Remote play isn’t a new thing. We’ve been mucking around with Backbone controllers and cloud servers for a while now, allowing players to continue their console experience wherever they see fit. Nintendo made an entire console generation out of the same idea, so it must be a good thing. That was my initial assessment when Sony announced the PlayStation Portal. Having a dedicated portable unit where I could continue playing my PS5 without hogging the TV from others in the house seems like a win-win scenario. For the most part, it’s exactly that, but there’s some obvious (and not so obvious) caveats to Sony’s latest handheld.
Pitched as a PS5 “in the palm of your hands”, the PlayStation Portal is an 8-inch LCD touchscreen running at 1080P resolution, flanked by elements of a DualSense controller, now in handheld form factor. On first impression, the Portal looks and feels wonderful, comfortably conforming to the hand and weighing far less than its size gives the impression of. Having a dedicated controller firmly fixed to the screen, instead of awkward and tiny attachments you would connect to a mobile phone by comparison, makes perfect sense.
Along the top of the device, you’ll find simple power, volume control and dedicated PlayStation Link pairing buttons. Along the underside, tucked behind the screen instead of at the base, you’ll be able to plug in wired headphones through a traditional 3.5mm jack, and a USB-C port for power. Nothing untoward here, just nicely laid out and easy to access, and as someone who sits in bed playing games a lot, it’s nice to not have a cable resting on my chest all the time.
The light bars on either side are a nice touch
Given the device is a DualSense split in half, every feature you would expect from the controller is here bar one minor exclusion. You’ll have your haptic feedback triggers, dual sticks, and face buttons as usual, but gone is the small touchpad that usually sits at the top. Here, the touchscreen allows you to bring up smaller touchpads on either side of the screen at any time. While it can be a little awkward having to tap on the screen to bring up a map, it’s a reasonable alternative that works, so I can’t complain.
I fail to recall if this was ever mentioned during the initial reveal, but the two control sticks on the Portal are smaller circumference sizes than what’s found on a DualSense controller. That’s not a dealbreaker, they still get the job done and feel comfortable enough, and in turn, sitting the Portal inside a carry case means they don’t jut out too far. Yet certain experiences where I’m used to the standard dual sticks took some getting used to.
I should point out, there’s very little in the box outside of a USB-C charging cable. There are no printed materials to assist in setting the device up, though once booted up, the on-screen instructions are clear enough to help in wirelessly connecting the Portal to your PS5. Simply ensure both devices are on the same wi-fi network and remote play is active, and after a few minutes of updates, things are running.
Size comparison to an Asus ROG Ally
My expectations were a little lag and a few disconnections, but I must admit I was pleasantly surprised with my first few hours. Booting up the likes of Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth and Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown, I had brief moments of stuttering and frame drops but otherwise had a smooth experience that didn’t interfere with the enjoyment of playing just as I would on a TV. I managed a few solid hours of playing, with battery life comparable to a DualSense and then some.
As for the screen itself, despite being an LCD instead of a superior OLED, the PlayStation Portal’s display does the trick. Large enough to avoid the pitfalls of reading text on a tiny screen, the Portal provides solid colour and brightness levels on par with most tablets of the same size. Going LCD doesn’t come across as a compromise, saving on battery life in the process. Though the lack of 4K support may be a shame, every game I played looked clean and vivid when in motion.
Depending on the strength of your network, activating the Portal’s remote play to the console can be hit and miss. For me, I don’t have anything fancy in my current router hardware yet managed to maintain a decent connection moving around the house. But as soon as someone else starts using the same wi-fi to download or browse the internet, things can take a turn for the worse. This will vary significantly with every owner of the Portal, that much is clear, and there are others who have rightly pointed out solutions to ensure you get the best results. Hardwiring the PS5 to your router with a network cable and keeping the devices close to each other reduces the possibility of lag, for example. But the reality is, the Portal’s capabilities will always be tethered to your personal network set up.
A crystal clear LCD display
Remote play is the Portal’s only form. Though there are use-cases where players have been able to take it out on the road and continue playing the device through 5G workarounds, only a tiny number of customers will experience that. Still, when it works well it works really well, though some games are better suited to the experience, so lag doesn’t become as bothersome. Swinging around the streets of New York in Spider-Man 2 felt clunky over my network setup, precision thrown out the window. Slower, more methodical games seem better suited to my remote play experience, and I’d expect the same could be said for other Portal owners.
There’s one chink in the armour that bugs me the most. Forcing owners to use dedicated PlayStation Link peripherals for wireless audio is a big no-no. The Portal itself already costs close to AUD$400 on its own, to then add on the cost of the Pulse Explore Earbuds or the Elite Headset makes this an incredibly expensive workaround just to remote play. Yes, there’s a wired audio connection so you’re not without options, but dropping Bluetooth completely boggles the mind.
The PlayStation Portal is a weird beast. On the one hand, it’s a cleverly constructed kit that maintains the PS5 aesthetic and does exactly what it says on the tin. On the other, its releasing to a target market that’s incredibly small, with a few awkward design features that hold it back. Some will see the benefits of being able to play remotely anywhere in the house, I certainly do and will likely continuing using the Portal going forward. But at an expensive asking price, this clearly isn’t the solution for everyone, especially given how many of us already own mobile phones.
Review unit supplied by manufacturer