7 Tidbits About Sony's NGP

In typical Sony fashion, the newly-announced "next-generation portable," or NGP, brings the kitchen sink to the console wars. It's got every type of gaming input possible, hardware that beats any smartphone or portable game console and a 5-inch OLED screen.

I'm not in Tokyo, where Sony held a press conference for the new portable game console, but I've been digesting the press releases and news reports. Here's what I think are the big takeaways from Sony's NGP reveal:

Beastly Hardware

The NGP's quad-core processor is a reminder of how little video game hardware has processed since Sony launched the original PSP in 2004. This handheld is supposedly capable of running Playstation 3 games. I value good game design over raw performance, but that's impressive.

Another Input Revolution, or Gimmick?

While the NGP's combination of joysticks, gryoscopes, buttons and touch screen will allow for all the types of portable gaming you can imagine today, the thing to watch for is its rear-facing touch panel. I see great potential in being able to interact directly with a screen without actually it, but I don't want to see rear-touch controls tacked on in the same way that Wii games occasionally make you shake the controller for no good reason.

Done With Disks, Dut Down on Downloads

Sony's ditching the PSP's UMD (Universal Media Disc) format in favor of specialized flash memory cards that store the game, additional downloadable content and saved game files. Think of it as a high-tech version of old-school game cartridges. Publishers will be able to sell their games as downloads as well, but with the NGP, Sony is conceding that the download-only PSP Go experiment was a failure.

Not for Pockets

The NGP measures 7.2 inches long, 3.3 inches wide and 0.73 inches thick, making it a bit bigger than the current-generation PSP-3000 (6.6-by-2.8-by-0.63 inches). In creating a hardware monster, Sony seems content to sacrifice portability, and I think that's fine. The NGP needn't pretend to be a smartphone.

Bringing the A-Games

Sony's built a strong stable of exclusive games over the last few years, including Uncharted, Killzone, Resistance, LittleBigPlanet and WipeOut. And while some of these games have gone portable before, they were always held back by the PSP's lack of dual-analog sticks and inferior graphics. This time, they'll have a better shot at feeling like real console games, especially with the NGP's bulked-up processors.

3G, in Theory

As rumored, the NGP will have 3G capabilities on board, but what Sony intends to do with it is unclear. Will Sony work with wireless carriers to get a small allotment of free data, or will the user pay a monthly bill? With the current state of wireless data in the United States, I'm still skeptical that 3G coverage makes sense for a dedicated gaming devices. In Europe, at least, Wi-Fi-only models will be available.

Cross-platform insurance

Sony's other big announcement besides the NGP was Playstation Suite, a software framework for both the handheld console and Android phones. Looks like Sony's taking an "if you can't beat ‘em, join ‘em" approach to smartphone gaming. Smart.

The Unknowns

Here's a quick rundown of what Sony hasn't announced: Price, launch date (aside from "end of year 2011"), 3G coverage options, cost of games, battery life, on-board storage capacity, resolution of front- and rear-facing cameras.

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