The Short Form
|DIMENSIONS (WxHxD) 6.75 x 1 x 3 inches
MANUFACTURER Sony, playstation.com
|•Slick, sophisticated design
•Crystal-clear widescreen LCD
•Gameplay and graphics nearly match PS2 console level
|•No internal memory; requires expensive Memory Stick Duos
•UMD discs are read-only
•Clunky interface for file transfers
|•Plays games, music, movies, and photos
•4.625-inch widescreen LCD
•Wi-Fi connectivity for gameplay with other PSPs or via Internet
•Includes earbuds (with volume control), battery, AC adapter, 32-MB Memory Stick, demo disc, protective case, and wrist strap
•inputs/outputs UMD disc drive; Memory Stick Duo card slot; USB input/output, headset output, IR port/output
Like a lot of people, I was really excited when I first heard about Sony's PlayStation Portable (PSP). What's not to like about a handheld that plays games, movies, music, and even digital photos? I was sure my iPod and portable DVD player would be relegated in no time to the tangled mess of old headphones and obsolete Walkmen in my junk drawer.
When it arrived, I was immediately impressed by the PSP's sophisticated design and efficient layout. Its generous size permits a large 4.625-inch widescreen LCD (considerably bigger than the Nintendo DS), and the PSP wastes virtually no real estate. There are controls and ports on the front, top, bottom, sides, and even the back (where you'll find the disc drive for loading games and movies). Among these are a port for Memory Stick Duo flash-media cards (used for storing game data or music, video, and image files) and a switch to activate PSP's wireless network feature, which lets you play with up to 15 other PSP users within 100 feet or hook into any 802.11b Wi-Fi network for Internet play.
Games and movies come on a new disc format Sony calls Universal Media Disc (UMD) - an ironic name considering that the PSP is the only device using it. Measuring 2.625 inches in diameter, a UMD can store up to 1.8 gigabytes (GB) of data (about three times as much as a CD-ROM).
At launch, 24 UMD games (about $40 to $50 each) were available with another couple dozen on the way. The first round of UMD movies from Sony, Buena Vista, and Lion's Gate will be priced from $20 to $30 and includes Hellboy (Director's Cut), Pirates of the Caribbean, and Terminator 2, respectively.
GAME PERFORMANCE PSP blew me away on videogames. Thanks to 480 x 272-pixel resolution on the vibrant LCD and the PSP's capacity for high-resolution graphics, the games I tried looked almost as good as on the PlayStation 2 console. Other handhelds today look like the consoles of a decade ago. Discs like Need for Speed Underground Rivals (Electronic Arts, $50), with its realistic racecars, shiny, neon-lit road surfaces, and cool motion-blur effects, made me forget I wasn't at home staring at my HDTV. But consider a backup battery ($50) since you get only about 4 hours of play per 2.5-hour charge.
MOVIE & MUSIC PERFORMANCE Movie viewing on the PSP was equally impressive. While the screen is small compared with most portable DVD players and laptops, it delivers the goods. Watching Spider-Man 2 on UMD (included with the first million players), I could see the smallest details, from the texture on Spidey's suit to how badly the walls in Peter Parker's apartment needed a fresh coat of paint.
Some caveats, though: The PSP's screen has a glossy finish that attracts fingerprints the way Brad and Jen attract paparazzi (or was that Brad and Angelina?). You also have to be careful about how you hold the PSP or you'll be distracted by your own reflection. And forget about the built-in speakers.
Along with watching prerecorded UMDs, you can also import ripped movies or personal video, music, or image files from a PC for playback on the PSP. But Sony doesn't make it easy. UMDs are read-only, and the PSP has no internal memory; all media must be stored to Memory Stick Duo. The supplied 32-megabyte (MB) Stick will save games but not much else, so you'll want a bigger one. And they're not cheap - a 1-GB Stick from SanDisk costs $150.
If you've gotten used to the simplicity of an iPod, you're in for a shock with PSP. Instead of iPod's user-friendly interface, the PSP forces you to create a Music folder, then drag and drop your MP3 or ATRAC files into it. But the biggest drag is that the Music folder goes only one level deep, so you have to make separate folders within it for each album, as in "Foo Fighters: One by One," "Foo Fighters: There Is Nothing Left to Lose," and so on. What a pain!
BOTTOM LINE Everyone expected the PSP to be an iPod killer, but it falls short. In a world of instant downloads and drop-and-drag file transfers, the use of read-only UMDs and pricey Memory Sticks, along with the lack of internal memory, is downright old-fashioned - surprising for a gadget that looks like it was brought back from the future. Still, for gaming on the go, the PSP is a giant leap ahead.
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