Review: The PSP Go isn't bad, but it won't light the world on fire

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Goodbye, old storage media!

Rumored for God knows how long, and teased for months, the Sony PSP Go is finally available at your friendly neighborhood retailer. We have one—well, I have one—and have been playing with it for a couple of days now. As such, consider this a review. Spoiler: It’s not bad, but not great either.

What is the PSP Go? Nearest I can tell, it’s Sony’s attempt to usher in the Download Era. No more visiting the local shop to buy Game 3: Yes, It’s a Sequel to the Sequel, or waiting for the UPS man to bring your Amazon or Newegg order. Nope, all you’ll have to do is fire up your device, which, in this case, is the PSP Go, connect to a virtual store, then download the latest game directly to the device’s storage. Congratulations, you’re now the proud owner of Game 3, all without having to leave the comfort of your home. The concept itself, I think, is fantastic, and has been used by the likes of Steam for some time now. Who needs a pile of discs, and their plastic shells, when all you want is the game itself? That’s my attitude, though I can totally understand when people say, “I want the disc!” Your business is your business, and who am I to judge how you want to play your games?

Even Sony recognizes that there’s bound to be more than a few people who aren’t quite ready to give up their discs, which is why the PSP-3000 isn’t going anywhere for a while. (In fact, there’s gonna be a wicked Gran Turismo bundle coming out later this month, which, if I didn’t already have an old PSP (and now the Go), I’d be all over.) Expect the PSP Go and PSP-3000 to co-exist for some time, just like how the Nintendo DS and GameBoy Advance co-existed for some time. Should the PSP Go prove to be any sort of success, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Sony axe the PSP-3000 in the future.

So that’s the philosophy of the PSP Go: a neat little device that’s able to download PSP (and PS One classic) games from the Internet.

While the philosophy is fine, and is one I subscribe to, the actual execution isn’t all there. If the PSP Go were a pro wrestling match, and I were using the Wrestling Observer five-star rating system (which I’ll be doing from now on with my reviews, thank you very much), I’d give the PSP Go a solid three point five (3.5) out of five stars. It’s not a perfect device, and it’s just shy of being very good; it’s good. (For comparison’s sake, I’d give the Zune HD a four point five (4.5) out of five: if only the screen were a little more legible in direct sunlight it would the best piece of hardware I’ve ever owned. It really is that good.)

So what’s wrong with the PSP Go? Let’s talk about what’s right first, then get into its shortcomings.

Eu gosto de…

• See you in Hell, UMDs. The UMD could be the worst disc format I’ve ever used. It’s clunky and brittle all at the same time (doesn’t it feel like a slight wind could shatter a UMD?), dreadfully slow, and, in 2009, entirely unnecessary. With flash storage being so cheap these, not to mention so fast, I’m very happy to see Sony kill of the UMD in the PSP Go. That’s right: If you didn’t already know, there’s no UMD drive in the PSP Go. At the moment, that means that your collection of UMD-based PSP games are 100 percent obsolete, provided you don’t plan on keeping a PSP-3000 (or older) handy. Sony has said that it’s planning some sort of trade-in program for the future, but it’s currently being held back by legal reasons. Or, if you’re a cynic, perhaps Sony wants us to buy Vice City Stories or Soulcalibur all over again, this time from the PlayStation Network?

• The general size and shape of the device. The PSP-3000 isn’t exactly huge, but unless you’re wearing Rocawear jeans you’re gonna have a hard time fitting it in your pocket. The PSP Go’s display has the same resolution as previous models (480×272), but on a smaller screen, so images “look sharper,” in layman’s terms. It slides open and shut sorta like the T-Mobile G1 (or pick your slider phone), but never feels like it’s going to break on you. The PSP Go also just looks neat, maybe not as neat as the Zune HD, but neat nonetheless; you tell it was recently designed, whereas the PSP-3000 looks so 2005 by this point.

• The screen. The screen, she is not bad. I played Gran Turismo, Rock Band, and Silent Hill (the PS One game), and all the games looked pretty good to me. I understand “pretty good” is more or less a worthless phrase, but at no point did I think, “Well this screen is rubbish.” Once again, playing the thing in direct sunlight just isn’t going to happen, but you probably assumed as much by now. Besides, I imagine playing this while on-the-go, as it were: on the train, at the airport, etc. If you’re on the Copacabana in Rio playing a portable video game system you may have to check yourself.

Eu não gosto de…

• The download speed. This, I feel, is the single worst part about the PSP G0: it only has 802.11b Wi-Fi! I’m sorry, is this 2003? For a system that’s supposed to usher in the dawn of a new era, this is the absolute dumbest thing Sony could have done. What’s the price difference between an 802.11b and 802.11g chipset? (The Rock: It doesn’t matter that the price difference is!) How much money did Sony lose already with the PS3, $400 zillion? Man up and go with 802.11g. Let me illustrate how slow this is, and keep in mind that I have the fastest residential Internet connection in the United States of America: Gran Turismo for the PSP weighs in at 937MB. It took 21 minutes to download the game, and a further 20 to actually install it. This is not good enough! At that point, I may as well have driven to the store, bought a physical copy of the game, stopped at Taco Bell, then watched a good chunk of The Ultimate Fighter all in the time it took to download and install.

• Game prices. Downloaded from PSN, Gran Turismo cost the same price as it does at retail stores: $39.99 (plus tax! bite me, New York state!) Couldn’t Sony throw us, say, a $5 discount because we’re not buying a physical item that costs money to produce, then ship, then sit on Wal-Mart’s shelves? Isn’t that one of the allures of downloading content, that it cuts out the middleman (the retail stores like Best Buy), and has zero costs associated with production? It’s not like there’s a truck that deliver the ISO from Sony’s servers to my PSP Go, a truck that needs gas, has a driver who’s on a salary, etc. These prices need to be lowered because, otherwise, what’s the point? I already said how it’s not terribly fast to download the game, and now it’s not any less expensive? Lame.

• The nub. If it’s at all possible, I will never use that thing. The physical location of the nub is fine, I have no problems there, but it just feels useless. (Needless to say, I’ve been using the D-Pad to play Gran Turismo, like I did in 1998 when the first game came out.) Would it be impossible to include an actual analog stick? (The D-Pad, for the record, feels more “clicky” than “pushy,” if that makes any sense.)

Conclusão

Again, using the Wrestling Observer five-star rating system, I’d give the PSP Go a fair three point five (3.5) out of five. It’s not going to light the world on fire like the iPhone or anything, but it’s not a huge bucket of fail either. The Wi-Fi is murderously slow, and for something that’s supposed to be all about downloads, well, I think that’s an oversight on Sony’s part. Once your games have downloaded, though, then you’ve got as much space on there as you want. The PSP Go comes with 16GB of built-in storage, which is expandable up to 32GB with the addition of a Memory Stick Micro card. (Are there even 32GB of PSP games worth playing out there? So that’s plenty of space, unless you want to watch movies and whatnot, which I patently have zero interest in.)

So, not bad, but could have been a little bit better, absolutely.

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