PSPgo Review: PSP Goes Nowhere You Haven't Been

Four years ago I got married to the most wonderful woman in the world. The evening before the wedding she knocked on my hotel room door and handed me a surprise wrapped package. It was the original PSP.

Believe it or not, the PSP was a meaningful gift that brings earnest tears to my eyes just recollecting the scenario. It wasn't just that I'd been obsessing about the PSP since its announcement—what seemed like (and sort of was) the ultimate do-everything media gadget of its day. The PSP was a token of her tacit acceptance of who I was. She knew that while I'd grow old with her, I'd probably never surpass mental adolescence. And that was OK.

So for better or worse, I'll always feel attached to the PSP brand in this strangely emotional way. And realize that, as the PSPgo solidifies the Sony's growing embarrassment in the industry, it breaks my heart a lot more than yours.

Price

$250 on October 1.

Hardware

PSPgo Review: PSP Goes Nowhere You Haven't Been

At 333MHz with 64MB of RAM, the Go isn't any faster or more powerful than the last PSP. But now it's loaded with 16GB of flash storage, has an Micro M2 slot for expansion and, without a UMD drive, manages to be 50% smaller and 40% lighter than the original PSP. The 3.8-inch screen is technically .5 inches smaller than the PSP classic, but it runs at the same 480x272 resolution.

After playing with the PSPgo for a week, I've adjusted to the small form. It slides open with a smooth but fulfilling snap, and it's very light and balanced in your hands.

Despite the chrome detailing, know that the edging and body are constructed of what's not the most sturdy-feeling plastic, but only time will tell how well the Go holds up to daily abuse. As Adam Frucci said, "it doesn't quite feel cheap, but it doesn't feel expensive either." If you could say one thing about the original PSP, it was that it felt expensive.

But it's more than just quality making this impression. When you hold a Zune HD, the thing seems to be carved from the future itself. When you hold the PSPgo, it feels like a free-with-contract tween's phone.

PSPgo Review: PSP Goes Nowhere You Haven't Been

The Go's low profile buttons are strickly utilitarian—the springiness of the original PSP's buttons are undoubtedly more comfortable. LB and RB shoulders feel wretchedly soft, while the low-profile D-pad and circle, triangle, etc buttons are stiff and digital. Select and Start are a waste of space (a mocking waste of space, given that a second analog stick would fit perfectly there). Meanwhile, most of the buttons around the case's edges are throwbacks to classic PSP design, from the Wi-Fi toggle to the power switch.

PSPgo Review: PSP Goes Nowhere You Haven't Been


The screen has vibrant color reproduction, and a perfect level of max brightness (until you take it in direct sunlight, where it becomes unusable). Its black levels ever so slightly best those of my aging iPhone 3G, but the resolution, 480x272 stretched .3 inches beyond the iPhone's 480x320, means that text often appears more pixelated than you're used to seeing it, and otherwise gorgeous movie playback is often flawed with jagged pixels.

PSPgo Review: PSP Goes Nowhere You Haven't Been

But what I really don't understand is why this screen isn't touch-sensitive. Especially when the slider is closed, I want to flick and zoom through webpages, the PS store and the XMB. More than once I've attempted the feat, only to remember, what the shit, this huge screen isn't touch capable.

So closed, the PSPgo can't really be navigated. Scratch that. You can accidentally hit LB to restart your movie—a function you'll use frequently—if by accident.

It should be noted that Bluetooth also allows you to use a SIXAXIS/Dual Shock 3 controller with the Go. Syncing is easy and the system works perfectly, but consider the practical ergonomics for a moment. You end up balancing the Go on your lap in this really awkward way.

Looking at the design, a conspiracy theory pops in my head. The PSPgo was the template for the PSP2. Open, it had dual analogs. Closed, it had a touchscreen. Somewhere inside, it had a faster processor, more RAM and, hell, maybe even 3G or something. Maybe it was machined of metal and could be thrown like a ninja star. Regardless of this theory's truth, we're stuck with the Go as-is.

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Note: PSP shots are of original (PSP-1000) model.

Software

Honestly, the hardware is only half of what holds the PSPgo back from being something better. It's the aging PSP software full of unfixed nagging points, like that Wi-Fi doesn't connect automatically upon startup, typing is still done through that horrible phone-dial-like interface and lack of support for background downloading from the PS Store.

Yes, while the PS3 allows you to download games and movies while performing other tasks, the PSPgo is stuck monotasking during downloads. Oh, and if your PSP dies before you've finished that 1.6GB movie download—which takes a while over the Go's slow 802.1b Wi-Fi—you get to start all over. (Also, while it's nice of Sony to keep compression levels low, SD quality movies on portables need smaller files sizes than this for people to watch movies on the go.)

PSPgo Review: PSP Goes Nowhere You Haven't Been

The browser is absolutely archaic. Beyond tedious analog nub navigation, the Go ran out of RAM while loading Gizmodo just like it had before on the original PSP...just like is prone to occurring on the PS3. Sony has advertised a browser on multiple systems that doesn't really work, and that's just ridiculous.

PSP Minis, or tiny apps like you see on the iPhone (in some cases, exactly like you see on the iPhone), are on their way. But the limitations are strict, meaning that even the games ported from the iPhone could be missing functions like networking. And how big or wonderful will the catalog be if Sony can barely recruit studios to develop for the PSP as it is now? (Sony has catalog of 225 PSPgo games that will be downloadable over PC or Wi-fi at launch.)

Also, you may not have heard about one key software feature. When you close the PSPgo from the XMB, a clock appears on screen. Thank goodness, because I've been needing one of those!

PSPgo Review: PSP Goes Nowhere You Haven't Been

Battery Life

In a mixture of movie playback, gaming and general interface navigation, the PSPgo ran for 4 hours and 47 minutes at max brightness with Wi-Fi on. That's about the same battery life of the last few PSPs. Unfortunately, those who liked to use an extended or extra battery with the PSP will find that more difficult on the Go as its battery is positioned inside the screw-off case. Plus, iFixit has confirmed that removing the battery actually voids your warranty.

PSPgoes Nowhere New

PSPgo Review: PSP Goes Nowhere You Haven't Been

The PSPgo should have been the ZuneHD with games, a versatile media platformed with cutting edge hardware and eye-meltingly beautiful software. But instead, it's a slightly smaller PSP with a screen, storage capacity and software that's not all that competitive with other $250 devices today. If you see just the DSi as the PSP's competition, the Go's updates seem pretty substantial. But compared to the advancements in PMPs and smartphones as of late, it's just very difficult to sit in awe of the Go's inelegant hardware and clunky software.

Oh, and needless to say, there's still no second analog stick.

Four years later, my wife and I are closer than ever. But my beloved PSP sits on a shelf somewhere out of reach, a dusty artifact that I'll neither play nor throw away. The Go will not fare any better by being a little bit smaller or ditching pesky UMDs. PSP2, I'll be waiting for whenever you decide to show up and steal my heart again.

PSPgo Review: PSP Goes Nowhere You Haven't Been

Your hands will get used to the new ergonomics

PSPgo Review: PSP Goes Nowhere You Haven't Been

Squeezes into a jeans pocket

PSPgo Review: PSP Goes Nowhere You Haven't Been

Buttons are usable, but less comfortable than regular PSP

PSPgo Review: PSP Goes Nowhere You Haven't Been

Sony's software feels dated (browser, downloads, text entry)

PSPgo Review: PSP Goes Nowhere You Haven't Been

Next to a Zune HD or iPod touch, the hardware is unimpressive

PSPgo Review: PSP Goes Nowhere You Haven't Been

Transfer speeds hindered by dated 802.1b Wi-Fi standard