Sony's PlayStation Portable, or PSP, is meant to be the only device in your pocket. After all, with it you can play games, watch movies, listen to music, and make Skype calls. You can even browse the Internet with it at a Wi-Fi hotspot, using its tiny thumbstick and face buttons to click on links.
Does that sound like an ideal web browsing experience to you? (To say nothing of the idea of listening to music on a device the size of a paperback book.) It didn't to Apple, which is why it invented the iPhone and iPod Touch. And now thanks to Google's Android operating system, other companies can make their own multitouch, web-browsing smartphones ... companies like Sony Ericsson. Heck, they can even slap a slide-out game controller on them, making them look almost exactly like the PSP Go. Add in the ability to play PlayStation games, and suddenly the Xperia Play is looking like competition for Sony's own products.
What is Sony thinking? But more importantly, which one should you buy?
Comparing the hardware
Neither the PSP (both versions) nor the Xperia Play will win many awards for hardware design. They're all creaky, plasticy things, with glossy shells that are fingerprint magnets. Compared to an iPhone or Nintendo DS, they feel cheap, and the Xperia Play has screen brightness issues besides. It also has analog touchpads instead of actual thumbsticks.
With these devices, you aren't paying for build quality. You're paying for PlayStation-quality gaming. So how does that stack up?
Confusingly, as it turns out. Because each device buys its "PlayStation" games from a different place.
Let me count the ways
Let's start with the PSP-3000. It and earlier PSPs are the only consoles that can play the PSP games you buy at the store, since they're the only ones that have the requisite mini-disc drives. They can also go on the PlayStation Network, to buy games and movies and things there ... sometimes the same games and movies you'd find in the stores.
The PSP Go is like that, but without the disc drive. It can only play games and movies bought from the PlayStation Network. And you don't get any credit for having already bought games on disc, so if you're upgrading and you want to play your old games you'll need to buy (and download) them all over again.
The Xperia Play has Android Market, and the two have different selections of PlayStation games. You can also buy games from the Amazon Appstore, which doesn't have any PlayStation games but which does have a free game or app of the day.
One device to rule them all?
If you care about anything other than playing games, you want the Xperia Play. It's a full-fledged Android smartphone, which means multitouch web browsing plus real apps. It can't play as many PlayStation games, and if you've already bought some from the PSN you won't be able to play them on it. But it's a worthy handheld game console in its own right, plus it's a phone at the same time.
So where does that leave the PSP? It leaves it as the go-to device for games like Crisis Core and Dissidia, and other PSP exclusives. But with Android phones becoming much more affordable, there's not much reason to use it as your only device.
Jared Spurbeck is an open-source software enthusiast, who uses an Android phone and an Ubuntu laptop PC. He has been writing about technology and electronics since 2008.