|Eye Candy, anyone?|
It's cute and all but it's not even close. If you were to poll the average consumer as to which portable they believe to be the most pleasing to the eye the Vita would come out on top almost every time. Sleek lines, no wasted space, amazing screen....it's a beauty.
Now that we got that out of the way, let's dive into this review, because "looks ain't everything, kid."
And so it went for 20-ish years until Sony decided to try and parlay their rousing success in the home console market (I am referring of course to the Playstation brand which exploded onto the scene and basically changed the home console market forever) into an attack on Nintendo's utter domination of the portable space. The machine with which they tried this was the Playstation Portable, aka PSP. This guy:
While Nintendo's sales of the DS were orders of magnitude beyond that of the much more technologically advanced and sleeker PSP (anyone seeing a trend here?) Sony actually fared moderately well, managing to squeeze out a piece of the market for themselves and make it to the point where they are able to release a follow up: The PS Vita.
There are 2 models of the Vita available: a 3G version and a WiFi one. I purchased a WiFi one, as I primarily play offline and at home or at a WiFi hotspot, so I have no use for a 3G enabled portable (especially if it is more expensive which in the Vita's case, it is). Regardless of the model you choose the Vita is a powerful little machine, featuring a 2 Ghz quad core cpu, a quad core gpu and 512MB of RAM/128MB of VRAM.
The graphical fidelity of the games released thus far seems to suggest a machine capable of producing visuals that lie between that of the PS2 and PS3. It's much more powerful than was the PSP, although Sony exaggerated somewhat when they referred to the Vita as a "portable PS3." It's not that far off, but it's not on par. Storage is handled via a proprietary external memory card type, which are sold in the 4, 8, 16 and 32Gb sizes.
The sound quality is crisp and clear, even at higher volume levels. All sound ranges are fairly represented for a 2 channel stereo sound system. The included headphones are of a decent quality, although high performance headphones are always preferable, assuming they are available. when not using the headphones, the sound volumes available are such that you can game in a room with reasonable amounts of ambient sound and have no trouble hearing the game; just don't expect to be able to play in a baseball stadium.
The back of the unit features a touchpad, which adds new functionality to games as well as both front and back mounted cameras. The system is bluetooth enabled and plays both downloaded and retail (Vita cards) games, as well as downloadable PSP, PS1 and PSN games. There is no UMD slot, however.
As mentioned previously, the screen is a gorgeous 5 inch OLED multitouch capacitive touchscreen. It displays approximately 17 million colours and the native resolution is 960 × 544 qHD @ 220 ppi. Games pop off the screen, and HD video content looks fantastic. The brightness is excellent, and because the screen is made from OLED technology, turning the brightness up has less negative effect on battery life than you normally see with other screen types.
When you turn the Vita on you will be met with a colourful and at least somewhat customizable homescreen that features a vertical scrolling interface with bubble icons representing games and various apps. In addition to icons for games (both downloaded and retail) there are icons for any apps you have, whether they are pre-installed ones like trophies or a downloaded one like Skype. The Vita will play music and videos, as well as take pictures. You can even make phone calls with the aforementioned Skype app (although a Skype account is required).
The build quality of the unit seems solid (although the buttons and analog nubs (they are shorter than typical analog sticks) are a bit on the small side), and the system is pretty comfortable to hold. The only issue with discomfort I have noticed is one that plagues other handhelds as well: pain/discomfort when playing games that require lots of shoulder button (especially the left) usage. The Vita's analog nubs are pretty low on the unit, so it's a fair stretch upwards for your index finger to rest on the shoulder button(s). It just feels much more comfortable to hold the unit when you place your hands on the dpad and buttons rather than the left and right analog nubs.
Because of this I knew I was going to have issues playing games for extended periods of time unless I figured something out and so after doing some research online I purchased the PDP Vita Trigger Grips and an immediate difference was made. It feels much more like holding a PS3 controller and thus I can play my Vita for long periods of time with little discomfort. The trigger grips are seen in the following 2 images:
The game I play the most is Ninja Gaiden Sigma (no surprise there to any of my usual readers) and that title requires you to basically hold the left shoulder button at all times (the L shoulder button is block and blocking is super important in NG games). Before I got the trigger grips this game caused me a lot of discomfort; afterwards, I can play for hours at a time and have little issue. I cannot say that everyone will experience this issue, but I did (as I do with the 3DS when heavy shoulder button usage is required) and according to forums posts and the existence of products like the trigger grips I am not alone, so I believe this bears mentioning, even if it may not be specific to the Vita. If you happen to be one of the people who are affected by this issue, at least the trigger grips (and other products like it) are available and not too expensive (the PDP grips pictured above are $17.99).
The software library is a definite downside, at least at this point in the Vita's life. The library is lacking, with a small list of games, big name titles hyped before their release ultimately releasing to mediocre reviews and sales and certain genres either under represented or not represented at all. The Nintendo 3DS, on the other hand, has a vast array of titles in all genres, and new games are being released at a steady pace. Granted, it has been out for a year longer than the Vita, but a potential consumer looking at both products doesn't care why one machine plays more games than the other; only which one plays more.
Another issue is battery life. Because of the high performance hardware and giant screen you're looking at 4 or so hours of usage per charge. If you play at low-medium brightness with WiFi/3G off and the sound turned low you can squeeze 6-7 or so hours out of it. If I play my 3DS with the conservative settings (including having the 3D turned off) I can get 8-9 hours out of it. Of course, 4 hours or so at standard settings means 4 hours of basically console quality gameplay popping out of a gorgeous high definition screen. Context is everything, after all.
The biggest downside to the Vita though, more so than the limited software library, battery life and possible discomfort with extended play (without add ons like the trigger grips) is pricing. The Vita costs $249/$299 (WiFi/3G) and the memory cards (4Gb/8Gb/16Gb/32Gb) are $20, $30, $60, and $100, respectively. With so much digital content available over the Playstation Network (games, demos, add ons, music, movies, etc) you're guaranteed to be needing 16Gb at a minimum, unless you won't be downloading much. The games for the Vita are generally $20-$40 for retail titles. If you get a WiFi model, a 16Gb card and a game, including taxes you'll be spending around $385. That's no small number for a handheld game system. To put this in perspective, the Nintendo 3DS costs $169.99 and comes with a 2Gb SD memory card. If you want to upgrade to a higher capacity SD card you can get one for roughly half of the price that Sony charges for one of their proprietary Vita memory cards of a similar capacity.
The Vita is a sexy, sleek and powerful machine. It is also very expensive and doesn't have a tremendously long battery life. The lacking games library is bolstered by a backlog of playable Playstation 1 and PSP games, and as time passes more retail Vita games will be released but if you're a potential buyer comparing the Vita to the 3DS the 3DS wins hands down when it comes to price and available titles (just 3DS titles alone, nevermind the fact that is also plays DS, NES, GBA, Game Gear, Gameboy and Gameboy Color games). The 3DS also does glasses free 3D, something that the Vita is not capable of, glasses or not. The Vita, though, is capable of outputting games that are much more advanced than those playable on the 3DS, and the Vita's incredible screen only compliments them further. It is a far more stunning system to look at.
Basically, the Vita is much more like a portable console rather than a traditional portable games experience, and consequently, you pay console like prices. It's up to the consumer in the end to decide just what type of experience they want in a handheld gaming device. Of course, if you can afford it, you can't go wrong with both!