Nov 20, 2023 - Technology

Review: Sony's PlayStation Portal does one narrow thing, but does it well

PlayStation Portal. Image: Sony Interactive Entertainment

Sony has launched the PlayStation Portal, an unusual, handheld gaming machine that appears to have sold out of its first round of shipments.

Why it matters: The Portal, launched last Thursday, is a slick but limited device, a tiptoe back into handheld gaming for Sony in a world gaga over playing games on phones and Nintendo Switches.

Details: The PlayStation Portal ($199) is a "remote player," in Sony's parlance, a device that can't run games on its own but can run any that are stored on a person's PlayStation 5 console. The games are streamed to the Portal via Wi-Fi.

  • The device consists of an eight-inch, LCD screen flanked by the buttons and sticks of a PlayStation 5 controller.
  • The Portal is essentially a premium way to access the long-existing Remote Play functionality offered through Sony's consoles, whereby users can access games on their PS4 or PS5 via an app on their phone or computer.

Hands-on: The Portal ran perfectly well on the same home Wi-Fi network that my PlayStation 5 was on, allowing me to play Marvel's Spider-Man 2 in any room of my house (including, dangerously, the bathroom).

  • Games played well on the device, though some text in games such as Alan Wake II was more difficult to read on a screen that's much smaller than a TV.
  • The Portal lost a viable signal, as expected, when I left my house, about 20 paces from the front door.
  • Nintendo's pre-Switch Wii U had offered a similar remote play option, though it only used a local wireless signal that failed just a couple of rooms away from the device.

State of play: The Portal is already scarce, listed as "currently unavailable" on PlayStation's retail website.

  • On Amazon, any available stock has been cleared out. It's selling used for $400 over the list price.

Between the lines: Sony entered the handheld gaming market in December 2004 with the PlayStation Portable and exited with the discontinuation of the PSP's successor, the PlayStation Vita, in 2019.

  • Sony never managed to unseat Nintendo's spot in the handheld market, which began with the Game Boy and ran through the DS and 3DS until Nintendo merged its console and handheld lines with 2017's Switch.
  • Sony's focus on console hardware has been fruitful. Its PlayStation 4 sold more than 113 million units through 2020, and its equally hot PlayStation 5 has sold 40 million since late 2020.

The intrigue: Sony's PS Portal may not signal the full resumption of a revived line of portable PlayStation gaming devices, but its arrival is consistent with Sony's zeal to sell as many peripherals for its popular consoles as it can.

The bottom line: The PlayStation Portal may have limited utility, but what it does, it does superbly.

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