PlayStation Portal Promo
Image via Sony

The PlayStation Portal Misses the Point of a Handheld System

The PlayStation Portal has been out for a few months now, and it’s a fascinating device. It’s a clear attempt by Sony to produce a new handheld system, but it’s clear that it’s lacking compared to other devices on the market.

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The PlayStation Portal has an odd concept. It’s a handheld device for playing PS5 games using Remote Play, streaming from the console itself. To Sony’s credit, there is something worthwhile in this concept. The failure of the Vita suggests Sony don’t want to simply release a standard handheld in the same vein. Meanwhile, shifts in the handheld market show that change is required anyway.

Take a look at the Nintendo Switch, for example. After decades of supporting a separate home console and handheld, Nintendo combined the two, shifting their development strategy significantly. This strategy has proven successful though, with the Switch going on to become the third best-selling console of all time.

The Steam Deck has followed suit, with its promise of letting players take their entire Steam library anywhere they go. Valve’s offer isn’t exactly the same as Nintendo’s, but the principle remains the same. The most successful handheld systems are complimentary to the home experience now, allowing easy access to the same library wherever you are.

Image via Sony

The PlayStation Portal is Sony’s attempt to replicate this. On paper, it’s the same idea. Take your entire PS5 library on the go. Simply load up the device, connect to your PS5 and play anything over wi-fi. But that’s also the central problem with the device: it requires you to be tethered to a PS5.

The Switch and the Steam Deck both have the advantage of being truly portable. The Switch is a self-contained device. Once you remove it from the dock, it is now a handheld system you can walk out the house with. You can play Super Mario Bros Wonder on the train and nothing can stop you. While the Steam Deck requires some additional setup, ie. downloading your Steam games to it, it also can be taken anywhere without issue. You don’t even need to own a gaming PC to make use of it.

The PlayStation Portal cannot truly be considered a portable device. The requirement to have your PS5 running the games in the background prevents that. You can’t grab the Portal before you head out for the bus, you have to make sure you’ve turned the console on at home before you leave. Most importantly, you need to have a PS5 in the first place, which may not be the case for everyone looking to buy the Portal.

Image via Sony

Admittedly, I had some misconceptions about how the Portal worked when it was first announced. With the requirement of the PS5, I thought it would only connect within a certain radius of your home. Thankfully, this is not the case, as it uses wi-fi that can be accessed from anywhere, but this also raises its own issues.

For example, I’m someone who’s likely to take a handheld system any time I plan to take a long trip. When I took a long-haul flight last year, it lacked wi-fi. While this did not stop my trusty Switch, it would have rendered the PlayStation Portal functionally useless. The key benefit of a handheld falls apart when you’re at the mercy of public wi-fi access.

The problems with the Portal could have been mitigated with two extra options. While cloud streaming of games through PlayStation Plus won’t solve the issue of spotty wi-fi, it would remove the need for your PS5 to be sitting in rest mode for weeks on end while you travel. After all, simply forgetting to turn the console on at home can halt the Portal’s use even if you can find reliable public wi-fi access. Especially if you’re like me and hate leaving it in Rest Mode.

Even more useful would be the ability to download games directly to the Portal. Sure, this may be a problem for some of the beefier PS5 games out there, but there could be an allowance for games that meet a certain performance standard. Or a rating system similar to the Steam Deck Verified check. It would be perfect for smaller scale games, especially indies. It’s baffling that this was never considered as a design consideration during development.

Image via Sony

In its current state, the PlayStation Portal’s main use is a device to keep playing PS5 games while someone else uses the TV. However, buying an entire device just to do this is pointless. Remote Play can be done just as easily through your phone, with the ability to connect a DualSense. Buying a whole device for this is unnecessary.

It’s a real shame that the PlayStation Portal is so limited. There is a clear market here. The success of the Switch and Steam Deck both show that people want the convenience of taking their game library wherever they go. The PlayStation Portal could be the perfect way to do the same thing with PS5 games. But tying it so closely to a home system makes it fall short of that dream.

The PlayStation Portal is available now.

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Leigh Price
Leigh is a staff writer and content creator from the UK. He has been playing games since falling in love with Tomb Raider on the PS1, and now plays a bit of everything, from AAA blockbusters to indie weirdness. He has also written for Game Rant and Geeky Brummie. He can also be found making YouTube video essays as Bob the Pet Ferret, discussing such topics as why Final Fantasy X-2’s story is better than people like to think.