Ahh, the decadence of civilized society. While disease, hunger, and war ravage the world, we create distractions in the form of video games. But they can be impressive video games, and that may be enough to justify their existence.
Some may not care for portable gaming systems, but for others they have their place; they're far easier to transport than a console designed for the television, or even a laptop computer, and they allow stimulation in situations where you'd otherwise be contemplating the essence of forms or, failing that, staring blankly into the sky. So it's good to see gaming stalwarts Nintendo and Sony stepping up their mobile devices in response to Microsoft's Xbox Live on Windows Phone 7 devices and, to a lesser, more disgusting extent, Apple's iOS systems.*
The two systems take divergent paths. While Nintendo is hoping to capitalize on the 3D craze (a craze that may or may not be entirely fabricated by those peddling the technology), Sony is making natural progressions on what their Playstation Portable originally offered. Nintendo's new 3DS will take 3D photos, play 3D games (without the need for Axminster's HD WrapArounds), and is capable of greater performance than its DS and DSi predecessors. Still, its GPU is outdated and the overall game experience is more akin to the Wii than the more modern consoles (360, PS3). Conversely, the new PSP (dubbed NGP at the moment) is, as was the original PSP at its introduction, a beast.
There is very little to argue about with Sony's NGP design. The initial specifications are, quite frankly, nearly perfect (by today's standards): quad-core (!) CPU and GPU, a 5" OLED touchscreen, built-in 802.11b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, and 3G (!), dual analog sticks, a rear touch panel, and all varieties of motion controls, speakers, and microphones, as well as front- and rear-facing cameras. The handheld will play games that are downloaded or on custom flash cartridges, and is capable of performance rivaling current TV consoles. The only gripes are the sealed-in battery and proprietary memory card format Sony is developing (why not SD??). The cameras, along with the 3G and WiFi, mean that the NGP can potentially replace a phone for video calling nationwide if/when it's hacked to do so. NGP will also offer some form of cross-compatibility with PS games on Android phones and the PS3, which is probably better than what Microsoft is currently doing with its Xbox Live service on WP7 and Xbox 360.
So which system is better? Of course it all boils down to the games. The 3DS will have Nintendo-exclusive titles that are classics, like Mario and Zelda, as well as the best gaming series of all time: Harvest Moon. It is also quite likely that the Rune Factory fantasy farming series continues in 3D, which is seemingly a more exciting prospect than the now-disappointing Harvest Moon games (Note: Rune Factory Oceans is coming out on the PS3, and Marvelous Entertainment, maker of HM and RF, is listed as one of the developing studios for the NGP). The 3D of the 3DS could actually be enjoyable, and it's thoughtful of Nintendo to include a standard SD card slot for memory expansion. But, just like the last generation of mobile devices, Sony's offering is far more robust than Nintendo's, so the only way Nintendo will win is if the new PSP cannot provide the compelling group of games that the 3DS can...a scenario that is not unlikely. A true mobile game fan will have a difficult time picking one over the other.
Could Sony actually get this one right? We won't know until more details about the NGP/PSP2 are revealed later this year, but the past has shown that it's how you use the hardware that matters. Having the first quad-core mobile system is irrelevant if the experience isn't there.