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PlayStation Portal Remote Player: Accessibility Review

Disclaimer

The unit used for this review was provided by PlayStation UK at no cost to the reviewer.

Introduction

Ever since the launch of the PlayStation 5, Sony's latest console has been recognised for its accessibility, particularly as the screen reader is now more widely expanded compared to previous generations. This is true both in terms of global availability and functionality.

However, one aspect that's been sorely lacking in terms of ease of use has been remote play, the ability to play games when you're not actually in the same location as your console. This is something, as someone who enjoys travelling for work, that I've wanted to see improved and I hoped, on seeing the announcement of the Portal Remote Player, hereafter just referred to as the Portal, that this interesting piece of hardware could be a steppingstone towards a higher quality, accessible experience.

The question now is, just how well does this new Remote Play-centric device work without sight?

Unboxing

Unboxing looks to be a simple process at first glance. Simply feel along the edges of the box until you find two adhesive circles, one at each of the shorter ends. These are on the bottom of the box.

Peel one of these away with a fingernail or cut them with a blade (I was actually able to slice one with my nail without much effort, to my surprise), then reach a finger around the edge where the seal is and lift the part connected to the rest of the box outwards and upwards with the larger section of the flap.

Now, you should be able to feel an inner box. Place a hand round it, holding the outer box with the other and pull the two apart. You can put the outer box to one side.

The Inner Box

Look around this new inner box and you should find a large tab. Holding this in one hand, pull the middle section it's attached to out from its own outer sleeve, putting the latter to one side once again.

The Final Inner Box

On this final box, you'll see a section is cut from the edge of one of the corners, so that there is a gap. This top section, the lid, can be lifted away with a finger underneath. This reveals a cable trapped in a part of this top piece, freed by unfastening the semi-circular tabs preventing access to the storage compartment on the underside of this otherwise flat piece of cardboard.

Pulling the flaps that were held in place by these semi-circular tabs, we see a USB C cable much like you'd see packaged with other PlayStation products.

Keep this cable for later and move the top section of this final box out of the way to focus on the interior of the package.

The Portal itself, wrapped in a bag of sorts is revealed next, lift it out carefully using the screen as leverage, with the handle-like protrusions of the DualSense controller shell facing towards you. Remove the packaging by unsealing the opening to your right and gently pulling the Portal free.

All that remains is some printed media, under a cardboard cover with a hole in it.

With everything extracted, time to try and boot up the device.

First Boot

Using the Support page under the user guide heading, I found information on the various buttons, though not their locations or an actual description of how to set the unit up and get it up and running, as you see in examples like Microsoft's Xbox Wireless Headset setup page.

I got a little sighted assistance to clarify what to do and it turns out the cover for the screen (removable via a tab towards the top left-hand side when the "handles" are pointing towards you) contains the basic instructions to press the power button and leave it a while.

Button Locations

Given the locations are difficult to discover from the aforementioned website at least as of the time of writing, I thought I'd document them here.

On the back of the unit, specifically the thin area just below the screen between the shoulder buttons, you'll find, from right to left, the volume up and down buttons in that order, the link button for specific compatible headsets, then the power button. All other DualSense buttons are where you'd expect if you've ever used one of these controllers previously.

Charging And Power

I thought I'd try and see what happens when you plug the Portal into the PlayStation 5 console itself. After all, the worst thing it could do was charge it in the first place.

It didn't seem as if anything was happening. For the record, the USB port is on the flat section nearest you, linking to the unit's curved underside, specifically in the middle, with the 3.5 mm headphone jack to the right of it.

Not picking up anything with Seeing AI's short text mode (implying to me the device wasn't powering on automatically), I realised there was nothing for it but to power the device on with the left most button on the back of the unit.

Though I could understand that it was getting me to select a language, the fact remains that the Portal has no screen reader functionality at all within whatever OS it's running, meaning that from this point forward, getting sighted assistance was much easier and arguably the only way to proceed.

This was especially true when it came to entering the wi-fi password, then agreeing to the license agreements and installing various updates. If you're wondering, yes, this device does support firmware/software updates, which could mean a screen reader may appear down the line.

Once we'd got the unit linked and paired with my PS5 (accompanied by soothing, "floaty" music and similarly pulsing connection sounds), I loaded up God Of War Ragnarok's PS4 build.

Testing Games

The first thing to notice when using this device is that, at least initially, there is lag. As good as the internet we're working with is, the latency was really quite noticeable.

Unfortunately, this did not improve and after a while, the connection froze. A short time later, I was kicked rather unceremoniously from the title. When I did get it to work for sustained periods, which again was rarely, it did turn out to be a useful device for sighted assistance, even if undertaking what should be straightforward tasks like turning around in place were hampered by the connectivity issues with the unit.

As I periodically tried the device with different games to see how they held up, I was prompted for a firmware update. Even though I accepted this, nothing much seemed to change in terms of positive performance improvements.

Even after a router reset due to some other internet issues outside of Portal use, I decided to give this Remote Play handheld another go. Whilst things had improved in terms of performance, the fact remains that the latency of Remote Play itself, as well as the occasional prolonged freeze (which happened twice within approximately 10 minutes of playing) were far from what I'd hoped. At least the stability of the connection was vastly improved compared to previous usage.

Summary

Pros

Cons

Conclusions

The Portal Remote Player from PlayStation, whilst it is a great idea in concept, certainly fell flat as a gamer without sight. Though being able to play games on the go is something I've wanted to do for many years, particularly when it comes to first-party titles, especially as they are now starting to come with greater levels of accessibility, this device, as well-constructed as it is certainly does not live up to the hype.

That being said, it does make me curious as to what might happen in the future, given the potential this element of console gaming has and the technology available for devices with better connectivity.

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