At 128mm, the PSP Go is about two-thirds the width of previous PSPs, finally making the latest member of the PlayStation Portable family pocketable. It's also thinner, but about the same height.
As part of its spatial gymnastics, Sony has shrunk the screen from 4.3 inches to 3.8. Brightness has been turned up a tad, but because the resolution is the same at 480x272, the new screen is sharper. On balance we didn't miss those 0.5 inches during our daily commutes. The screen's glossy finish may help colours pop, but it can make gaming and video watching on sunny days difficult - did we really pay AU$450 to look in the mirror? Similarly, the piano black finish looks the business, but both it and the screen would make the lads and ladies at the police fingerprinting branch very happy indeed.
Hiding the primary controls is the other big contributor to the Go's missing girth. Sliding the screen up not only elicits a pleasing ker-thunk, but also reveals the Go's main controls (from left to right): the four-way D-pad; an analog thumb pad; Start and Select buttons; and PlayStation's trademark square, triangle, circle and cross buttons. Recessing the analog thumb pad greatly reduces the incidence of accidental manipulation, although those hankering for a second analog control to bring the PSP on par with its non-portable PlayStation cousins will be left disappointed. This, however, neatly sidesteps any future compatibility issues - for now.
Despite the slender nature of the Go's two halves and the unit's lack of heft - it weighs just 158g - the Go feels solid. Our smallish hands had no problems mashing the main controls and the shoulder buttons simultaneously; those with larger mitts should try one out in store first though. It's all too easy, however, to accidentally knock the shoulder buttons when picking up or moving the PSP Go, or sliding its screen up and down. So, if, like us, you're not completely anal about flicking the power switch to the hold position, you'll be accidentally switching music tracks or, more annoyingly, videos with hair-tearing regularity.
Joining the left and right shoulder buttons along the top edge are (from the left) a button for screen brightness (three pre-defined settings), volume rocker and an equaliser button that doubles as a mute switch. Again, it's all too easy to knock a shoulder button when trying to use these. The aforementioned power/hold switch is on the right edge, while the wireless switch for both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth is on the left. The only other control of note is the PlayStation button located near the screen's bottom left corner.
The AC jack and the mini-USB port of yore has given way to an easy-to-lose USB cable with a proprietary connector. To charge the Go, either connect the USB cable to the mains power brick or hook it up to either your PC or PS3 and put the Go in USB mode - the latter method precludes you playing and charging the Go simultaneously.
For the first time, Bluetooth is included, allowing the PSP Go to pair with headsets, as well as wireless PS3 controllers. The latter's useful if you've hooked the Go up to a TV, but a new AV out cable that plugs into the Go's proprietary slot is required; previous PSP TV cables utilised the 3.5mm headphone jack.
Wi-Fi is back and, disappointingly, Sony deemed it unworthy of an upgrade. So, you can have any type of connection you want so long as it's the most basic 802.11b variety and heaven help you if encryption is set to anything other than WEP or WPA1. The web browser is slow and seven different types of awful when viewing full fat websites, with Flash playback it's particularly slow and cumbersome. Mobile only sites look OK though, while PSP optimised sites, such as the online manual, are, of course, good. The online PlayStation store not only looks great on the Go, but updates and renders quickly despite the 802.11b connection.
A microphone is included, hiding between the analog controller and the Select and Start buttons. It works reasonably well with the bundled Skype client. Remote Play is also part of the package, allowing you to stream music, movies and photos from a registered PS3 residing either on a local network or on the internet; only one PS3 can be registered at a time.
Despite the Go being the first PSP to leave the factory without a UMD (Universal Media Disc) drive, we were only able to wring out just under three hours of movie watching and game playing, with a spot of surfing, internet radio and Bluetooth connectivity thrown in for good measure, from the 930mAh battery. We'll complete our full battery of tests - boom tish! - over the coming days and update this review early next week.
If the decision to dump UMD was rendered as a culinary delight, it would be a sweet, sweet meringue with an awfully sour lemon filling. The sweetness would derive from the death of yet another proprietary Sony format, with the neat side effect being the elimination of that faint buzz from the UMD drive. The sour taste would be reserved for current PSP owners who wish to upgrade to the Go, but are left without a way of playing their library of PSP titles and, possibly, UMD movies on their shiny new device.
Sony has given its Cubs' honour that all new PSP games released after the Go's launch on 1 October will be available on the PlayStation Store. It has also said that it will re-release a "majority" of UMD games in the store, although if Sony's fanboys are forced to pay for the privilege of "upgrading" their games to a downloadable format, there might be a storming of the electronic Bastille or at least an outpouring of leet angst. On launch day the company will also be bringing out a selection of cheaper, smaller games, dubbed Minis, such as Sudoku, Pacman and Championship Manager. Hopefully all these efforts will significantly bolster the selection of games available for download because, as it stands, the current offerings should only be enough to please gamers new to the PSP.
In lieu of the UMD drive, the Go is the recipient of 16GB of internal memory. On this one can load games directly from the PlayStation Store via Wi-Fi, or transfer them across from a PS3 or a PC - the latter requires the Media Go software installed on it. Capacity can be expanded via M2 mini-Memory Sticks.
With the underlying hardware seemingly little changed from previous PSPs, the gaming experience is pretty much as it was, with graphics that are on par with the PlayStation 2 and several leagues beyond the cartoony chunkiness of Nintendo's DS line. One of the big improvements, obviously, comes in the form of faster loading times, as the on-board flash memory easily outpaces the old UMD set-up. Press the PlayStation button at any point in a game, and the Go offers you the option to pause and save the game before quitting back to the Cross Media Bar. Here you can watch a movie or surf the internet before resuming the game where you left off. You can do anything, really, except play another game, as that will delete your save point.
For current PSP owners the closer-set controls may require a little bit of adjusting to, but the layout should be instantly familiar to anyone who's ever played a home-bound PlayStation.
Music, movies and photos on the go go
With the Go finally making the PlayStation pocketable, there's a greater chance of it being used as a portable music and video player. DRM-free MP3, AAC and WMA (after online registration) music files are all supported and sound quality is almost on par with Sony's Walkmans, although bass has been turned up a notch at the expense of mid-range fullness and fidelity. More irksome is the fact that we're given the option of listening to our tunes while surfing the PSP's Cross Media Bar interface, but the moment one dives into a settings screen, the web browser or anything of import, the music stops. Output from the speakers flanking the screen is surprisingly decent for a pair of built-ins.
Hanging out for native DivX and XviD support? Well hang a while longer as movie playback is still limited to H.264/MPEG-4 AVC files. Every other format needs to be converted first, either by Sony's Media Go software or a third-party transcoder. This not only takes time - conversion of a feature length DivX took about an hour on our Core 2 Duo PC - but, at least with the Media Go software, video quality is diminished greatly without a commensurate drop in file size. JPEG photos look great on the Go, but load times for full res files are on the slow side, as is rendering when zooming in and out.
Price and conclusion
Clearly there's a lot that we love about the PSP Go, from its pocket-size form factor and geekily sexy looks to PS2 quality gameplay. Like quite a few Sony products we've tested over the years - the X-Series Walkman being the most recent offender - we can't help but wonder if the pricing committee is stuffed full with comedians.
In the US, they're bemoaning the Go's price of US$249 (AU$288), an US$80 (AU$92) or a 47 per cent jump up from the PSP-3000. We think they've got it good, though, because in this great brown land the Go will retail for AU$449, a staggering AU$200 or 80 per cent more than the 3000. Despite the slimmer, sexier form factor, the deletion of the UMD drive, and the addition of Bluetooth and pause/restore anywhere, the PSP Go doesn't bring quite enough to the party to justify its price tag.