For a select audience, the PlayStation Portal is a game-changing device.
Do you have to wrestle over the main television with your partner? Perhaps you want to run your daily missions in Fortnite or build Squad Building Challenges in EA FC from the comfort of your bed (or toilet.)?
On the other hand, if you’re the master and commander of your entertainment center and you’re never separated from the thing your actual PS5 is plugged into, then the PlayStation Portal probably isn’t for you.
However, if you fit into the former category, the PlayStation Portal is a slick piece of hardware, even if there are other solutions to the service it offers.
Buy PlayStation Portal
It’s a DualSense controller with a screen
Essentially a DualSense controller split in half, with an 8-inch 1080p LCD screen in the middle, the PlayStation Portal is another piece of well-engineered and comfortable Sony hardware. As comfortable as holding a normal DualSense, it’s the antidote to the hand cramps of the Nintendo Switch.
The controller also features the haptics that make the DualSense such an excellent controller, and while they do cause a hit to the battery life, you’re not compromised when it comes to playing experiences like Returnal or Astro’s Playroom.
The screen is bright and clear, and the whole system is ergonomically pleasing. The thumbstick feels slightly different from a standard DualSense controller, and it’s yet to be seen if it’ll be afflicted with the stick drift issues of the PS5’s DualSense.
The system features only a couple of buttons, with a power button, two volume buttons, and a button to connect certain PlayStation accessories.
The Portal’s limited menu system is accessed by swiping down on the top right corner of the Portal’s touch screen, which lets you access simple menu preferences such as which PS5 you’d like to connect to, and brightness. Beyond that, the Portal has a very limited UI. It’s all about what happens when you connect to the PlayStation 5.
The PlayStation (not so) Portable
The PlayStation Portal uses Remote Play, the tech that has been in use since the PS3, which lets you stream your console games to another device via WIFI. Unlike cloud gaming services, this isn’t streaming the game from servers across the world, it’s handshaking your console via the WIFI network itself, meaning the key factor in whether or not you have a good experience is internet speed.
Our review environment had incredibly high-speed internet, among the fastest commercial internet available in the UK, so we had an enjoyable time using the device. The latency was practically non-existent, and even when playing competitive games such as EA FC and Modern Warfare 3, it was as close to native as is likely possible over a streamed connection.
Sony recommends a minimum of 5Mbps to use the PlayStation Portal, with 15 Mbps being stated as the internet speed for optimal play. This won’t be possible for everyone, but it’s not an outlandish requirement for in-home use. Out-of-home use, like in a hotel or public Wi-Fi, may present more of an issue.
“Unlike cloud gaming services, this isn’t streaming the game from servers across the world, it’s handshaking your console via the WIFI network itself”
The biggest downside to the PlayStation portal is the lack of Bluetooth support. At launch in the UK, neither of Sony’s PlayStation’s official headsets that work in conjunction with the PlayStation Portal are available.
The first of which, the in-ear, Apple AirPod-like PlayStation Pulse Explore, will be available for 199.99 USD | 219.99 EURO | 199.99 GBP | 29,980 YEN on December 6 in the UK. The second wave of this new PlayStation Link audio standard will come in the form of the Pulse Elite, a revision of the PlayStation Pulse headset, and will be available for 149.99 USD | 149.99 EURO | 129.99 GBP | 18,980 YEN and will be available in February.
So initially, you’re limited to a headphone jack, and that’s it. That is a big oversight, especially when the extremely expensive proprietary options aren’t even available in some regions at the launch of the machine.
If you want to use wireless headphones with this thing, your option is to pay the price of the machine again in December when the Pulse Explore is released. Much like with the PS5, the fact of support for popular Bluetooth headphones like the Apple range of AirPod products is a misstep and an issue with the PlayStation ecosystem that’s long overdue being fixed.
There are easier options available
The elephant in the room is that there are other ways to achieve what the PlayStation Portal does, using other devices. Remote play can be used on your phone, and your regular DualSense can be connected to it.
Throw in the dozens of cheap controller mounts that have permitted Amazon, and you have a device that does the PlayStation Portal’s job, albeit far less elegantly.
PlayStation Portal’s battery life is between 6 and 10 hours, depending on your brightness and haptic settings. We were pleasantly surprised by this, especially considering the frankly anaemic battery life of the standard DualSense.
“The elephant in the room is that there are other ways to achieve what the PlayStation Portal does, using other devices. Remote play can be used on your phone, and your regular DualSense can be connected to it.”
We wish that Sony offered a charging cradle for the machine, as the port for plugging it in is slightly awkward, but this is a minor gripe on what is generally a very well-designed piece of hardware.
PlayStation Portal is a solution to a problem that not everyone has. The hardware is excellent, and it does exactly what it advertises, but the use cases for PlayStation Portal aren’t plentiful.
There will be people for whom this machine is a godsend and others who equally couldn’t find a reason to use it if they tried. The Bluetooth situation is the only real black mark against the machine, but it’s a significant one.