Call it drab, call it dull, call it penny pinching and conservative, but releasing the PS3 Slim is easily the most sensible move Sony has made in donkeys' years. Where it cuts down on the feature set of the original PS3 it does so in ways that don't really matter, and where it improves on the initial console it does so in ways that offer real, tangible benefits. It's not an essential upgrade for existing PS3 owners, but then it was never meant to be. Instead, this is a machine targeted squarely at those trying to make their mind up between the Microsoft and Sony console. Sony knows that this is its one big shot at getting back into the current generation console wars. Taken on these terms, I'd call the PS3 Slim a success.
Let's start with the biggest change: the physical design. Sat side by side with the old PlayStation 3, the PS3 Slim is actually around 15mm deeper than the original, but a good 40mm narrower and - most importantly - just over 20mm thinner, giving it a nice low profile underneath your TV set. It's not a bold statement like the original PS3, but a rather understated box that will sit well with the rest of your AV kit. Gone is that beautiful, shiny gloss finish. Gone is the Spider-Man typeface, replaced by a simple PS3 logo.
Those slick, touch-sensitive power and eject buttons have also been ditched for a pair of flat, round, low-travel buttons, though these still illuminate nicely when pressed. I know some (Hugo) have called the Slim 'plain' while others (Gordon) have even called it "naff", but in the flesh it's just a bit quiet and unobtrusive. The important thing is that, while the new PS3 looks less expensive than the old one, it doesn't necessarily feel cheap. In fact, I'd say it feels a more solid and robust piece of hardware than my Xbox 360 Elite, despite the fact that it's actually a fair bit lighter. The one downside of the new look? It's not quite so stable when standing on its side without the exorbitantly priced stand accessory.
HDMI 1.3a, S/PDIF and standard PlayStation A/V connections on the rear still handle output to your TV and sound system, while we get Gigabit Ethernet and 802.11g Wi-Fi for connecting to your router and on to the Internet. On the front we're down to two USB ports - though that was true of the 40GB and later 80GB PS3 as well - and the multi-card reader seems consigned to the dustbin of history, but again I can't say that either point is a real disaster for gamers. You can still connect up a camera or MP3 player by USB, and how many of us really took the memory card from our camera and plugged it straight into the PS3 anyway? As with the removal of the old option to install a Linux distro, it's all about removing features that the majority of users won't miss, and concentrating on those that they will. I know that some of us still mourn the passing of backwards compatibility, but I guess it's just something we'll have to get used to, as it hasn't returned with the PS3 Slim.