When the PlayStation Portal was revealed earlier this year, I was fairly dismissive of the PS5 accessory, just like a lot of people were. I just couldn’t see the market for a $199 device designed exclusively for remote play, especially when true portable gaming is enjoying a deserved renaissance thanks to the Steam Deck and the enduring popularity of the Nintendo Switch.
This week I’ve been fortunate to get hands-on with a PlayStation Portal, and I’m here to hold my hands up and admit that I got this one wrong.
While my colleague Nick Pino hasn’t had a particularly smooth experience with the PlayStation Portal (as detailed in his review), I’ve done a complete 180 and now totally understand why Sony created this nifty little gadget.
It seems I’m not the only one that’s impressed with the device either: finding where to buy the PlayStation Portal has suddenly become very tricky as stock levels aren’t matching the demand. But if you’re considering buying one for yourself this holiday season, let me explain why the PlayStation Portal is a surprisingly excellent PS5 peripheral.
Unboxing the PlayStation Portal, the first thing that struck me was the device’s impressive design. If I were grading this streaming gizmo on its first impression, I would be giving it top marks.
The Portal has an extremely pleasing heft. This makes it feel like a premium handheld when gripped. Much as I love the Nintendo Switch, I’ve always found it to be a little flimsy, but that’s certainly not a problem with the PlayStation Portal. It’s a weighty device, which I appreciate.
The design of the Portal can be pretty neatly summed up in a single sentence: It’s an 8-inch display with half a PS5 DualSense controller on each side. And that makes the transition between playing on a PS5 console and the PlayStation Portal completely seamless. All the buttons are in the same place, and the Portal even packs in the DualSense’s innovative next-gen features, like haptic feedback and adaptive triggers.
I should also give a special shout-out to the display itself. There was some consternation in the Tom’s Guide office when it was revealed the Portal would sport an LCD screen rather than an OLED panel, but the Portal’s display has greatly impressed me. Images generally look sharp and colors vibrantly pop. Although, if you want to save battery life, you’ll probably need to lower the brightness, which does have a diminishing effect on image quality.
However, because of the Portal’s overall large size — its total width is north of 13 inches — as well as its relatively significant weight of more than a pound, it’s not exactly the most portable device. It’s not uncomfortable to hold for long periods, but it’s not going to fit into smaller backpacks. Plus, Sony has yet to release a carrying case, but there are at least some third-party options to fill the void in the meantime.
Taking the Portal for a spin
Once my Portal was connected to my PS5 — a pleasantly pain-free process — I was ready to play anywhere. So I did what any sensible person would, and leaped straight into bed! Trying out a Career Mode match in EA Sports FC 24, I was instantly taken with the Portal, although I did succumb to an embarrassing 6-3 defeat against Man Utd.
Switching over to Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, I gleefully swung around the open world of New York City, fighting off hordes of street thugs and black-goo monsters along the way, barely noticing a hitch in performance. On occasion, the image resolution would drop and the visuals would become noticeably pixelated, but these typically lasted only a few seconds and were well within my performance tolerance levels.
Much as I enjoyed being able to play some of the best PS5 games while lying in bed, the Portal truly came into its own later that evening. The device allowed me to chip away at my second playthrough of Elden Ring while my partner could have complete control of the television to watch whatever she wanted on Netflix — thank you Sony for this blessing, you might have just saved my relationship!
While I’m fortunate enough to have complete control of the TV my PS5 is hooked up to, the ability to play from anywhere rather than being exclusively confined to my home office is quite liberating. Yes, I could have previously accessed PS5 remote play via my iPhone 12, but the Portal’s excellent design and wonderful screen make the remote play experience desirable rather than compromised as I’d found it before.
That’s not to say that my experience with the PlayStation Portal has been completely flawless. I’ve been able to easily tolerate the occasional dropped frame or a few seconds of vaguely blurry visuals, but every time I’ve attempted to play a multiplayer game the Portal has refused to cooperate.
For reference, my internet clocks in at around 260Mbps / 60Mbps which far exceeds Sony’s stated minimum speed of 5Mbps and recommendation of 15Mbps. But whenever I attempt to play a multiplayer game via the PlayStation Portal, I’ll usually get thrown out of the online lobby and back to the main menu after just a few minutes. Even worse, one time during an intense Domination match on Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, the Portal itself disconnected from my PS5 entirely.
I also experienced frequent disconnects when playing Elden Ring with co-op summons. But this issue stopped once I booted into an offline world. After facing issues across multiple games — EA Sports FC 24 was another title with online issues — I eventually decided it was wise to stick to single-player games on the Portal.
Your mileage will vary
As much as I’ve waxed lyrical about the PlayStation Portal over the last 1,000 words, it’s a device that is tough to recommend to everybody. The phrase “your mileage may vary” is apt when it comes to the Portal because as much as my experience has been mostly smooth, I know that others have had a less-than-stellar time of it.
As mentioned, my U.S. colleague Nick Pino has also been trying out the Portal over the last week, and he put together Tom’s Guide’s pretty cutting review. As you can see from his video down below, he’s been having significantly more issues than I’ve experienced across games including Horizon: Forbbiden West and Spleunky 2.
Quick clip of Horizon Forbidden West running on PlayStation Portal over Wi-Fi. pic.twitter.com/HCwU8fHQhaNovember 15, 2023
I can’t say with certainty that your PlayStation Portal will match up with mine. However, I would recommend that you try out PS5 remote play via a smartphone in your home before purchasing a unit. This should give you some indication if you have a strong enough connection for the PlayStation Portal to be a worthwhile investment.
I didn’t know I needed the Portal
If you had asked me earlier this year if I needed or even particularly wanted a device like the PlayStation Portal, I’d probably have been unconvinced and dismissed it as unnecessary. But after a week of use, I’m a full convert and would rank the PlayStation Portal among the best PS5 accessories.
The PlayStation Portal is certainly a niche device that is targeting a very specific type of player, and it’s not something I’m likely to use every single day. But when the situation calls for it, I’m very pleased to have the option of playing my PS5 from anywhere (anywhere with a strong Wi-Fi connection that is), especially on such a premium feeling machine. I can also envision it becoming borderline essential for those who don’t have the luxury of being in full control of the television they use to play their PS5.
While I can’t recommend the PlayStation Portal without some caveats — there is always the possibility that your experience won’t mirror mine — I’m delighted that Sony took the risk of creating this excellent handheld dedicated solely to remote play. It’s not the new PlayStation Portable I thought I wanted, but the PlayStation Portal has turned out to be exactly what I needed.