Editors' Note (08/20/2008): Sony has announced a minor upgrade to this product. Scheduled to become available in October 2008, the Sony PSP 3000 adds an anti-reflective screen, a built-in microphone, and better video output support. Otherwise, it's pretty much identical to the PSP 2000 reviewed here.
When Sony first announced an updated PSP at 2007's E3 show, a lot of people were straining to see what was so new about it. Indeed, from a distance, the new PSP is almost indistinguishable from its predecessor. But pick one up, and the differences are more apparent: it's thinner, much lighter, and sleeker than the original. It's also got a few other new tricks under the hood. The new PSP (which Sony calls "the PSP 2000," to delineate from the earlier "PSP 1000" model) will be available in North America on September 10 in two different versions: a black PSP-only package ($170) and the Daxter Entertainment Pack version, a $200 package that includes a silver PSP with the Daxter game, a Family Guy UMD video, and a 1GB Memory Stick Duo. A similar Star Wars Entertainment Pack will follow a month later (white PSP with black Darth Vader monogram and the Star Wars Battlefront Renegade Squadron game--but no MS Duo card included). Expect the bundle configurations to be updated periodically, along with the possibility of new colors at any time in the future.
What's different: Comparing the updated PSP to the original
If you're already familiar with the PSP, we'll cut right to the chase. The new PSP is an evolutionary upgrade, with the following key changes:
In other words, there are a couple of nice cosmetic improvements, but the USB charging and video output additions are something of a disappointment. (Perhaps some of the problems can be addressed via future firmware upgrades.) But demanding gadget fans will note that there's still plenty of room for improvement. Even without a radical redesign, the lack of a second analog stick and some built-in flash memory seems like a lost opportunity. Likewise, some persistent annoyances--such as the low volume levels and glossy fingerprint-prone screen--are frustratingly intact. And while it's more a political than a technical limitation, Sony's continued resistance to the homebrew movement seems shortsighted; we'd love to see the PSP be available as an open platform for third-party game and application developers without the need to hack it.
Aside from the slimmer dimensions (2.81 inches high by 6.63 inches wide by 0.63 inch deep) and lighter weight (just over 7 ounces--or 200 grams-- with the battery, game disc, and Memory Stick on board), the new Sony PSP doesn't look much different from its predecessor. The luscious 4.3-inch wide-screen LCD display remains, bordered by controls on its left, right, and bottom side, plus two shoulder buttons along the top edge. The button layout is based on the classic PlayStation controller layout--four-way directional pad on the left, square, triangle, cross, and circle keys on the right--so anyone who's used a Sony console over the last decade should be able to pick up and play. The bottom left of the front face also houses an analog thumbstick, for more precise movement. More mundane media controls line the bottom of the screen: select, start, volume, brightness, and a "home" button.
The rounded contours on the backside of the earlier PSP have been replaced with a totally flat surface. And we mean flat--unlike the rough exterior of the older model, the skin of the new PSP is perfectly smooth. And while it certainly looks even sexier, it may well be too smooth for the sweaty palms of some gamers. They'll probably want to invest in a case that doubles as a grip enhancer (just be sure to wait for cases that are specifically designed for the new PSP, not its fatter older brother).
Other changes from the old to the new: the UMD bay is now a bit more low-tech (instead of a sprint-loaded eject, you just pry open the chamber with your fingernail) and the Wi-Fi on/off switch is on the top edge (rather than the left side). And the headphone/AV jack is on the bottom edge, free of the obstruction of the handstrap loop. That doesn't sound like a big improvement, but being able to use any set of 3.5mm headphones--regardless of the size of the plug nub--is a nice contrast to the iPhone's annoying restrictive recessed headphone jack.
The Memory Stick Duo slot remains on the left edge. Like the UMD bay, it's a pry-open cover that slides on rubbery plastic rails. If you're not buying a PSP bundle that includes an MS Duo card (or don't have a spare one from a Sony camera), you'll want to invest in a decently sized one. Thankfully, 1GB models are widely available for under $30.
The PSP's interface is known as the Cross Media Bar, or XMB. If you've used the PlayStation 3, or even one of Sony's new high-end AV receivers or TVs, you already know what to expect: it's a pretty slick menuing system that's generally pretty easy to maneuver through using the D-pad and control buttons. As you get into some of the applications, however, that simplicity can get lost. We wished the Web browser, for instance, was as well-designed as the overall XMB menu system.
The USB port remains centered on the top edge of the PSP. Sony doesn't include a cable, but it's a standard mini-USB connector, so it's likely that you already have one lying around. The USB connector is flanked by two screw holes that allow for accessories (see below) to be firmly attached to its frame. But most people will use the USB port for quick connections to the PC to transfer digital media--photos, music, video, and even game demos available at Sony's Web site.
Multimedia and online features
The PSP is primarily a gaming device, but it's got some notable media functionality as well.
Outside of North America, the PSP media options are even more robust: Japanese users have the option of a snap-on digital TV tuner for over-the-air broadcasts, while Europeans will soon have a video-on-demand service and VoIP communications. Likewise, Sony's international subsidiaries tout other PSP add-ons--a GPS device and a camera--that never quite seem to turn up stateside.
Can the PSP take the place of your iPod, iPhone, or portable DVD player? For die-hard media junkies--those with an 80GB iPod filled to the brim with music and videos--the answer is basically no. But if you're looking to travel with a few hours of music or some TV episodes, it makes for some nice diversion from a game, without having to lug a second device along. And while the screen isn't as large as you'd get with a portable DVD player, the PSP is decidedly less bulky--and its screen is considerably larger than that of the iPod or the iPhone.
While its robust media and online functionality are impressive, for most buyers, they'll be decidedly secondary to the PSP's raison d'etre: gaming on the go. Yes, Nintendo's DS remains king of the portable gaming scene in terms of units sold, but plenty of people are looking for more sophisticated (read: less kiddie-oriented) games than the DS offers. And for those who can't abide the oh-so-cute antics of a Pokemon, Cooking Mama, Zelda, Mario, or Animal Crossing title, the PSP will be a welcome breath of fresh air. The graphics on the PSP are noticeably better than those on the DS as well--games are essentially at the level you'd expect on the PlayStation 2.
Early on, the PSP was knocked for being little more than the "PS2 portable," because so many of its titles were simply ports of PlayStation 2 games. And, indeed, its hit list is dominated by many PlayStation franchise standbys, including Grand Theft Auto, SOCOM, Tekken, and . But many of these are phenomenal titles that have been designed for the PSP from the ground up. Genre strong suits include sports, racing, action, and shooter titles, but it's not all sweat and blood, either--plenty of quirky puzzle games (Lumines, Puzzle Quest, Loco Roco) are available, as well as a host of family-friendly favorites as well (Daxter, Ratchet and Clank).
It's also worth noting that many of the PSP games include an online multiplayer component. Some games offer ad hoc multiplayer (peer to peer, for playing against other PSP'ers in the same room), others offer Internet play, or both. Online gameplay is free, and--while the experience varies from title to title and is dependent on network speed--it can be just as fun and fulfilling as playing on a home console.
To keep its slim figure, the new PSP has a flatter 1200mAh battery than the more bulbous 1800mAh one on the previous model. But, because it uses power more efficiently, it's actually rated for the same play time--3 to 6 hours of gameplay, or 3 to 5 of video playback. Going on a long flight? The more capacious battery actually fits into the battery bay, and offers several more hours of battery life--but the battery cover won't fit over the top of it. (Sony will be selling an extended battery kit, with the larger battery and proper cover.) The better battery life is welcome, of course, but DS gamers will be disappointed--unlike that Energizer Bunny of gaming systems, you'll need to be juicing up the PSP more frequently.
Is the new PSP for me?
Someday, no doubt, Sony will debut a full-on PSP2, with a host of next-gen features and a more radical redesign. But for now, we've got an evolutionary upgrade of a portable gaming and media console that already had a lot going for it. Existing PSP owners won't need to run out and get this new version unless they really need one of the key upgrades--video out, lighter weight, or faster load times. Anyone else need only look at the available lineup of PSP games. If playing sophisticated, graphically rich versions of games such as Syphon Filter, Metal Gear Solid, MLB: The Show, and--in 2008--God of War is appealing to you, the PSP will ensure that you'll always be entertained. With its impressive game library, lower price, and expanded feature set, it's certainly a much better deal than the original PSP was when it debuted in 2005. And while its media and online functions won't necessarily replace a dedicated AV device or laptop, you may well find it to be good enough in plenty of situations.