Monday, October 10, 2005

Gadgetry

For those of you who don't know by now (our non-Tallahassee readers like my friends in Pensacola and West Palm Beach) my gadget collection grew by one member last week, I finally got my PSP.

We were actually pretty lucky. When I got it, I wanted to get at least one game. I got Burnout 3 for the PS2 about two months back and was really surprised, and when I heard they were going to make a PSP version (Burnout Legends) it was on my list of games I'd like to get. We went to Target to pick it up (the local Best Buy blows) and Legends was in a spot for a 39.99 game. Legends is less than a month old and a major label so it was acutally a 49.99 game. The guy admitted it was in the wrong place and usually they don't reduce it but he did anyway, probably because we were already buying the PSP itself.

[Update: It looks like JW is also playing Burnout]

So far I'm really impressed.

I've been watching the PSP crowd for a while now, I'd been interested in it since it was a prototype and Sony showed it at E3 and other tech/gaming conferences. I was pretty familiar with what I was getting in to because I read a bunch of reviews the day it came out in Japan and then later in the US. A few of the initial complaints, stuck or dead pixels on the LCD screen, enough flex in the frame that you could accidentally pop the back door and therefore eject the game while playing, etc, these have all been fixed by later revisions. I was waiting on these fixes to come through before I got mine. I'm not a 'gotta have it first' kinda guy, more like a 'gotta have it...eventually.'

Now almost a year since it's release (Nov of '04 for the Japanese market) and five million units shipped (including the recent 185,000 bought during it's first week in Europe) you can see that they have tightened it up a bit.

The basis of the PSP is the UMD...what Sony calls a Universal Media Disc, what I call a mini-dvd in a plastic caddy. It kinda keeps the disc from getting scratched or fingerprints from smearing on it, except for the little cut-out window where the laser actually reads it. Theres a little spring loaded door on the back that the disc gets inserted in, those of you familiar with Sony's MD players will recognize this as very similar in design. Initial versions had a smaller locking clip than the current version, and early buyers found that when they played a game with such zest as to flex the PSP a bit, the clip would slip a bit and the door would pop open. Since the UMD is spring-loaded it would pop out and fly at onlookers, fellow players, small birds, etc. Now there's a little mechanical 'indent' that keeps the game from totally ejecting, the clip was enlarged so that you really have to want to open the door, and much of the flex has been taken out of the frame.

The design is slick but I still have a few small complaints about it.

For a guy with big hands, it takes a while to get used to the layout of the buttons. The controls (a 4-button D-Pad on the left, and the familiar circle, square, triangle, and X buttons on the right) replicate the playstation and PS2 controllers, but the placement is wider because of the HUGE screen (you think the thing is portable, hence the last 'p' in the name, so you think the screen would be Gameboy small, but the screen is near 5 inches wide and takes up a good 80 percent of the face!) You have to arrange your fingers so that you both a.) support the 250 dollars (300 with a game, remember) of goodness in your hands, and b.) are able to play for a time without cramping your fingers. Sony doesnt make this easy because the faceplate itself is uber-glossy plastic, and the back is that familiar satin-felling ABS plastic that just about every other gadget ever made uses. The fingers you support it with kind of slip in the back. I fixed this by adding some black eGrip squares right about where my index or middle fingers touch on the back, and it has improved holding it (and therefore the confidence that I won't drop it during gameplay) by 100 percent.

My second big complaint is the faceplate itself. It's glassy smooth and shiny, a great effect when you see it, and it makes photos and video look awesome (a similar effect to the new 'TrueBrite' glossy LCD screens on Dell, Sony, and other laptops.) The biggest problem is that you basically have 15 square inches of surface that NOTHING can touch else you scratch it. Every finger print becomes a huge blemish, it's relatively soft so even rubbing it against your shirt (as I did the first day I had it to get the dust off it) will leave small scratches in it. I have a Sony Ericsson T616 cellphone, the faceplate of this is almost, if not exactly the same plastic, and so I am used to dealing with it, just on a smaller scale. I mean heck I paid 15 bucks when I got my glasses to put a hard, anti-scratch coating on them, if my optometrist can, why can't Sony?

To solve most of the problem, I bought a Logitech PlayGear Pocket case, it's pretty much a polycarbonate plastic case with black rubber bumper inserts in it that cusion and protect the PSP. What's cool is that you can remove the inserts and put like a 'skin' between the plastic and the rubber, personalizing your case a bit.

So far I'm really happy with it. The 2.0 firmware added the capability to have a custom background on instead of the monthly-color 'swooshy' backgrounds, which is cool because one of my favorite wallpaper sites now has images preformatted for it. It plays videos (albeit the pretty propreitary MP4 AVC format) in a pretty funky way, but there are lots of free indie apps out there that make conversion and copying easy. The selection of games is kind of limited right now, but so was the number of games when I first got the PS2. Now you can pickup halfway decent games for 10-15 bucks.

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