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This year, there has only been one device we at SmartHouse have been champing at the bit to buy since we first laid hands on it. And there’s no prize if you guessed it’s the PlayStation Portable (PSP).

Sony PlayStation Portable $399

This is arguably the best device Sony has invented since the Walkman. And definitely the best portable one. It’s stylish, incredibly functional, and fun.

The PSP itself is a beautiful piece of industrial design. The back of the device looks and feels like a piece of futuristic furniture, and the front is just as dazzling with its clear shoulder buttons and shiny black fascia.

The PSP will initially be available in a ‘Value Pack’ edition. For a budget package, there is a good amount of accessories packaged along with the PSP, including a useful audio remote, earphones, cleaning cloth, case and 32MB MemoryStick. And as an additional sweetener, the first 40,000 buyers also get a free copy of Spiderman 2 on UMD.

Sound and Vision

Audio is every bit the equal of the iPod, and just as exciting as Sony’s own NW-HD5. The earbuds included with the device are fairly flimsy, and it’s worthwhile changing them straight away. And once you do, bass thumps, treble sparkles and mids are incredibly clear and detailed.

And as the PSP acts like a disk drive once plugged into your computer, transferring tracks is as easy as dragging them from your music folder into your PSP. No fiddling around with proprietary software.

Transferring video is a little more complicated. The PSP uses the MP4 format, and at present there are few encoders available. The most popular is a third-party app called PSP Video 9 which will convert most files to MP4 format. But it is the UMD format that Sony hopes will spearhead movies on the move.

And to this end, there will be more UMD movies available on September 1 than games, and Sony is promising that all major titles released through Sony Pictures will be released simultaneously on DVD and UMD. And despite its size, UMD movies replay very well, with no distinguishable pixellation – and sound is just as good.

Yet, despite its pretensions to the contrary, the PSP is still a games device at heart. And a very good one it is. Graphics are every bit as good as the original PlayStation, and way better than the disappointing Nintendo DS. The only criticism we can think of in regards to the PSP is that there’s still some motion blur on fast action scenes, such as driving games, but it is noticeably less than on the imported version. The amount of games available is growing exponentially, with many titles available for PS2 also being prepared for the PSP.

Web Browsing

One of the most exciting differences between the Australian PSP and the imported one, apart from a marginally better screen, is that it will ship with the web browser that the US is still waiting for. The 2.0 firmware update which adds web browsing support is included on a UMD in the retail package. In combination with a wireless home router, or internet hotspot, you can surf the net at up to 100 metres away. Text input is a bit clunky but there are handy shortcuts, such as www., which simplify the process. This device is a useable successor to the ill-received web tablet.

Conclusion

It’s amazing that a device that can do so much is so affordable. At least, it is at first blush. Admittedly, there is a pitiable amount of storage included, and MemorySticks are the most costly flash medium. UMD movies are an acceptable $25-$35 and games are $80. But like computing, owning a PSP is a potentially expensive, but rewarding hobby.

If you only buy one gadget this year, you know which one to choose.

For: Great sound; easy to use; web browser; maximum pose factor; affordable.

Against: Some motion blur; MS Duo memory expensive.

Verdict: The best portable device released in the past 12 months. Be the envy of all your friends!

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