Sony’s approach Handheld gaming can be a bit confusing. The PlayStation Vita was a decent device which hasn’t caught on like its predecessor, the PlayStation Portable, but fans are still kept hope that a successor could be on the horizon. This was especially true after the Switch reinvigorated the handheld computer market. Instead, we got the PlayStation Portal.
The Portal is an attempt to compete with the renaissance of gaming handhelds. However, functionally, it has little in common with either of those devices. Instead of installing games on it and playing them anywhere, you can only stream games from your PlayStation 5 to the portal. Streaming is possible over your home Wi-Fi or the Internet, provided you have the bandwidth, but your console must be turned on and online for it to work, acting as a server.
For only $200, would be to be one of the cheapest handhelds you can buy, other than the fact that you need a console that costs has less $400 for it to work. This begs the question: who exactly is it aimed at? To my surprise, there might be a market for it.
Games, (a little) without connection
The biggest appeal of devices like the Switch is that you can play your games anywhere. On a plane, at a rooftop party, at a picnic table next to a basketball court under a highway overpass. It’s an appealing pitch, and I’ve personally used my Switch in many of these situations, but I don’t spend a lot of time at a hip party on a rooftop or on a plane. Most of the time I just want to play games on my couch or in bed.
When I want play Spider-Man 2 but I don’t want to be in the living room, the portal allows me to relax in bed with my game. It’s even convenient if I want to play games in the living room while my partner watches a show on TV. It’s like the idea behind Nintendo Wii Ubut it works.
Well, sort of. The portal streams your entire PS5 interface, like a remote PC desktop app – menu and all. If the TV your console is connected to is on, you will see the same thing on the portal as you do on your TV. This means you can’t play a game on the handheld while someone else is using the PlayStation to watch a show on Netflix. It’s completely mirrored. Additionally, most media apps are blocked on Portal, so you can’t use it to watch TV either.
It only plays games, and only when you have a good internet connection. Sony recommends a minimum of 5 Mbps, and preferably 15 Mbps, but in my experience you’ll want more (if possible).
Oddly enough, the portal can only stream games installed locally on your PS5. The library of games you can stream to your PS5 (with a TV) via a PS Plus Premium the subscription cannot be broadcast on the portal screen. Sony is expected to allow gamers to use the Portal as another connection point for its game streaming service, but that’s not possible at the moment.
A controller, in Twain
The Portal’s most striking aspect is also one of its greatest strengths: it’s essentially a typical DualSense controller, cut right down the middle, with a screen wedged in between. This means that any game you play on the portal has been designed for the controller you hold. There’s no need to remap buttons to work with a controller or use a trackpad to approximate a mouse, as you have to do with most Windows-based gaming handhelds.