The PlayStation Portal Is a Device That Lives or Dies on the Strength of Your WiFi

The PlayStation Portal Is a Device That Lives or Dies on the Strength of Your WiFi

Sony’s new handheld device, the PlayStation Portal, launched in Australia back in February. While it’s not exactly successor to the PS Vita or PSP that most gamers were hoping for, the PlayStation Portal is the first portable gaming device from Sony we’ve seen in over a decade, so expectations were high.

Before we get into the finer details, what exactly is the PlayStation Portal? Rather than being a new gaming system with a bespoke ecosystem of exclusive titles, the PS Portal is instead an extension of your existing PS5. So, yes, there is no point buying a PS Portal if you do not also own a PS5 as this is what it will be tethering from. Using Wi-Fi, the PS Portal is able to act as basically a screen mirror for everything that’s happening on your PS5, allowing you to take things out of your living room and anywhere in the house – or on the go where practicable (more on that later).

Since February, I’ve had ample time to spend with the PlayStation Portal in my everyday routine, and I’ve come away with both positives and negatives from my time. I found that it was inherently a very well-designed device and a very cool idea, but that it was useful in such limited ways. If you’re on the fence about investing in the PS Portal, here are some takeaways from my experiences with it.

PlayStation Portal Review: Is Sony’s new portable PS5 device worth it?

What’s good?

Design

PlayStation Portal Review (Image: Lifehacker AU)

There’s no doubting that the PlayStation Portal is a bit of an odd looking device, but practically it works far better than you may expect.

For starters, the 8-inch LCD touchscreen display is a delight to use. White it doesn’t reach the heights of an OLED display, the PlayStation Portal does the job well enough. It has HD resolution and a 60 fps refresh rate, meaning games look bright, sharp, vibrant and fluid. It is honestly a very nice screen to play games on.

The handheld design of the PlayStation Portal, while a little bigger and bulkier than the Nintendo Switch, works. It is comfortable and light enough to hold for hours on end. The grips emulate the handles of a PS5 DualSense controller (haptic feedback, adaptive triggers and all), meaning it feels like a natural transition from big screen to small. It is also far sturdier than I was expecting, and I appreciated that it adopted the same USB-C charging input, like the rest of the PS5 accessories.

PlayStation Portal Review (Image: Lifehacker AU)

Easy set up

Another thing that works in the PS Portal’s favour is the ease of set up. This device has basically one function which is to connect to the internet and then establish a connection to your linked PS5 console (which it does through PlayStation Link technology).

This process is incredibly easy to establish and use. Each time you turn on the PS Portal, you basically only have to click one button, wait a few seconds as it links to your PS5, and you’re good to go. From there, you’ll be able to operate it exactly as you would a PS5.

Demanding games are finally playable on a portable device

This might not be the case for everyone, but I’ve always associated PlayStation games with a big screen – typically because I’ve only ever experienced them on a TV. Having the ability to play all those “big” games – as in titles that are typically more demanding and require wired-in hardware – in the palm of my hand is a neat experience.

This is because the PS Portal doesn’t actually host the hardware internally; it only acts as a streaming device for the real engine, which is on the PS5. Sure, you’ve always been able to use the Remote Play feature on the PS5, which allows you to connect to your console via the PlayStation app on a mobile phone or tablet, but that is far fiddlier than the PS Portal and requires you to also BYO a controller. Having tried both options myself, I can vouch for the PS Portal being a far more comfortable and streamlined method of portable play.

What’s not so good?

Connection and latency

playstation portal review
“Hey, Nate. You ok there buddy?” PlayStation Portal Review (Image: Lifehacker AU)

As the PS Portal relies on streaming for gameplay, it requires a strong and consistent Wi-Fi signal at all times. PlayStation recommends that this Wi-Fi connection be the same one that your PS5 is connected to and that your connection has a speed of at least 5 mbps (or 15 mbps for best results).

I’ve tried the PS Portal in three different locations, one being the house where my PS5 is located and the other two being homes located interstate in Australia. All three have internet speeds of at least 50 mbps. Despite this, every time I’ve picked up the PS Portal I’ve been plagued with connection and latency issues. This has come in the form of frame rate drops, intense lag (sometimes up to a few seconds) and some very poor resolution. It also completely ruins the experience of playing a game on the PS Portal.

These issues have occurred even when I’m playing my PS Portal in the same room as my PS5 and have only gotten worse when I’ve attempted to connect from a different Wi-Fi network. I recognise this could be a unique issue to me, and perhaps it has something to do with the home internet that my PS5 is connected to (which is the only constant out of the three situations). But the internet speed I have is far above the average and has no connection issues with any other devices on the network, so I’m unclear why it’s become such a problem here.

It would be helpful if the PS Portal was equipped with some kind of magic tool that could tell you what the network problem is, but there isn’t one. Sony recommends a wired ethernet connection for reliable speeds on your PS5, but that just isn’t practical when your console is in a room without an ethernet port.

The elephant in the room is of course the fact that Australia’s internet infrastructure in general isn’t the best. I’ve seen players overseas post pictures of them using their PS Portals wirelessly in airports or on public transport, so I know it’s possible, but it just doesn’t seem to be feasible in a country that is plagued by lacklustre internet connections.

This isn’t to say my gameplay experiences have all been bad with the PS Portal. When it wants to work I’ve been genuinely amazed at the ability to run around in Ghost of Tsushima or kill bugs in Helldivers 2 right in the palm of my hand. But more often than not my time with the PlayStation Portal has been let down by my internet.

Is it really portable?

playstation portal review
PlayStation Portal Review (Image: Lifehacker AU)

This brings me to my next point, which is how portable is the PS Portal really? Yes, the handheld design means it is physically easy to move around with you – but when you are constantly tethered to the internet and your PS5 (which you have to keep connected to power and in Rest Mode to operate), it means you’re limited with how portable it really is.

It’s not as easy as turning on your Nintendo Switch on the bus. You need to ensure you have a constant source of internet in two places, which can be spotty via cellular data tethering (plus can run up a massive bill), and if there’s an issue with your modem at home, you might not be close by to fix it, meaning you have to settle for not being able to play.

In my opinion, handheld consoles should make things as easy as possible to take games on the go with you. But without any way to save games locally onto the PS Portal, it makes things infinitely harder.

All that and the PS Portal doesn’t come with a case, so you’ll need to invest in one of those if you plan on carrying it outside of your home.

Touchpad

playstation portal review
PlayStation Portal Review (Image: Lifehacker AU)

A neat feature on PlayStation controllers that started on the PS4 was the touchpad, which added an extra layer of functionality to games. Due to the design of the PS Portal, the touchpad has been replaced with the LCD touchscreen at the centre of the device, which you can activate by tapping the corners of the screen. This is one design feature of the PS Portal that I truly did not like.

I found the touchpad less responsive than one on a typical DualSense controller and that it was quite awkward to reach for when engaged in fast-paced gameplay. I also found it didn’t have the same sensitivity as a DualSense controller, which became particularly clear when playing something like Helldivers 2, which requires you to pan with your finger on the touchpad in order to move around the in-game map. This was made harder by the PS Portal’s design, and actively turned me off playing the game.

No bluetooth

Another frustrating design aspect of the PS Portal is that it has no bluetooth capabilities beyond PlayStation Link-enabled devices. This means the only wireless headphones you can connect to the PS Portal are PlayStation-branded ones like the Pulse Elite and Pulse Explore – which each come with a hefty price tag.

The PS Portal does have (pretty shabby) in-built speakers and a 3.5mm audio jack for wired headphone connections, but the inability to use your existing wireless headphones with this device is a big setback and seems like something of a cash grab from Sony to keep players in their walled garden.

No media functions

playstation portal review
PlayStation Portal Review (Image: Lifehacker AU)

Despite acting as a screen mirror for your PS5, the PS Portal is not capable of all of the base console’s functionality – namely, media functions like watching movies or TV series. If you try and select a media app like Netflix, Disney+ or reading a movie in your disc drive on your PS5, your PS5 will serve you with a ‘the screen contains content that can’t be displayed using Remote Play’.

While streaming video content on your PS Portal isn’t its primary function, the decision to cut out that feature entirely seems weird to me. One of the main reasons the PS Portal exists is to allow players in the same household an option to continue using their PS5 if the TV is in use by someone else. A lot of people use the PS5 as a streaming hub as well as a gaming console, so the circumstances for use haven’t changed here, but for some reason, Sony has decided to block media function on the PS Portal, further narrowing its usefulness.

PlayStation Portal review verdict: Who is this for?

playstation portal review
PlayStation Portal Review (Image: Lifehacker AU)

It may seem like I have more cons than I do pros with the PS Portal, which is true, but I just feel that for $329 it should be so much better than it is.

This is a device that is designed for a very specific use case – that being, players who don’t always have access to the TV their PS5 is connected to. When using the PS Portal in your house on the same Wi-Fi network, it is generally quite a solid little device, but it’s still a device that’s mileage will vary depending on the strength and consistency of your internet connection and, in Australia at least, that’s a pretty big gamble.

It shocks me that Sony bothered releasing an entire new piece of hardware just for this specific use that seems to target such a small subset of players, when a few added functions like internal storage for game downloads or some form of offline play would’ve vastly expanded its appeal. But, as it stands, the PS Portal is a pricey investment for one very limited feature, which won’t justify the $329 price tag for most people.

You can purchase the PlayStation Portal from $329 at JB Hi-Fi | EB Games | Big W | Amazon


PlayStation Australia provided Lifehacker Australia with a PS Portal for the purpose of this review.

Image: Lifehacker Australia

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