The first question that came to mind with the PlayStation Portal was: Who is this for? It's one that's been tirelessly posed in discussions about the device given its limited capabilities, because the Portal serves one purpose: remote play. If the PS5 is your primary gaming platform, and if you have a strong internet connection throughout your home, and if you're in situations where you're eager to play PS5 games without access to the TV the console is connected to, then you'll get plenty of use out of the Portal.
Even then, the inconsistencies I've experienced in a full week using the Portal have hampered the idea of incorporating the Portal as a piece of tech to complement my PS5. But when it works, it's kind of a revelation. It's not necessarily the remote play aspect--that's a capability you can get on your smartphone, tablet, or even Steam Deck. It's that the Portal offers the best possible controls and an impressive screen for remote play. More so than any other device, your mileage may vary since factors outside of the Portal itself are going to dictate your gaming experience. As a result, $200 USD for a dedicated remote play device, among the sea of other robust handhelds, is a tough sell.
The Pros and Woes of Remote Play
For the uninitiated, remote play works by using a capable device to remotely control your PS5 while receiving a streamed feed of the system. After linking the two through the same local connection (and enabling your PS5 to boot via remote play), remote play is possible from any location as long as your PS5 is connected to the internet and your device of choice is as well. As for the quality of the experience, that depends on the connections of both the remote play device and your PS5.
When it comes to technical performance, the Portal doesn't do remote play better than any other device. Other than it being a convenient platform whose sole purpose is to connect to your PS5 upon booting up, games are going to run and stream to the Portal only as well as the internet connection allows. In my experience, this has ranged from decent to unplayable, and at times bouncing between the two in the same session. I have gigabit fiber internet at home, but with both my PS5 and Portal using Wi-Fi, remote play was largely unplayable with image compression, input latency, and occasional disconnections--even with both systems in the same room as my modem and router.
The experience drastically improved when hooking up my PS5 through a wired ethernet connection and using the same Wi-Fi for my Portal, which isn't surprising. I no longer encountered disconnections, and performance was solid enough to put in a solid two-hour session with God of War Ragnarok. Some image compression and hitches still popped up every now and then, and proved to be an annoyance when they occurred in the middle of intense combat scenarios, but timing attacks and button prompts wasn't much of an issue since latency was fairly minimal. That minimal latency is a lot more noticeable when it comes to shooters, however. As I was diving into another playthrough of Uncharted 4, I quickly realized how remote play in my situation still isn't up to the task of handling games that require precision aiming. Trying to land shots with the slight input delay made things more difficult than native gameplay, and while I can work around this shortcoming by changing up my approach in combat, it's not ideal to fight against the limitations of your hardware when trying to enjoy a game.
With all these caveats, the nature of remote play narrows the field in terms of what's actually worth playing on the Portal. I picked up an old save of Tales of Arise and found this to be a wonderful way to make progress in the hefty action-RPG since its gameplay is less about timing and more about putting your party in the right position to pull off combos, despite the chaotic nature of the combat. Something light on precision gameplay elements that works well in a handheld scenario can fit the Portal nicely--for me, it was clutch for getting me to actually finish 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, which is a side-scrolling visual novel-esque adventure with some light strategy gameplay.
You can get added portability if you're confident in your phone's tethering capabilities. Whenever I could get 5G LTE from T-Mobile, I tried to use my Portal off of the signal and it was fairly playable but with some of the aforementioned inconsistencies being more frequent. It can be a viable option for some, but personally, I'd rather find a more reliable situation to game in and without burning my phone's data and battery.
Never would I recommend playing a competitive shooter, fighting game, or rhythm game via remote play; it just isn't built for those genres. However, there's plenty of variety available on PS5, and there are bound to be games sitting in your library that you always tell yourself you'll get around to playing, but can't quite bring yourself to sit on the couch and dedicate the attention necessary. And so, the Portal is going to shine not just if PS5 is your main system, but more so if PS5 is your only gaming platform, because the convenience of being a handheld will open new opportunities to engage with your library.
Beautifully Designed, To An Extent
One of the key features that make the Portal more than just a simple remote-play device is the full adaptation of the PS5's DualSense controller. Other than the slightly smaller analog sticks, using the Portal feels like a one-to-one translation of the DualSense's high-quality buttons, triggers, analog precision while boasting the same level of comfort. Touchpad controls are relegated to the bottom left and right of the screen and are within thumb's reach for me--while it's not the most responsive but at least the touchpad isn't critical. Overall, the Portal has arguably the best controller bolted onto a handheld gaming device, because it really is a DualSense snapped in half with a screen built into the center of it.
The Portal's big, 8.0-inch screen is another highlight. It might not be as impressive as the Nintendo Switch's and Steam Deck's new OLED panels, since OLED is unrivaled in color reproduction and contrast, but it's impressive for a standard LCD display. The colors pop without looking oversaturated, and the 1080p resolution gives the remote-play feed a high upper bound to reach if your connection is good enough to avoid major image compression.
Since the Portal only does remote play, it doesn't have internals for compute power, allowing it to remain lightweight at just 18.7oz (529g) despite its overall size. (For comparison, the Switch is 14.9oz / 422g and the Steam Deck is 23.7oz / 669g.) Holding it up for long sessions was a breeze and the grip you get on the DualSense-like gamepad puts it above other handhelds when it comes to ergonomics. As a cherry on top, the lack of internals means the battery isn't under stress--and from a full charge, the Portal can run for about seven hours straight.
One major design flaw, however, is the lack of Bluetooth capabilities--if you want wireless audio on the Portal, you need to get the latest first-party headphones or earbuds. It's frustrating that Sony is making the Portal a closed system given all the other compromises you need to make to get the most of the device itself, especially when Bluetooth capabilities are standard for nearly every modern portable device.
Thankfully, the Portal still has a 3.5mm audio jack neatly tucked behind the screen next to the USB-C charging port for wired headphones or earbuds, which you'll probably want to use since the Portal's built-in speakers aren't great. For games that feature rich audio experiences with well-performed voice acting and intricate musical scores, these speakers fold like a lawn chair. Even games mostly driven by dialogue or light sound cues, the Portal still leaves a lot to be desired, sounding a bit crackly at high volumes.
Fitting The Portal Into Your Gaming Life
So, where does this all leave the PlayStation Portal? For me, it's just not going to be part of my personal gaming rotation. With a Steam Deck, Asus ROG Ally, and Nintendo Switch, the last thing I need is another handheld, especially since I have access to extensive libraries on all three of those devices. If it could tap directly into PlayStation's cloud streaming ecosystem (which has made strides over the years), that would make the Portal a more versatile device. But I get it: The Portal isn't intended for someone like me. And as stated earlier, PS5 die-hards are going to get the most out of it--they're who the Portal is targeting first and foremost.
Although it has had moments of brilliance, and it being novel when it works well and providing convenience for playing certain styles of games, image compression, hitches in the streaming feed, and input latency can rear their ugly head, even over decent connections. The only advice I could really offer is to test remote play in several of your own environments on a device you already own, and if that experience is satisfactory to you, then the Portal might just be worth the $200 price tag. It's a fantastically designed piece of tech with a big, high-quality screen and the best controls for a gaming handheld, but those features aren't enough to make up for the inconsistencies I've run into with the actual gameplay performance. And for me, the trade-off of convenience for a suboptimal experience isn't worth it.