After the fireworks of the PS3 Slim launch, the PSPgo is a disappointment.
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After a disappointingly anti-climactic reveal at E3, Sony's PSPgo finally arrives on retail shelves this week - or at least, on the shelves of the majority of retailers who are supporting the device, while a fringe of refuseniks continue to decline to sell a console they'll never be able to sell games for.
This unseemly spat with a small group of retailers is far from the biggest pothole on the PSPgo's rough road to launch. The console, its functionality and its price point have been confusing, annoying and disappointing a broad cross-section of consumers, market commentators and industry professionals since the system first took a bow in Los Angeles.
The most obvious and oft-repeated criticism of the platform is the most simple - it offers no upgrade path for existing PSP owners. If you've bought a PSP previously, and own some UMDs for the machine, forget about the PSPgo. Lacking a UMD drive, it won't be able to play your discs - and after hinting at a service which would swap UMD copies for digital downloads, Sony has now announced that it'll do nothing of the sort. An offer of a few free games from a limited list for previous PSP owners is fairly weak compensation (and so far available only in Europe).
Of course, having to re-purchase content in a new format isn't an entirely new experience for consumers - although we've had it easy in recent years, since our CDs could be ripped to create MP3s, and our DVDs play perfectly happily on our Blu-ray players. One could compare the move from UMD to digital download as being similar to moving from a tape Walkman to a CD Walkman - same content, slightly improved user experience, but you had to buy all your albums again.
That's not a defence which is likely to calm any of the consumers annoyed at Sony's back-pedalling on the whole UMD conversion issue, though. The affair stings all the more because it carries such a heavy burden of "I told you so" for many consumers and professionals alike. UMD has been utterly despised since the outset, marked out as a doomed format since the day it first crawled, ill-conceived and unloved, onto store shelves.
The reality has always been that UMD sucks battery life, contributes to massive load delays and makes the console ridiculously noisy for a handheld. Sony argued its corner for years, and even now protests that it will continue to support UMD-toting PSP owners with the PSP-3000 hardware. For now, that's fair - but it's still obvious that PSPgo is a major step down the road to obsolescence for the format, and it doesn't change the fact that if you want Sony's new console, you'd better be prepared to pay for your games and movies again.
This isn't necessarily an insurmountable problem for the PSPgo. After all, if the hardware is attractive enough, consumers will, ultimately, suck down their pride, open their wallets and buy into the new system. Good hardware design and compelling features can overcome almost any level of consumer antipathy, in the long run.
It remains to be seen whether the market judges the PSPgo to be worthy on those grounds. The machine is certainly attractive enough, handily ticking the boxes marked slim, light and sleek. Personally, I remain totally disappointed by Sony's lack of foresight regarding additional functions for the system - including things like a camera, microphone or GPS module as part of the hardware would have seriously set this apart from its predecessor. Like much else with the device, this feels like a missed opportunity.