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Gallery: PlayStation Portal | 11 Photos

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2023-11-14

Sony has apparently learned nothing from the success of the Nintendo Switch and Steam Deck. Or from its own portable systems like the Vita and PSP, for that matter. The PlayStation Portal (yes, technically it’s another PSP) is a $200 handheld system that can only stream games from your PlayStation 5. There aren’t any built-in apps, it can’t play anything locally, and there’s no connection to Sony’s cloud game streaming service. It’s purely a streaming window into your PS5, hence the name.

Gallery: PlayStation Portal | 11 Photos

  • PlayStation Portal
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Consequently, it’s also a device that lives and dies based on the quality of your internet connection. While it’s mostly meant for in-home play, you could technically hop on any Wi-Fi connection to play remotely when you’re traveling. But that’s only possible if that connection and your home internet can keep up, and if your PS5 doesn’t crash or get wonky. If anything along that chain fails, you’re left with an ugly $200 doorstop.

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Sony PlayStation Portal

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Pros

  • Excellent DualSense-like controller
  • Decent streaming performance in ideal circumstances

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Connectivity can be fickle
  • Useless offline
  • No cloud streaming

That’s the main problem with the PlayStation Portal: Its downsides are so immediately apparent that it’s unclear why anyone should get one. You could, for example, spend $100 for a Backbone controller to stream games from your phone. Or you could use any existing gamepad to access the PS Remote app on a phone, table, Mac or Windows PC. There are so many better ways to access games on the go, the PlayStation Portal already feels obsolete before it launches.

Even its design seems haphazard: It’s as if Sony chopped up a DualSense controller and shoved a basic 8-inch tablet in the middle. In place of the DualSense’s center touchpad, you can tap and swipe on the Portal’s screen (a process that was never as smooth as I wanted). On the bright side, the Portal includes the DualSense’s satisfying haptics, and its sci-fi-ish black and white case looks right at home alongside the PlayStation 5.

 

PlayStation Portal
Photo by Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

Holding the PlayStation Portal feels like holding an oversized DualSense controller. My hands and fingers were perfectly comfortable, but the 8-inch screen throws off the balance. I also couldn’t help but notice how fragile the bottom corners of the screen were. It really does look like a tablet, with thick bezels and a relatively thin profile. But unlike the Switch, Steam Deck or even PlayStation Vita, there’s nothing protecting the lower part of the Portal’s screen from a hard drop, or from being crushed inside of a backpack. (Sony isn’t selling a Portal case of its own, but you can find some from third-parties.)

I’m sure the controller arms would offer some protection for many falls, but I couldn’t help treating the system with kid gloves during my testing. I didn’t let my 5-year old daughter handle it during my review, even though I feel comfortable letting her hold a Switch. Perhaps this is just my paranoid dad brain speaking, but the Portal’s screen is practically asking to be damaged — it’s like getting your child an overly-expensive doll and just knowing it’s going to lose a limb within a day.

Setting up the PlayStation Portal involves linking it to your PlayStation 5 from within the console, or the PlayStation app. For some reason, my phone (an iPhone 15 Pro Max) had a hard time making out the QR code on the Portal’s screen, so I plugged in the pairing code manually. Once that was clear, I sat back and waited for the Portal to connect to my PS5. And I waited. And waited.

PlayStation Portal
Photo by Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

Thirty seconds later, I received a message saying that I needed to turn on my PS5’s Remote Play feature, something I could have sworn I did when reviewing the system. The only problem? I was snuggled in bed, hoping to get some portable Spider-Man 2 time in before I dozed off. Rather than trek down two flights of stairs to reach the PS5 in my basement, I decided to wait until morning. I’ll admit, this was mostly my fault, but it would have been nice to flip on Remote Play from the PlayStation app.

When I got up, I immediately flipped on the feature on my PS5 and proceeded to make breakfast. While my kids were chomping down on pancakes, I turned on the PS Portal and tried to connect to my PS5 — once again, I waited. About a minute later, I finally heard a successful chime from the system and was presented with my PlayStation 5’s home screen. But when I tried to get a game of Thumper going, all I saw was a sea of video compression artifacts. The game’s normally fluid controls felt like mud. I gave up after five minutes of frustration.

Here’s where I need to reiterate that your experience with the PlayStation Portal comes down to your home’s internet setup. Sony recommends having a connection of at least 5Mbps, and it suggests 15Mbps for better quality. But raw internet speed is just one factor: You also have to consider the age and networking technology in your router, as well as Wi-Fi reception throughout your home. For the best possible experience, you’ll want a modern router (or even better, a mesh setup) that can bathe your home in full wireless bars, as well as a direct Ethernet connection for your PS5. (Sony isn’t saying if the PS Portal supports Wi-Fi 6, but that’s a technology worth investing in if you have an older router.)

Photo by Devindra Hardawar/Engadget
Photo by Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

What’s confusing, though, is that I have pretty great internet throughout my home. I’m using AT&T’s gigabit service with a modern Wi-Fi 6 gateway on my first floor, and there’s a mesh extension for my office in the basement. I typically see full wireless reception on my main floor, with speeds between 600 and 800Mbps on most devices. So why was the PlayStation Portal having such a rough time? I have no clue. My PS5, which sits in the basement, isn’t connected via Ethernet. But I also see 500Mbps speeds down there, so it didn’t seem necessary. During breakfast, I was sitting about 20 unobstructed feet from my router, so there wasn’t much physical interference either.

When I moved to my living room later in the day, which is also where my router sits, the Portal was able to connect to my PS5 in around 15 seconds. I spun up Spider-Man 2 and crossed my fingers. For some reason, it loaded up just fine and I was able to play for an hour with my daughter curled up beside me. That was the first time I could actually see the potential of this thing. My daughter and I have been gaming together a lot, but only with portable systems we can use together in bed or on the couch. It would take a lot more effort to bring her into my basement home theater, and frankly, she’d probably be bored there.

PlayStation Portal
Photo by Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

So there we were, swinging through New York City streets as Peter Parker and Miles Morales, and it felt like magic. Spider-Man 2 appeared to be running at 60fps on the Portal in performance mode, and it was perfectly fine. Colors certainly didn’t pop as they do on my Switch OLED, and it couldn’t hold a candle to the Steam Deck’s new 90Hz OLED HDR screen, but it was still decently immersive without many video artifacts. The controls felt just as responsive as the DualSense, and its haptic rumble felt powerful and nuanced (certainly more so than the Switch or Steam Deck).

Moving up to my bedroom later in the day (one floor above the router, two floors above the basement) we were able to clock another 30 minutes in Spider-Man 2 with only occasional hiccups. Thankfully, the game automatically paused in those instances, similar to what you’d see if your DualSense controller lost power during normal gameplay. Every time we disconnected, I couldn’t help but look over at the Switch OLED and Steam Deck, handhelds that can actually play games offline without a sweat.

During a recent grocery run, I brought the Portal along just to test the limits of its remote connectivity. To my surprise, I was able to tether it to my phone (using Verizon’s 5G ultra-wideband network) and launch Spider-Man 2 just fine. The game looked far less clear than when I was at home, naturally, but I could still make out enough to explore the city and take on a few side missions.

PlayStation Portal
Photo by Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

So sure, the Portal isn’t entirely useless on the go, but you’re risking a lot if it’s your only portable gaming option. You still couldn’t use it on a plane — even if the internet was fast enough, network latency would be abysmal — and hotel Wi-Fi is notoriously unreliable. Meanwhile, you could play Tears of the Kingdom on Switch or Baldur’s Gate 3 on the Steam Deck without issue. (Power is a concern, but planes often have outlets and both systems can be charged with portable battery packs.)

When I got back home, my daughter was excited to see more of Mile’s story in Spider-Man 2. But for whatever reason, the Portal refused to connect to my PS5 while we were sitting in bed, even though it worked just fine there the night before. We didn’t have enough time to run downstairs and reset the PS5, so we resorted to playing Dave the Diver on the Steam Deck instead.

I can’t abide hardware I can’t trust, and the PlayStation Portal is among the most fickle devices I’ve encountered. Even if you have an excellent home networking setup, it’s hard to predict just how well it will perform. That’s a shame, since its battery life is among the best we’ve seen for a portable system, lasting between seven and eight hours of gameplay. (The one bright side to being a streaming-only device? It’s basically just decoding incoming video.)

PlayStation Portal
Photo by Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

There are other annoyances too, like the Portal’s complete lack of Bluetooth support; it only streams games over Wi-Fi. You can connect a pair of Sony’s $200 Pulse Explore earbuds, but that’s your only wireless option. Otherwise, you’ll have to plug in wired headphones at the bottom of the Portal, or deal with the system’s anemic speakers. Sony likely wanted to keep the Portal’s price down, but losing Bluetooth feels like the Sony of yore forcing people to buy their proprietary Memory Sticks, instead of using SD cards like everyone else.

Despite its many downsides, I’m sure some PlayStation fans will jump on the Portal. Engadget Executive Editor Aaron Souppouris and Deputy Editor Nathan Ingraham were both intrigued about playing on the couch while watching something else on their TVs. And based on my time with it, I can see the Portal’s limited appeal — but not for $200.