Review | 10/9/2009 at 8:35 AM

PSPgo Hardware Review

 Ah, hardware revisions! This year has been full of them, and between Xbox SKU realignment, PS3s shedding weight, the DSi and now the PSPgo, gamers all over have had to stare wistfully at their wallets and make some decisions on whether to drop some scratch on new toys or hold out for the Next Big Thing. Luckily, we here at Co-Optimus HQ are filled with gadget envy and the opportunity to review new hardware was just the excuse I needed to pick one up.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will reveal that my PSPgo was acquired via massive amounts of store credit.

The biggest thing you'll notice with the PSPgo is the drastically altered form factor. It's sleek, sexy and surprisingly light. Sliding up the screen reveals the usual controls, though the D-pad and buttons are now low-profile and snappy, similar to the DSi. The buttons that normally adorn the bottom of the screen are now spread across the top of the device, with the WLAN and power switches being relocated to the left and right sides of the system, respectively.

Upon powering up the system, you'll see two things. First, the screen is absolutely gorgeous, with vibrant colors practically jumping out at you. Even though it's slightly smaller than the standard PSP, it ends up working to the PSPgo's advantage, as everything will appear just that much sharper.  Second, you will realize that nothing has changed with Sony's PSP strategy, as there will be a firmware upgrade waiting for you as soon as you connect it to the PSN store. 

Speaking of the PSN store, get used to spending time there, as it is where all of your game purchases will be made, whether it's on the PSP unit itself or through a PS3 if you own one. Download speeds seem to vary wildly, since the store is getting hammered with traffic due to the massive amount of new content Sony has been offering in preparation for the Go's launch. Unfortunately, there is still no option for background downloading in the PSP firmware, so downloading via a PS3 would be preferable if you have that option. Once a download completes, there will be an install phase,  which can take anywhere from 20 seconds to a few minutes.

Fortunately, once you've downloaded/transferred/installed all your games, you can run everything from the system memory, and though load times don't seem to be drastically faster than the UMD-based system, it's just great to be able to access your library from one location. The 16GB goes a long way towards building a large, quickly accessible library, though the system software curiously appears to reserve 2GB for itself. The memory is upgradeable via Sony's new M2 Memory Stick, which is of course, incompatible with the existing Memory Stick. 
My favorite feature of the PSPgo has got to be the "Pause Game" feature added into the PS menu.  While sleep mode can suffice, the Pause feature allows you to create a save state in the system memory, turn the system on and off, change games, watch a video and then load the save state to pick up right where you left off.  This is particularly handy for PS1 titles and PSP games without any suspend save options.  Another fun, albeit odd feature is the ability to sync a SIXAXIS or DualShock 3 controller to the PSPgo via its Bluetooth connection, allowing for full control of the system while it is closed.  The times you might use this feature are probably few and far between, but since you can hook PSPs up to a television, it makes a sort of portable console.

All of the features of the PSPgo add up to a great experience, though it shares most of them (flaws included) with the current PSP.  Examine the following pros/cons and editorial bits, and see if the system is right for you.

- New "pause game" feature allows you to suspend a game at any time and resume wherever you left off
- Included storage is more than enough for a full library of games
- Downloaded games can be put on up to 5 PSPs (obvious co-op implications here!)
- Finally fits in a pocket comfortably
- Bluetooth lets you sync a DualShock 3, which is oddly appealing
- The new screen

- Price
- Still no scratch-resistant screen cover (but Sony will gladly sell you protective film!)
- Outdated wireless tech (endemic to all PSP models)
- Price
- Firmware update out of the box, but that's also a PSP issue.
- No way to convert/cash in old UMDs
- Price
- Renders old accessories useless without a converter, USB cord now proprietary
- No compatibility with old Memory Sticks


Who is this for?

The first-time PSP owner who has a large influx of disposable income despite the economy?  Summer guys? Gadget-whores?  It's hard to say. 

What about my UMDs?
As of this writing, Sony has no plans to offer a cash-in or conversion program for your existing UMDs (unless you're in Europe, and even then you're screwed). If you want to play those old games, you need to have a disc-based system or understand that you will have to rebuy any of the titles that might be on the PSN store.  It's a lame situation, but if it's a big deal to you, you've already got a PSP, and the upgrade is largely unnecessary.

What if I already own a PSP and want to upgrade?
You likely already know if you want a PSPgo.  You have to make a decision whether or not you want to have to keep another PSP around to play older games (though you can certainly feed the Gamestop monster and trade up, losing all your games in the process), and you need to be aware that the PSN store prices will hold a lot firmer than in a retail store. If bargain-bin PSP shopping is your thing, you definitely do not want to upgrade. As with all download-based services, you will be locked into a pricing scheme, and your sole source of games will be Sony.  If this makes you uncomfortable, stick with what you've got. Your techno-lust may not be sated, but you will learn to live with that, some day.

This product is anti-consumer! We should boycott it!

No one is stopping you from keeping your current PSP, and they're not being discontinued. With adequate memory expansion, you can replicate all but the Bluetooth/Pause features and the form factor.  You can download games to all current PSP models, and you can buy UMDs for everything. If you are made uncomfortable by the PSPgo, then simply do not purchase one.  The best part about being a consumer is that voting with your dollar does tend to work.

Mike, you own one, would you recommend a purchase?

If you don't already own a PSP and aren't fazed by the price? Absolutely.  If you own a PSP already? There's no reason to upgrade- buy yourself a fat Memory Stick for your existing one and you'll do just fine.  If you're a gadget whore? You've already unboxed one.

A Small Rant:
Sony, I know you're pricing this bad boy to be seen in the same light as the iPod Touch, but seriously, what the hell are you smoking? There is absolutely no reason that a system with relatively inexpensive flash memory, a slightly smaller screen and LESS moving parts than its predecessor should cost more money. It's an inexcusable flaw, and frankly it's preventing me from making a wholesale recommendation.  While I can see why you would have a hard time offering a UMD-to-digital exchange program, a complete lack of options for potential upgraders is also inexcusable.

Final Verdict:
The final grade I am assigning the PSPgo is based purely on the hardware's own merits. Sony's pricing and practices are certainly mind-boggling, but it's a fine piece of hardware.