It’s been more than 10 years since Sony made a handheld gaming console. Back in May, when news broke that a new handheld was on the way, PlayStation Vita junkies cheered from their forgotten graves, celebrating the potential to play their favorite PlayStation games on the go.
And at first glance, you might think that the PlayStation Portal is the second coming of the Vita. But you’d be very wrong in that assessment. It is, in fact, just a device for playing games over Sony’s Remote Play feature. Exclusively. That’s it. That’s all it does. And it’s pretty good at doing that one thing. But so are a lot of devices, at this point! So we’re kinda left wondering why the PlayStation Portal even exists.
In case you’re unfamiliar, Remote Play allows you to connect to your PlayStation 5 via a mobile phone or browser, letting you control the games you already own on just about anything with an internet connection. Which sounds pretty dreamy when you put it like that.
The hitch with Remote Play is understanding its limitations. Because it relies on a strong internet connection, you really need to be on the same Wi-Fi network to have a decent experience with most games. You could, in a pinch, connect to Remote Play across the country to, say, browse an in-game shop to buy a time-limited item or to play a heavily down-rezzed turn-based strategy game — but otherwise, you really need to be right there.
The PlayStation Portal is designed to make the Remote Play experience as seamless as possible. It has its own 1080p screen, attached to what looks like a DualSense controller split down the middle. In many ways, it appears to be aping the form factor of the Switch (though the controller halves aren’t removable). But, unlike with the Switch, you can’t run any games directly on the device; they all have to run over Wi-Fi using Remote Play.
When I first sat down to test the PlayStation Portal, my PS5 was in my office, which is connected to the internet via a mesh router. The connection is plenty strong enough to play multiplayer games on the console, but apparently, sending the visual signal over my mesh network was a bridge too far for Remote Play. I was getting a crunchy, low-resolution image with noticeable input lag, making almost every game I tried unplayable.
The second test I ran involved moving my PS5 into my living room, directly next to where my router is sitting. At this point, when booting up the PlayStation Portal in the same room, the experience was much smoother. The image maintained a steady 1080p and the input lag went way down. Action-adventure games like Lies of P and Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 were totally playable, to the point where I could easily see myself being able to complete each of them on the PlayStation Portal alone.
I also tried Fortnite, which utilizes quite a bit of auto-aim, and that was reasonably playable as well, though I noticed the slight lag starting to hinder my ability to line up shots. I was able to rack up some kills (and not just on the bots!), but winning a match of battle royale over Remote Play is probably not going to happen anytime soon.
After Fortnite, I turned to the ultimate test of responsiveness: Ghostrunner 2. This first-person platformer requires absolutely precise inputs and timing, or you’re dead. Do not try to play Ghostrunner 2 (or any twitchy shooter) on Remote Play. It’s a miserable experience, regardless of how close you are to the router. In this case, the PlayStation Portal and the PS5 were each 1 foot away from the router, and even then, it just wasn’t happening. The streaming tech just can’t handle the minimal latency required to have a good time.
But if you just exclude twitchy shooters from the mix, that still leaves you with tons of games that would be fine to play on the PlayStation Portal. I tested Elden Ring, Baldur’s Gate 3, Horizon Forbidden West, and God of War Ragnarök, and they were all totally serviceable in this format. Maybe you have young kids at home and you don’t want them to see Kratos rip a head off. Or you don’t want to dominate the main TV with 150 hours of a FromSoftware game. The Portal is a potential solve for those problems — assuming your PS5 and your router are close enough to each other, or you’ve got them wired up via Ethernet.
And playing these games on the Portal does feel comfortable, thanks to the build quality of the device. With clean lines and a solid feel in the hand, it’d be easy to spend as long with the PlayStation Portal as you typically would with a DualSense controller. The only major differences are that the analog sticks are slightly smaller here, and there’s no touchpad, as the left and right sides of the screen handle any touch inputs that a game might have. It’s definitely the most luxurious way to play Remote Play games.
But here’s the thing: You absolutely don’t need to spend $200 to recreate the experience of the PlayStation Portal because, as I mentioned earlier, just about any device with an internet connection can be a Remote Play device. You can connect a DualSense controller to your tablet or laptop, and boom, you have the same experience as on the Portal. It won’t be in a tight, all-in-one form factor, sure — but you’re also not paying $200 for the privilege.
I suppose I can imagine a person who uses Remote Play so much that the luxury of having it all baked into the same device would be nice. But that person also needs to be willing to accept that they’re paying $200 to not have to sync a controller to their phone. This ridiculous $15 phone grip has about 95% of a PlayStation Portal’s functionality, assuming you already have a DualSense controller and a smartphone. (Though it’s also hella ugly.)
Given the explosion of high-end handheld gaming over the last few years (most recently seen with the Steam Deck OLED and the Lenovo Go), it’s hard to imagine that Sony isn’t considering a return to the world of handheld gaming. Maybe the Portal is a test bed for that. It wouldn’t shock me if, at the end of the PS5’s life cycle, Sony shrunk the console down, slapped a screen and a controller on it, and promised support for all of its games in handheld format. I’m sure my Vita-loving cronies and I will be at the front of the line when that happens. But until then, we should all save our money.
The PlayStation Portal will be released Nov. 15. The device was reviewed using a pre-release unit provided by Sony Interactive Entertainment. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.