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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Game On: Project Q, the Sony “handheld” no one expected

Due to release later this year, Sony’s “Project Q” is a handheld device capable of streaming games from a PlayStation 5 over a WiFi network. It will feature all of the capabilities of the PS5 DualSense controller and an 8-inch LCD screen with 1080p resolution.  (Sony Interactive Entertainment)
By Riordan Zentler For The Spokesman-Review

Sony made several announcements during its PlayStation Showcase on May 25, but none were so hotly debated as the unveiling of “Project Q,” the company’s long-rumored return to the handheld market.

Like the Sega Game Gear that came before and did battle with the original Nintendo Gameboy, Sony produced a couple of portable systems that were well-received but nevertheless struggled to compete with Nintendo. Those were the PlayStation Portable in 2004 and its 2011 follow-up, the PlayStation Vita, which was discontinued in 2019 with no planned successor.

Despite Sony’s struggles, the handheld market has been booming in recent years. The Switch, Nintendo’s hybrid console, has gone on to become the company’s second-best-selling hardware of all time – only trailing behind the Nintendo DS. And although Valve hasn’t provided exact sales figures, all analysts agree the hype and sales of the Steam Deck have been exceeding expectations.

Project Q, it seems, is Sony’s response – sporting all the features of the PlayStation 5’s excellent DualSense controller and an 8-inch LCD screen with 1080p resolution, it would be reasonable to assume that this apparent technical marvel could have Nintendo and Valve quaking in their boots.

The problem with comparing Project Q with the Steam Deck or Nintendo Switch, however, is that it’s not a standalone system – it’s a streaming device. It connects with your PlayStation 5 over WiFi, where all of the gaming is actually done. Project Q is little more than a controller with a big screen in the middle of it.

Touting incredible pixel density and controls identical to the PS5’s DualSense – Sony’s most comfortable and feature-rich controller to date – Project Q will surely be a capable device. Still, it’s a stretch to call it a “portable” console when gamers have to maintain close proximity to their PS5 for it to function.

It’s as if Sony is following Nintendo’s footsteps, but backwards. What the Project Q offers is exactly what Nintendo accomplished with the Wii U in 2012 – you could play traditionally on your TV, or use the gamepad to play handheld. Although the Wii U flopped, the Nintendo Switch took the concept a step further in 2017 by making the gamepad and console one and the same – a far more portable solution which has sold upwards of 125 million units.

With that in mind, it’s puzzling that Sony would take an approach nearly identical to the Wii U, a failed console, over a decade later. Further, Sony didn’t announce any features beyond its PS5-streaming capabilities. There’s apparently no plan for Project Q to be used as a secondary screen for certain games, for instance.

A vocal minority has been begging for Sony to return to the handheld market in full for years. After all, the PSP and PSVita were impressive devices whose capabilities far exceeded its Nintendo competitors and as such, they’re remembered fondly. But the reality is, the PSVita went under because Sony couldn’t afford to keep splitting its efforts between its console and its portable system.

It’s likely that even Nintendo couldn’t afford to split its efforts anymore, which is exactly why they created the Switch, merging their home console and portable system into one. Valve can afford the Steam Deck because it’s just a tiny handheld PC where people can play their already-existing Steam library – new games and decades-old games alike.

With Sony prioritizing raw processing power with every gaming system they’ve ever released, in 2023 there’s no practical way for them to produce a standalone portable device with power akin to the PS5. Microsoft has been doing the same with the Xbox brand, which is why we haven’t seen a portable system from them, either.

Project Q is slated to be released “later this year,” with no price point made public just yet. That’s troubling, because the price will likely be make-or-break for a device already drawing significant skepticism. Despite the high-profile announcement, it’s difficult to imagine the device being a runaway success. If Sony markets and produces it as a niche product, however, there’s no reason it couldn’t be mildly profitable and a humble success.

Riordan Zentler can be reached at