Click for even bigger PSP, larger hand

Announced just over four months ago, the PSP Go will hit store shelves worldwide this Thursday, October 1. By its very nature as a flash memory–based device -- and its incompatibility with already-owned UMD titles -- Sony's latest incarnation of the PlayStation Portable is leaping out of the gate with a considerable handicap. Early adopters, the devoted Sony and PSP fans, are going to find themselves wowed by the hardware, but a little unsure of what to do next.

The Go is a wonderful gadget -- it's beautiful to look at, feels great to hold in your hands and certainly has the air of a high-end, tech lust–worthy device. There's just that aforementioned inability to play your existing games and a only-$50-less-than-a-PS3 price tag serving as Exhibit A; and B is the little angel on your shoulder who's saying you don't need to spend $250 on another PSP.
From the second you unbox it and hold it in your hands -- I'm talking before even powering it on -- the PSP Go looks and feels like the coolest thing ever. You'll probably spend a solid couple of minutes just sliding the screen up and down, up and down. It's good, then, that the whole thing feels so well made that you're not thinking, "One more slide and this screen is coming off."

You might also be concerned about this considerably smaller PSP simply slipping out of your grip. As it turns out, the two-tiered configuration, along with the rounded edges of the lower "control section," perfectly placed shoulder buttons and two grippy pads on the back of the system really lock the device into your hands, with the screen resting nicely on your trigger fingers.

From the second you unbox it and hold it in your hands, the PSP Go looks and feels like the coolest thing ever.

I was a little concerned at first that the decision to place the volume, screen brightness and mute / EQ buttons on top of the system -- and thus out of view while playing -- was a huge design mistake. As it turns out, it only takes a short amount of time playing around with the Go before your index fingers know exactly where these buttons are, and they're easily reachable by reaching your fingers just a little past the shoulder buttons.

Moving to the front of the system, the placement of the D-pad, analog nub and the face buttons looks like it could be cramped, but isn't. Yes, these buttons are considerably closer together than on the UMD-based PSP, but they feel perfectly spaced once you have the Go in your hands. In order to accommodate the screen sliding over them, they're recessed, but it doesn't feel weird. Also, while I wasn't able to test a 2D fighter on the system (my copy of Street Fighter Alpha 3 is on UMD -- go figure!) the D-pad feels like it should handle them well.

The other aspect of the hardware that really shines (no pun intended) is the screen itself. Yes, it's smaller than the screen on the larger, UMD-based PSPs, but I'd gladly trade the size for the quality of the Go's display. Chiefly -- and sure to be great news for everyone who hated this about the PSP-3000 -- the screen is ghosting-free without everything looking "interlaced" or blocky. That and, due to its smaller size, games look just a little bit smoother, for lack of a better description.

On the software side, the Go offers up a couple of neat tricks, one of which we've found very, very nice. That'd be the "Pause Game" feature, something I'd already tested out and that works great. Less functional but still "neat" is the built-in clock and calendar that appear when you close the system while no games/movies/music are being played. There's a big, floating analog clock (you can make "waves" in the fluid it appears to be floating in using the shoulder buttons) and a simple calendar that pops up when you press both L and R simultaneously.

Finally, there's the system's built-in Bluetooth support, which has a couple of nice benefits. The first is the ability to pair with any Bluetooth headset for using Skype or games that support voice chat. The other is the fact that you can sync up a PS3 controller with the system for when you want to play games on your TV using the video-out cable, but don't want to be limited by cable length.

In terms of losing the UMD drive in favor of flash memory, one thing I was really looking forward to was reduced loading times in games. As it turns out, loading isn't much shorter. I'm not sure if this has something to do with games being optimized to run off UMD at a certain speed or not, but it's hopefully something we'll see addressed in titles released after the Go launches.

PSP Go is a bad idea, but at least I can say it's a perfectly executed one.

All things considered, PSP Go is living a dual life at launch. On one side, there's the inclination to want one at this very moment because it's new, superbly designed and oh-so-cool; on the other is the realization I came to after the initial wow factor wore off: What do I play on it, because it can't run any of my many UMD games.

It's the answer to that question -- "Buy your games again if you want to ditch your old PSP and play them on the Go" -- that makes it impossible to strongly recommend the PSP Go to a large slice of serious games. Sure, as Sony has pointed out, this is a new device that's in some ways aimed at a new audience that doesn't own a PSP already, but then it's also $250, and those people probably expect it to have a touchscreen and make phone calls at that price.

It all boils down to is this: PSP Go is a bad idea, but at least I can say it's a perfectly executed one. If you're someone who still plans to lay down the cash on day one knowing the downsides, you're going to like what it does right -- but you'll be paying $250 for form over function.


This article was originally published on Joystiq.

Now Playing: September 28 - October 4, 2009