 doesn't feature anything new beyond its smaller size and storage capacities. It's the same ultracapable media hub it's always been, so for a deeper look into that specific functionality, it's worth checking out our past PS3 reviews.

The PlayStation Store offers TV shows, movies, and more.

The PS3 gives you all kinds of access to movies, TV shows, and games through the PlayStation Store, but also tons more content through services like Netflix, Vudu, Amazon Instant Video, and dozens of other services. At this point, there really isn't any killer app that makes the PS3 a must-buy over the Xbox 360. Of course, the one thing PS3 has that Xbox 360 can't touch is a great built-in Blu-ray player.

Netflix on the PS3.

Home theater do-it-yourselfers have gravitated toward the PS3 due to its versatile playback capabilities, though it still does not play the increasingly popular MKV format. However, PS3 file playback is usually very reliable, whether you're playing a file loaded on a thumbdrive or over your home network using a PC or NAS.

The Super Slim PS3 has the same old cross-media bar (XMB) interface.

Like the most of the PS3 iterations before it, this Super Slim PS3 is not backward-compatible with PS2 games. For that type of functionality, you'll need to search through the PlayStation Store to see if the PS2 game you want to revisit is there, and then of course you'll need to buy it.

The PS Store offers a variety of classic PS2 games for purchase.

In terms of games, the PlayStation 3 plays most of what's out there, save for a few Xbox 360-exclusive games like the Halo, Forza, and Fable franchises, and select downloadable titles. PlayStation 3 has its own share of exclusives -- which now seem to outweigh Xbox's. These franchises include Uncharted, God of War, InFamous, LittleBigPlanet, Killzone, and Resistance, plus future heavy hitters like Beyond, God of War: Ascension, and The Last of Us.

Online gaming is free on PlayStation Network, though users can subscribe to Sony's answer to Xbox Live Gold, called PlayStation Plus. This service offers select games at a discounted price and other incentives.

Full PS3 game downloads are available in the PlayStation Store.

Performance

There doesn't seem to be a noticeable speed increase with the new PS3. What I did notice about the hardware is that since the disc tray is no longer embedded in the console, the laser reader can be heard from time to time. It's by no means a deal breaker, but the disc reading is not as quiet as on the two versions before it.

The console doesn't make much noise beyond the laser reading movements. There doesn't seem to be the excess fan noise that the original PS3 suffered from.

While an in-depth power test will need to be conducted, Sony has told CNET that the Super Slim PS3 consumes 190W, down from 200W on the Slim.

Buying advice

So who exactly is the Super Slim PlayStation 3 for? Well, it's certainly not for someone who already owns any type of PlayStation 3. Sure, the bump in hard-drive space is a plus, but it's by no means a reason to upgrade (especially since upgrading the HDD isn't difficult). The size difference of the chassis-- especially going from the original PS3 to this one -- is breathtaking, but hardly worth the money just to downsize.

This leaves us with two possible purchasing scenarios. Either you have another system and are considering the Super Slim as an entryway into PlayStation 3-land or you don't own any gaming consoles and are weighing your options. If that's the situation you find yourself in, you must consider the future of the PS3 and the possibility of a successor.

Every PS3 standing vertically.

Potential Super Slim PS3 buyers should know that the PlayStation 3 is undoubtedly approaching the end of its system cycle. They must ask themselves if $270-$300 is worth the investment in a platform that might have a successor within as little as a year's time. There's no doubt that the PS3 has an excellent library of games and downloadable items from the PlayStation Network to keep you busy, but assuming the PS3 will not be bested by Sony within the next two years is probably wishful thinking. I'm among the believers who think Sony will even debut or tease something at next year's E3 convention in Los Angeles.

Don't forget, this behavior would not be inconsistent with Sony's past. The company released a slimline PS2 in October 2004 only to follow up with the PS3 two years later.

Another thing to keep in mind is the potential for Sony to remove the bundle and then sell these Super Slim models a la carte. Such a move would most likely bring the price down too. It's just another thing to consider before buying right away.

If this box is any indication, the Super Slim PS3 may soon be for sale without a bundled game.

Conclusion

A part of me considers the Super Slim PS3 a missed opportunity. At a minimum of $270, it's still more expensive than the cheapest Slim PS3 ($250, 160GB). Again, look for Sony to release this Super Slim without a bundle. If Sony is able to offer just the 250GB bare-bones console at $200, it would render the decision-making process that much easier for someone who's between this and an Xbox 360.

It may not be revolutionary, but the Super Slim PS3 is the same impressive machine in a much smaller package. There doesn't seem to be any reason for existing PS3 owners to upgrade, but for the prospective PS3 buyer, the Super Slim is probably the way to go if you can deal with not having a slot-loading disc drive.

If Sony had added simple things like an IR sensor and HD cables out of the box, I'd have a much easier time recommending it as a worthy upgrade for current PS3 owners.

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8.4

Sony PlayStation 3 Super Slim

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 9