Sony PS3 £159.99
28th Sep 2012 | 10:15
It may be six years old, but the PS3 is still going strong
Say hello to Sony's newest games console. Not ready to shepherd in the next generation with PS4 quite yet, the Japanese tech giant instead opts for a trimmed-down take on the PlayStation 3 - a 'super slim' model that makes even the last iteration of the console, the PS3 Slim, look a bit chunky.
Sony is obviously a fan of Apple's 'The New iPad' naming convention, but we're going to go ahead and stick with 'PS3 super-slim.' After all, it's 20% lighter than the 2009 PS3 Slim at just 2.1kg, and 20% smaller too.
PS4 release date, news and rumours
The internal architecture's been completely redesigned to facilitate the shrink, although the only real change in terms of specs comes in the storage department.
There's a 12GB SSD model available in the UK for a reasonably £160 with an optional 250GB dedicated HDD if you wish to upgrade your storage. Available in Australia and UK now, we're still waiting for Sony to confirm a US release for this entry-level model.
The larger capacity 500GB model arrives in stores on September 28 in the UK and October 30 in the US, priced at £250 in the UK, $399.95 in Australia and bundled with Assassin's Creed III for $300 stateside.
All models of the new PS3 super-slim are kitted out with all the same ports as the Slim - two USB ports at the front, HDMI and component video interfaces, optical (SPDIF) audio and Ethernet, although frustratingly there's still no HDMI cable included in the box.
The big news in terms of its design, though, is that disc tray - gone is the touch-sensitive control from the original PS3, and even the bread-and-butter button from the Slim. Instead, the top of the drive slides open across the console's top, operated by a front-mounted button.
It needs to be pushed closed manually, and that's sure to divide opinion on this latest Sony PlayStation. It certainly feels like a manufacturing cost-reducing measure to us.
And that's a feeling that extends to the PS3 super-slim's overall presentation. If you thought the Slim looked and felt cheap next to the grand piano finish of the original PS3, you'll be singularly unimpressed with this console. If the exterior's meant to convey 'sleek lightweight,' it falls short at just plain 'flimsy,' and it doesn't look particularly hard to break the drive mechanism with a bit of clumsiness.
If you listen to the rumours circulating industry-wide, the next genuine generation of consoles is likely to arrive in Q3/Q4 2013, which gives this new PS3 a limited shelf life. It's very likely a move on Sony's part to entice those who haven't bought previous PS3 models until now into its fold in preparation for the upcoming turf-war with Microsoft and (to a lesser extent) Nintendo, as all three giants release brand new consoles.
And in fairness, now's a great time to do so if you haven't already. The PlayStation Plus subscriber service is getting better and better, offering an instant collection of top-notch titles such as Red Dead Redemption, and there are plenty of decent Sony exclusives such as Puppeteer on the way in 2013.
But should you consider the super-slim PS3 if you already have Sony's gaming hardware in your home? Does SSD storage make that much of a difference, and is 12GB enough storage space today? Let's break down what's on offer.
The new PlayStation 3's cross-media bar (XMB) is a bit of a design classic in operating system terms - so much so that little's changed since its inception in 2006, when the PS3 was first let into the wild.
By contrast, the Xbox 360's been through a number of iterations, starting with an XMB similar to Sony's and arriving at a brightly coloured song and dance of an OS that mirrors the 'metro' approach of Windows phones. Only with more perpetually cheery avatars.
If you've been using either system for any number of years, you'll know your way around it comprehensively, but we think the fact that Sony's XMB hasn't changed much in nearly six years speaks volumes.
Well, there are no changes in terms of the aesthetics, anyway. Plenty's been tampered with under the bonnet to let you tinker with home cinema setups, keep your downloadable minis separate from your PS One games, and perhaps most importantly give you a safer online purchasing experience following the great hacking debacle of 2011.
But if it hasn't always been the most secure system, it has always maintained a distinctly user-friendly design. Customising video and audio options couldn't be easier.
By locating display settings (which leads handily to audio settings), you can flit from a 720p component display with external speakers to a 1080p HDMI video output with 5.1 surround speakers with a few taps of the PS3's X button. It's one of those things you take for granted until you have to do the same on a PC, and lose an entire afternoon.
It does have its little eccentricities, mind: if you're hoping to watch a movie from a USB storage device, you'll have to go to Video>[Device name] and then choose Information rather than simply choosing that device. It's as counter-intuitive with the super-slim PS3 in the cold light of 2012 as it was six years ago.
We have seen some fine additions to the XMB in the on-demand HD video department, too. LoveFilm, Netflix, BBC iPlayer and 4oD have expanded the PS3's strong media capabilities, and like almost anything on the XMB, these services are all accessible quicker than you can say "haptic control gestures."
While we're on a Jobs-ian tangent, the PS3 interface's chief problem in 2012 is that in the wake of Apple's all-conquering, sleek and seductive operating systems it does look a bit dated. It doesn't inspire much user joy, as someone behind the genius bar would put it (before being punched in the nose).
So it's not a looker anymore, but thanks to its mostly straightforward design it is easy to set up additional peripherals to use with the super-slim PS3, keep your apps and games organised and access them all quickly.
Like its fatter predecessors, the super-slim Sony PS3 is a very useful catch-up device and Blu-ray player, but let's not forget what it's primarily designed for: gaming.
The hardware inside the latest PS3 doesn't herald a new generation of heart-breakingly beautiful games – it's the same Nvidia RSX GPU powering the graphics, and the same mighty 3.2GHz Cell processor.
The only tangible performance advantage you'll find in gaming is in loading times. If you opt for the 12GB SSD model, that is.
Hands on: Wii U review
Solid state storage blows the traditional mechanical hard disk out of the water when it comes to read and write speeds, which means whether you're installing a 5GB game or loading up a saved game, the 12GB super-slim PS3 will handle the task at hand quicker than both previous PS3 iterations and the 500GB HDD model.
So with the pre-existing graphics and processor, neither model of the new PS3 is going to win the graphics war against the Xbox 360 or the Wii U. First Party exclusives such as Uncharted 3 still look stellar, but in general the 360 is ahead in gaming visuals.
That comes down to the ease of programming on each platform - the 360 uses a bespoke version of the DirectX 9 programming interface shared with PCs. And since games are developed on PCs, it's a more natural translation than to the PS3's modified version of OpenGL.
When Wii U's released, it'll technically be the most powerful games console on the market, but its generation's a bit confused: it's neither a stablemate of Sony and Microsoft's current crop, nor a successor. When PS4 does arrive, Sony really needs to focus on ease of development with its new hardware, to avoid this situation occurring for another six or seven years.
For online gamers, the PSN still doesn't quite offer all the knobs and bells of Xbox Live - then again, there's no subscriber service to play competitive multiplayer. The PSN does still go down for 'routine maintenance' with irritating regularity, though.
When PS3 first arrived, its six-axis controller prompted a bit of an outcry - why not supply a pad with dual shock and gyroscopic functionality? Nobody wanted to choose between the two.
That was ironed out long before the slim and super-slim models of PS3 arrived though - the controller you'll find in the box might not boast a touch screen interface or dual screen function as other gaming platforms do, but it's a sturdy and comfortable peripheral.
Sony wins back massive points for cross-play functionality with the PlayStation Vita, though. If you own Sony's handheld device, which is equipped with touchscreen, rear touch pad and gyroscope, you can use it to control an increasing volume of PS3 games. Some titles are using cross-play in particularly clever and imaginative ways that can't currently be paralleled by other platforms. Shadow Of The Colossus HD and LittleBigPlanet are current highlights.
And no, this new slimmer model doesn't bring back the PS2 compatibility of the original 60GB PS3. But if you're into classic games, the ever-expanding PS One collection on PSN should go some way to making up for that.
Best TV 2012
Sony's call to fit a Blu-ray drive in the PS3 won the battle of the HD physical media formats, knocking the HD DVD into oblivion. As a Blu-ray player it's bristling with features too, enabling easy set up of multi-speaker audio setups and rendering crisp 1080p movies sans stutter.
Oddly enough, it's a wonderful DVD and AVI playback device too. It takes these less-than-HD-quality movies, slaps a bit of lipstick on them, toys with their hair and makes them look prettier than ever. AVI movies that would be a chore to watch on your PC look much improved thanks to PS3's clever Cell processor.
It requires no effort to use your PS3 as a media server, either. If you've got a PC on in the other room with the necessary sharing permissions ticked, you can browse and stream your whole movie collection without leaving the sofa. Or peruse your housemate's collection of 'alone time' videos. Your call.
Natively, it still doesn't support your off-the-beaten-track file formats such as MKV videos, and that's cause for annoyance. There's a workaround though, in the form of Homestream, a free program released by Sony that enables you to share a much wider variety of file formats between Sony devices. Including MKVs, praise be.
So while the Xbox 360 might just have the PS3 licked for gaming graphics and the allure of Xbox Live, there's only one champion in media terms. The new PS3's Blu-ray player and upscaling capability makes it a no-brainer.
The merits of the PS3 super-slim are quite particular - Sony's really working the 'smaller, lighter' angle, but that's not really going to cut it for owners of either the PS3 Slim or original PS3.
You can't accuse the new super-slim PS3 of not living up to its (unofficial) name. It's a compact workhorse ready to bestow all the goodies of previous PS3s in 20% less space.
It's still a great Blu-ray playback device, and as Sony extends its cross-play functionality with the Vita, keeps chucking in quality titles for PS Plus members and adding new and classic content to the PSN, it's going from strength to strength as a games console.
And the SSD in the 12GB model is a really enticing prospect. We'd expect the next round of consoles to use exclusively solid state storage devices, so here's a chance to step into tomorrow's world.
With the super-slim PS3 in hand, you can't help but feel like Sony's not passing on enough of its manufacturing cost-cutting to the customer. It feels flimsy, particularly the top-loading BD drive and toy-tastic power and eject buttons.
The 12GB model is a pretty good deal at £160 in the UK, but by only offering 500GB of storage for the other model, Sony is keeping the retail price artificially high.
Where it does offer food for thought, though, is in the 12GB model's SSD. We think the 500GB model of super-slim is overpriced at £240/$300, in that all it really offers to the existing user base is more gigabytes to fill up. If you're struggling to manage your data on the Slim's 320GB drive, you've got some serious questions to ask yourself.
But the performance boost of that 12GB SSD might be just the ticket for anyone looking to slash their level loading times and minimise time spent looking at installation screens. Granted, you'll need the external 250GB HDD for a simple life, and that's likely going to set you back by almost as much as a 320GB 'old' slim model.
You can pick up an entry level Xbox 360 for well under £200/$220 now, which is further food for thought - but then Sony never does go for cheapest. It wants to be best, and as a complete gaming and media package we think it is, by a whisker.
But who's this super-slim PS3 really for? We can only recommend it warmly to those who don't already have an older model. It's not quite the price drop many were expecting, but it's still a fantastic package for the money. If you've already got a PS3 Slim, though, you've got very little to gain here but reclaiming some space under the TV.