The Playstation Portal is here. Sony’s newest hardware which allows you to play your PS5 games remotely and wirelessly has arrived, and thanks to the kind folks at Playstation, I was given a unit to review. So how did it go? How did I like it? What sorts of accessibility features exist for it? These are the questions I shall answer here. Let’s get into it.
Firstly, I want to talk about the physical unit. The Playstation Portal has possibly the most sensible and obvious design you could imagine. To hold one is just like holding a wider Dualsense controller. The grips are exactly the same. The button placement, (with 2 notable exceptions), is exactly the same. The feel of holding a controller is replicated perfectly because you literally are holding one with a screen in the middle. It’s hard to explain, but it felt familiar in the right way that warmed me to the idea of the device.
The notable button placement exceptions I mentioned earlier are the Playstation button, and the microphone button. Yes, the Portal does have a built-in mic, so you can voice chat with it. Anyway, here’s how it’s different. First, think of the Portal as a controller split in half around the touchpad. Going from the left, everything is where you’d expect. D-pad, thumb stick, share button. But then you’re where this theoretical split would have happened, and that’s where things get different. The PS button is right next to the share button instead of in front of everything else, and on the opposite side, the mic button which controls whether or not your mic is muted, is to the left of the options button, rather than near the bottom of the controller. These were the only differences, however.
Also, make no mistake, this thing is a full dualsense in every other way. All functionality is supported. All the haptics, the adaptive triggers, all of it. This is another point in the Portal’s favor I believe, as the design of these features has always been incredible and having them available in a portable fashion like this isn’t nothing.
Let’s cover a few other aspects of the physical unit real quick. The speakers are located on the top on either side of the screen area, and honestly I think they’re quite good. The volume control, the buttons for which are on the right side of the screen area, also on the top near the speaker, pushes the volume to surprisingly loud levels. Much louder than the Nintendo Switch’s maximum volume, I think. On the opposite side, also near the speaker on that side is the power button, which is a long rectangle. There is a button next to it, but neither I, nor my fiance, have any idea what it’s for. Seriously, we don’t know. It didn’t seem to do anything when I pressed it, so for us, that remains a mystery. The portal also charges via USB-C, and comes with a USB-C to USB-C charging cable for that purpose.
Now, though, let’s get to the question of whether or not the Playstation Portal is accessible. The short answer is… Not in the way anyone was hoping, but it’s not all bad. I shall explain. The unfortunate truth is that there is no screen reader whatsoever in the Playstation Portal. In fact, its settings menu doesn’t even contain an accessibility section at all. This is absolutely a problem, and I wholeheartedly disagree with this. I needed sighted assistance just to get this thing set up on our Wifi network, and signed into my Playstation account, though that bit was sort of partially accessible thanks more to the iPhone’s ability to detect QR codes than the Portal helping in any meaningful way. However, hear me out here… I don’t hate it.
Firstly, for what it’s worth, the on-device music is cool. I mean, it doesn’t help us, but some people including me like that sort of thing. Secondly, once the device is set up, connected to your network and your account, things get remarkably easy. I did a test where I turned the unit entirely off after it was set up, then powered it back on to see what the full restart experience would be like. When the Portal turned back on, the music kicked in, and then a helpful UI sound, kind of like a low rhythmic pulse, told me the device was connecting to my PS5. This sound plays the entire time the connection process is happening, and once connected, you hear a harmonious musical confirmation that you’re connected. Then, (and this is what appears on screen as well), you just press X to play. From that point forward, the device is effectively your PS5. If screen reader is enabled on your PS5, you’ll now have a screen reader because you’re just controlling your PS5. Any games that are accessible will be just as accessible, with the obvious exception of not being able to OCR anything. But look, I’m just being honest here… Playing portable The Last of Us part I for a while felt pretty awesome.
I want to say one more thing about the Portal, and it might surprise you. It seems that the Portal’s very specific nature, (to be a remote play device), does result in at least some benefit. While remote play on PC occasionally stutters and stumbles for several seconds, then eventually stabilizes, this problem does not appear to exist when using the Playstation Portal. I played The Last of Us part 1 for just about an hour nonstop, and this never happened. There was some occasional hitching, but not in a way that would delay your in-game actions. The audio would hiccup for something like a millisecond, and that would be it. I found this interesting, and definitely a mark in the positive column.
And that leads me to my conclusion. While I wouldn’t recommend the Playstation Portal to a totally blind person who didn’t have access to any sighted assistance whatsoever, I do not hate this device. I hope they figure out a way to improve upon it and add accessibility features such as the screen reader later, (it does support software updates), but if you can get some initial assistance, you absolutely can use this thing, because once it’s set up, it’s not only doable, it’s downright easy. Remember, this thing is designed for one specific purpose, and that is to connect to your PS5. Turn it on, wait during the connection process, and press X to play. And again, it’s the full dualsense experience. So yes, while I do wish this could be used without sighted assistance, I won’t call this an absolutely don’t buy. If you can get just a little help, you could have a lot of fun with the Playstation Portal. Thanks for reading!