(Pocket-lint) - It's the must have gadget this Christmas (by which the UK may have consistent stock), but can the hype live up to the dream? We take a look at Sony's new handheld console the PSP and see if it's all its cracked up to be.
It's sleek, it's shiny, it's got that wow factor and it has all the elements any great gadget has. Slightly bigger than you might expect from a device (6.7in x 2.9in) that you're expected to put in your pocket, the PSP oozes appeal all over.
The front is dominated by the large clear 4.3in, 16:9 widescreen TFT LCD 480 x 272 pixel screen with controlling buttons to either side and along the bottom edge. PlayStation players will be familiar with the gaming buttons available as they replicate the standard PS2 controller.
Along the bottom is a range of operational buttons such as a home key, volume and screen brightness as well as Start and Select buttons. Strangely rather than a dial, the brightness button offers four different settings and in our tests this didn't always offer us the choice we wanted.
Getting content into the handheld console can be done in a number of ways; connecting the unit to a PC, via Memory Stick Duo or the Universal Memory Disk. Sony ship a 32Mb Memory Stick Duo Card in the box which is not nearly good enough. It will get you past the opening gambit of game saves but if you're looking to store images, music or video content on it, our suggestion would be to invest in a bigger card. Sony do sell official branded Memory Stick Duo cards, however companies like SanDisk are considerably cheaper (up to £20 cheaper on a 1Gb model for example).
Games and movies will come on Sony's new format (yes another one) called Universal Media Disk (UMD) and are a cross between a miniature CD and a tape cassette. There are currently 30 titles available at launch in the UK including WipeOut Pure and Ridge Racer and these should set you back around £25 each.
We tested the unit with two sports titles. Ridge Racer and Sega's World Snooker 2005. Both games were very impressive with graphic quality comparative to Sony's PlayStation 2. They also, surprisingly, both worked within the confines of the smaller-than-television-sized screen.
Depending on brightness settings and whether or not we were accessing the UMD or Memory Stick Duo you can get around 4 and 6 hours for game titles and video viewing.
Sony is keen to sell the PSP as the must have gadget to replace Apple's iPod and therefore keen to promote its other features.
For internet access, there's built-in wireless connectivity via IEEE 802.11b allowing you to get updates and extras.
The Memory Stick Duo slot means that you can use the PSP as a picture viewer or MP3 player, better still, if you already own a Sony digital camera or camcorder, you can instantly view your images or footage straight from your camera on the bigger screen.
Storage is currently limited to a maximum of 2Gb (a limitation of Memory Stick Duo) so we're not talking about a major contender with the iPod Photo here, but it's still a useful option to have considering the size of the unit's screen.
As for the MP3 player aspect of it, transferring music to and from the device is via Sony's Connect software and as we have said in the past, we don't like it. That said it might just be the software package for you (if other open source alternatives are not sought by homebrew means) and the player will support MP3, MP4, WAV or ATRAC3plus file formats.
This is certainly a formidable machine, that will offer you plenty of affection from people seeing you using it. In fact, you may worry that it will garner too much attention and affection when you are deep in play and some bugger runs away with it. Just like the VAIO series, anyone importing this prior to the date of this review received plenty of attention from other people on the tube if our reviewers' experience is anything to go by.
As for the playability of the games, so far so good. Ridge Racer even passed the old grey whistle test when we showed Pocket-lint's token Dad (61 years-old and counting) and then spent the next 25 minutes trying to pry it back.
With a multitude of accessories available already from speaker sets to solar powered chargers (the latter very necessary with the inevitable drain the great screen will have on the launch version's battery life) it looks like Sony is keen to replicate Apple's iPod macro economy with the console.
This is going to be the must have gadget of the season for gamers and gadget lovers alike, that is until the Apple announcement on the 7 September. The other problem with Sony in the battle for mind-share is, Apple are a little more organised with the stock share side of things, having opened up at least one whole store around their current lifestyle icon.