The time has finally come. After almost a year of hype, excitement, and speculation, we finally have the PS Vita in our hands. On Wednesday, February 15th the PS Vita First Edition Bundle launched, giving gamers their first dibs on the most powerful handheld ever created. Has Sony held up their end of the bargain? The short answer is yes. The PS Vita has delivered an experience unmatched by any other portable device, whether it is a phone, tablet, or a gaming handheld. What makes the product such a worthy competitor in the gaming world?
The PS Vita is a very sleek, attractive system. This we all know. Since it was announced in 2011 little has changed on the system. The only change since the public was made privy to the PS Vita is the difference in text at the bottom of the handheld (Previously saying “Playstation” and now showing “PSVita”). This is a good thing. Revisions to the PS Vita’s design would have been a horrible misstep on Sony’s part. What they have constructed is a device that is compact enough to fit into a pocket or a backpack, but large enough to make someone forget they are playing a portable system. The construction of the PS Vita is almost entirely plastic save for the glass screen and a few metal screws, but everything feels very well put together. Everything is tight, there is no rattle and no feeling that there is any room for moving parts or any air inside of the device. The result is a system that feels just as at home in my hands as the Dualshock 3 controller for the Playstation 3. The sturdiness pays off too. With very few moving parts (If any), the device seems very resistant to dropping. I have (unfortunately) dropped my Vita twice since I got it, but both times was no worse for the wear. Nary a scratch was upon it. I even picked it up and kept playing right where I left off as though nothing ever happened (a scenario unheard of with the PSP and it’s UMD).
Inside the Vita, there is plenty of power for those who care about hardware specifications. A Cortex A9 Quad core processor beats in the heart of this beast with 512 mb of ram backed up with a quad core graphics processor. Coupled with a beefy five-inch 960×544 OLED screen, it makes one hell of a powerful rig. For reference, the Playstation 3 has only 256 mb of ram, limiting itself in areas such as cross game chat. Sony has packed plenty of power into their new handheld (more than even the iPad 2), to allow developers to produce games akin to those on it’s home console counterpart.
The control layout is equally impressive. Sony has kept things neat. The Vita is small enough to carry around without compromising a comfortable gameplay experience. Admittedly, the dual analog sticks are small with much less room to move and the face buttons are far smaller than any other gaming device, but after minutes of picking up the device, I forgot I was playing with anything other than a Dualshock 3 controller. In addition to the face buttons, full Sixaxis control as well as front and back touch capabilities round out the Vita’s control scheme. Looking at what Sony has provided, it combines the best of console gaming with the allure of tablets and smartphones. If used properly, each of these control options could provide an experience unique to the Vita.
On top of the exceptional control scheme, the Vita also sports two cameras (one on the front and one on the back), a 3G radio (only on the 3G model) and a GPS (Also only on the 3G model). The camera works well for its main intent, which is augmented reality gaming. For photos and video, don’t think this will replace your point and shoot or even your phone’s camera. Images are quite grainy, often devoid of color, and very low resolution. The video is no better, but since the system has the capability, it would be stupid of Sony to not allow their use for stills or video. An example of video is at the bottom of the review.
Sony has worked wonders, giving the Vita a fit and finish unmatched by most other hardware manufacturers. Overall, the handheld is easily one of the best looking and best feeling products on the market today.
All of this power and attention to detail would be nothing without a great operating system to back it up. Sony has done away with the Cross Media Bar of the PSP and Playsation 3 in favor of a new operating system that relies solely on touch. Bubbles litter the page showing installed games and various apps, both pre-installed and downloaded from the Playstation Store. Swiping your finger up and down will switch to different screens with up to ten bubbles on each of them, each which can be customized with different pictures or colors.
The big success in the new operating system is the ability to multitask. The Playstation 3 can do this to an extent, allowing the player to go to the XMB while in game and check trophies or the status of a download, but the Vita can run up to five different apps simultaneously. While playing a game, it is possible to pause and start up the Playstation store and find a download. You can then switch to Near, an app that shows your location relative to other local gamers, look at their information and send a friend request, and jump back into the game without missing a single frame. All of this happens very quickly too. Pressing the PS button under the left analog stick immediately puts a game on hold and unlike the XMB, there is never a wait for app icons to load.
Within the new operating system are a plethora of pre-installed apps such as Near, a web browser, and Welcome Park. Lets take these in reverse order. Welcome Park is a great place to start with the Vita. It is a collection of mini-games that teach the player to use each of the alternate control schemes implemented in the device. These games show how to use the front and rear touch pad, camera and Sixaxis motion control. Overall, it does a fine job acclimating the player to their new system, keeping the games short enough that you don’t get bored, but still giving ample time to learn the controls.
The web browser is nothing special. In fact, it could be considered mediocre by today’s mobile browsing standards. The touch screen keyboard works well enough, giving suggestions for complete words as you type, but the lack of support for both HTML5 and Flash hamper the Vita’s performance. Youtube does not work and most current sites that have been switching over to the new HTML5 web standard are crippled by Sony’s browser. The speed is not very impressive either. Tests between an iPad, iPhone 4S, iPhone 3GS, and a Windows PC all on the same network show that the Vita is the slowest performer of all of them. That’s not to say that the browser is unbearably slow, but if there is a choice of device, it might not be my first pick.
Near is another application that combines most of the elements of Playstation that we already know with the location based capabilities of a portable device. With this, users can see who is in their area, what games they may be playing, and their trophy list. The system works pretty well even if much of the information is vague. On top of the social feature, there are locations around the world that allow players to check in like using Foursquare. These locations will give the player special items or bonuses for some games (most notably, Modnation Racers: Road Trip). While I have not gone to any hotspots to pick up any special items, the tracking works well and undoubtedly the gifting would work without a hitch.
Sony has also just introduced maps into the latest firmware update. Their mapping software is based off of Google Maps, which powers other notable portable devices such as the iPhone and Android phones. The GPS feature of the 3G model worked very well with no hiccups getting me around my home town. I knew where I was going anyway, but it is good to know that it will be reliable when the need arises to use it. The only advantage I can find to using this over my phone, however, is that it has a five inch screen. Besides that , there is no difference besides a few UI changes. All in all, the GPS works well and I am excited to try it out on longer trips.
The content manager works as a very simple catalyst to transfer information between the Vita and a Playstation 3 or a PC or Mac. For the computers, a small piece of proprietary software is needed, but the supplied USB cable is all that is needed to swap information between devices. Once connected, the Vita can select exactly what is needed to transfer. The interface is clean, quick, and easy to use.
One feature of the Vita that I had (and still have) high hopes for is remote play. As it stands now, the software is there (just as it was for the PSP) to make it happen either over an ad-hoc network or via the internet. While the local support works well, the connection the internet is unbearably slow, making it next to useless unless needing to start a download off of the SEN. Locally, support for remote play is limited, only allowing users to play videos stored on their system and run Playstation 1 classics. I have enjoyed the time playing Metal Gear Solid while in bed, but I cannot see any lasting appeal with the software thus far. When developers allow for current gen games to work over remote play (like the much anticipated Killzone 3 demo given last year) this might be a reason to come back to the software, but for now, there is not much need.
Underneath the Vita’s sleek exterior, there is a wonderful operating system to back it up. The decision to pass up the XMB for this iteration of Sony’s hardware was probably a smart move. They have made software that makes use of the new features of the Vita well and provides information using a snappy and clean user interface.
The real reason anybody would by a Vita in the first place is games. This is where the Vita really comes alive. Playing through games such as Uncharted: Golden Abyss and Touch My Katamari make me forget that I am on a handheld device. The graphics capabilities of the games are better than some of the best offerings on similar handhelds such as the 3DS and the iPad, but what really stands out about the experience is that it doesn’t stand out. Using the dual analog sticks and face buttons to play a game is the way that console gaming has been for over 20 years now. Sony has realized that this is what was needed to bolster the portable gaming community. Giving players the same controls they know and love is the best part of the Vita. Yes, there are other options such as touch screen controls and motion control, but they simply add to the experience of a well crafted game rather than replace it completely. What I love about the Vita is that I forget that I am playing the Vita. I am engrossed in the experience of a game just as I would be on my 65 inch TV with the Playstation 3.
Most of the qualms I have with the PS Vita are minor. Lack of HTML5 support in the browser is disheartening and the shoddy implementation of remote play leaves much to be desired. The cameras did not pose an issue to me as I did not expect to use the Vita as a photography device, but with a company who has a history of making spectacular cameras, Sony has definitely dropped the ball here. The biggest concern that I have is that twice since I have gotten it, the Vita has frozen with the screen off. The only thing that I could do is to reset it by holding the power button for 20 seconds. This does a hard reset on the Vita that does not take long, but if a game is running, any unsaved progress will be lost. Neither time that this happened has there been any loss of data, but it could pose a problem in the future.
What Sony has crafted is an expertly made device that fulfills the needs of hardcore gamers on the go. Uncharted: Golden Abyss proves that developers can use the hardware of the Vita to make a game just as engaging and fulfilling as on a console. This is what gamers have been waiting for. While the package is not perfect, the Sony has indeed delivered on their promise to bring an immersive gaming experience on the go. I have not spent a full day since I got the Vita without using it thus far and I do not see that changing any time in the future. This may be my new favorite gaming console for all that it delivers. With time, most of the issues addressed here could be fixed with firmware updates, and assuming the launch of the Vita goes well, I think that is a distinct possibility. With a bevy of fantastic games out already or coming in the near future, I cannot wait to see what is in store for the Vita.
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