Hands-On with PlayStation Portal Trying out Sony’s New PS5 Handheld

Hands-On with PlayStation Portal Trying out Sony's New PS5 Handheld

Sony Unveils the PlayStation Portal: A New Handheld Gaming Device

PlayStation Portal
Image: The PlayStation Portal (center) will cost $199 and requires a PS5 console (not pictured) to work. (Sean Booker/CNET)

Sony has officially announced its newest handheld gaming device, the PlayStation Portal. I had the opportunity to play an early version of the device at a private demo, along with trying out the matching earbuds, the Pulse Explore, and an updated headset called the Pulse Elite. Additionally, Sony showcased a new wireless connectivity feature that all three of these devices will use, called PlayStation Link. In this article, we will dive into the details of the PlayStation Portal, exploring its features, limitations, and potential value for gamers.

The PlayStation Portal, previously known as Project Q, is set to launch sometime in 2023 with a price tag of $199. Preorders will be available soon, according to Sony. The Pulse Explore earbuds, priced at $199, will also launch alongside the Portal, followed by the Pulse Elite headset, which will hit the market shortly after, priced at $149. With these offerings, Sony aims to provide a comprehensive gaming experience, covering audio and immersive gameplay.

One important note about the PlayStation Portal is that unlike the Nintendo Switch or Valve’s Steam Deck, it functions solely as a remote player. It requires a PS5 console to work and has no internal storage. This means the device can only stream games from a connected PS5 console over Wi-Fi or another internet connection. The Portal is designed to provide an on-the-go gaming experience, allowing players to access most of the PS5 features while away from their couches.

The Portal features an 8-inch LCD display with a 60Hz refresh rate. During my time with the device, I found the display to be sharp and crisp. However, as someone who has been spoiled by the OLED panel on the Nintendo Switch, I would have preferred an OLED display on the Portal for brighter visuals, higher contrast, and a greater color gamut. Notably, Sony’s previous handheld, the PlayStation Vita, used an OLED screen.

In terms of design, the PlayStation Portal is lightweight, falling somewhere between the Nintendo Switch and Valve’s Steam Deck. Sony did not provide exact battery life details, but the company targets a similar range as the DualSense controller, typically around seven to nine hours. This allows players to enjoy extended gaming sessions without worrying about frequent recharging.

The controls on the PlayStation Portal closely mirror those of the PS5 controller, DualSense. Unlike the Nintendo Switch’s detachable Joy-Cons, the Portal’s controls are fixed to the display, similar to the Steam Deck. The handheld replicates haptics, triggers, a microphone, and other features present on the DualSense. The touchscreen serves as a touchpad, accessible with either thumb. The Portal also includes a headphone jack and USB-C charging port located on the back of the device.

During my gameplay experience, titles like Astro’s Playroom and Returnal felt identical to playing directly on the PS5 console. The only noticeable difference was the slightly smaller analog stick pads on the Portal compared to the DualSense controller. Interestingly, these analog sticks are the same as those found on the PSVR2’s controllers, according to the Sony representative. This allows players to enjoy seamless gameplay with familiar controls.

While PlayStation’s Remote Play capability has enabled users to stream games from their PS5 to various devices like phones, tablets, and computers, the new PlayStation Link feature takes the Portal to the next level. It is a wireless protocol exclusively used by the Portal and the new Pulse devices. Described as “Remote Play turned up to 11” by Sony, Link optimizes the connection between the devices and the PS5, offering a superior streaming experience. However, connectivity may be limited by Wi-Fi range and strength when playing outside the home network.

Pulse Explore
Image: If you want matching earbuds, the Pulse Explore will be available for $199 as well. (Sean Booker/CNET)

The Pulse Explore earbuds, which will launch alongside the Portal, and the Pulse Elite headset, which will arrive shortly after, both feature planar magnetic drivers, known for high audio fidelity. The Pulse Explore earbuds are lightweight and comfortable, providing a case for storage and charging convenience. The headsets can connect to the Portal using PlayStation Link or Bluetooth. Additionally, a USB dongle will be included with the purchase, enabling connectivity to multiple headsets or even a PC with a simple switch. This level of versatility ensures a seamless transition between gaming platforms.

Both the Pulse Explore and Pulse Elite support multiple inputs simultaneously. Sony showcased this feature by highlighting the ability to play a game while participating in a Discord chat, allowing users to listen and talk simultaneously using the built-in microphones. The Pulse Elite’s microphone is hidden and extendable from the left-hand side, providing a sleek appearance. Additionally, both microphones utilize AI-enhanced noise reduction technology, ensuring clear and immersive communication during multiplayer sessions.

As an avid user of Remote Play, I walked away from the demo with a positive outlook on the PlayStation Portal. The $199 price point is appealing, but it is important to note that Remote Play is already available on other devices, making it challenging to justify the additional expense. However, I look forward to thoroughly testing the final product soon, to provide a definitive verdict on its overall value.

In conclusion, the Sony PlayStation Portal opens up new possibilities for handheld gaming. Its seamless integration with the PS5, impressive visuals, familiar controls, and the potential for immersive audio experiences with the Pulse Explore earbuds and Pulse Elite headset make it a compelling choice for gaming enthusiasts. However, individuals who already utilize Remote Play on other devices may question the necessity of purchasing the Portal. Ultimately, it will come down to personal preferences and priorities.