It's a PSP that's actually an NGP that can dance toe-to-toe with the PS3! Who would've guessed? And for once it's not some tech blog playing with mockups. So what do we know, what do we only think we know, and what don't we know but wish we did?
After months of speculation, Sony's PlayStation Portable successor has a codename (NGP, as in Next Generation Portable) and a photo spread. It also sports twin analog thumb sticks, an stunning 5-inch OLED high-definition multitouch screen, a secondary touchpad around the back, and a pair of dual cameras. It's a looker, too, brimming with even more than we expected, and hiding all that "extra" power admirably.
So what else do we know about this thing (or in a few cases, surmise), based on Sony's Tokyo debut and show-off session?
It only looks chunky, when it's actually pretty light. Today's press photos of the NGP avoid displaying it edge-on, but if you look at the rear shot, you'll notice those edges curve around to a back-plane that's notably smaller along the flat portions, length to width. The beveled area makes it look heavier than it is. The NGP's official dimensions are 182mm wide by 83.5mm high by 18.6mm deep (the official spec page mixes up height and depth). Contrast with the smaller but actually deeper PSP 3000, which specs 170mm wide by 73mm high by 23mm deep. Hands-on reports claim the NGP is in fact remarkably light. Sony isn't saying how light yet on the press page, but without a UMD drive on its back (it uses flash memory sticks instead), I'd guess we're talking less than the PSP 3000's 280 grams (about half a pound).
It'll play PSOne games, and with a bit of luck, PS2 games, too. Sony said nothing at the show about PS2 emulation, let's be clear about that. But while talking up their new PlayStation Suite tool for developing PlayStation-Android apps, the company said games designed using the suite would automatically run on the NGP. Earlier in the presser, they touted PSOne games like Cool Boarders 2, Rally Cross, Syphon Filter, and MediEvil, thus it's a small leap to imagine PSOne games working on the NGP. Given the handheld's prodigious processing power, it's only a slightly greater one to imagine Sony tapping its vast PS2 back catalog, whether through some innate PlayStation Suite feature, or simple PS2 emulation. (What that'd look like on a 960 by 640 pixel OLED is another question.)
It's sealed, so you can't access/change the battery. Like Apple's iPhone or iPod Touch. For better or worse, you can blame the touchable back-pad for this.
Sony loves fingerprints! Glossy's still de rigueur, I suppose, and in that sense the NGP's totally a fashion-follower. If the final model ships without a matte finish option (wouldn't it be cool if they offered it as one?) you'll naturally want one of those high-grade wipe cloths at the ready to keep the surface from looking like a bunch of slugs had a party.
Hello, totally new user interface. Sony calls the new user interface LiveArea, and it includes trophies as well as the ability to dynamically grab news and game updates. While I'm not sure they've ruled out an XMB-like wrapper, the company couldn't stop talking about LiveArea's ability to transition seamlessly between a running game and LiveArea itself.
thumb-nub dual thumb-sticks are in the right place at last! Always hated the PSP's thumb-nub? Me too. My left thumb feels arthritic after an hour or two bearing down on it, especially playing racing games that demand continuous fine motor nudging. That at least in part because the PSP's nub rests near the edge of the device, requiring you curl your thumb away from the sides unnaturally. The NGP's thumb-sticks are nearer the device's midsection, allowing your hands to slide into position comfortably. Giving the sticks a height lift certainly helps, too.
Battery life? Price? Cost of games? Flash media games at retail? File all that under "wish we knew," and "probably will soon enough." The OLED screen should help keep battery life high. I'm predicting $300 to $350 for the system, while holding out hope for a $250 shocker. Would you charge more than $40 for the games? (I wouldn't.) And as for the whole clinging to flash media games thing in lieu of shifting to download-only, I'm sure it's partly a pander-to-retail thing, but don't discount potential buyers without easy access, high-speed Internet. Even if they're in the minority, Sony has to cater to them, too. Update: The battery life's rumored to be 4-5 hours, where Sony had been aiming for 6-8 (Source: Eurogamer).
So is it a Nintendo 3DS or Apple iOS killer or what? We'll see, but I'm thinking not so much. There's room for three devices here, and competition in the mobile games space couldn't be healthier for it. While the NGP's dual multitouch areas should initiate Sony into the "Hey, I'm innovative too!" department, there's still a world of difference between the 3DS, Apple's iOS devices, and whatever Sony ends up calling this thing. All I know is, Nintendo and Apple deserve formidable competition, and with the NGP, it looks like they're in for the fight of their lives.