Although still awaiting release in the UK, eager gamers are snapping up imported versions of the console from America and Japan. We give a Japanese version of the handheld console a first look.

The value pack we tested came with PSP, case, headphones, strap, USB charge lead, 32Mb card, mains charger with UK adaptor and a game of your choice. We opted for Ridge Racer and are glad we did.

There is no shortage of PSP links on the web, Ebay in particular, but be careful as many maybe fake, incur huge shipping charges or simply whizz you round an eternal hole of affiliate websites.

Dubious about buying a Japanese unit? First thing to say is that the manual for the PSP does not carry any instructions in English. Not a huge problem as it is fairly self-explanatory. The same controls and game style are carried over from the PS2, save for the select/cancel functionality swapping over, so ‘X’ and ‘O’ change roles (we understand that this will be different in the UK version). To allay your fears, all the menus on the unit are in English.

Well, the PSP really is a black beauty. Check out the pics for more detail. One particular favourite are the clear shoulder buttons. The PSP oozes class in style and shape alone, far surpassing the rather plasticy and cheap Nintendo DS. Below the D-pad is a really clever analogue stick, more like the cursor controller you’d find set into the keyboard on a laptop. Touch sensitive and ideal for games that require gentle adjustments.

Battery life was ok. From a full charge, we clocked just over 3 1/2 hours of use however this didn’t include using the wi-fi connection and the screen brightness and volume were both set very low. If you are using the speakers, this may shorten the battery life, but to be fair, with 3 hours battery life you’d need a long commute to work to drain this right down.

Sony has opted for an interesting format for games and movies and yet another format has been created. This time it’s the 1.8" optical ‘Universal Media Disc’ (UMD). It looks like a mini-cd, enclosed in a plastic case, a lot like an MD, but it holds up to 1.8GB per disc.

The UMDs top loads into a slot that ejects like an audio cassette or MiniDisc deck. The 32 MB memory card can be upgraded to a 1GB, worth doing as it will hold not just saved game progress, but all content you transfer from PC to your PSP.

Playing we found the screen perfect for Ridge Racer and because of the widescreen aspect very well suited to movies too. The 4.3 inch widescreen takes up almost the whole face.

You can convert any Mpeg-2 format DVD files to Mpeg-4 on your PC and move them across as long as you have a MemoryStick to match. We had a 100% success rate and its as easy as using a Portable Media Player- in effect, that’s what this device is, but with the most incredible games engine to boot.

The photo viewer seemed to struggle with any format type other than J-peg however while the music player accepts standard MP3 files, so no problem there. Sound is nice and crisp through speakers (two on the bottom edge) or the headphones (which the girlfriend insists are worn at all times)

Internet wise, Sony still has some catching up to do. The unit comes pre-loaded with an 11Mb per second IEEE 802.11b WiFi set up. This will allow multi-player wireless gameplay between PSPs.

Unfortunately, as this was an import we were unable to test this function out - a case of not yet knowing anyone else with a PSP.

First Impressions

As a grey import, our unit should still be ok, as Sony will make everything we’ll need available via their website. Bear in mind though, that no UK retailer can issue a receipt for an imported PSP at the moment. Also, you might not get the exact deal a Japan resident customer would- (we heard of a demo disc, but didn’t receive one). With such a library of movies and music in the Sony archives, we can look forward to lots of (pay-per-view) streaming and possibly even discs, following the European release on September 1st.

Our advice is get a PSP as soon as possible. It really is mind blowing as a games console. As an internet device, it remains to be seen, but if you thinking of buying a Portable Media Player, do the maths on a PSP and 1GB memory card. It could be a better option. It’s still concerning to us that Sony has yet to confirm whether or not they will be regionalising the content of either the movies or the games. As the UK has yet to receive its batch of consoles it will be hard to tell, however reports from America suggest that while the games are region-free, the movies will remain zoned like DVDs.

So the last word? If you have to have the latest gadget then this will certainly fit the bill and make you the envy of your mates. However on the question of whether or not you should wait until September, we would probably advise it just because of warranty, and region coding issues. But then if you’re really can’t wait, go for it - it’s not like someone else on Ebay won’t want to snap it up later.