Editors' note: In late September Sony updated the Sony PlayStation Slim again. The new model has a 500GB hard drive and is 20% lighter and 25% smaller than the previous slim. It's also $100 cheaper at just $399.95. There is also a 12GB version for $299.95.
Back in 2004, four years after first launching the PlayStation 2, Sony brought out a new, much more compact PS2. Timed to come out just as Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was hitting stores, the redesigned console helped breathe new life into the PS2 franchise. It remains on store shelves today — you can pick one up for AU$195.
Needless to say, Sony hopes that a trimmed down — and less expensive — PS3 Slim will similarly invigorate sales of the PlayStation 3, which has lagged behind the Nintendo Wii and the Microsoft Xbox 360 and has taken some of the lustre off the PlayStation brand (even as earlier versions of the PS3 received high marks from this publication). To many industry observers, the Slim PS3 represents a moment of reckoning for the PS3 — a chance at redemption if you will — and clearly some serious engineering has gone into the creation of Sony's latest black gaming box and media player.
Design and features
If you're a fan of the PS3 or have been sitting on the fence, waiting for its price to drop, the good news is that from a features standpoint, the 120GB Slim PS3 is nearly identical to the 80GB and the 160GB "fat" PS3 models that Sony's in the process of phasing out. Aside from losing the capability to install another OS (Linux) on your PS3, nothing much else has changed. You still get built-in Wi-Fi connectivity (the Xbox 360 Wi-Fi adapter is a AU$99 add-on accessory), two USB ports for plugging in external storage devices and charging the PS3's Bluetooth wireless controller (one DualShock 3 controller comes with the Slim), and the same built-in Profile 2.0 Blu-ray player with BD-Live capabilities.
Like its predecessor, the Slim also supports playback of MPEG-1, MPEG-2 and MPEG-4/H.264 video files from USB or disc-based media, as well as JPEG image viewing (the slideshow functionality is quite impressive). Like the Xbox 360, the PS3 can act as a digital media hub, with the ability to stream content from any DLNA-compatible network device, including PCs and network attached hard drives. And you also get a built-in web browser (optional Bluetooth keyboards are available), which is serviceable, though not as good as any of the major browsers available for PCs.
Around back, you'll find an Ethernet jack, an HDMI output (no cable included), an optical digital audio output (SPDIF), and the proprietary PlayStation AV output for analog audio and video. A composite AV cable ships with the unit, and because it uses the same connector as the PlayStation 2, that system's S-Video and component cables should work with it, as well (to get HD video, you'll need component or HDMI).
The bad news is that Sony didn't add new features to the Slim. Alas, while we didn't think the company would be nice enough to throw in an IR receiver so you could control the PS3 with a standard IR universal remote, Sony has eschewed IR again. Also, if you're pining to play your collection of PS2 games on Slim, you'll be disappointed to note that backward capability remains a thing of the past (the option only existed on some of the earlier PS3 systems Sony released).
Unboxing Sony's PS3 Slim gallery (Credit: CBSi)
The story here, then, is all about design, and it's generally a good one. For starters, the Slim is 33 per cent smaller and 36 per cent lighter than its predecessors, and it really does look significantly more compact when you put it up against the "fat" PS3. Beauty, of course, is in the eye of the beholder, and many people, including this reviewer, think the Slim's new frame is fairly fetching.
Yet, we've also heard people say that the new "textured", or matte, finish gives the system a cheaper look. Maybe so, but pick the Slim up and it feels quite substantial. And while we're sure Sony doesn't want people referring to the Slim using adjectives like cheap (except when it comes to the price tag), the company does want this PS3 to appear more "casual" and appeal to a wider audience (read: casual gamers).
In that regard, the PS3 Slim's new design and finish seem well thought out. And the new system is not without a little glam — there's a mirrored strip on the front of the unit next to the opening of the slot-loading disc player and some glossy plastic on the sides. Those shiny finishes, like the glossy finish on the "fat" PS3, do pick up fingerprints, and it's also worth noting that the matte finish does absorb the oil from your skin and attracts smudges. In other words, if you end up handling your PS3, expect to have to wipe it off from time to time just like the old "fat" model.
More important than some branding changes (the PS3 logo and lettering has undergone a redesign), the touch-sensitive power on/off and eject buttons on the front of the unit have been replaced by standard push buttons and the master power switch that was on the back of the old unit has been removed (alas, you still can't charge the controllers while the system is off).
Some people will like that the master power switch is gone, but parents with small children would probably prefer if Sony had left it on the back to keep their toddlers from accidentally turning on the system. The new button in front is nice and responsive and doesn't require too firm a touch to turn the system either on or off (this system appears to boot up just as quickly as the old system — in just less than 20 seconds), so your little ones will have no problem firing up your PS3 in your absence.
According to Sony, to achieve the new small size, the internal design architecture of the PS3 Slim has been completely redesigned, "from the main semiconductors and power supply unit to the cooling mechanism". As always, we're impressed that Sony engineers have been able to build the power supply into the system itself rather than forcing you to deal with a giant external power supply like the one found on the Xbox 360.
The PS3 Slim is powered by a new 45nm version of the Cell processor, which runs at the same speed as the 60nm processor in the "old" PS3 but is smaller and more energy efficient. Company representatives said that power consumption for the Slim has been cut from 280 Watts to 250 Watts. (We'll be verifying the Slim's power consumption with our own independent testing soon.)
Ramping down the power consumption and, more importantly, the heat the system generates has let Sony tone down the cooling fan. With the Slim, you'll still hear some fan noise if you're close to the unit, but the hum is fainter, and it shouldn't bother you during quieter scenes in movies so long as you're not sitting right next to the PS3. (Fan noise on the previous systems varied wildly; some were noticeably loud, others were all but silent.) We also noticed that after playing a game and Blu-ray disc for more than an hour, the light breeze the fan emitted was warm but not hot (you can hold your hand up to it without fear of getting scorched).
A couple of final notes about the design: with earlier PS3s you could prop your unit up vertically or lay it down horizontally. Out of the box, the Slim is designed to be used in a horizontal position, but Sony will sell a stand (US$24; as yet undisclosed in Australian dollars) that lets you stand it up vertically and not worry about having it tip over. And in case you were wondering, you can also upgrade/replace the hard drive without voiding the warranty, though Sony has moved the hard drive from the side of the unit to the front for easier access. (To remove the hard drive, you simply unscrew two screws on the bottom of the Slim that are covered by a small door that snaps open and closed.) The only caveat: the Slim uses the smaller 2.5-inch drive size generally found in laptops. They're more expensive than the larger 3.5-inch hard drives that go into desktop computers.
We ran some tests of disc load times and some basic Blu-ray performance tests and came to the conclusion that the Slim runs just as well as the older model and keeps the PS3 near the top of our best Blu-ray players list.
At this point, as we await the release of version 3.00 of the PS3 firmware (it comes out 1 September 2009), there's not a whole lot to say about our experience using the PS3 Slim because it was, well, pretty much like using the "fat" PS3. That leaves us with some pre-existing qualms with the PS3 experience versus that of the Xbox 360. While we like that the PlayStation Network is free (versus Xbox Live's AU$79 per year fee), it's also a bit less full-formed, although Sony is slowly catching up.
At the end of the day, you can quibble about the Slim's new casual look, the lack of backward compatibility for PS2 games, no IR port, and such former extras as a built-in memory card reader and extra USB ports (we'd still like one on the back of the unit). But the fact is the PS3 Slim costs almost half of what the original PS3 cost when it first launched. It's also smaller, more energy efficient, quieter and retains virtually all the impressive gaming, multimedia and home-theatre functionality of previous PS3s. In short, there's a lot of machine here for AU$499.