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The new Walkman sprints ahead of the competition

Call Sony's new PlayStation Portable the Killer (with the requisite apologies to Jerry Lee Lewis). The PSP isn't just a multi-tasking entertainment device that plays video games, movies and MP3s. It's a machine specifically intended to murder Nintendo's GameBoy, and take over the handheld market the GB has monopolized for so long.

While Nintendo's latest entry into that market, the Dual Screen, is arguably more adventurous technology—you play games via touch screen—games and movies simply look better on the PSP (which retails for a not-bad $249). This all owes to a luxuriously wide 4.3 inch LCD screen. And while paused frames are sometimes fuzzy, action is unbelievably sharp and crisp.

What about those DS-damning extra goodies? The PSP's not the iPod buster that some web sites like CNET have suggested. Right now, you can only get one gig of music on the tiny Memory Stick Duo, which isn't enough to compete head to head with Apple's magic device. Thankfully, Sony didn't go proprietary here. You can play any MP3s on the PSP, not just Sony-coded tunes.

As for videos, also stored on the memory stick: PSP doesn't recognize mov and wmv files, but only MPEG-4 videos, the industry standard. It's MPEG-2, used for DVDs, that gives you the very best video quality. SpiderMan 2, the flick packaged with the PSP, is written on a 1.8 gigabyte UMD disc—a tiny, proprietary DVD. It's not packed with a load of extras like shorts and "making of" vids, like a regular DVD, and it won't play in a DVD player. Yet it's great for a plane flight—the PSP fits perfectly in your shirt pocket. Then there's stills. You can make a slideshow of your celeb porn photos, but only with jpegs, not bmp files. You can, however, flip and zoom in on them.

All this drains juice. How long can you fiddle with the Portable's myriad features? The battery runs for about three to four hours, which, compared with the Nintendo DS' 8 hours, ain't squat. Worse than the battery life is the fact that it takes about two and a half hours to fully charge. (Get an extra battery.) Remember, the PSP has a lot more work do to with movies and graphically intense games coursing through its 333 MHz processor.

Ah yes, the games. They just plain look and play better on the PSP than on any GameBoy. The video quality sometimes even seems better than on the PlayStation 2, and though there's an annoying load time, it's often a lot less than that on the daddy console. Hook up the headphones included with the device, and you get amazing fidelity, making you feel as if you're truly inside the game. (The standard earbuds were too big and hurt my ears, however.) There's no lag time between the you moving the button-like analog "joystick" and seeing a wacky vehicle in "Twisted Metal Head-On" follow your command. And you can play with others wirelessly. (I should note that my PSP contains an annoying piece of dust stuck under its plastic cover, a distracting factory mistake.)

The PSP's future looks bright. Pundits are speculating that Sony will add modules to make the PSP into a camera and a phone, hackers are already trying to add text and programs to the device, and there are downloadable programs like Mobile Media Maker (free to try) to help you compress and translate movies onto the Duo stick. Look out PSP-casts complete with video. For a killer, this little rectangle of hardware sure is taking on a life of its own.

 
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