To me, the Sony PSP is one of the most sought after gadgets for sometime. I remember buying my first Nintendo Famicom game console when I was about 6 years old. I was so excited. Since then, I’ve owned practically every single game console. I’m not a real game fanatic though. I don’t sit for hours every night finishing the latest games and in truth, I’m actually a horrible game player.
The Sony PSP is one of those next-generation players. It’s like when Sony released the PS One or when Microsoft released the Xbox. There was enough buzz and collective anticipation that we gadget collectors just had to get one. I saw the PSP up close for the first time last month and I was completely sold. The screen as I said was the most incredible thing I had seen and to add to that, the processing power, which was able to render images that would compare to any current console. All that in a portable device that offered MP3, video, photo playback, etc. I was pretty much sold from the beginning.
Sony launched the PSP in Japan on Dec. 12. Unfortunately I wasn’t there for it or I probably would have been one of those crazy people that lined-up all night for it. Instead, I waited the extra day and bought it from a local game store. Being overseas though, the stores knew what was in demand, and everyone wants the PSP. The premium on the machine run from anywhere between 80-100% above the retail price in Japan! It hurt hearing the prices the people were asking. The yen’s strength combined with the strong demand didn’t help either.
I walked around the computer/game mall for an hour trying to look for a better price. Meanwhile PSPs were flying off the shelves and people just had to get one. I found the lowest price I could, and the guy was actually a nice guy so I took the plunge, paid a ghastly premium, but got my PSP. Can’t complain I guess – I have a PSP!
The PSP is an absolutely beautiful device. Sony really made an effort to design a great console. The surface is an absolutely amazing shiny, metallic black finish. It’s a little annoying that your fingerprints get easily left on it, but it’s a spectacular finish. Compared to the Nintendo DS that just came out, it’s a whole different level. The finish on the PSP has a very solid metallic feel to it. Sort of reminds me of a shiny new car finish. The DS feels like the typical plastic Gameboy.
The console is quite big though. This is predominantly to accommodate the 4.3 inch screen. At first, you might think that this makes the machine quite big, but in reality, it’s an excellent size for what you want in a handheld. The size seems to mimic many of today’s joysticks for consoles. When you hold the PSP, it feels as if you’re holding and PS2/Xbox/Gamecube joystick – the spacing is very similar so it feels comfortable. And that’s what makes the PSP such a good design, because it doesn’t ask you to change your gameplay even though you are using a portable device.
I bought the “Value Pack” version which meant I also got earphones, a remote, a Memory Stick Duo, a case and a strap. The earphones look like the iPod ones but seem to sound better. The remote is small and functional (nothing special). The handstrap is a white leather PSP strap which is actually very important. The PSP is sturdy but it’s just too easy to get involved in your game play and forget that you’re holding this screen in your hands and drop it. The strap adds that certain sense of protection and safety that allows me to not worry about dropping the machine.
The case is a very generic sleeve and I was disappointed they didn’t have something more sturdy built for the Value Pack. I’m sure there will be hundreds of cases for you to buy soon though. The Memory Stick Duo says PSP on it but since it’s a 32MB card, it’s almost unusable. 4 songs, plus your game data and that’s it. Sony of course did that on purpose so you’d have to go and buy a 256MB card.
The weight of the PSP is quite solid. It weighs 260g which isn’t bad and certainly doesn’t feel heavy. I was able to play the machine for a good solid hour without it feeling heavy or my arms getting tired (of course, my fingers are another story as they were pretty sore).
The layout of the PSP is also very intuitive. I was one of the early buyers at the store I bought it from so that he and about 3 other sales staff all gathered around to learn how to setup the machine – they hadn’t even opened a unit yet. The games load on top through a slot very similar to an MD player. In fact, the games look like MDs except that they’re not square. The game buttons are all there – even the left and right index buttons at the top of the joystick which now come in a very cool looking clear buttons. The PSP did add a small button underneath the usual joypad that has a “swing” motion. I think it’s for certain games that require this type of motion – it made the car in my game gently lean left or right.
The power button is on the right, the WiFi on the left. Volume control, screen brightness, and different sound settings are underneath the screen. There’s a USB slot at the top but it did not come with a USB cable. I’m tempted to plug it in with the cable I have just to see what would happen. The battery attaches to the back of the machine and on the opposite side (on the left when you look at it from the top) is the Memory Stick slot. It’s not difficult to figure out the layout. All in all it was a very well designed handheld with an even better finish. So how’s the gameplay?
Before I get into the gameplay, let me go back to the screen. I really can’t stop talking about it because when you look at the thing, you just marvel at it. It’s better than many portable devices today even those portable media centers. The screen kicks out 16.7 million colors and let me tell you that you can really see the difference. All I can say is wow!
You can adjust the brightness of the screen though I would definitely leave it at the brightest setting unless battery power is low. The screen though is typical of any LCD screen in that it’s very easy to get fingerprints or smear marks on it. As a result, you need to invest in one of those protective layers and I bought one. It has a slight bluish tint to it as opposed to the typical clear film but it does seem to enhance the screen. More importantly, it’s much more difficult to have any smear marks on the screen now.
The guy at the shop kept trying to get me to buy these first generation PSPs because he said the screen is much better than later PSP machines. He claimed that these first generation “Made in Japan” PSP had the much better Sharp LCD put in. He said that later generation models would be “Made in China” (no surprise) and that they would have a Samsung screen which wouldn’t look as nice. How they found that out and verified is a good question, but even if it’s true, I’m sure it will still look pretty good. If you care about these things, then you’d better go and buy a PSP soon. I’m sure they will have to eventually bring production to a cheaper manufacturing area like China.
Ok, so you have a great screen. Well Sony put in a fantastic little processor as well which is what makes the game play and screen really shine. Opening scenes are now exactly like the bigger game consoles. You have those cool, long animation introduction/mini-movies. The only game I decided to buy this time around was Ridge Racers. There were actually 6 games in total but some of them were very Japanese RPG like games so it was a clear choice between this one and golf. Being a huge golf fanatic, I had wanted that but it wasn’t a very good game honestly and I’m waiting for other options or when it gets a little cheaper. Metal Gear Acid out later this week looks very cool. The games were selling at between US$50-55 which is about what they cost in Japan.
The processing time is very similar to any other console and they even throw up a little pre-game/mini-car game while it’s loading. I can’t remember what that game was called but I remember I used to love playing it. Anyway, during the game, you get all the options you would on a full console. Everything from changing the BGM (you get a lot of sound options) to 25 different car colors. I was impressed by how much you can do on something so small.
Game play to me is fabulous. It was exactly the same game play as the PS2 version I remembered. Right up to the helicopter circling around to the camera flashes as you zoom by the grandstands. I tried 4 of the available courses and they all look really amazing. The background is really spectacular and the motion of the action is very smooth. I can’t wait for more games!
I should add that the PSP is a Japanese-only console right now, but at the startup, you can choose the menu language between English or Japanese. From the main menu, you have all the choices you want, between playing MP3/video/photo to accessing the network (via WiFi). Yes, interestingly, the PSP has WiFi built-in and I got it to recognize my wireless network almost immediately. From there you can play against friends on the network or upgrade the software/firmware. Pretty neat.
Sound quality is excellent. The machine itself has a good set of speakers and even in a loud, crowded area, I cold still hear engine noises. It really shines when you put on the earphones though. MP3 playback was very good and the sound quality/clarity is really clear. The battery is an 1800 mAh which is supposed to last 4-6 hours. I’ll be looking at buying an extra battery when it becomes available. I read that they’ll have additional accessories like a keyboard, camera, GPS, etc. I’m sure there will be many more add-ons for the PSP in the coming year.
What more can I say. It certainly lived up to all the anticipation. This is without a question, Sony’s entry into the handheld market. I don’t know what Nintendo is going to do, but the DS is not it. It’s completely different. I guess the DS will still appeal to anyone under 10, but the PSP is the next generation machine. Even though I had to pay a hefty premium to get my machine, I still think it was worth it. If you’re patient and wait a few more weeks/months, the price will come down. At an entry point of about US$200 for just the machine (19,800 yen) Sony is certainly raising the bar and bringing the competition to Nintendo. Sony could have charged a lot more in the beginning and I’m sure they would still have flown off the shelves. But this time, it’s really trying to take market share, and it’s probably likely they will. It’s a fantastic purchase and if you can get your hands on one before Christmas, treat yourself to it. It’s an ESSENTIAL gadget that will continue to sell for a long time. Go get one!