If there is one word that the Sony PlayStation Portable (PSP) screams it is “high-tech”. As soon as you pull it out of the box and power it up you will be amazed that you are experiencing what is the future of handheld gaming. With the ability to play games, MP3 music, UMD and MPEG4 video, and view photos it is hard to beat the PSP as a portable media device. Yes, iPod has its music and photos and you can buy a portable DVD player for less than a PSP, but can either of those also play games that look close to ones you play on your PlayStation 2? The answer is no and that is where the PSP takes the lead as the portable media device of choice.
What about the Nintendo DS, Game Boy Advance, and N-Gage? How do they rate against the PSP? Well, the Nintendo DS has some cool games that are innovative and different than what you can get on any other portable or home game system. It also costs $100 less than the PSP. The Nintendo DS and Game Boy Advance both don’t play movies or MP3s out of the box, but you can buy the GBA Movie Player to add this functionality. The GBA Movie Player cannot touch the PSP’s movie and music playback capabilities, but it does bring Nintendo DS closer to the PSP in functionality. Where the DS cannot touch the PSP is in graphics quality. Where the Nintendo DS graphics look closer to Nintendo 64 and maybe low end Dreamcast quality games the PSP is very close to the PlayStation 2 in graphics quality and on the high resolution widescreen they look amazing.
Speaking of screens, the N-Gage has the smallest screen of the handhelds on the market and it can do 3D graphics, but they are closer to PSone quality. The N-Gage can’t touch the PSP functionality, but it is still a good mobile phone choice for any gamer. Lastly, Game Boy Advance looks really dated next to the PlayStation Portable. The GBA and Game Boy, in general, might be the top-selling handheld of all time, but it is really starting to show its age next to the PSP and Nintendo DS.
The PSP really is a great system and it is hard to complain about anything on it. The only things you might have a problem with are that the battery life isn’t as long as other handhelds on the market, the analog stick is in kind of an odd spot and hard to use in some games, and the Memory Sticks are not large enough yet to truly allow the PlayStation Portable to compete with the 20 and 60 GB iPods as an MP3 player. The battery life is around 3 to 6 hours for games and 3 to 5 for UMD movie playback depending on how loud you have the volume set, how much the game accesses the UMD disc, and how bright you have the screen. I have had longer battery life, probably closer to 8 hours or more, when listening to MP3 music on the system with the screen turned off. The iPod allows you to play music for up to 15 hours on a single battery charge and the PSP is not too far off from that if you play the music with the screen turned off.
The way the PSP cannot compete with the iPod and maybe it should be compared to the iPod Mini also is in size and storage space. The PSP is definitely bigger in physical size than either iPod but it has to be to have the huge high-definition screen for viewing games and movies on. But, where the iPod has 20GB and 60GB of storage and the iPod Mini has 4GB and 6GB of storage the PSP is stuck with a maximum of 2GB Memory Stick Pro Duo cards. Granted, you can buy more than one of these to boost your storage space, but that can get very costly especially when the 2GB Memory Stick Pro Duo media are over $400. I bought a 1GB Memory Stick Pro Duo for $130 when I got my PSP and I am happy with the storage space, but if you want to rip every CD you ever buy and put it on your portable music device the PSP might not be the best option for you. I have heard people saying that 4GB and 8GB Memory Stick Pro Duos are supposed to be on the way, but how much will they cost?
I use my PSP as my portable MP3 player and am currently listening to it now while typing this review. I have also used it to listen to music and podcasts while cutting the grass, riding the train to and from work, and on long trips in the car using a car cassette adapter and the cigarette lighter adapter for the PSP, so I don’t have to worry about battery life. For me it is a perfect MP3 player solution because I don’t listen to MP3s that often but at least it does a decent job at playing them and I can also play a game or watch a movie on the same device if I don’t want to listen to music.
Speaking of movies, I only have two UMD movies for the system, but I use it as a portable movie player on trips by ripping DVDs from my collection down to MPEG4 format using DVD Decrypter and PSP Video 9. Currently, I have about three hours of video on my 1GB Memory Stick Pro Duo plus eight CDs of music, my PSP game saves, and a few photos and still have 27MB of free space left. The MPEG4 movies don’t look as good as the UMD movies, but they still look decent enough to enjoy on trips. I would be tempted to buy more UMD movies since they look really nice on the widescreen high-resolution screen of the PSP, but they are too expensive in my opinion. The UMD movies cost as much as DVDs and don’t come with all the extras that come on DVDs. So, until UMDs come down in price I will continue to buy DVDs and rip them to watch on my PSP.
I mentioned above that I have a few photos on the PSP and I wanted to touch on this feature also. It isn’t anything elaborate, but if you are going over your relative’s or friend’s house and want to take some photos from your last vacation, the PSP can do the trick. You can easily dump the photos over to your Memory Stick Pro Duo and the PSP’s screen is large enough for everyone to enjoy them. The PSP lets you stretch the photos to fit the screen and run a slideshow of them, plus view some basic information about the photo.
Did I mention that the PSP can also play games? And with ones like Ridge Racer, Hot Shots Golf, and Lumines it is hard not to like the system if you are a gamer. Plus, there are some great games coming soon to keep you busy while you are on the go. It still amazes me that I can be playing my PSP sitting on the couch next to my wife while she watches TV and not care that she is hogging the TV. Before the PSP if I wanted to play games that looked this good I needed to play my PS2, Xbox, or GameCube, but now I can play them on my PSP without taking over the TV. The PSP games look that good and with the detailed widescreen it feels like you are playing on a big TV, since you can hold the system close to you and not see any blurriness or pixels. Probably the only complaint that I touched on above about the gaming side of the PSP is the analog stick/nub. It isn’t in the best spot for some games and it is hard to get use to at first. I guess we can’t complain too much since the PSP is the only handheld system with an analog stick, but it would’ve been nice if it was in a little better spot somehow. And, while we are talking about the analog stick, can you imagine how much more amazing the PSP would’ve been if it had two of them for true PS2 quality FPS games and others that use dual analog sticks?
The rest of the PSP’s controls and construction are well built and thought out. The PSP has the standard PlayStation control scheme with X, square, circle, and triangle buttons, two shoulder buttons, and a digital pad. If you are familiar with the PlayStation controller you should feel right at home. The system also feels solid and well built and has enough weight to feel like it won’t break if you press the buttons too hard, but it isn’t too heavy where your hands and arms will get fatigued while playing it for a few hours at a time. PlayStation Portable also features a USB port for communicating with your PC and an infrared port for other communication. Also, on the communication front, the PSP has built-in IEEE 802.11b wireless network communication for connecting to other PSPs locally or over the Internet using a Internet hotspot. And with the UMD and Memory Stick Pro Duo for media and storage solutions the PSP really has everything you would want in a portable game system plus more.
With all these features the PSP really is the ultimate portable game system. Granted, the Nintendo DS does have its innovative games and some of them look good, but I still feel like I am playing my Game Boy Advance when I pick it up. This is not the case when I pop a UMD game in my PSP and I don’t know why. Maybe it is the shiny black casing of the PSP or the huge widescreen display or maybe it is just because it seems to scream “high-tech” and that is what I love. I know it is more expensive than a Nintendo DS and doesn’t have as much storage as an iPod, but it plays some amazing looking games and movies and all the other stuff is just a bonus that makes it even better. With more great games, the web browser, email client and more coming soon, the PSP can only get better and that is kind of scary, since it is already the best portable gaming/entertainment system on the market.
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