At last, Sony's other worst-kept secret, the UMD-less PSP Go, is working its way through retail channels this week. The device itself is a marked improvement, but of course that's not the whole story. In many ways antithetical to the hype surrounding the PlayStation 3 Slim, the debut of the Go has been marred by some pretty downtrodden decisions on Sony's part, most notably the $250 price tag, an utter lack of compatibility with any previous PSP accessories, and no UMD conversion program. Will newcomers flock to the system? Will veterans upgrade? Read on for our full impressions!
One of the most noticeable changes when you first pick up the Go is the size reduction -- no doubt helped by the complete removal of the UMD drive. The depth and height are only negligibly smaller than the PSP-2000, but as you can see from the image above, the width has been shrunk considerably, with the controls now tucked away via a new sliding mechanism that feels remarkably sturdy -- we gave it some slight prodding and it held up well to the coerced wear and tear. Its finish is a glossy black, and with it comes an insatiable appetite for remembering fingerprints, pretty much as bad as the black iPhone 3G. The 3.8-inch screen is just a tinge smaller, but it honestly wasn't anything we really noticed until we put it directly next to a PSP-2000. One thing we did clearly discern was what seemed like sharper colors, ones that didn't have the same overly-red hues as the PSP-3000. The battery's no longer removable, meaning no chance to bring a replacement for longer trips. On that note, we haven't done any rigorous battery life tests, but in our time the charge has managed to last about a day and a half doing some light gaming, about as long as our PSP-2000 would last. It's now adopted Bluetooth for syncing with headsets, and more importantly, 16GB of internal flash memory expandable with a Memory Stick Micro (M2) card.
The bottom row of buttons found on the older PSP models has been separated and moved all over the system. WLAN is now on the left edge, the start and select pair are on the same plane as the buttons hidden under the slider, the Home button is now to the left of the display (something that confused a number of PSP owners we showed), and the volume / screen brightness adjusters are on the top of the unit, which honestly we found inconvenient since we had to flip the portable over to see what we were pressing, whereas before we could keep our eyes on the screen the whole time. As far as the gameplay controls are concerned, the D-pad and buttons don't stick out nearly as much, and while a little smaller, we very much appreciated the extra clickiness of the Go. The analog nub, however, does suffer from being smaller, but it didn't take long to get used to.
Sony's done away with the mini USB port in lieu of a proprietary port that works for charging the unit, connecting to a PC via USB, and outputting video. Good thing it comes with the proper cable, but really, your old cables are now completely useless here. Any of your old add-on accessories -- notably the 1Seg tuner, GPS receiver, and camera -- won't work without the recently-announced Go Converter, which looks way too ridiculous for our tastes. Like we said earlier, your trusty Memory Stick Duo's been replaced by a slot for a Memory Stick Micro (M2). Frankly, if you have an old PSP and a library of UMDs, the Go probably isn't on your radar anyway -- and that's a shame, too, but all these little decisions add up to ultimately separate the experience from Sony's locked-in audience. Point is, if you're thinking of upgrading, be prepared to start from scratch.
Overall, though, we're impressed with what Sony's done here. In many ways we prefer the Go over past models -- it's sturdy, it's light, it doesn't skimp on screen clarity and the controls are more or less just as easy to get to and logically placed. If you can look past all the other details, it's hard not to love what's been done here.
The firmware for the PSP Go is the same as with the older models and will be updated as such, but that said, it seems from the onset to have a couple of extra tricks. Most notable is the "Pause Game" feature selectable from the Home menu, which saves the state of your game and lets you go back into the XMB to navigate. Only one save can be had at a time, and once you try to open a new game, the old state is removed. A welcome addition, to be sure, but we can't help but wish the XMB was still more accessible mid-game, à la the PS3 system. The other feature is an analog clock and calendar when in the closed position, switchable by pressing the L and R buttons together... but really, beyond highlighting your birthday, there's nothing special going on here.
We've noticed some confusion over this, so to be clear, all PSN downloads will work with both the PSP Go and all previous models. Sure, there's a large number of PSP games coming to PSN this week, but rest assured, your older 1000, 2000, and 3000 editions will do the job just fine. Of course, on the PSP Go you don't have access to UMDs anymore, and while most retail games will be going to the PlayStation Network for download, that "good will" UMD-to-digital conversion program has been nixed in the US and severely limited in Europe, essentially rendering your old physical media collection useless with the device -- yeah, it's a major bummer, and it doesn't look like the company'll be changing its mind anytime soon. One good note, although it might have to do with saving instead onto internal memory (we didn't check with a Memory Stick Micro card), is that our PSN downloads finished considerably faster with the new model. There was no change in the download itself, but activation and installation time zipped by. We tried it with a few games on both the Go and 2000, even managing to shave off 45 seconds from a Rock Band Unplugged demo. See it for yourself in the video below.
Obviously this is gonna be a big sticking point, and there's no easy way to look at it: the PSP Go is $249.99. That's just $50 less than a brand new, Blu-ray equipped PS3, and $50 more than a new PSP-3000 -- more if you factor out any bundled games -- and while a little clunkier in form factor, it's got all the same functions as the new model and can play UMDs. Pouring lemon juice on this proverbial paper cut, Sony's publicly stated its intention to maintain a "pricing parity" with the MSRP for its digital downloads, meaning games sold at retail as UMD will frequently be undercutting the PSN's pricing. We're not gonna lie, it's very nice to have the option of gaming without carrying a case of discs, but those few dollars extra per game are gonna add up -- not to mention no chance of trading in to GameStop later.
If we were to just take a look at the hardware at face value, we'd say Sony has done some great work here. It's a sturdy, classier game system that we're not as shy about taking out of our pocket on long, public commutes. We really do like the portable, but there's no way to separate our feelings on the hardware from all the decisions surrounding the launch. That $50 upfront premium (more if you factor out the bundled PSP-3000 games) is more or less negated when you consider the cost of a 16GB Memory Stick Duo, something that the Go already has with internal flash memory, but long-term you're still gonna be paying more for every retail game bought digitally instead of on disc. That last bit is something that should make first-time buyers take heed, as lack of legacy support on same-generation games and accessories isn't our biggest gripe here. It's not as if Sony's oblivious to the perception -- in fact they've even gone on the record as saying there's a "certain premium" associated with the Go -- but we're really not getting enough here to justify it to our wallets.