November 15th, 2023
Handheld remote play console
Sony has been no stranger to experimenting with remote play for the past two and a half console generations. Since the technology first appeared on PlayStation 3, the only official Sony devices to offer remote play capabilities were of the PlayStation Vita line of devices, VAIO laptops, Bravia televisions, and their Xperia Play phone. The walled garden opened up with the PlayStation 4 as phones and PCs outside of the Sony ecosystem began offering up licensed Sony apps and even some third-party developers releasing PSPlay on both iOS and Android. Now, more than a decade since the PlayStation Vita hit Western shores, Sony is coming back to the handheld market with the PlayStation Portal, a single service device that’s purely designed to be linked with an existing PlayStation 5 console.
The PlayStation Portal exists as a device whose sole purpose is to allow players to link together with their PlayStation 5 console anywhere that WiFi allows, much like the existing remote play clients that exist on nearly every modern cellphone and computer. For many users, a device that only provides one single service can be a tough sell. Other products that offer similar remote play functionality, like the Logitech G Cloud (with some major caveats, such as not supporting the handheld’s controls natively) or even the Steam Deck (requiring Chiaki as a third-party app) can stream PlayStation 5 titles to the handheld but each come with their own limitations or work to set up and troubleshoot. Where the PlayStation Portal excels is in that simplistic pick-up and play from out of the box and every time going forward.
In the box, Sony has kept things as simple as can be. Inside a reinforced cardboard sleeve with a PS symbol adorned pull tab, players are greeted with the PlayStation Portal and a simple infographic card showing which buttons to press and a QR code to the user manual on Sony’s website (which wasn’t live during our testing period). Alongside the console are the standard regulatory pamphlet and double-sided USB type-C cable. There isn’t an AC adapter included in the box, presumably because Sony anticipates players recharging the Portal directly into the front port of their PlayStation 5 when not in use.
A PlayStation 5 DualSense controller split in half with the touchpad removed makes up the overall aesthetic of the PlayStation Portal. Where the touchpad and PS/mute buttons originally lay have been removed and instead replaced with an 8” 1080P@60 LED touchscreen. The black inner accent frame blends into the display with the Home and microphone mute buttons on the left and right-hand sides, respectively. There are no inputs on the outer bezel of the PlayStation Portal display. Instead, the rear of the display slopes down into a groove that runs along the entire backside of the display, holding the Power, Volume Up/Down, and new Link buttons. Two upward-firing speakers rest on the top of the PlayStation Portal’s display, while microphone inputs exist on both the top and bottom sides of the display. The only physical connections on the PlayStation Portal exist on the backside of the display, housing the USB type-C input for charging and a 3.5mm jack next to it for those players that aren’t quite yet ready to make the jump to PlayStation’s new Link audio format.
Regarding the build quality of the PlayStation Portal, it’s quite literally a DualSense broken in half and attached to a screen. The ergonomics of the DualSense controller have not been sacrificed to create the PlayStation Portal and one unique feature that it offers versus the likes of the Steam Deck and other similar devices is that the controller grips are detached from the main body of the console. Allowing your fingers to wrap around the controller grip might not seem like a drastic change, but regarding comfort, it goes a long way to allowing players to enjoy extended sessions without cramping up. The PlayStation Portal itself weighs 2.6 pounds but when held in both hands, the weight is evenly distributed and comfortable to hold for an entire match of Warzone.
Upon initial startup, the PlayStation Portal actively guides players on the steps to sync their PlayStation 5 to the new handheld. Every time going forward, once players tap the power button to wake the PlayStation Portal from suspend mode, the handheld will automatically seek out their last connected console and notify the player that the console is Ready to play, requiring just a single button press to launch directly into the last opened PlayStation 5 activity. The same limitations for standard remote play also apply to connections to the PlayStation Portal. Both content via the Media tab (Spotify and YouTube, among others) can’t be played, nor can PS5 Cloud Streaming titles that come as part of a PlayStation Plus Premium subscription.
Trying to access any unsupported content prompts the player that the screen is showing unsupported content and gives the player a button to return to the home screen on their PlayStation 5. Subsequent attempts ask the player to end using the remote play feature before the app can be used. In these regards, the PlayStation Portal performs just the same as any other remote play capable device and is subject to the same limitations.
Tapping the touch screen while connected to a console brings up a quick readout of wifi connection strength, battery percentage and charging status, time, and a settings menu where players can either tap the settings icon in the top corner or simply side left from the right edge of the screen to access. This grants users a quick disconnect option for remote play, a button to connect or remotely disconnect their PS Link audio devices, a brightness slider, an airplane mode toggle, and a second settings menu. Once in the main Settings, the options are a more limited version of the offerings from the PlayStation 5 console. Network settings only allow the user to set the WiFi network, review NAT type, and toggle Airplane Mode (fairly useless but still a necessary feature).
System settings are similarly sparse: language, date/time, rest mode timer when not connected to a console, and system updates/factory reset. The last options affect the brightness and DualSense feature intensity; players can dim the screen brightness, but adjusting the light bar and mute button only allows toggles for on/off. There are no controller customization or input rearrangement options, as these are handled by the PlayStation 5 console itself.
Battery life on a portable console can always be a make or break point for true portability and remains an area where the PlayStation Portal might actually surpass the standard DualSense Controller. During my final full day of testing, I spent a solid five hours bouncing between a couple of different PS5 titles before settling on back-to-back matches of Call of Duty Modern Warfare III’s Zombies mode. This was with the brightness cranked up to the max and audio routed through the Pulse Explore earbuds rather than the onboard speakers. With less than fifteen minutes of battery life to go, a warning pop-up advised of low battery life. A second popup appeared regarding critical battery life before the PlayStation Portal abruptly shut down. In that period of time, I found a power bank on hand, plugged in the USB Type-C cable, let it charge up for just a couple of minutes, and then went right back into my existing match (and thankfully still alive). The PlayStation Portal was able to slowly charge off of the power bank and finish up the match without any further battery warnings
The PlayStation Portal isn’t quite the portable successor that players have been asking for from Sony since the decline of the PlayStation Vita. That being said, the PlayStation Portal does one job and does it exceedingly well. It might not reinvent the remote play experience, but for those relying on controller clips to mount a phone to the top of a DualSense controller or third-party controllers that use a mobile device as the display, an official Sony product just makes sense for a unified solution. It might not replace those Backbone controllers and other devices that players might have in their home, but the PlayStation Portal might wind up being the controller that players start reaching for first.
Review unit provided by the manufacturer.
Products mentioned in this post
Sony’s new dedicated remote play device provides a pixel perfect gaming experience no matter where you are in relation to your PlayStation 5 console. However, the PlayStation Portal offers little more than that singular experience.
- Better battery life than the DualSense controller
- Quickly connect to PS5 every time after initial set up
- New PlayStation Link audio standard
- Ergonomics designed for longer gameplay sessions
- Full DualSense feature set including Tempest Audio and adaptive trigers
- Paperweight when internet goes down or not locally connected to PlayStation 5
- Limited brightness customization settings for lightbar
- Bluetooth support dropped for PlayStation Link
- No battery percentage
- Cannot change PSN profiles even if logged into different account prior to starting up the Portal
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