A lengthy conversation with mike and kel about the Sony PSP and the Nintendo DS last week has convinced me that a portable gaming device may be a very reasonable object to plunk down some hard-earned cash for next month. I’m still undecided as to which of these two 10-ounce wonders will be afforded the great honor of becoming my Official Boredom Alleviator, but both seem to have some fairly unique qualities.
Before I start comparing, I thought I should first list down the similarities of the two devices, namely:
1) they both sport dual processors (the PSP has two RISCs, while the DS has two ARMs)
2) they both weigh about 10 ounces (with the PSP heavier by about half an ounce)
3) they both have some form of wireless networking built-in (Wi-Fi for the DS, Bluetooth for the PSP)
… well, that’s actually about the only things they have in common, as the two devices are worlds apart in terms of form and function.
At first glance, the Nintendo DS is a bit on the ugly side, as you can see from the photo. I suppose you could argue that this is all a matter of taste, but I’m the sort of guy who’s willing to pay a premium for good looks, and that DS ain’t it. It does however, have some other things going for it, namely a second screen in its bottom half (that’s touch-sensitive, no less) and support for old GBA games. Not that I actually own any old GBA games, but backwards-compatibility is always a plus. Oh, and it also has about 8 hours of battery life, which is pretty impressive considering that it’s powering two screens and two processors. Another cool feature is that you only need one copy of a game to play over Wi-Fi with your friends, which is something I haven’t seen since the floppy-disk days. It’s even got a built-in microphone and rumor has it that some rudimentary phone technology might be in the works (although admittedly, the form factor doesn’t exactly lend itself to phone-type usage).
Did I mention it has a touchscreen? That little doohickey might just be the solution that first-person-shooter fans have been waiting for, according to this Ars Technica review; they call it the closest thing to “mouse/keyboard emulation outside of the PC.” Kinda makes you wish someone’d find a way to port Quake 2 into one of these things, doesn’t it?
And speaking of games, the DS launched with a rather mediocre game library, led mostly by a refurbished Mario 64 and Sonic Team’s Feel the Magic. The general opinion online is that the rather oddball design of the DS is taking developers awhile to wrap their minds around, but the swiss-army-like features should allow for games that do things we never thought possible, if used correctly.
All this for $150 (about PhP10,000, locally) makes the DS a pretty reasonable purchase if you don’t mind the clunky looking body.
The Sony PSP meanwhile, is a thing of beauty. You’ll have to see the videos of it in action to really appreciate how gorgeous this thing is, but style-wise, it blows the DS out of the water.
Naturally, beauty comes with a price, and the first thing you’ll notice when confronted with a PSP at your local electronics store is that it costs over $100 more (about PhP20,000+ locally). Whether or not that extra $100 is money well-spent depends greatly on what you expect from your games. Whereas the DS performs like the old Nintendo 64, the PSP has graphics comparable to the current PS2 platform (which explains why it costs almost as much I guess).
Features-wise, the PSP sports Bluetooth wireless as well as USB2.0 wired connectivity, and accepts two input formats: Memory Stick Duos and Sony’s new proprietary baby, the Universal Media Disc (UMD). Neither of these two formats are the sort of media you’re likely to find in your average enthusiast’s game den, which is one of the things that turns me off about Sony in general. For the most part, Sony seems to be slowly improving though — if the PSP had come out two years ago, it probably wouldn’t even support MP3s, opting instead to go with that crazy ATRAC audio format they were pushing at the time (it does now, thank God).
But while the PSP brings some major eye-candy to the table, it is relatively conservative in terms of interface. It doesn’t have any of the frills, such as a touchscreen, built-in mic or stereo sound, the DS does and its battery life is positively miniscule (about 3.5 hours tops). That’s barely enough to last you a full day without running for the nearest wall socket, and is less than what you get with most modern laptops.
Personally, I wouldn’t've minded a more powerful battery in trade of slightly more weight or bulk. Neither of these two devices are going to be travelling in your pants pocket anyway; and anything below 15 ounces isn’t going to be very heavy if you’re holding it with both hands.
Although it doesn’t try to revolutionize gaming the way the DS is, the PSP is attempting to expand in another direction entirely, that of the multimedia handheld market. Apart from having MP3 support, it also sports a photo viewer and a movie viewer (although you’ll have to buy your movies on UMD to watch them, which pretty much kills this feature for me), and people have already managed to hack a working internet browser on to it. Unfortunately, the attempt seems pretty half-baked to me considering that you can’t currently buy Memory Stick Duos in sizes larger than 512mb. Pretty laughable if you’re trying to take on Apple’s iPod Photo or Creative’s Zen Portable Media Center.
My honest opinion in the whole matter is that the current best convergent device for communication, entertainment and personal information is the cellphone, something like HP’s rw6100 for example, which has over 160mb of built-in memory, supports the much broader SD format, runs on a 520mHz processor and even has Wi-Fi. Now if they built these things with USB2.0 host capability, it’d totally own, because then you could connect it to your iRiver and watch the movies stored on the iRiver’s bigger hard disk. But I digress.
Although I have a great love for the PSP’s look, I’m not sure if I’m a big fan of the value-added features that Sony keeps bandying around. I mean, I’ve already got a far better audio player (the Iriver) and a better movie viewer/web browser (the TabletPC), so essentially all I want is a good portable gaming device. The thing that’s really turning me off with the PSP is the battery life — its 1,800mAH pack, which is relatively big for a portable device, can barely keep it going for more than 4 hours according to most reports, and it takes about 2.5 hours to charge it back up. Essentially, this means only one thing: you’ll need to shell out more cash for an extra battery, putting your total purchase over the $300 range and well into the realm of second-thoughts.
When I started writing this article earlier this evening, I was pretty sure I’d choose the PSP at the end, but as I read more and more, I can’t say I’m quite as confident backing Sony’s little golden boy anymore. Although it certainly looks and acts like a $250 unit, I see a couple of areas where it’s lacking. On the other hand, the DS isn’t exactly a wonderkind either, with its weird clamshell/touchscreen stylings and its (relatively) underpowered processors.
I’m pretty much back where I started now, and still completely at a loss as to which one to choose. Both devices perform better when your friends have the same units as you, and the PSP’s cost makes that sort of LAN-party-fantasy out of reach.
Maybe I should just spend my money on an SFF instead.
*I lost track of all the links and pages I visited in the course of writing this article, but some of the more definitive references include engadget, zdnet, ars technica and slashdot.