Now that you don’t see very often: here’s a device that many feel it needs a number of sentences to describe, while others think it only needs a few words or just a simple sentence to define. The kicker? When it comes to this particular device, the PlayStation Portal, both views are true: one might come across Sony’s official definition, “a Remote Player for the PS5”, and instantly get it, while another might need a handful of paragraphs in order to fully grasp the concept it’s based on. Isn’t games marketing great?
It’s fair to say that ever since the PS Portal was announced all the way up to its launch – even after its first reviews went online – it seemed to confuse people and divide opinion. That’s no coincidence: it’s an unusual device by PlayStation standards.
Now that Sony’s product has had its first couple of software updates and the dust has more or less settled, yours truly can offer his thoughts on it in a more collected, dispassionate manner. Is it as niche a product as some make it to be? Is it really that difficult to make the most out of? Is it a necessary or even a smart purchase for PS5 owners? Here’s what everyone thinking about getting a PlayStation Portal should know.
Design, build quality, ergonomics: all top-notch
It may be just a games console accessory, but the PS Portal is a Sony product through and through: beautifully designed and solidly constructed. It comes with the bare minimum – a charging cable without a charger and some paper documentation, that’s all – but, taking it out of its packaging, one can’t help but be impressed: it’s basically a DualSense controller cut in half with a screen placed in the middle of it, so it surely should look weird up close. That it does… but it also looks elegant, bold, even kind of futuristic. It’s very well put together too, as the same hard plastic used for the DualSense controller is extended all around the device seamlessly – no gaps, no screws, no fittings – following the lines and general design language established by the PS5.
It’s fair to say that the PS Portal is surprisingly light for something of this size, but hefty enough to feel sturdy – being almost perfectly balanced obviously helps – and holding it is almost as natural as holding just a normal DualShock controller, which is high praise for what’s essentially a handheld gaming system. Sony’s engineers have put a lot of thought into this product, clearly.
The star of the show is none other than the screen built into the PS Portal, though: 1080 lines of resolution at 8 inches looks exactly as sharp as it needs to – no more, no less – and the picture quality on offer is quite high for a device of this type. It may not be e.g. an OLED screen (so black levels leave a lot to be desired), but it’s bright, colors and detail pop at every opportunity, while its 60 Hz refresh rate is the maximum supported by the PS5’s Remote Play function anyway (so movement is basically as smooth as it reasonably can). Sony made sure that the screen built into the PS Portal adheres to the 1080p/4K aspect ratio, so there aren’t any unsightly black bars on either side of the image displayed (as is almost always the case when Remote Play works on smartphones or tablets).
In terms of ergonomics there’s hardly anything to complain about: the whole idea behind the PS Portal, after all, is to recreate the familiar control offered by Sony’s excellent DualSense for the PS5, in the form of a handheld device. It works perfectly. The thumbsticks are ever so slightly smaller and the same goes for the PlayStation and microphone buttons (they also had to be moved away because of the screen’s positioning) but, other than that, everything is where one expects it to be when playing any PS5 game.
Since the PlayStation Portal splits a DualSense controller in half, there’s no touchpad area: that had to be emulated in software by assigning certain portions of the touchscreen to that role. It’s a system that works with varying degrees of success, depending on the title – thankfully, though, not many PS5 games currently use the touchpad for important actions. All other ports and buttons of the device are placed in judicious fashion – charging and headphone jack at the bottom, power button and volume buttons up top – and… that’s about it. When it comes to design, build quality and ergonomics, one can’t easily imagine how the PS Portal could turn out much better than it did. Not at this price point anyway.
Performance: it all… depends
So the PlayStation Portal is a well-designed, solidly-built piece of hardware – but that wouldn’t matter much if it does not deliver on its promise to be “the handheld gateway to our PS5 games”. Sony’s product clearly has the potential to do so, but… it’s complicated. Since this is what the company calls a “remote player”, also known as a streaming device – essentially “receiving” one’s games installed on a PS5 to play them in the same way most people “receive” Netflix films on a tablet to watch them, without actually storing them on that – a lot depends on the quality of the connection between that PS5 and the PS Portal. Which, as anyone who’s ever used Remote Play in the past already knows, can be affected by any number of factors outside Sony’s control.
In theory, getting the PS Portal online through a strong, stable Wi-Fi connection – the device supports up to Wi-Fi 5 speeds, which far exceed Sony’s minimum requirements of a 15/5 Mbps download/upload link – should provide consumers with a clear image at steady, dependable framerates out of their PS5 games. In practice, though, consumers need to remove as many obstacles as possible in that “network chain” between the PlayStation Portal and its PS5 host in order to have an enjoyable experience.
If e.g. the PS5 in question is connected to the Internet via Wi-Fi, it’s almost impossible to get a flawless stream of any game to the PS Portal: the PS5 will practically have to be connected to the home router with an Ethernet cable for optimal streaming (not an option available in every household). Then the PS Portal would ideally connect to the very same home router – again, not feasible in many homes… and Wi-Fi extenders won’t help – while that home router would also have to support Wi-Fi 5 or better for the best results.
It’s a tall order, to be sure, but yours truly can confirm after many hours of testing – on an 1000/100 Mbps connection, using Wi-Fi 6 access points – this is the only way the PS Portal will work with no major issues: the PS5 wired to the Internet access router via Ethernet, the PlayStation Portal connected to the same router via Wi-Fi and that router supporting Wi-Fi 5 or better. Under these conditions the PS Portal was able to stream PS5 games that look and play well, as relatively low latency allowed for acceptably responsive controls. Even then, though, sitting with the PS Portal too far away from its Wi-Fi access point immediately degraded the whole experience – something consumers should keep in mind.
It’s also important to note that, even when the PS Portal was working under almost ideal networking conditions – everything in the same room, basically – games would sometimes unexpectedly freeze for a couple of seconds, graphics would pixelate horribly or frames would be erratically skipped before everything getting back to normal. These issues did not follow any specific pattern: they would just happen from time to time for no apparent reason, without yours truly changing anything in the whole setup. Reddit is full of threads offering advice on how the regularity and impact of these issues can be minimized, but most of it – like changing a lot of settings on the host PS5 or even disconnecting its HDMI cable (!) – just defeats the purpose of using a device like the PS Portal: namely, its simplicity.
In any case, it’s obvious why Sony promotes this as a device meant to be used within the same household the host PS5 resides: it’s the only way this product has a decent chance of delivering on its promise. Tests yours truly conducted when out and about, in gyms and coffee shops, revealed that playing games on the PS Portal over Wi-Fi provided by a 5G personal hotspot is… doable – but the extra input lag introduced by mobile data latency makes it even more difficult to have an enjoyable experience with most games.
An iPhone 15 Pro Max was able to offer the PS Portal a 425/55 Mbps downlink/uplink over 5G, for instance, but pinging numbers between 75ms-85ms were just too high, greatly affecting control. It’s worth noting that 4G/5G connectivity is the only way the PS Portal can work outside a home: public Wi-Fi or other types of Wi-Fi usually need a Web browser (not offered by Sony’s remote player) and user input to log into.
User experience, functionality, battery life: you win some, you lose some
Truth be told, if there ever was a piece of hardware that was built from the ground up as an extension of a specific network service in mind, it’s this one: the PlayStation Portal is only meant to be the easiest way PS5 owners can make use of Sony’s Remote Play function and absolutely nothing else. It cannot stream films or TV shows from the host PS5 via e.g. Netflix or Disney Plus, for instance. It cannot stream any content from a Plex server the owner of the host PS5 might have access to. It cannot even play any games straight from Sony’s own servers, as a PS5 can do through PlayStation Plus Premium cloud streaming.
This is obviously on purpose and, while it helps keep this device focused, it does feel like a missed opportunity at times. That might change at some point down the line – Sony is known to add new features to its gaming systems over time via software updates – but consumers shouldn’t hold their breath: quite frankly, the way the PS Portal is positioned in general, PS5 game streaming might be all we ever get out of it.
The good news in all of this is that, since the PS Portal is a streaming device – there’s no processing done on it for any game, it’s all done on the PS5 – battery life is very good by gaming handheld standards. Yours truly got anything between 4 and 5 hours playing a wide variety of PS4/PS5 games including Gran Turismo 7, Spider-man 2, Returnal, Knack 2, Fortnite, Ratchet & Clank, Minecraft, Minecraft Dungeons, Resogun, Street Fighter 6, Astro’s Playroom and the Tekken 8 demo. Almost 5 hours of game time is more than what a Switch usually delivers and more than any PC handheld usually delivers too.
The bad news is that not all types of PS5 games can be played enjoyably on the PS Portal, as even the slightest amount of lag can frustrate really quickly. Most popular multiplayer games are out of the question, for instance, as are most “twitch” games (titles requiring fast movement and low reaction times). The PS Portal works best with single-player, slower-paced games, which is something to keep in mind.
Connectivity issues aside – which are largely out of Sony’s control – when it works as intended, the PlayStation Portal offers a great entertainment experience. Playing PS4/PS5 games via Remote Play on other devices has always been a matter of what compromises one can live with. If it’s a mobile controller where one attaches a smartphone, the screen is small and it’s not a DualSense one’s holding while playing. If it’s a tablet, the screen is big enough and one can use the DualSense, but portability takes a hit and there’s a need for a flat surface (which dictates how one sits to play). If it’s a laptop, DualSense is there and the screen is big, but portability takes an even bigger hit, the need for a flat surface is also there and play sessions are shorter.
The PS Portal is a perfectly balanced compromise: it’s portable, its screen is big enough and it does incorporate a DualSense controller, but it does not need a flat surface and it lasts more than a typical laptop would. So, if networked optimally, it really can be the best way to use Remote Play right now.
Although on a hardware level the PS Portal comes as close to perfect for the job as one can reasonably ask for, there are a few weaknesses worth pointing out. Sony’s decision not to support Bluetooth headphones or earbuds, for instance, is highly controversial: many consumers are furious about that, even if the company is basically right in claiming that Bluetooth audio is often not good enough for gaming in general and that, in the particular case of a streaming device like the PS Portal, it would not work very well.
Sony is promoting its new PlayStation Link tech as a solution to this problem, which may be obviously self-serving but it does seem like a better approach while the first product to make use of it, the Pulse Explore wireless earbuds, do seem high-quality enough (yours truly has not tested that product yet).
Last but not least, based on many people’s experience, it would have been nice if the the PS Portal supported Wi-Fi 6 instead of just Wi-Fi 5: there’s clear evidence that results would have been better overall, not just because of the higher number of data streams available to the former but also because of its superior bandwidth management. Given the fact that Wi-Fi 6 has been around for more than four years now and that even Wi-Fi 7 is officially here, Sony sticking with Wi-Fi 5 (a ten-year-old wireless protocol) is disappointing.
The verdict: is the PS Portal worth buying?
As is always the case with products designed with a highly specific use case in mind, it all comes down to practical value: the PlayStation Portal costs $199 and whether that is a reasonable amount of money to pay or not depends entirely on how much that particular use case matches each individual consumers’ gaming habits. In absolute terms, the PS Portal is not really expensive: the most popular peripherals for bringing PS5 Remote Play to a handheld device, the Razer Kishi v2 or the Backbone One, cost $110 and $100 respectively without including a big screen, a processor, a battery and a fully featured, official PS5 DualSense controller. So the pricing of the PS Portal itself at $199 is – by Sony’s standards – actually fair.
It’s two things that those $199 are buying consumers, essentially, besides the nicely put-together hardware and the familiar controller: the seamless experience of using Remote Play on one’s PS5 and the distinct possibility of the PS Portal getting better over time through software updates. Remote Play can always be used the same way as before – via the official app on PCs, smartphones or tablets – but setting it up or just hopping back into a game as fast as possible is just so much easier on the PS Portal.
That’s what Sony is counting on and the company may have a point: yours truly, for instance, had not used Remote Play all that much in the past despite owning a Razer Kishi. But picking up the PS Portal and just taking a break from work by playing a PS5 game is so simple and effortless, that… well, let’s just say that – for the purposes of this review – considerably more hours were spent playing than initially planned. So there.
Besides being fair with the PS Portal’s pricing, though, Sony is also transparent about what this product is meant to do – and consumers would do well to pay attention to what the company strongly suggests here. The PlayStation Portal is not meant to be used, for instance, outside the household were the host PS5 resides. Not really: 5G connections just can’t guarantee the kind of low latency that most modern games need in order to play well. Plus, if Sony itself goes out of its way to remind everyone that “the PlayStation Portal remote player lets you play the games installed on your PS5 over a fast and stable Wi-Fi connection”, it really means “fast” and “stable”. Which, let’s face it, is not a given for every room in every home.
People not quite sure about whether Sony’s remote player will perform optimally in the context of their own home layout, PS5 setup and Internet connection combination, should probably try out Remote Play for free on any smartphone or tablet before investing in a PlayStation Portal. The whole user experience won’t be as seamless, yes, but it will give them a pretty good idea of how their favorite games will look and how control in those games will feel on the PS Portal. If Remote Play works well on a smartphone or tablet via the official app, it will most probably work just as well – or even better – on Sony’s product. If, on the other hand, results are not great, then there’s not much the PS Portal can do to change that.
It is a list of prerequisites that ultimately serves as an answer to the original question: “Is the PS Portal worth buying?” Since it really does depend on each individual consumer’s case, here are a few boxes to check. Do you own a PS5? Check. Can you have that connected to the home router via an Ethernet cable? Check. Do you have access to a speedy Wi-Fi connection? Check. Is that Wi-Fi connection reliably strong in every room of the house where you’d like to use a PS Portal? Check. Do you mostly play single-player, non-twitch games? Check.
Now, if all those boxes are checked – and you’d like to often play your PS5 games without sitting in front of a TV – then yes, getting the PS Portal is a good idea. You’ll love it. If, on the other hand, not all of those boxes are checked, then your experience will vary and you may or may not enjoy using a PlayStation Portal. Not that complicated after all, is it?
SONY PLAYSTATION PORTAL SCORECARD
TO THE POINT
A niche product that performs as intended under specific circumstances cannot be recommended to every PS5 owner out there, but the PlayStation Portal’s seamless operation and ergonomics deserve praise.
Somewhat weird but functional design
Premium build quality
Bright, sharp screen
Good battery life
Performance varies wildly
No Wi-Fi 6 support
Mediocre built-in sound
No cloud gaming support