The PSP (PlayStation Portable) may have been overshadowed by the sheer volume of hype surrounding the iPhone, but Sony's latest portable gaming goodie, the PSP Go, could see that trend reversed when it launches early next month.
Form-factor-wise the PSP Go is significantly smaller and noticeably lighter than its PSP predecessors, and won't result in you hearing the sound of tearing fabric when you slide it into a pocket.
Downsizing however doesn't mean diminished gaming as the PSP Go's 3.8" TFT LCD screen slides up to reveal all the usual in-game PSP control suspects.
Sony's decision to ditch the optical UMD drive however plays a huge role in lightening the PSP Go's load by approximately 40 per cent. Where PSP titles were initially sold on petite and proprietary UMD discs, the PSP GO has 16GB of built-in flash memory (which can be bolstered by a Memory Stick Micro) slot for storing games and other media.
In addition to helping the PSP Go with its Jenny Craig weight-loss feat, dumping the UMD should see battery life theoretically improved too. About the only downside with that the lack of UMD support is that UMD titles you already own are destined to gather dust for the rest of their pointless lives.
The overall control layout on the PSP Go has changed little from the original PSP 1000, with a four-way directional pad available on the left and the usual Sony control buttons (with the triangle, circle square and cross) on the right.
Rounding things out are the select/start buttons in the centre, and an analogue control which is near the centre bottom of the PSP Go's screen. From a gaming perspective the Go feels very much like a fully-fledged PS3 controller in use, making prolonged bouts of gaming a significantly more comfortable proposition.
802.11b/g Wi-Fi support is also present, and allows for multiplayer mayhem, web surfing or connecting to the Sony online store to purchase and download games. New to the PSP Go is Bluetooth which allows gamers to pair up stereo Bluetooth headsets with the PSP Go. This also allows the Go to perform several other nifty tricks such as pairing up with a PS3 controller.
In terms of game titles, Sony has confirmed PSP Go versions of its big hitters (many of which were pre-installed as demos on the review PSP Go I was sent).
These included Metal Gear Solid Portable, Dissida Final Fantasy, Patapon, LocoRoco, Numblast, Resistance Retribution, Worms Open Warfare, Ridge Racer 2, God of War.
Other titles slated for the PSP Go in 2009 are rumoured to include Little Big Planet, Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier, MotorStorm Arctic Edge, and SOCOM Fire Team Bravo 3.
The big launch title however is expected to be the PSP version of car racer PlayStation mega hit, Gran Turismo. If pre release screen shots of in game car renders are anything to go by, involuntary trouser accidents from petrol heads are highly probable.
Those buying a PSP Go from October 1 will be able to download a free copy of Gran Turismo before the 10th.
Being a huge fan of Resistance: Fall of Man, I fired up Resistance Retribution, and gave the third person shooter an extended workout. Thanks to the Go's crisp and screen, gameplay was smooth (even outdoors).
With a decent set of headphones audio was utterly solid and the Go's sensible control layout and hand-friendly form-factor also meant that long bouts of gameplay caused little discomfort.
Whilst Sony is expected to develop a stronger focus on downloadable titles from the PlayStation Store, it's also said that new PSP games will continue to be made available on UMD.
How long this will last (especially as Sony appears to be moving to a more environmentally friendly digital-only games distribution model) is hard to say. Is this a biggie? Nope. Old-school UMD packing PSPs can also download and play download-only titles.
The Go's more pocketable size and crispy bright TFT screen also makes it a smoking media machine. Boasting the same support for music, video, and photo files as with earlier PSPs, The formats supported by the Go read like a who's who of digital media formats (MPEG-4, H.264, AAC, AVI, Motion JPEG, ATRAC, MP3, .Wav, WMA, JPEG, TIFF, BMP, GIF and last but by no means least PNG).
Another killer PSP feature also present in the Go is PS3 integration. All existing interoperability between the PS3 and the PSP range is still supported which means that Remote Play can be used to access audio video and some game content from my PS3 wirelessly. Even better still I'm able to pair my wireless PS3 controller with the PSP for extra fine control.
Whilst some gadget blogs have criticised the PSP Go for being more of a PSP 1.5 rather than a PSP2, the PSP Go delivers a bunch of significant refinements to a portable platform that's already pretty solid having sold tens of millions of units worldwide and is backed by an incredibly rich games ecosystem.
For owners of existing heavier and bulky PSP 1000 and 3000's, the PSP Go is probably going to be the upgrade they've been waiting for. For gamers with a Nintendo, iPhone or iPod Touch, the decider to buying the PSP GO will probably come down to the range, quality and desirability of the games available for the PSP Go.