In the last handful of years, we’ve seen companies come out with mobile or handheld gaming devices. The Nintendo Switch is an obvious console to consider, but it has its flaws and limitations. Nintendo released this as a console that could switch between regular and portable gaming – and it does this really well. The only problem is that it doesn’t have the same capabilities as bigger gaming consoles or PCs. This limits the games you can play and the performance of these games.
Still, the Switch was a huge hit and sold nearly 130 million consoles since its launch in 2017. Companies saw that people loved the idea of handheld gaming and jumped on this. Valve released the Steam Deck in 2022, and we have also seen options like the LENOVO Legion Go and the ASUS ROG Ally since then. All three of these are designed to offer handheld gaming at completely new levels. Instead of having games made specifically for the consoles, you stream PC games through the devices. It enables you to enjoy the beauty and complexity of PC gaming in the palm of your hand.
So, when news of the PlayStation Portal first surfaced, we were understandably excited. Was this Sony’s foray into the world of portable handheld gaming? They’ve attempted it before with the PSP and PS Vita, yet both struggled to make sales. Perhaps this time they were going to do things right. Unfortunately, despite looking really cool, it seems as though the PlayStation Portal has massively missed the mark – and we can explain why.
What Can The PlayStation Portal Do?
Looking at the device, it’s a very intriguing concept. You’ve got a big screen sandwiched between two halves of a PS5 controller. Compared to other handheld gaming devices, it certainly feels a lot better to hold. At first glance, there’s a lot to get excited about, particularly as Sony claims you can run games at 60fps and 1,080px.
Sadly, this is where the excitement dies. When you look at what this device is capable of, it’s truly baffling. The PlayStation Portal lets you stream PS5 games over an internet connection. In theory, you could be sitting in your bedroom playing Spider-Man 2 while someone is in the living room using the TV. A wonderful idea – but there’s one tiny snag. The PS5 has to be turned on to stream the games to your Portal.
Hang on, what? You can only use this device when your PlayStation is turned on. This means you can’t use it outside of your home while traveling, or if you’re in bed at night (unless you go and turn your PS5 on). To us, it basically renders the entire device completely pointless. Especially as you consider it’s retailing for around $200.
Who on earth is this device for?! Sony has created something that performs a very niche role and is probably only suited to a tiny part of its audience. Perhaps kids may benefit as they can play their games while family members watch TV. That sounds kind of cool, but the whole concept of the PlayStation Portal gets weirder when you consider Sony already has a Remote Play feature built into the PS5.
Remote Play Already Turns Mobile Devices Into Handheld Streaming Consoles
Remote Play is one of the best features Sony has ever created for its PlayStations. It started as something Sony-specific. If you had Sony-branded phones or tablets, you could stream PlayStation games to them over wifi. Now, you can do this with virtually any mobile device.
Let’s say you’re in the living room and your other half wants to watch something on TV, but you want to play God of War. Turn on your PS5, activate Remote Play, and then play the game on your phone or tablet. The great thing is, you can register your PS5 controller with your mobile device, so you can use it instead of mobile controls. It means you could sit there playing the game on your iPad Pro with a huge screen while your other half watches TV.
The best thing about all of this is that it comes at no extra cost to PS5 owners. It’s a neat little feature for situations like the one above. Naturally, you’re reading this putting two and two together and recognizing that Remote Play basically does the same job as the PlayStation Portal – and you’re right.
In fact, this device uses Remote Play to work!! It’s pretty much a device you buy instead of streaming the game on your iPad or phone. Sure, you might get slightly better performance through the Portal, but it’s not going to be that recognizable. It’s one of the most bizarre devices ever created because it serves a purpose that already exists without giving you any additional benefits. We’ve tried as hard as we can but can’t seem to figure out where this device fits in the handheld gaming world.
PlayStation Portal Fits Nowhere On The Mobile/Handheld Gaming Scale
To further drill home how odd this device is, let’s look at the popularity of mobile and handheld gaming. We can split this into two different categories:
- Mobile gamers on smartphones
- Handheld gamers using portable devices
Smartphone gamers don’t tend to play massive games. They’re happy killing time on freecell solitaire, Candy Crush, or just doing the daily Wordle. Some mobile gamers like to play mobile versions of big titles – like Call of Duty – but this is usually because they can’t afford a console or PC. Mobile gaming is really popular in countries like India because gamers don’t necessarily have the money to buy a PC, a PS5, and a smartphone. They buy a phone and use it for everything. As such the Portal doesn’t fit this target market at all. It’s too expensive – especially when you consider that a PS5 has to be bought for it to function!
If it’s not aimed at mobile gamers, does it fit the handheld gamer demographic? Again, the answer is a resounding no. The reason people enjoy portable devices like the Switch or Steam Deck is that you can use them anywhere. You could be on the train passing the time playing games on your Switch or on holiday using your Steam Deck by the pool. These devices target more serious gamers with their price tags, but they deliver so many features that make them worthwhile. The fact you can only use a PlayStation Portal when close to a turned-on PS5 renders it useless in comparison to other portable gaming devices.
It doesn’t cater to the mobile gaming market where simplicity and affordability are key, and it doesn’t cater to the handheld gaming market where people want big libraries of games and a truly portable experience.
So, what on earth is the point? We feel Sony missed the mark here, and there’s a huge missed opportunity as well. For a device like the PlayStation Portal to work, it would need a few massive changes to target that handheld audience. There’s no point trying to target mobile gamers as they are happily playing simple strategy games – they don’t care about Triple-A titles and insane graphics! In our eyes, there are some key things Sony should do in the future.
How Sony Should Change The PlayStation Portal
First and foremost, make it a proper streaming handheld console. It should be a device you can use anywhere by connecting to the cloud and playing PS5 games. You shouldn’t need to turn your PS5 on to use the device, nor should you be forced to be within Wi-Fi range of it. This would make it more like a Steam Deck that uses cloud streaming to play games. If you could also download digital games to the device to play offline, that would be awesome.
Sony may have thought about this but shied away because the PSP and Vita were handheld devices that fell short. The problem with them was that they required games to be made specifically for the devices. So, you didn’t get the same experience as you would on the PlayStation consoles at the time. Our idea means you get a PS5 game, only streamed via a handheld device. The capabilities are there because Remote Play proves this, but all they need to do is remove the barrier of having a PS5 turned on.
Would this mean the PlayStation Portal is more expensive? Yes, but that’s fine! People expect to pay upwards of three, four, or even five hundred dollars for a good handheld console. They could even make it so you don’t need a PS5 to own the device. People would still pay for a PS5 because they enjoy at-home gaming, yet you’d give current owners a chance to enjoy a truly portable PlayStation experience while opening up the market for gamers without a PS5 who prefer portable devices anyway.
We’d love to know why Sony chose to go down the route it picked for the PlayStation Portal, but it completely misses the mark. You’ve ended up with a device that satisfies nobody. Who in their right mind will spend $200 on a PS5 accessory? You may as well buy a new SSD to expand your PS5 storage or purchase a few games. It’s sad because it has a lot of potential, yet the reality is a massive letdown.