Tech review: PlayStation Portal

Image: supplied
Image: supplied

RRP $379.95


To just look at the PlayStation Portal, Sony’s new handheld device - which really does look like someone’s sawn a PS5 controller in half and glued the bits to either side of a large phone - certainly conjures up all the connotations of serious handheld gaming; proper hardware, the power of a grunty console in your hand. And it sort of is that. And yet also in other ways, it very much isn’t.

In fairness to Sony, they’ve made it very clear what Portal is from the outset - not a self-contained handheld gaming device like a Switch you can use to keep that gaming lifestyle of yours going even as you’re walking down to the bus stop, but rather sort of a parasitic life form for your existing PS5 console, depending on it for life.

Portal is essentially a dedicated hardware platform for PlayStation’s existing Remote Play feature, which allows you to stream your gaming from your console to other devices via Wi-Fi, such as phones, laptops, or now the Portal.

As it’s created entirely for this role, one bonus is that it’s very easy to set up - after a quick bit of online sign-up business and the usual software updates, a couple of button presses is all it takes for the Portal to latch on to your PS5 and start sucking away at its vital juices.

If you leave your PS5 in ready mode, the Portal will also power your console up whenever you turn it on within range as well, so there’s no need to get out of bed and go into the lounge to get going. Connection always only takes only a few seconds, after which you’re running and viewing your PS5 wherever you are in your home (or at least within Wi-Fi range).

Image: supplied
Image: supplied

It looks and feels as if you’re playing your regular console too. The Portal’s 8’’ screen makes it a surprisingly wide device, with the display big enough to essentially fill your vision when held at a comfortable playing distance. It looks good as well, serving up 1080p resolution at 60 frames per second.

The controller halves on either side really do feel exactly like you’re using your regular PS5 controller (just with your hands further apart than normal) and, as another advantage over any third-party phone or laptop you might otherwise be doing this on, also offer basically all the same haptic feedback/rumble and lighting features of the standard controller too.

The inbuilt speakers are also pleasantly non-tinny for a small device. So as a pure bit of gear for Remote Play, the Portal certainly has all the bells and whistles.

The question though probably really is: is Remote Play worth this sort of dedication? In my house at least, the rate at which the games stream on the Portal has hitched, stuttered or pixelated has varied, but hiccups of a second or two at least every few minutes have been a constant - not so much a problem (if still annoying) in turn-based games such as Baldur’s Gate 3, but a potentially fatal disaster in twitchy stuff such as Returnal. The gaming experience on it then has been about OK, but glitchy.

Is it an issue with my own home (fibre) connection? Perhaps, but checking my PS5’s internet connectivity revealed connection speeds well in excess of Sony’s recommendations for the device (15Mbps), and my connection has always been good enough for uninterrupted online gameplay and hi-res streaming. It could be that I might be able to get an improved experience by repositioning my PS5, or running a Wi-Fi extender into my lounge or a direct network connection cable from the console to my router - but having to do any of these things would rather seem to negate the Portal’s implied promise of convenient, pick-up-and-go portable gaming. Will your own existing, no-problems home network work well with the Portal? It seems like maybe you’ll have to buy one to find out, which is not ideal.

There are a few other annoyances too. The Portal has a 3.5mm headphone jack, so you can pew-pew away without annoying those nearby if you have some standard wired headphones or earbuds, but the only Bluetooth support is for Sony’s own proprietary devices (such as the Pulse earbuds), so your third-party wireless headphones are not going to work. Remote Play also doesn’t support video streaming, so you won’t be using your Portal to watch Netflix before bed (a shame as the screen would be good for it). And without a Wi-Fi connection of course, it’s basically just a weird-looking paperweight. (Which raises questions about why it even has, quite prominently in its menu, an aeroplane mode.)

In certain sets of circumstances, though, it’s definitely been good to have the Portal around. In a house with two children both impatient for their turn to game on the TV, it’s facilitated Fortnite and The Sims 4 simultaneously, and three-person family Minecraft-ing in ‘‘Dad and kids’ world’’ has been much improved.

If you’re unlikely to make much use of it in such ways, though, and at its current price point - bearing in mind this is not in anyway a self-contained device - it’s tough to give the Portal a full-throated recommendation. It’s a decent device, but its use case is awfully specific.

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