Hands on with PSP Slim

We sweat out the details with Sony

Hands on with PSP Slim

Following the official unveil of Sony Computer Entertainment's PlayStation Portable redesign yesterday, which we'll affectionately call PSP Slim here, we went hands-on with the device in the company's private suite.

Although the new model mirrors the functionality of the currently available model, PSP Slim brings a host of enhancements beyond its slimmed down form factor. Posing questions to Sony representatives and taking the new handheld for a run, we got the lowdown on the long-awaited redesign.

The most notable difference between the original PSP and the redesign is the size. Sony claims PSP Slim to be a third lighter and thinner than the first model, much of that thanks to a reduction in battery size.

Senior Public Relations Manager Patrick Seybold assured us that changes to the battery are in size only, with "no real difference in battery run time." In short, you'll get the same amount of battery life out of PSP Slim as an original.

An improved battery would have gone a long way to boosting PSP use as a multimedia device, especially with the new model supporting video out – a port on the bottom of the handheld enables you to wire it to a television to view a variety of content. Connecting the two with either a specifically designed composite or S-video cable, you can switch the device into USB mode and stream playback of games and movies. During playback, the buttons function as they would if you were using the portable screen.

Holding PSP Slim in our hands, we noticed a significant difference in weight. While the two models boast the same wide screen size, there's a noticeable change in the mass of the device and its width. It's a change that is welcome, since the new form factor will make it easier to travel with.

Size isn't everything

Picking up PSP Slim, the reduced weight is apparent; equally, play a game and the faster read rate on the UMD becomes clear.

Mr. Seybold clarified Sony's claim that the redesign features faster UMD loading, "Basically, we added in some flash memory to make things run faster." This should address developer concerns about UMD weaknesses, a topic we recently discussed.

Most of the buttons remain in fixed in their location on the device, but a few components have been juggled around. The wi-fi switch has been moved from the left side of the portable to the top. Mr. Seybold told us this wasn't a necessary change so much as an improvement over the original design. The switch in the current model can easily be moved during gameplay accidentally; shifting it to the top of the handheld remedies the problem.

Along with repositioning the wi-fi switch, the speakers have been moved as well. Instead of nestled at the bottom of the device, they are now located above the directional pad and face buttons. Audio comes through without obstruction from your hands while playing or watching a movie. This will make it a lot more viable to set your PSP on a surface to watch content without having to worry about covering up the speakers.

D-pad 'vastly improved'

The directional pad, which we tested out in a quick go with Star Wars Battlefront: Renegade Squadron, has been vastly improved. Sony has raised the pad up for better responsiveness. It isn't nearly as soft as the previous model, with a press on the pad feeling much more distinct in this new design.

(As for the game, you can check our preview of LucasArts' PSP-exclusive from early in May. Incidentally, North American gamers will have the opportunity to pick up the title with a special edition Star Wars-themed portable for $199 this September.)

When asked about the European release, Mr. Seybold stated that details about launches in territories outside of North America are being held until a later date. Here's hoping that the wait for this new iteration of PSP is slimmed down to a respectable degree (or that the revamped model ships worldwide at the same time, as we currently believe it will be – Ed).

Launching PSP Slim could provide a nice boost to sales if the company can get it out in Europe for Christmas. There's a good chance that will happen, potentially making Sony's wallet fatter while the world of portable gamers gets a little slimmer.

PSP E3 roundup: Don't miss any of our Sony-centric reports from L.A. – we've revealed the redesigned PSP specs, the new PSP retail packaging, all the images of PSP Slim released so far, the handful of new PSP titles Sony flagged up at its conference, as well as getting a hands-on preview of the redesigned PSP.