PlayStation Portal Hands-On: I Played Sony's New PS5 Handheld
Coming later this year for $200, the new remote player is a worthy extension of the PlayStation 5 console.
Sean BookerVideo Producer
As a Video Producer at CNET, Sean has worked on more videos than he can count. He covers video games and video game hardware along with the occasional electric bike. He covers games both on and off camera, through livestreams, press events, and podcasts.
Sony's newest handheld gaming device is called the PlayStation Portal, and I got to play an early version at a private demo. I also tried out the matching earbuds, now called the Pulse Explore, an updated headset called the Pulse Elite, and a new wireless connectivity feature that all three of these devices will use: PlayStation Link. The Portal looked and felt great, and ran well in my brief experience, but it remains to be seen if this handheld is worth the price.
First announced in May as Project Q, the PlayStation Portal Remote Player will cost $200 (£200, converts to roughly AU$390) and preorders are set to start "soon," Sony said, with a launch date sometime later in 2023. The Pulse Explore earbuds are also launching later this year, alongside the Portal, for the same $200 price. The Pulse Elite headset will come shortly after for $150.
One thing to note up-front: Unlike the Nintendo Switch, Valve's Steam Deck, or Sony's originalPSPhandhelds for that matter, the Portal is just a remote player. It requires a PS5 to work. It has no internal storage and can't do anything when it isn't connected to a PS5. The PlayStation Portal operates by streaming games from a PS5 console over Wi-Fi.
The idea, according to Sony, is to put "most of a PS5 in your hands when you're not on a couch." The device has a 60Hz, 8-inch LCD display. PlayStation says this size is the sweet spot for long gaming sessions, keeps text legible and won't leave the player feeling like they're downgrading.
To my eye, the visuals looked sharp and crisp. While I was quite happy with the display, I'd prefer an OLED panel instead of LCD due to the brighter, higher contrast and greater color gamut, especially after being spoiled by the Nintendo Switch OLED for the last couple years. It's also worth noting that Sony's last handheld, the PlayStation Vita, had an OLED screen.
The Portal is light, probably somewhere between a Switch and a Steam Deck. No definitive battery life was given but the company is targeting something similar to the DualSense controller's, which is typically around seven to nine hours.
Speaking of DualSense, the controls on either side of the handheld replicate the PS5 controller completely. Unlike a Switch and its detachable Joy-Cons, the controls are fixed to the display (like with a Steam Deck). The haptics, triggers, microphone and so on that you're used to on your PS5 are all present here. The touchscreen now serves as the touchpad. Players can access it with either thumb. The headphone jack and USB-C charging port are on the back of the device.
Games like Astro's Playroom and Returnal felt exactly the same as I remembered them playing directly on the PS5 console. The one noticeable difference is that the analog stick pads are a little smaller than on the DualSense. The rep told me they're actually the same sticks found on the PSVR2's controllers.
Here's where I mention that you can already stream PS5 games to other devices, including your phone, tablet or computer, using Sony's Remote Play capability. Despite the Portal still using Wi-Fi to connect to the PS5, the company described it as "Remote Play turned up to 11," since it can now optimize the connection between the handheld and the PS5 since it controls the hardware on both ends, the same way some wireless headsets, mice and keyboards may do via a 2.4GHz dongle.
I noticed no lag when playing Returnal, a bullet hell roguelike game, along with less intense action titles such as Astro's Playroom and God of War Ragnarök. Take this with a grain of salt, however, since I was in a demo room, sitting only a few feet away from the PS5. In fact, just like Remote Play now, you can connect your PS5 to the Portal and stream games from networks outside your home, but your Wi-Fi and connection strength will become a limiting factor.
The new Pulse Explore earbuds will launch with the Portal, while the Pulse Elite headset will launch soon after. Both these devices will feature planar magnetic drivers, known for high audio fidelity. Both the Explore and Elite felt good. The earbuds were light and comfortable and come with a case to store and charge them.
The headsets can connect to the Portal using PlayStation Link or Bluetooth. PlayStation Link is Sony's new wireless protocol for these devices that offers low latency and lossless audio.
In addition to the headsets, your purchase will also get you a USB dongle that plugs into the PS5. This lets the console connect to multiple headsets, or even your PC. Sony will also be selling the dongle separately, so players can move from their PS5 to a PC with the push of a button.
Both audio devices also support multiple inputs at the same time. Sony gave an example of playing a game and participating in a Discord chat -- you'd be able to hear and talk to both at once, using the built-in microphones. The Pulse Elite's microphone is hidden and can be extended out from the left-hand side. In addition, both microphones use AI-enhanced noise reduction.
As someone who routinely uses Remote Play in bed, I came out of this demo feeling pretty good about the experience. I was pleasantly surprised at the price, but since I can Remote Play with other devices already, it's tough to say whether it's worth the extra $200. I look forward to testing the final version soon.
Correction, Aug. 24: A previous version of this story incorrectly characterized PlayStation Link. The new wireless protocol connects the Portal to the Pulse Explore earbuds and the Pulse Elite headset, not to the PS5 itself.