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Sony NGP: What the industry thinks about it

And what it means for you...

Sony's new handheld, codenamed 'Next Generation Portable' (NGP) is set for 2011 release, with Sony studios boss Shuhei Yoshida showing a stunning Uncharted demo running on the handheld at the recent Tokyo announcement event.

We were in the front row to hear about NGP and PlayStation Suite: chatting with SCEE execs, eavesdropping on industry attendees and poring over comments by analysts and gamers to uncover NGP's true potential and how it'll affect the games you play.

You know NGP's headline features: 5-inch OLED multi-touch screen, corresponding 5-inch rear multi-touch panel, comfortable twin analogue sticks, movement sensors just like those in a Move controller, connectivity that combines 3G, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, and more - all packed into a UMD-free unit slightly larger than a PSP-3000 and much, much lighter.

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Bottom line - it's not far short of a handheld, touch-screen PS3, with media browsing abilities to, potentially, rival iPad.

NG...WHAT?
Shuhei Yoshida confirms that NGP (sharing initials with Neo Geo Pocket) will be renamed later this year. Zsolt Kigyossy, Managing Director of NGP developer (and mobile games specialist) ZEN Studios reminds us: "You look at recent history, and the name looks likely to change: Nintendo's Revolution became Wii, Natal became Kinect. If you ask the PR guys, it provides another reason for the press to cover their product!"

What you don't know yet is the price. Chatting at Sony's gargantuan headquarters in Shinagawa, SCEE Vice President Jim Ryan told us that it will be "affordable", but wouldn't clarify to whom: "Sony's ambitions when it comes to installed base are considerable, so we're not talking about the ultra-rich," he said, perhaps forgetting PS3's painful £425 launch price.

SCE Worldwide Studios President Shuhei Yoshida has reportedly promised that "it's not going to be $599", a cheeky reference to PS3's US launch price. Analyst Michael Pachter reckons £199; other estimates hover around £399.

Nintendo's 3DS will carry a price tag of around £200-250. When asked if NGP will be more or less, Ryan replied, "We haven't set that. We'll take a range of factors into account - including what the competition is doing."

What makes it tricky to guess the price is that there will likely be more than one model: with and without 3G. Also, pricing for 3G data transfer is a total wildcard, since Sony has yet to announce its partner networks and hasn't yet decided whether to include the cost in the retail price (like the Kindle) or charge a monthly fee (the iPad route).

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Either way, Sony bods implied that online play will be less data-heavy head-to-head fragfests, more data-light social exchanges.

PlayStation Network is integral to NGP, and you can take your existing PSN ID with you. Each game's LiveArea will act as a lobby that lets you launch the game, buy DLC, see your friends' Trophies for that game, leave comments and so on.

An app called Near will show you who's playing what in your vicinity, with records from an hour before you got there till and hour after you leave, and you can click through to PSN to buy games that catch your eye. A web browser will also be included.

Battery life is rumoured at four to five hours, roughly the same as the 3DS. There is no removable battery panel this time around: The body is sealed, just like an iPhone. Better keep a charger handy...

WHAT ABOUT GAMES?
Games will be sold in two ways: On special NGP-exclusive memory cards that also store your DLC and saves for that game, sold at retailers; and by download from PSN for storage on yet another bespoke memory card.

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