Next Generation Portable: Trouble Spots

Next Generation Portable: Trouble Spots

Sony’s Next Generation Portable–NGP–is some pretty exciting stuff. Heck, it’s been an exciting month for handheld game systems; we live in exciting times. But the NGP is also the subject of much curiosity because of its lineage. The Sony PSP is a sophisticated, sleek piece of handheld hardware, and it’s seen its share of cool games. But the PSP ultimately tumbled in as a distant second to Nintendo’s smaller, cheaper, less powerful (and admittedly more toy-looking) DS. Why? For several reasons pertaining to cost, battery life, complexity of use, durability, and a slower trickle of killer apps. And, looking at some of the NGP’s features, one has to wonder if history will repeat itself in the battle against the Nintendo 3DS.

The NGP looks a lot like the PSP. That’s a small problem in itself. The NGP’s screen is bare to the world, at the mercy of everything floating around in your purse or your bag or your pocket. If you accidentally drop it, your heart is guaranteed to stop during the whole of its half-second journey to the floor; the system doesn’t give off an impression of hardiness. True, we’re getting more used to the idea of fragile handhelds thanks to the rise of the iPhone, but if you drop your iPhone and bust it up, you can always run to your cellular provider and try to weasel another one out of them. If you break your NGP, you’re dishing up full price for a new one.

Therein lies a big question mark: How much will the NGP cost? Sony Computer Entertainment’s head, Kaz Hirai, has stated that the NGP is still in a prototype phase; certain vitals like price and battery life have yet to be worked out. But Sony has boasted that the NGP will be capable of graphics processing power on the level of the Playstation 3. Will Sony find a way to wrangle that power into a tiny casing–and add touch pad support, (optional) 3G support, Wi-Fi, web browsing, and myriad social networking options–for the $249 Nintendo is asking for its less powerful 3DS handheld? Again, we’re living in an era where people are opening their pockets more readily to more expensive handheld tech, but if someone is given the choice to buy an iPhone or pony up $300+ for an NGP, the case for Sony isn’t going to be a shoe-in. This is complicated by the fact Sony is pushing the NGP as a game system that has all the conveniences of a smartphone barring, well, a phone.

Then there’s the issue of battery life. The Game Boy established that a handheld’s power isn’t everything; if a battery is drained dry too quickly, people lose interest in the system just as quickly. Nintendo is already tugging its collar over the Nintendo 3DS’s relatively brief battery life of three to five hours. Can the NGP promise more? A fair question given the power behind the NGP, but Sony might have a miracle up its sleeve. Or, like the PSP, the NGP might have a pitiful battery life next to the Nintendo 3DS.

There’s a familiarity to the NGP that makes it hard to shake the feeling that Sony is walking in the footsteps it made in 2005. As the year gets a little older, we’ll get a better idea of how Sony intends to match its power against Nintendo’s long-loved modest approach to handheld gaming.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

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