PlayStation Portal review

A game-streaming future we’re just not ready for

PlayStation Portal being tested.
(Image: © Future)

Tom's Guide Verdict

Between latency issues, selective Bluetooth support, and the inability to stream content from services like Netflix, Hulu and YouTube due to DRM rules, the Portal just couldn’t deliver an enjoyable experience or one I’d feel comfortable recommending.

Pros

  • +

    Large 8-inch screen

  • +

    Triggers with haptic feedback

Cons

  • -

    Unwieldy to hold

  • -

    Constant latency issues

  • -

    Selective Bluetooth support

  • -

    No way to stream videos

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On paper the PlayStation Portal sounds like a great idea — it allows you to play your PS5 anywhere with a solid, stable Wi-Fi connection. Unfortunately, that theory of a perfect, lag-free experience dissolves pretty much immediately when you put it in the real world.

Between latency issues on my 300Mbps / 300Mbps wireless network and the inability to stream content from services like Netflix, Hulu and YouTube due to DRM rules, the Portal just couldn’t deliver an enjoyable experience or one I’d feel comfortable recommending.

Its 8-inch LCD screen offers Full HD resolution — which can look nice for a few seconds at a time — but, in my experience, was often filled with visual artifacts and stutter. The latency caused audio playback to become choppy, turning some of the most emotionally poignant moments from games like God of War: Ragnarok, Star Wars Jedi: Survivor and Horizon Forbidden West into meme-worthy snippets of video. In Sony’s defense, however, our second review sample used by my colleague in the U.K. fared much better, with less stuttering and noticeably lower latency. 

This, in short, is the issue: It's a device that lives and dies not only by the speed of the network you're connected to, but also the distance you are from the router and even the layout of your home or apartment. The PlayStation Portal will likely deliver on its promise of a latency-free experience for some buyers, but if my experience is anything like the one you’ll have, I’m not sure Sony’s game-streaming-only handheld console is a good solution to what I think is a very niche problem.

PlayStation Portal review: Price and release date

The PlayStation Portal launches on November 15 for $199.99 / £199.99, roughly twice the cost of the Backbone One PlayStation Edition Mobile Gaming Controller iPhone that launched back in July of 2022. In the box, you get the handheld and a USB-C to USB-C charging cable.

It's worth pointing out here that there is no 'dock' for this accessory like the Nintendo Switch has, and it requires you already own a PS5 in order to use it. That fact alone means you're sinking both $199 into this device and around another $500 into the PS5 if you don't already own one.

PlayStation Portal review: Design

PlayStation Portal being tested.

(Image credit: Future)

Considering the price and knowing that you already have a phone that’s capable of remote play using a Bluetooth controller — either the Backbone One or otherwise — why would you even consider a PlayStation Portal?

Well, from a pure design standpoint, the PlayStation Portal makes sense: It offers a Full HD screen that’s larger than the ones on even the best smartphones and the small touches like triggers with haptic feedback make it feel more like you're playing your PS5 compared to using a standard Bluetooth controller that wouldn’t have them. 

Holding the PlayStation Portal genuinely feels like holding a PS5 controller with a tablet in between your hands. Switching back and forth between it and a PS5 controller requires no re-wiring of your brain — all the buttons are located in the same place and they all feel exactly the same when you press them. It's worth noting that the control sticks are slightly smaller than on a normal DualSense controller as they're the same ones on the Sense Controllers that ship with the PSVR2.

It’s faint praise to be sure, but considering how many awful MFi controllers are on the market, it’s nice that Sony really followed through on matching the Portal to the DualSense nearly one-to-one.

PlayStation Portal review: Performance

PlayStation Portal being tested.

(Image credit: Future)

Performance is going to vary based on your connection speed (both upload and download rates) and factors like the distance between your console and your Wi-Fi router, whether you run your PS5 hardwired or not, and how far you plan on sitting away from said wireless router when you use the PlayStation Portal. Because of this, I can't predict with any certainty what your personal experience will be like. 

What I can tell you, however, is that with a 300Mbps connection both upstream and downstream, my experience was less than ideal: Gameplay was choppy most of the time, and the few moments it wasn't, didn't really impress me.

To put the Portal through its paces, I played a graphically intense game (Horizon Forbidden West) and an indie game that wasn't so resource-heavy, but one that required exact timing to work (Spelunky 2). 

Despite being significantly less graphically intensive than Horizon, the latency in Spelunky 2 made it feel next-to-impossible to get through a level. Often, the delay would cause me to miss a crucial jump or time an attack a second too late, resulting either in a lost heart or a complete wipe. In games where timing is everything, using the Portal is going to significantly ramp up the difficulty.

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Playing Horizon Forbidden West, I had similar difficulties. While the game doesn't require laser precision in terms of timing, simply navigating the world led to severe artefacting. At some points, the resolution would drop so low that the closed captioning I turned on to better hear the characters was illegible.

After spending some time tweaking the settings on my router, I was able to boost the download speeds to the PS5. The result was a far more stable experience, though one that would still suffer from input delay and periodic hiccups. It goes to show that if you're motivated to make the PlayStation Portal work on your network, it certainly can be done — but it might not work right of the box for you.  

To that end, I wouldn't say Sony's recommended wireless speeds of 5Mbps or 15Mbps for "an improved connection" are accurate. It's more than likely double or triple that to get a stable experience, and even then it will really depend on how far from your wireless access point you are.  

PlayStation Portal review: Features

The PlayStation Portal, although sleekly designed, doesn't really come with much in the way of features — it's pretty barebones here.

The only bright spot in terms of features is that the Portal does have a built-in microphone that can be used just like the microphone on a DualShock controller. In theory, this will let you voice chat with friends...though, again, I'm not sure how great it would sound given the introduction of latency. 

The most egregious error, I feel, is the fact that the Portal can't access video content from streaming services because of DRM issues. Try to use Netflix on the Portal and you’ll be met with a message that says it can’t play content via Remote Play.

The most egregious error, I feel, is the fact that the Portal can't access video content from streaming services because of DRM issues. Try to use Netflix on the Portal and you’ll be met with a message that says it can’t play content via Remote Play. The same is true for YouTube and other streaming platforms I tried.

If it came with its own version of the PlayStation platform, even a pared down one, it would at least allow you to watch content. Sadly, that isn't the case here.

Bluetooth support is another huge issue here as the PlayStation Portal will allow you to use some PS5 headphones like the forthcoming Pulse Elite Headset, but not your standard Bluetooth headphones. There is, however, a 3.5mm jack on the Portal that you can plug into directly with a standard pair of headphones.

Being able to actually download games to the console and play them locally would've been a massive improvement, but that wasn't Sony's intention with this handheld, much to the chagrin of PS Vita lovers like myself. Instead it's all Remote Play all the time.

PlayStation Portal review: Battery life

Sony says the PlayStation Portal has around a four-hour battery life, which I found to be slightly optimistic. Most times I could only get around three hours per charge, though I had the brightness and volume turned up slightly above average. 

Charging is done via the included USB-C cable and you should be topped up in well-under an hour. 

PlayStation Portal: Verdict

PlayStation Portal: Verdict

The PlayStation Portal is going to be divisive. Some gamers are going to have a relatively painless experience and others are going to call this a $200 paperweight. For me, in my dozen-or-so hours of testing with the device, it was the latter. But I do know that other reviewers, including our own Rory Mellon, had a much better experiences on their home networks. 

That being said, because it's such a hit-or-miss device and there's no built-in hard drive solution to store and play games locally, you're at the mercy of every wireless network you plan to use the PlayStation Portal with. Some of those will be good, but many will not. And because of that, it's hard to give it a positive review.

It's easy to ask 'what if?' with the PlayStation Portal. If it had done several things differently — like add storage space for local games — it'd be easier to recommend. But what you see is what you get with the PlayStation Portal. It's a device that lives and dies by your network connection and the fact that you already own a PS5 and regularly don't have access to the TV it's connected to. If that works for you, then the PlayStation Portal is worth trying...but I would save my money and buy a full-fledged gaming handheld like the Steam Deck OLED or Nintendo Switch instead.

Nevertheless, the PlayStation Portal has been surprisingly popular with gamers since its launch, and even six months later it's extremely difficult to find in stock. We're getting big PS5 restock flashback with this remote play device. If you want to get your hands on Portal, check our guide to where to buy a PlayStation Portal for the latest updates. 

Nick Pino
Managing Editor, TV and AV

Nick Pino heads up the TV and AV verticals at Tom's Guide and covers everything from OLED TVs to the latest wireless headphones. He was formerly the Senior Editor, TV and AV at TechRadar (Tom's Guide's sister site) and has previously written for GamesRadar, Official Xbox Magazine, PC Gamer and other outlets over the last decade. Not sure which TV you should buy? Drop him an email or tweet him on Twitter and he can help you out.

  • cmsk
    Internet speed has nothing to do with how the PlayStation Portal will perform on your local network. If you want to give this thing a fair review you should at the very least switch your PS5 from it's default 2.4GHz to 5GHz or use ethernet. My PS5 sits right next to my fancy ROG Rapture router and it still gets half as good of a connection through 5G as it does through ethernet. I was really hoping Sony would use the screen on the Portal not only as a remote gaming device but also as an accessory to the default PS5 experience. Would have been cool to see it display the in-game map or your inventory.
    Reply
  • StefanWes
    A product in Sweden just launched which is a 4G Android 12 1080P projector (Estelle One) with built-in display. We have streamed games with XBox Game Pass and Shadow over it and works really well, especially directly from the 4G network in Sweden where we got the best latency vs Wifi from broadband. It also support LAN connection via USB C if you want best possible latency.
    Reply
  • TKD_Link
    Something that should be noted, and all the consoles are going this way because of sheer greed, they've locked out hard of hearing hearing aids users and more should know (and criticize in articles please!) that when a company removes Bluetooth audio as an option, they lock out hearing aid users. This has to stop!

    We can't just plug our hearing aids into a 3.5mm jack! We need Bluetooth! It's disgusting that both Microsoft and Sony are discriminating against the hard of hearing by removing all direct streaming audio options for hearing aid users.

    What is a Portal to me if there's no way for me to hear what I'm playing? It's getting ridiculous!

    Either these companies never even give a second's thought about hearing aids users when they plan their greed, thus indicating a lack of diversity, and disability awareness, or they know full well what they're doing. Neither makes them look good.

    So no, I won't be buying this pretty useless to begin with product. I also won't be buying another console or anything from Sony since every available audio output has to be double processed to be able to get to my hearing aids. And I can't game with friends. Even though my hearing aids work as a headset, I can't use them on a PS5, and I cannot use a microphone headset with the hearing aids at the same time.

    The solution to ALL these problems is to just include Bluetooth! If they have developed a better streaming method, package that with it. If it's better, prove it and people will use it. But I'll be frank, I consider it 100% greed at the expense of the disabled.
    Reply
  • Justtrynabehelpful
    I had plenty of latency and connection issues out of the box and at home. But I also noticed I was having these issues with remote play on my phone as well. I also could not use the portal with my phone’s hotspot or other public wifi networks, it just would not connect. I did some digging online and found that I needed to set up port forwarding on my home router. After I did that I’ve had zero issues using it anywhere at home. I even took out out to the backyard. Outside of the home it now connects easily with my phone’s hotspot and the public wifi that previously didn’t work. You will be at the mercy of your hotspot or public Wi-Fi’s speed, but the connectivity is there once you set up port forwarding. Try it out!
    Reply