The PlayStation Portal is flawed but fun

    Sony is frequently at its finest when it is at its strangest, such as when it creates donut-shaped earphones that are really very comfortable or a speaker and light combo that looks like a bong for some reason. When it comes to the PlayStation Portal, the strangeness isn’t only in the design; it’s at the core of “Why does this thing exist?”

    “Wait, how is a gaming handheld a home cooking appliance?” you may wonder. The Portal, like an air fryer, is a device that costs a decent sum of money and does only one thing with only one method of doing it (it streams games from your PS5 via Wi-Fi), whereas other multi-purpose devices can do the same thing (PS5 Remote Play works on Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, iPadOS, and even the PS4). And, like an air fryer, you probably already own a device that performs the same function as the Portal (many home ovens provide convection heating, which is how an air fryer cooks). But I’ll be damned if I don’t make some crispy chicken nuggets in 10 minutes or grabbing a quick game session while in bed aren’t the same kind of convenience.

    The PlayStation Portal is all about convenience: transferring your games from your console around your house or even out into the globe. However, if you rely on Wi-Fi performance, your world of ease will come tumbling down as soon as you experience bad connectivity or one of the Portal’s numerous weird idiosyncrasies.

    I’ve largely had the “it just works” experience with the Portal, especially following a post-launch software update that seems to provide some minor speed improvements. I connect it to my PlayStation 5, and within seconds I’m able to move my games to most sections of my house and play them perfectly on the Portal’s vivid and colorful eight-inch LCD — replete with those handy DualSense haptics.

    When I put it like way, it seems flawless, but starting up the Portal and connecting (the only thing it does when you turn it on) is a very “your mileage may vary” moment. It could work nicely. It might fail completely. It may be necessary to tamper with your home network settings. I’ve been lurking around the r/PlayStationPortal subreddit to get a sense of the community’s atmosphere, and among the debugging advice and folks writing their W’s about how fantastic their Portal works even on a roadmap, there’s some tremendous dissatisfaction.

    For my home testing, I have my PS5 connected by ethernet and gigabit internet via a mesh Wi-Fi network comprised of three Google Nest Wifi Pro routers. Despite this, there are several areas in my house where connectivity can be a little iffy. A game will occasionally stall and skip entire seconds of gameplay for reasons that appear inexplicable at the time. I’m never sure if it’s because another device on my network is suddenly hogging bandwidth, if there’s additional congestion from my ISP in the area, or if it’s simply a bizarre anomaly. You’ll never know why, but you have to live with the reality that every once in a while you might have your swings in Spider-Man 2 or your axe throws in God of War Ragnarök disrupted. It may test your patience at times, but it’s the trade-off of relying on Wi-Fi in exchange for not taking up the family TV or bringing your game into a different room.

    PlayStation Portal
    In this photo we were streaming over 30 miles away from my PlayStation 5, and it worked very well. That was, until we accidentally turned off the console while remote

    This is where one of the PlayStation Portal’s main flaws makes you ponder whether things could be better. Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac), which has been around since 2014, is the only standard supported by the Portal. It has more than enough bandwidth to meet Sony’s claimed minimum need of 5Mbps download and upload rates, and even goes well over the suggested speed of 15Mbps, so why doesn’t a new gadget produced in late 2023 (one that relies on Wi-Fi, mind you) come with a Wi-Fi 6 or 6E radio? While not every home has Wi-Fi 6E routers, those who do should be able to play Portals on the less busy 6Ghz band. It’s one of the Portal’s many perplexing oversights, especially given that Wi-Fi 7 devices are supported.

    This is a very “YMMV” device

    However, the Portal’s inexplicable idiosyncrasies extend far beyond its Wi-Fi spec deficiencies. There is an Airplane Mode on this item. Why? It’s a paperweight in the absence of Wi-Fi. It doesn’t play games or video from local storage — in fact, it doesn’t even tell you how much internal storage it has — and it doesn’t stream any stuff that isn’t transmitted to it from your PS5. It also lacks an auto-brightness adjustment, no protective case (the only alternatives available are from third parties), and only enables one user login at a time. Do you share your PS5 with someone else, or do you have many accounts in your family? If you plan to share the PlayStation Portal as well then be prepared to manually log out and log back in (including with 2FA if you have it activated — which you should) on it every single time someone else wants a turn.

    All of these idiosyncrasies and flaws make the Portal feel like a half-measure, or the skeleton of a larger project whose funding was slashed midway through construction. Perhaps nothing feels more obnoxious than the lack of Bluetooth audio. The Portal offers a 3.5mm headphone socket, but if you want wireless, your only alternative is Sony’s new proprietary PlayStation Link audio devices, which are expensive but lack premium features such as active noise cancellation. Only the $199.99 Pulse Explore earphones have been released so far (and are still difficult to locate in stock). The $149.99 Pulse Elite headset will not be available until late February.

    PlayStation Portal
    If you can live with the quirks, this is a cozy way to play some PS5 games.

    Sony’s Pulse Explore earphones perform admirably on the Portal, and their unique PlayStation Link connection results in substantially lower latency than using the same earbuds in Bluetooth mode on another device with Remote Play. However, this does not warrant removing Bluetooth from the Portal completely. Bluetooth can be sluggish and wasteful, but it works well enough and is a useful feature to have on a device that is all about ease and simplicity. Asking customers to spend extra $150 to $200 merely to utilize wireless audio on your $200 remote player is a bad idea, especially given the more costly (and noise-canceling) Sony InZone H9 wireless headphone that some PS5 diehards may already possess can’t even be used via its USB adapter.

    Despite these annoying oddities, the Portal provides a pleasant all-in-one experience. You can have a better Remote Play experience on a larger screen iPad or laptop, and you can get a more portable experience with a collapsible phone controller like the BackBone One, but all of those options are bulkier. Nothing is more straightforward than picking up the Portal and turning it on.

    PlayStation Portal

    Many Steam Deck and Asus ROG Ally owners have discovered methods to use Remote Play with free software like Chiaki, but it still requires some legwork and tinkering. I’ve tried it on my original Deck, and it’s basically OK — effectively imitating even the DualSense touchpad and share button due to community-created downloadable button layouts — but you’ll never get all those DualSense haptics (if that’s what you’re looking for).

    The PlayStation Portal eliminates the initial setup effort and complication associated with Remote Play, providing a fairly turnkey, simplified option. It can be useful in conjunction with your PS5 if you’re a parent or a busy person trying to fit in brief game sessions while someone else is watching TV, or if you want to add a degree of comfort to your gaming by letting you to relax in bed while playing. However, all of Remote Play’s limitations and drawbacks remain.

    My main advise for those thinking about getting a Portal is to first connect your PS5 via ethernet (really, Wi-Fi on both sides of this equation isn’t going to work), and then test out the PS Remote Play software on your laptop, tablet, or phone using your home Wi-Fi. If it works well enough for you, especially for the types of games you enjoy playing, then a Portal may make sense.

    Sony’s first handheld attempt since the PlayStation Vita may be a bizarre, constrained gadget with only one function, but it serves that goal effectively providing your home Wi-Fi isn’t plagued by gremlins. Sony, hopefully, is doing more than just launching a half-baked product to test the waters for what’s to come. Portals appear to be in high demand (at least for the time being). I’m fine with esoteric niches and single-use devices when they’re excellent, and despite its myriad problems, I’ve appreciated the Portal overall. However, it primarily makes me want for the return of a truly portable PlayStation handheld, which I hope Sony is working on in the future.

    BUY it from the official site at Playstation.

    BUY it from Amazon.

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