Why everyone but me is wrong about the PlayStation Portal

Playstation Portal
Pictured: Playstation Portal
// Don't be so quick to write off Sony's new handheld.
Fergus Halliday
Aug 25, 2023
Icon Time To Read5 min read

Published on August 24, 2023

The PlayStation Portal hasn’t even gotten a release date yet, but the internet seems to have already made up its mind about it.

Announced overnight, Sony’s latest addition to the PlayStation ecosystem is an accessory that’s built to take full advantage of the PS5’s Remote Play capabilities. At a glance, it looks like a small tablet squeezed between the two halves of a DualSense controller. Take a little longer to look and the truth isn’t that far off. The hardware here is powered by Android and built around an 8-inch LCD panel with 1080p resolution.

The idea here is that you’re able to wirelessly stream PlayStation 5 games to a Nintendo Switch-like form factor within your home. So long as you’ve got a decent enough home network to keep the latency low, anyway.

At launch, Sony has said that the Portal won’t support the company’s PlayStation Now cloud streaming service. It’s not hard to imagine that changing down the line via a software update, but given that the latter still isn’t available in Australia it feels like a bit of a moot point.

The initial reactions to the PlayStation Portal have varied, but I think it’s fair to say that there’s a fair amount of scepticism on the part of consumers around the actual value of an accessory that does something that most smartphones already support.

Here’s the thing though, those people are wrong. The experience of using the Remote Play app on your smartphone is functional enough, but it leaves a lot to be desired and there’s plenty that the Portal could offer an improvement on.

For context: I’m someone who plays a lot of mobile games. I’ve sunk hundreds of hours into mobile games like Diablo Immortal, Genshin Impact, Call of Duty: Mobile and League of Legends: Wild Rift over the past few years. I’ve also spent a lot of time pairing up the likes of Microsoft’s Xbox Cloud streaming and PlayStation Remote Play with the Razer Kishi.

On paper, these sorts of accessories promise to make it possible to turn your phone into a Nintendo Switch for Xbox or PlayStation games. In a pinch, that’s totally true. However, there are significant shortcomings to this experience that the Portal is potentially primed to address.

The first of these is that games running on the PlayStation 5 tend to be more integrated with Sony's DualSense controller than their Xbox counterparts. Even with bespoke accessories like the Backbone, aspects of this controller are not represented. Some of these, like the touchpad, are often critical to the control schemes of a given game.

There’s usually some way to work around these limitations but the Portal has the ability to bypass them right out of the box. The Steam Deck isn’t the only handheld gaming PC around anymore, but the way that Valve is able to integrate that experience is one of the key things that makes it superior to something like the Ayaneo Air or ASUS ROG Ally. That same dynamic could be in play here.

The second problem with gaming on your phone is that you’re gaming on your phone. You’re either missing notifications or having them get in the way of whatever you happen to be trying to play. Call me a social-media-addicted millennial all you like, but when I’m playing games I also like to put down the controller from time to time. Usually, that’s because I’m checking my phone.

Swiping between apps like Remote Play and Facebook is possible, but it’s not a great experience. Obviously, the latter is hardly optimised for the Kishi. You might have to remove it and, depending on your device, the game you’re streaming might be shut down once the app involved gets shoved off-screen. The fact that the PlayStation Portal is a dedicated device is a clear improvement in this situation.

The fact that the PlayStation Portal has a larger 8-inch screen also promises to help alleviate some of the UI readability issues that crop up when it comes to cloud streaming on a mobile device. Having played through several Halo games using nothing but cloud streaming, I can vouch for the fact that a lot of console games are simply an ill-fit for sub-7-inch displays.

All this is not to say that there are not some critiques to be made of Sony’s streaming-centric accessory. Yes, the fact that it doesn't support Bluetooth and all but requires you to pair it with Sony's own Pulse Explore earbuds is a serious compromise.

It's also true that the PlayStation Portal can more or less only be used at home. Make no mistake. It’s not commute-friendly and you can’t take it on a plane. In those situations, a Nintendo Switch obviously makes more sense.

That said, in my years of gaming on the Nintendo handheld, I have found that I tend to use it regularly from either my bed or while sitting on the couch. It is a machine of convenience more than anything else. If the PlayStation Portal can accomplish this while offering me access to a bigger and better-looking library of games, I could easily see it filling that niche.

If we’re being honest, the Switch is not a handheld with good ergonomics. Putting the caveat that I have not had the pleasure of going hands-on with the Portal just yet on the table, it’s difficult to imagine that playing games for longer stretches of time on this hardware here is somehow less comfortable than it is with the Switch.

In fact, if we’re going to compare the Portal to the Switch then I think it’s also acknowledging that a large number of Switch releases nowadays leave a lot to be desired on a technical level. It is not an uncommon experience to purchase a port of a game for the Switch and discover that the performance is either sub-optimal or borderline unplayable. The PlayStation Portal might only be able to be used within a certain radius of your router and PlayStation 5, but the performance it offers should (on paper) embody a level of consistency and quality that the Switch is sorely lacking.

The last thing I want to touch on here is the price. Sony has announced a number of pricing details for the PlayStation Portal. However, at the time of writing, it has not announced an Australian price for the accessory. It’s entirely plausible that the Portal may not even come to Australia.

However, if it does, it’s hard to imagine that the $199 the company is charging in the United States translates into any more than $399 in Australia. That’s still a lot of money for a premium accessory, especially in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis. It’s probably the most that Sony could get away with charging for this thing full stop.

Fundamentally though, this is a premium accessory for the PlayStation 5 and while $399 is a lot to pay for something with this many strings attached, it’s not that much more than other first-party accessories like Sony’s own PlayStation Edge controller. If the Portal allows me to chip away at Diablo 4 or Elden Ring while half-paying attention to some nonsensical Netflix drama on my TV without compromising on the performance and fidelity I expect of that experience, that’s a convenience that could be worth the cost involved.

Still sceptical about the PlayStation Portal? I defy you to sink some serious time into Horizon: Forbidden West on your phone and tell me there’s no room for improvement there.

Fergus Halliday
Written by
Fergus Halliday
Fergus Halliday is a journalist and editor for Reviews.org. He’s written about technology, telecommunications, gaming and more for over a decade. He got his start writing in high school and began his full-time career as the Editor of PC World Australia. Fergus has made the MCV 30 Under 30 list, been a finalist for seven categories at the IT Journalism Awards and won Most Controversial Writer at the 2022 Consensus Awards. He has been published in Gizmodo, Kotaku, GamesHub, Press Start, Screen Rant, Superjump, Nestegg and more.

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