Hardware Review: PSPgo Hands-On With Video

by Tim Turi on Oct 01, 2009 at 11:58 AM

I was very excited when the PSPgo arrived in the office. I had been covering the handheld's exposure over the months, and was intrigued by the prospect of a digital-only device. My enthusiasm persisted as I contemplated tearing into the shiny box, but held off for the sake of an epic unboxing video. After freeing the thing from its packaging, I spent an entire day messing around with it. I downloaded games, videos, pictures, and played the gamut of titles on the sexy handheld. Were my expectations met as I explored the market's newest gaming device, or is the PSPgo a handicapped device with a pretty new coat of paint?

Our inaugural video review. The PSPgo is first up to bat. I apologize in advance that my mug is the first face you have to see in full motion on the new site, feel free to squirm in your chair as you watch my awkwardness.


A New Look

First and most obviously, the PSP has gone under the knife and had some liposuction. The device is sleeker, sexier, and more streamlined than any iteration before it. A smaller, sliding screen lends to its compact portability, conveniently hiding the buttons underneath. The buttons themselves have been reduced, recessed, and rearranged. You'll now find the analog nub to the right of the d-pad, with other buttons such as brightness and volume being tucked out of the way on the top of the system.

Sony's penchant for black glossiness continues with the 'go,' successfully resulting in a paint job I refer to as "midnight thumbprint." The position of the speakers has also shifted to the front of the system, so no more accidental mutes with your palms. The headphone and USB inputs have moved closer to the very bottom of the system, meaning cords will no longer interfere with your grip.


When I actually got down to playing games, the PSPgo initially felt natural in my hands. I chose to assess the system's ergonomics by playing Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, which utilizes every button on the system. In Peace Walker, you use the analog nub to move, the face buttons to adjust the camera/aim, and the shoulder buttons to ready/fire your weapon. Each mechanic works well, but when you're attempting to move, aim, and shoot simultaneously things start to get slippery. Reaching my thumb down to the analog nub while holding down the left trigger was difficult, and with the back of the flipped up screen crowded my finger. It's an issue that dedicated players will easily get used to, but it's present.

Playing any game for too long also leads to notable hand cramp-age. The buttons are all squished closer together on the system, so your hands take on a claw-like formation. This can be remedied by repositioning your hands or simply taking a break, but that can be frustrating when you just want to focus on the game. No gamer should ever be taken out of the game by distracting, uncomfortable controls. The PSPgo's button layout works better with simplistic control schemes.


I didn't get too far trying to jam a UMD into the PSPgo, so I used the three download methods instead. The most simple and obvious method is downloading via a WiFi connection straight to the PSPgo. You can browse PSN on the fly and download games and demos at will. I pulled down a Final Fantasy: Dissidia demo in about seven minutes with a so-so internet connection. This is undoubtedly the winning feature of the PSPgo.

I also downloaded a PSP game on the PlayStation 3. If you've ever copied games from the PS3 to a PSP before, this is ultimately the same thing. After you download the game from PSN to your PS3's harddrive, the transfer the PSP is very quick and simple. The PS3 will be a valuable tool for sorting your PSP game library when it exceeds the storage capacity.

PC users can use Media Go to download and manage their digital game collection. The layout of the user-friendly software is similar to iTunes. If you've never used the program before, expect a few updates and computer restarts before you're ready to fire up your PSPgo with it. If you're a Mac user, however, you're out of luck.

The process of moving videos, pictures, and music from your PC to the go has been simplified. Whenever you plug your PSPgo into the computer, it automatically enters USB Mode, letting you get right into file management. Common image and music files work just fine, but videos will have to be converted into MP4s before you can watch them on the handheld. There's a plethora of easy-to-use video converters online, so watching movies on the fly is a few progress bars away.

The games populating the downloadable space vary right now. You can download incredible PSP games like God of War: Chains of Olympus, Persona, or Patapon 2, but the rest of the PSP catalog leaves a sense of wanting. The PSP Minis space is populated by seven lonely games, with Tetris standing out as a decent-looking download. The PSone Classics do a good job of filling out the gaps, with Final Fantasy VII, Metal Gear Solid, Resident Evil, and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night threatening your digital wallet. You can even snag the original Silent Hill for $5.99. It's not a stellar enough lineup to justify immediately throwing down for a brand new system, however. Especially when you take into consideration that Sony has stated that getting their whole backlog of PSP games available digitally may not be possible.


The PSPgo is an undeniably better looking version of Sony's handheld, but how far does that take it?. Despite the cute redesign, the PSPgo feels like it's lacking features. Though it's cool to slide the screen down and just watch videos, you're still dealing with a significantly smaller screen size. And how long will it be before the slide mechanism starts to loosen? The buttons are so recessed that sometimes it doesn't feel like you're pressing anything. Having to reach your thumb towards the middle of the PSPgo puts an awkward torque on how you're holding it, causing the system to twist slightly in your grasp. As stated before, playing games feels fine in bursts, but the minimalist control layout eliminates marathon gaming.

The UMD drive is gone, but whether or not that's a positive is debatable. The hassle of having to manage physical media has been replaced with cords and progress bars. Also, the out-of-the-box storage space is actually 14GB, not 16. This means that after your download all your favorite games, you're going to be busy deleting demos and transferring files instead of juggling disks. That's where personal preference comes in. Which scenario sounds more annoying to you?

The PSPgo has undergone a lot of changes, but there are some unfortunate holdovers from the system's past. The battery life hasn't increased at all, you're still looking at 3-6 hours (about an hour less if you're watching videos). This issue has been remedied slightly by knocking down charge time by 40 minutes, and you can charge the 'go' via USB in four hours. Using WiFi drains the battery even further, which is disappointing considering downloading games directly to the system is the main draw.

All these issues are amplified by the fact that the console is releasing at $249.99. This was the asking price for a PSP at its launch almost five years ago. Even with the bevy of awesome PSone games and handful of good PSP titles, the pricetag is a unreasonable considering you still have to purchase all these games. Justification for the purchase of a PSPgo will become easier if Sony really pushes the PSone backlog hard and works on securing digital rights for more old PSP games.

It's tough to say who the PSPgo is aimed at. Diehard PSP fans that love the digital game library already own a PSP, and are only a memory stick away from enjoying digital downloads via the PS3 if they haven't already. For those who've yet to purchase a PSP, the lacking launch library makes the handheld difficult to recommend.

Only hardcore PSP fans with a digital fetish and some spare change need apply.