To be honest, I didn’t have big hopes for the PlayStation Portal.
I wanted to be able to play Yakuza and Spider-Man 2 in bed without paying $500+ on a Steam Deck, yet my chubby phone isn’t compatible with the Backbone or other snap-on game controller devices. I already have a Switch and a Switch Lite, so I’m not seeking for a specialized portable—or an entirely new platform for which to build a library. Sony’s strange-looking handheld nearly duplicates the PS5 experience and keeps my hands supple even after extended play sessions. So it checks a lot of criteria.
It’s important to emphasize that Portal is a wireless PS5 peripheral, not a portable PS5. This limits its popularity, however it is slightly countered by the (relatively) modest cost of entry of $199. It can’t stream games from the cloud (like the Logitech G-Cloud) or download games like a Nintendo Switch or a Steam Deck. To utilize it, you must already have a PS5 console. Using Portal will also not “free up” the console so that one player can play on TV and the other on handheld.
I’ve already gone on and on about the Portal’s appearance and feel—it looks strange, but it feels good. In principle, setting up this chonky guy is simple once you take him out of the box. You connect it to your home wireless network, turn on your PS5, and adjust some settings, and you’re ready to go. In actuality, you’ll almost certainly need to download a software update for the portable right out of the box, go into your PlayStation account, and—if you’re like me—upgrade your PS5. Unless you’re a regular PS5 user, expect a good 30 minutes of loading-bar antics when you take this thing out of the box.
During several days of testing, I only had one connectivity issue when playing Like A Dragon: Ishin. I was wandering about Kyoto looking for a fight when I received a message saying that my connection to my PS5 had been lost. When requested, I pressed the X button to rejoin, and after a brief pause, I was able to resume without having to exit the game or reload my save.
Switching between games works similarly to how it does on the PS5. Visually demanding games like Spider-Man 2, The Last of Us Part I, and Final Fantasy XVI take a few moments to load, but once they do, they run smoothly and without lag. (However, keep in mind that I have gigabit internet and live in a one-bedroom apartment, so your mileage may vary.) The 8-inch, 1080p LED screen is sharp and vibrant—a substantial improvement over my slightly crusty mid-range TV from several Black Fridays ago. The blacks are silky, and the tiny textures stand out.
However, the screen has a unique shine to it that readily takes up fingerprints, and you’ll notice a lot of glare in stronger lighting conditions. And certain PS5 titles are better suited to a portable experience than others. Spider-Man 2 has adequate text and menus, whereas Final Fantasy XVI is nearly impossible to read at times. If you thought this text was little on a 50-inch TV, wait until you see it on an 8-inch screen.
The handles on Portal are slightly shorter than those on the conventional DualSense, which takes some getting accustomed to. I did need to alter my grip from time to time, especially when playing while lying down—or doing anything utilizing the touchscreen, Portal’s equivalent for the DualSense’s trapezoidal touchpad. When you touch the screen near one of the joysticks, a transparent rectangle appears on both sides.
I wasted way too much time figuring out how to get to the main menu in Spider-Man 2—a quick double tap—and even after that, it’s still exasperatingly easy to end up in photo mode by accident. Portal’s touchpad feature is currently awkward and poorly described, but it isn’t a dealbreaker. There is no separate Portal menu in the PS5’s accessory settings yet, but perhaps one is on the way.