It’s fair to say that the Sony PSP, which debuted way back in September 2005, has been well overdue a facelift. In 2007 it received only minor liposuction with the Slim & Lite, while last year the PSP-3000 brought underwhelming tweaks like a new screen and microphone.
But at long last, Sony has taken a scalpel to the PSP’s oversized chassis and brought it up to date by jettisoning the UMD slot in favour of 16GB internal storage. The PSPgo is certainly a major overhaul – but can it top the Nintendo DSi and fend off Apple’s iPod Touch?
At first glance the 3.8in display appears more boxy than previous PSP screens, but in fact it retains the 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio. It’s lost half an inch across the diagonal but is just as vibrant as ever and even a touch brighter.
As always, the 480x272 resolution is fine for games and movies but it gets caught short when trying to display web sites – expect lots of sideways scrolling.
This isn’t helped by the built-in web browser, which is seriously creaky. Rendering of pages is often messy and navigation is cumbersome. Text entry is a nightmare and there’s no Flash, which means no YouTube. Frankly it’s just not up to the job.
With no disc slot, games are all downloaded from the PlayStation Store, where you’ll find new releases, existing PSP games and re-released PSone classics.
A flick of the thumb reveals the controls that once flanked the display. The D-pad and main buttons have been flattened to save space and now have very little travel.
They’re marginally smaller than before, but the nubbin has shrunk considerably in all directions. Worse, it’s now almost central, making some games incredibly awkward to play. All of the controls (apart from the shoulder buttons) are all too close to the bottom edge of the unit to be comfortable.
Out of ports
These hardware changes also mean the PSP’s Go!Explore sat-nav and Go!Cam snapper are incompatible. The only peripherals available at launch will be a cradle for charging and viewing, and a video lead pack for connection to a TV.
Power and USB are now combined in a custom connection. The mic input has gone but the external mic remains, as does the 3.5mm headphone output.
Inside there’s that healthy dollop of 16MB of onboard flash memory, while removable storage is now in the form of M2 cards, the smaller of Sony’s own Memory Stick formats. Also new is Bluetooth, which makes an appearance for wireless headset hook-ups.
You can think of the bundled Media Go software as iTunes for PSP. It allow games and other content to be downloaded from the PlayStation Store to a PC and then transferred as you like, and also rips CDs and manages audio, video and picture content.
The bad news for Mac users is that it’s Windows only, which is a shame as video playback is what it does best. The display is brighter and a better viewing angle compensates for the loss of width, while motion handling is solid and the speakers do a fair job. It now plays a much more useful spread of formats than its predecessor too.
Previous PSPs were too big to be taken seriously as portable music players, but the PSPgo is different. Sound quality from the 3.5mm jack is respectable: there’s plenty of bass, although top-end detail gets lost in a fiesta of fizz.
But how does the PSPgo fare against the Nintendo DSi? Well, Nintendo’s portable feels better in the hand and benefits from a touchscreen and built-in camera. It also wins on games despite valiant efforts from Locvo Roco 2 and Final Fantasy VII, and pips it on browsing.
But if movies and music are your favourite condiments to mobile gaming, the PSPgo remains, despite occasionally frustrating controls, the better choice.