Tuesday, February 27

PlayStation Portal review: Alleviator of game-related marital strife

Sony’s remote play peripheral works as advertised, letting PS5 gamers play anywhere they can find a good internet connection

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Sony Interactive Entertainment LLC’s PlayStation Portal remote player is a screen framed by a controller that streams games installed on your PlayStation 5 over Wi-Fi and the internet. It released on Nov. 15 and is priced at $270 in Canada, though most retailers were sold out at the time of writing. Sony provided a retail review unit for us to test.

Setup is a breeze. Connect to your network, update the firmware, and then follow the onscreen instructions to link to your PlayStation 5. Once connected, the Portal has full control over the console, its dashboard and any installed games. It can even initiate play while your PlayStation 5 is in rest mode.

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PlayStation Portal next to a PlayStation 5
PlayStation Portal next to a PlayStation 5. Photo by SIE /SIE

Note, though, that it mirrors your console’s output rather than acting as a second screen. Folks hoping to use it as an additional display for split screen multiplayer games are out of luck.

That means there are two basic use cases for the Portal: streaming games at home and away from home. At home, it lets you play in bed, on the patio, while watching TV, or — for the brave, since it’s not waterproof — in the tub or on the toilet without needing to take your console with you. You can also do the exact same thing away from home, assuming you can find a good Wi-Fi connection.

However, lag and streaming quality can be concerns in both cases.

I had good experiences playing on my porch, in the bathroom, the kitchen and other areas within about 10 metres of my router. When I tried to play in the basement, though, where my Wi-Fi network is spotty (even with the use of a Wi-Fi extender), the resolution suffered dramatically, becoming so pixelated that I couldn’t read in-game text. I’d recommend network speed-testing the areas of your home in which you intend to play before buying.

PlayStation Portal
PlayStation Portal. Photo by SIE /SIE

Away from home it’s a little more of a crap shoot. I didn’t test it outside my hometown, but I had good, low-latency experiences using connections at a café and a restaurant. However, I encountered notable lag using a mall’s free Wi-Fi and while connected to a mobile hot spot while riding in a car.

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Weighing just 500 grams, the Portal is outfitted with a touch-sensitive eight-inch LCD with full HD (1080p) resolution and no support for HDR or 120Hz refresh rate. This may be a sticking point for players obsessed with graphics fidelity and performance, but I found it more than adequate for most games I tested. It’s remarkably bright and crisp (the benefits of 4K would be lost on such a small display), and the lack of HDR and 120Hz is unlikely to go noticed to all but the most keen-eyed and/or competitive players.

The controller, meanwhile, is the best of any hand-held gaming device I’ve used, including Switch and Steam Deck. It’s essentially just a PS5 DualSense controller split down the middle, with each half attached to one side of the display.

Everything that makes the DualSense one of the best gamepads ever made — the finely tuned thumbsticks, sophisticated haptic feedback, and adaptive triggers — is present. I was instantly comfortable controlling every game I tried. There’s no sensor pad, but the screen’s touch capability fills the role satisfactorily. It’s certainly miles better than using Sony’s Remote Play software combined with some random snap-on controller to play a PS5 game on a phone.

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PlayStation Portal
PlayStation Portal. Photo by SIE /SIE

Sound quality is what you’d expect from a portable device with tiny stereo speakers: Serviceable. If you want to enjoy every footstep, whisper and orchestral nuance in your favourite games, you’re better served using wired headphones connected to the Portal’s 3.5mm jack or one of Sony’s proprietary wireless headphone options. Standard Bluetooth headphones, sadly, are not supported.

Battery life is pretty good, though. I got around five hours playing in daylit rooms with screen brightness on the high end. And it recharges fairly quickly via a standard USB-C connector (included).

The PlayStation Portal won’t make sense for everyone. If you only want to play games while resting in the arms of your favourite recliner, basking in the glow of a giant 4K HDR screen with your eardrums assaulted by 7.1 channels of sound and rely on split microseconds to beat your enemies in hyper-competitive online play, you’ll find good reasons to be disappointed.

But I can already tell my family is going to get plenty of use from it.

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Not only can I now play Baldur’s Gate 3 while snuggling up to my wife as she uses the living room TV to watch whatever murder or cult documentary she’s currently obsessed with — thus alleviating game-related marital strife — my kid can also occasionally take it to university and play Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 during downtime between classes without leaving her old man high and dry by hauling our PlayStation 5 along with her.

That’s enough to win me over.

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