For years, the one thing I’ve hated most about traveling (aside from all the other things that suck about it) is that I can’t bring my PlayStation 5 with me. Thanks to PlayStation Portal, I can finally do that — sort of.
Sony’s new $200 Remote Play (a feature that lets you stream PS5 gameplay to another device like your phone) peripheral for PS5 is simultaneously life-changing and frustrating. With Portal, you can bring your PS5 games with you without lugging around a giant console or compromising too much on visuals or load times. All you need is a solid WiFi connection and you can play your PS5 games on the go without really losing anything.
However, good WiFi can be hard to come by. With its dependence on reliable internet and limited feature set, the PlayStation Portal is a decidedly not-great device that I will, nonetheless, bring with me every time I go out of town going forward.
What I love about PlayStation Portal
At first glance, PlayStation Portal looks like the long-awaited (but sadly probably never happening) follow-up to Sony’s old PSP and Vita handheld consoles. It also looks pretty silly, as it’s simply a giant LCD screen nestled between the two halves of a DualSense controller.
Credit: Joe Maldonado/Mashable
That’s a funny idea that actually works really well. The DualSense controller that comes included with every PS5 is probably the best gamepad Sony has ever produced, and Portal just…feels exactly like that. Mission accomplished! The fun doesn’t stop there, though.
It feels fantastic in the hands
Sony actually included the unique haptic mechanisms, including nuanced controller rumble and adaptive triggers, with Portal. I tested this out with the console pack-in game Astro’s Playroom, and sure enough, it felt just like it did the first time I booted up my PS5 back in 2020. Astro’s feet produced a satisfying little tap-tap-tap feeling with every footstep and the triggers had resistance every time the game demanded it.
There is one caveat to all of this: the device’s weight. Portal comes in at 529g — or a little more than 1lb. It’s definitely not heavy nor uncomfortable to hold by any means, but that’s almost twice as much as a DualSense controller weighs by itself. It can be a tiny bit cumbersome to carry around with one hand, but aside from that, I don’t think the weight is a huge hindrance here.
A great way to play RPGs
One thing that is inherently a hindrance with a game streaming device is latency. There’s just no way around the fact that there’s a tiny, almost imperceptible gap between you pressing a button and something happening on-screen with PlayStation Portal. The good news is that, for a lot of games, this doesn’t matter at all.
Case in point: I love RPGs. I tried several RPGs (both turn-based and action-oriented) on Portal, such as Dragon Quest XI, Star Ocean: The Second Story R, Tales of Arise, and Octopath Traveler II. I found this to be a pretty excellent way to experience those games. Whether I was idly grinding for experience points or doing sidequests, it’s just really nice to play these games on a handheld device while watching football on my TV.
Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 was also surprisingly playable on Portal. Really, the only thing I would avoid are really twitchy action games, particularly first-person shooters. Cyberpunk 2077 isn’t even the twitchiest shooter in the world, but I found it a little cumbersome to play on Portal. Trying to aim for precision headshots on a smaller screen with just a hint of latency in the middle of a firefight isn’t the best experience.
This should go without saying, but you should probably not play any competitive multiplayer games on Portal, either. You’ll be at a severe disadvantage.
While latency is not a huge problem on Portal, visual hiccups are more prevalent. If a game runs at 60 frames per second on a PS5, it’ll also run that way on Portal, but not all the time. I personally noticed lots of little dips here and there, seemingly having more to do with my WiFi connection than anything happening in the games themselves. Again, for a lot of titles, this isn’t a big deal, but shooters and racing games would be hampered by that.
The good news is that resolution drops and visual artifacting were pretty rare on Portal. I did notice a good deal more of that while playing the device on Mashable’s office WiFi network, but on a home network, it wasn’t really a problem. Stuttering and artifacting do become big problems if you try to play a game on Portal while downloading something to your PS5, though, so maybe don’t do that.
Bigger than any phone
Credit: Joe Maldonado/Mashable
One of the main arguments against Portal is that it’s a $200 device that’s purpose-built for something you can already do on a phone. Heck, you can even connect a DualSense controller to mobile devices, too, so you wouldn’t even miss out on the haptic feedback.
I can’t really argue against the criticism that $200 is a lot of money for an otherwise easily accessible service. That said, the 8-inch LCD display on Portal is much bigger than anything you’d find on the average smartphone. I do think the form factor of a DualSense split in half with a big honkin’ screen in the middle is more ideal for gaming than an iPhone with a third-party controller bolted onto the screen.
Portal’s display gets the job done, but its 1080p max resolution and 60Hz refresh rate won’t wow anyone. That last figure is particularly interesting because there are some PS5 games that optionally support 120Hz gameplay on compatible TVs. That simply won’t work on Portal. Bummer, I know, but them’s the breaks.
What I dislike about PlayStation Portal
Up to this point, you might be thinking the Portal is a really cool device with just a couple of tiny drawbacks. Allow me to break the illusion a little bit.
Without mincing words, Portal had an incredibly tough time maintaining a constant connection to my PS5 during testing. Some sessions were OK-to-good, but most of the time, I would encounter a disconnection error every 15 to 20 minutes. Mind you, this happened while I was sitting six feet away from the PS5.
The good news is that this is a brief and easily fixable interruption. When the Portal loses connection, your game will suspend, the screen will freeze for 5 to 10 seconds, and then it’ll ask to reconnect. Doing so only takes a few seconds, so this is at maximum a 30-second inconvenience every time it happens. I never encountered a situation where the Portal didn’t immediately reconnect with the console upon my request.
It’s not ruinous to the experience at all, but it’s just … really damn annoying. Portal does take software updates, so maybe Sony can fix this, but right now, it’s a capital-P Problem.
Technically this isn’t new
At the risk of repeating myself, Portal costs a couple Benjamins to replicate an experience I could’ve had for “free” by just owning a PS5 and a smartphone. The value proposition here isn’t outstanding. There isn’t much more to say about that. You get the idea.
Credit: Joe Maldonado/Mashable
I’m not going to dance around this too much: PlayStation Portal only supports wired headphones and first-party PlayStation-branded headphones for private audio output. Your AirPods won’t work here.
The worst part? Those first-party headphones aren’t even out yet. You need something with Sony’s proprietary “PlayStation Link” technology, and right now, that comes in the form of the Pulse Explore earbuds or the Pulse Elite headphones. The former launches on Dec. 6 for $199, while the latter doesn’t come out until Feb. 21 at $149. Boo!
What’s ‘eh’ about PlayStation Portal
Easily the biggest question mark I have about Portal is how its usability may vary depending on your personal situation.
Your mileage may vary
I was only really able to try it on my home network and at the Mashable office, and as I said earlier, the former was better than the latter.
Mind you, the internet at my apartment sucks big time. Network speeds are inconsistent at best. There are good days and bad days — and we get throttled on weekday evenings. Even with all of that in mind, the Portal worked pretty well! Heck, if you have better internet than me, you may have an even better time than I did.
But if your internet is a major concern in your daily life, I’d be apprehensive about Portal.
PlayStation Portal battery life
There is some good news about Portal to finish off with, though.
Battery life on this thing isn’t elite by any stretch, but you can get six to eight hours on a full charge. In my eyes, that’s good enough for what Portal offers. Because this device doesn’t have any real horsepower of its own, there’s no annoying fan noise or noticeable heating problems like you’d find on a bonafide handheld gaming device like the Lenovo Legion Go.
It’s quiet, cool, and lasts long enough to not be a big problem.
PlayStation Portal has caused a real conundrum for me throughout the review process. It’s either a great device that also kind of stinks or a bad device that also kind of rules. I’m not sure which it is, though, and maybe that distinction doesn’t matter.
It’s just got too many big and little problems for me to tell you to shove this bad boy in your Amazon cart and spend $200 on it. Moment-to-moment gameplay can be (and usually is) awesome on Portal, but frequent connection issues and high variance due to network differences make it hard to recommend.
Having said all of that, though, I find myself using it every day. I’ve actually sort of forgotten about the PS5 proper sitting in my bedroom, instead opting to play my little RPGs on Portal while watching TV. Portal’s excellent form factor, good display, and overall usefulness have outweighed its numerous problems for me.
Maybe they won’t for you, but I can’t just say “this thing sucks” and move on. Life’s not always that simple.