PSPgo a No-Go?

617TAu5iGdL._SL1000_Applauding companies like Sony for introducing better gadgets is akin to applauding police officers for catching the bad guys. They may have earned an A for achievement, but at the end of the day they’re just doing their jobs.

Conversely, when they don’t do their jobs it’s time to let them hear about it, and the new PSPgo by Sony Computer Entertainment is worthy of loud objection.

The successor to the PSP-3000 was unveiled last week at E3, amidst a great deal of speculation about Sony’s response to its main competitors in the handheld gaming market, the Nintendo DS/DSi and Apple iPhone. After a modest amount of oohing and ahhing, media outlets are now waking up to an aromatic bubbling that may smell like coffee and even look like coffee.

But it isn’t coffee. What it is, in fact, is a decaffeinated version of what should have been the next-gen of mobile gaming; but no amount of sugar could sweeten what is clearly the bittersweet evolution of a device that had every opportunity to take back a market Sony once dominated.

At first blush, there’s much to wow about. The size – approximately that of an iPhone or iPod Touch – is compact and pocket-friendly: practically speaking, something the first generation of PSPs never were. Its weight – 40% lighter than its predecessor – is also laudable. The sleek form factor and sliding display – revealing the familiar PlayStation controls – are all what one would expect, considering the device is from Sony and considering that Sony needs to keep pace with the competition.

So what happened on the way from R to D? Much. First glances reveal the glaring omission of a second analog joystick, something which PSP users have been screaming for since they tried playing a port of any game that had moved from console to PSP. Instead, the Select and Start buttons adorn what appears to be a design originally intended for a second stick. My guess is that Sony intended to implement a second stick and due to the cost for whatever reason chose to ham-handedly slap oversized buttons there instead. Buttons which seem uncomfortably close to the playing area, considering that Select is also the Pause button.

Volume control has been relegated to the top of the device, out of the direct line of sight. This change is undoubtedly meant for when the device is closed and capable of playing audio and video and not much else. It would have been helpful to fill the gap above the stick/buttons with additional volume controls, but I’m not going to nitpick here. It’s a minor grudge.

As expected, Sony has done away with its proprietary optical disc, the Universal Media Disc, or UMD. As stated in a prior post, I’m not particularly disappointed by this, but it does signify the death of the UMD and means that anyone who wishes to upgrade to the new PSP will have to take advantage of a limited-time offer by Sony to have their discs transposed onto memory stick. Whether anyone will take advantage of this remains to be seen. Replacing the UMD will be a hefty 16 GB of memory, something Sony was expected to do as they ramp up their direct download service (via PlayStation Network).

What’s troubling about this new device is the lack of a mini USB port. Sony has replaced the USB with a proprietary port which, a la iPhone/iPod, provides a data connection and power supply. Effectively, this renders obsolete all accessories for prior PSPs and ensures that you’ll have to shell-out for new PSPgo accessories. Note that the GPS and Keyboard accessories for the PSP – which never quite made it to North America – are included in that list of obsolete items.

Finally, there’s the price tag. Sony has never been accused of giving anything away, and it seems a little ludicrous that the current PSP is at the same price point as the Nintendo Wii and base XBox 360. But the PSPgo is entering the market at an MRSP of $249 – $50 more than the current PSP. Consider that the PSPgo does not offer any new functionality – it’s just a slimmer PSP with a redesigned form factor, no UMD and no USB – and you may begin to understand why media outlets are beginning to smell something.

Allow me to reiterate: it’s not coffee.

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