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Tech Report – PSPGo

By Michael Connolly

On Thursday, Sony rolled out its redesigned PSPGo portable gaming console, which is the first gaming device to do away with discs and other physical game media in favor of an online download system. The launch of the PSPGo was accompanied by a much-needed update of the Sony online store, which added over 100 new games.

Early reviews of the new device were generally positive, although most brought up the issue of price. The PSPGo costs $249, which is $79 more than the current PSP 3000 and a whopping $120 more than a Nintendo DS Lite. However, Sony will balk at comparisons to the DS, preferring consumers to think of it as an alternative to the major consoles. Unfortunately, the cost comparison doesn’t do Sony any favors there either, with recent price cuts lowering the cost of the Wii and the cheapest Xbox 360 to $199.99.

Leaving the price issue aside (which is hard to do in a tough economy), the PSPGo is a beautiful gaming device that feels great to hold and is even better to game with. It’s 50 per cent smaller and 40 per cent lighter than its predecessor and, although the 3.8-inch screen is also smaller, it has a spacious and comfortable feel and is larger than the screens you will find on the DS or the iPhone.

The absence of any disc drive or loadable games means that everything you want to play on the PSPGo has to be downloaded. You can do this in one of three ways. You can download games from the online PlayStation store using the built-in Wi-Fi. You can connect the Go to a PlayStation 3 console and transfer games from there. Or you can use Sony’s free Media Go software to connect your PC to the PlayStation store and sync to your Go afterwards. (Think iTunes and syncing to an iPod.) One drawback is that the Media Go software is currently for Windows only but presumably Sony is working on a solution for Mac users as well.

Sony has quietly spent the last two years trying to close the gap between its own online store offerings and Microsoft’s Xbox Live! The company now claims to have over 16,000 pieces of digital content for download, including TV shows, movies and more than 225 games. Although this would elicit a few chuckles from Apple, which offers over 75,000 apps alone through its iTunes store, Sony is in a far better situation than it was just a short time ago.

Despite the slick feel and looks of the PSPGo, some commentators think that Sony could have gone further with the design features and built-in software. For example, there’s no touchscreen or camera – features that would have helped it in comparisons with the ever-smarter smartphones and media players.

And therein lies the rub. The PSPGo enters a crowded marketplace at a premium price and asks gamers to abandon their discs and cartridges and upgrade to yet another new format. Meanwhile at the other end of the spectrum, Apple continues to push the iPhone and touch as gaming devices, albeit for the non-serious gamer with a few minutes to kill. The PSPGo is likely to get squeezed in this rapidly-evolving marketplace and, if that’s the case, consumers might want to wait for the inevitable price cut that will follow!  

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