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PlayStation Portal Hands-On: I Played Sony's New PS5 Handheld

Coming later this year for $200, the new remote player is a worthy extension of the PlayStation 5 console.

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Sean Booker/CNET

I had the opportunity to try out an early build of the PlayStation Portal, Sony’s newest handheld gaming system. I also tested out the Pulse Explore earphones, an improved headset called the Pulse Elite, and PlayStation Link, a new wireless networking technology that all three of these devices will use. In my limited experience, the Portal operated smoothly and had fantastic looks and feel, but it is yet unclear whether the cost of this handheld will be justified.

The PlayStation Portal Remote Player, which Sony first unveiled in May as Project Q, will cost $200 (£200, which translates to about AU$390), and preorders are expected to open “soon,” with a launch date some time in 2023. Along with the Portal, the Pulse Explore earphones will be available later this year at the same $200 price. Soon after, the $150 Pulse Elite headset will be available.

The PlayStation Portal (center) will cost $200 and requires a PS5 console (not pictured) to work.

Sean Booker/CNET

To start, the Portal is only a remote player, unlike the Nintendo Switch, Valve’s Steam Deck, or even Sony’s first PSP handhelds. To function, a PS5 is necessary. It has no internal storage and is completely useless when not attached to a PS5. In order for the PlayStation Portal to function, a PS5 system must be connected to Wi-Fi or another type of connection, even while the user is not at home.

Sony claims the purpose is to “put the majority of a PS5 in your hands when you’re not on a couch.” The system has an 8-inch LCD display with 60Hz. According to PlayStation, this size is ideal for prolonged gaming sessions since it keeps text readable and prevents players from feeling like they are deteriorating.

The graphics appeared clear and crisp to my eye. Even though I was pleased with the display, an OLED panel would be better than an LCD because it is brighter, has more contrast, and has a wider range of colors—especially after being spoilt by the Nintendo Switch’s OLED for the past few years. It’s important to remember that Sony’s final handheld, the PlayStation Vita, featured an OLED display.

The Portal is small and lightweight, resembling a Steam Deck or Switch. However, the business is aiming for a battery life that is comparable to that of the DualSense controller, which is normally between seven and nine hours.

The 8-inch LCD screen looked good, but I would have preferred an OLED display.

Sean Booker/CNET

Speaking of DualSense, the handheld’s controls completely replicate the PS5 controller on either side. The controls are locked to the display (as with a Steam Deck), unlike a Switch and its removable Joy-Cons. All of the haptics, triggers, microphone, and other controls from your PS5 are available here. Now the touchpad is the touchscreen. Players can use either thumb to reach it. On the back of the gadget are the USB-C charging connector and headphone jack.

Directly playing games like Astro’s Playroom and Returnal on the PS5 console felt precisely the same as I recalled. The analog stick pads are a tiny bit smaller than on the DualSense, which is the only obvious difference.

The PlayStation Portal’s controllers look and feel exactly like the PS5’s DualSense controllers.

Sean Booker/CNET

This is where I’ll explain that you can already use Sony’s Remote Play feature to broadcast PS5 games to other devices, such as your phone, tablet, or computer. However, the new PlayStation Link function is meant to elevate the Portal above all of that equipment. The Portal and the brand-new Pulse devices both employ this new wireless protocol. Link, which the company refers to as “Remote Play turned up to 11,” enables PlayStation to optimize the connection between the gadgets and the PS5 since it manages the hardware on both ends, just like some wireless headsets, mouse, and keyboards may manage hardware via a 2.4GHz dongle.

Playing bullet hell roguelike Returnal alongside less intense action games like Astro’s Playroom and God of War Ragnarök, I had no lag. But keep in mind that I was in a demo room, just a few feet away from the PS5, so take this with a grain of salt. The representative did note that the Portal can connect to Wi-Fi, so another option is to play in a different area that is farther away from your PS5. You can actually connect your PS5 to the Portal and stream games from networks outside of your home, exactly like with Remote Play right now, but your Wi-Fi and connection strength will become a limiting issue.

If you want matching earbuds, the Pulse Explore will be available for $199 as well.

Sean Booker/CNET

The new Pulse Explore earbuds and Pulse Elite headset will both be released alongside the Portal. Planar magnetic drivers, which are renowned for exceptional audio fidelity, are present in both of these devices. The Explore and Elite both felt comfortable. The earphones had a case to keep them in while charging and were lightweight and pleasant.

Both PlayStation Link and Bluetooth can be used to connect the headphones to the Portal. Your purchase will also include a USB dongle that connects to the PS5, in addition to the headphones. This enables the connection of the console to various headphones or even your PC. In order to allow gamers to easily switch from their PS5 to a PC, Sony will also sell the dongle separately.

The Pulse Elite headset will launch after the other accessories, at $150.

Sean Booker/CNET

The simultaneous use of numerous inputs is supported by both audio devices. Sony used the example of playing a game while participating in a Discord discussion. Using the built-in microphones, you could hear and communicate with both parties simultaneously. The Pulse Elite’s secret microphone may be pulled out from the side on the left. Both microphones also employ AI-enhanced noise reduction.

I frequently utilize Remote Play while in bed, thus I left this trial with positive impressions of the service. Although I can Remote Play with other devices already, I was pleasantly surprised by the price, so it’s hard to determine whether the additional $200 is worthwhile. I’m eager to try the finished product shortly.

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