PS Vita review

The PS Vita has finally landed, and I got to spend an unhealthy amount of time getting to grips with the shiny new hand-held.

The wide-eyed appeal of the gadget is undeniable, with a sleek and sexy design drawing you in to gawk at the 5-inch OLED display that has colour depth so beautiful you’ll want to vomit Skittles everywhere.

The system is designed for touch, and it wants you to touch it. It beckons you in to do so – and you won’t even feel dirty doing it.

But such beauty comes at a price – and in the PS Vita’s case, a very steep one. So before you get lost in the gaze of a pretty face – have a reality slap, because there’s a lot you need to consider before laying down the cash for this pricey stunner.

What you get in the box

  • PS Vita console
  • Charger cable
  • Augmented Reality Cards (plus access code)
  • Documentation

The press kit PS Vita came in a book. We kid you not.

Hardware

The PS Vita boasts some impressive specifications:

As mentioned, you have the 5-inch multi-touch OLED touchscreen display, which offers 32 bits of colour at a resolution of 960×544 – it really is rather remarkable, and makes the iPhone’s retina display look positively bland in comparison.

All the PlayStation buttons you’d expect are present – with the exception of L2 and R2 – but that’s no issue, as the rear touch-pad can double up as those triggers.

There are two analogue sticks this time around, and they thankfully have a ‘mushroom’ design – which is far better than the PSP’s shifting analogue ‘nub’ feel.

Powering this baby is a quad-core ARM Cortex-A9 MPCore CPU and a 4-core SGX543MP4+ GPU – which means absolutely nothing to me, but Derrick assures me it’s very good, and will out-perform all the competition currently available.

Of course it’s impressive now, but technology has this way of constantly advancing, so it’s a frivolous boast – but it’s definitely a very powerful device.

If you couldn’t be bothered by gigaflops and super-tera-whatchamacallits – all you need to know is that the graphical capability of this little beast is astounding – and you simply need to pop in Uncharted: Golden Abyss to see why.

The Vita also has two 1.3MP cameras (front- and rear-facing); a headphone connector; PS Vita card slot; PS Vita memory card slot (proprietary of course); charger port; and a special port for accessory use.

PS Vita

PS Vita front, top and back

Mobility and design

The device has a very alluring design – it’s smooth and curvy and fits into your hand really comfortably – even if you have big hands like me. It feels daintier than the PSP; definitely more refined, and a touch more fragile. You’ll want to invest in a good screen protector (preferably matte) because, being a touch device, you’re going to muck that pretty screen up quickly with your grubby fingers.

The D-pad and shape-pad are spaced a little too close to the analogue sticks for my liking (bearing in mind I have big, caveman thumbs), but it’s something you get used to the more you use it.

The Vita isn’t something you’ll easily slip into your pocket as you walk out the door – especially not with the protruding analogue sticks – and if you do manage to get it into a pocket, sitting with it in there isn’t very comfortable.

Simply put, if you plan on using the Vita while you’re mobile, it’s something you’ll likely have to dress for. Time to invest in cargo pants with bigger pockets – and never mind the fashionistas who tell you you’re committing crimes – gaming is always more important.

Warning: carrying the Vita in your pocket is tricky if you don't wear pants

Software

The PS Vita drops the PSP/PS3 XMB GUI in favour of a more touch-based home screen. How to go about things is explained in a brief, yet informative, little video the first time you boot-up the system.

Effectively, all your apps and game buttons are stored on the home screen – when you fill up the screen with apps, you can make another one. You can have as many of these screens as you like, and they’re vertically stored.

That is, you access the various screens by flicking them up or down, like scrolling through a menu. Open applications are horizontally stored, and are accessed by flicking left or right.

To close applications/screens, you simply “peel” them off the screen by flicking from the corner, downwards.

The entire interface is very user-friendly and very responsive. There’s no touch-lag, and it feels very fluid.

The home screen music sounds like you’re standing in a mall elevator, or listening to the home music of Gran Turismo – which, incidentally, sounds like you’re standing in a mall elevator.

Thankfully it can be turned off in the system settings, which is where you also setup your PlayStation Network account and adjust Wi-fi and 3G settings, amongst other system settings.

Dropping the XMB for the PS Vita was the right move – it simply feels more intuitive, and accessible. You can pull up the home screen at any time, mid-game, and unless there are any actions that require rebooting (such as system updates), you can simply swish around, and get back to your game at leisure.

Touching things is fun.

Games

On to the important part.

The PS Vita launched with an impressive list of games; systems and consoles are only as good as the games that they play, and it looks like the PS Vita is going to enjoy a lot of developer support.

Wipeout, Uncharted and Rayman Origins are but a few of the games launched alongside the Vita that are shining examples of the right kinds of games to sell a console like this – and there is promise of more to come.

All major publishers are on board to release games for the console – and with big names like Mortal Kombat, Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty all promising to land on the console at some point this year, it’s probably safe to say that Vita owners will have a lot to keep them busy.

Mortal Kombat is among the big-name titles listed for Vita

Battery life

A massively contentious issue with the PSP was the rather dismal battery life. Whether this is an important factor to you depends entirely on where you plan on using it.

The PS Vita battery can last up to 6 hours of game time, depending on how intense the game you’re playing is. Uncharted seemed to sap the battery a lot faster than Everybody’s Golf, with WipeOut falling somewhere in between.

It should be noted that I purposefully sat and played the battery out – even though the charger and power-point were right next to me.

That’s the point – if you’re playing at home – power access is right there. If you’re in a car, hey look, a car charger. Where you will run into battery issues is gaming while you’re on a 5 hour hike up a mountain, or more realistically, on long-haul flights and during Eskom black-outs.

Under normal circumstances (sans battery-draining agenda) I never typically gamed for more than a couple of hours at a time, anyway.

Uncharted Golden Abyss

You can see why this would drain the Vita's battery quickly

There’s always a but

It’s easy to be cynical about the PS Vita, especially when you consider that the PSP shared a similar start, making similar promises regarding revolutionising portable gaming – something the handheld failed to deliver.

Indeed, the PS Vita, with all its shine and pure appeal, isn’t without issues – though these issues aren’t with anything the console does or doesn’t do.

The immediate problem is the price – this is a very expensive gadget to own. With the cheapest (Wi-Fi only) model hitting your pocket at R2,999, you already start asking if it’s really worth it.

Take into consideration that the proprietary memory card – the one you have to have, and cannot replace with more widely available generics – isn’t even bundled with the console and you’ll see the costs piling up.

The cheapest memory card (4GB) has an RRP of R199 – so in reality you’re paying R3,198 for the cheapest PS Vita experience – and that’s before you start hitting the games at around R399 a pop.

Want to use proprietary memory cards, Sony? Fine – we don’t like it, but it is what it is – but not bundling one in with an already massively expensive console? I doth protest.

Then of course there’s the Sony trope of shunning backwards-compatibility, which hasn’t made the company many friends – and is another issue altogether, that we won’t get into here.

Pricing listed from R200 to crazy

Is it worth it?

We were given a PS Vita to review.

When someone literally hands you a gadget as sexy as this and says “enjoy” – enjoy it you shall; but when faced with the prospect of forking out the asking price for one, myself – deep hesitation sets in.

What the console offers is impressive – and what it promises is very appealing. But if I had the choice between a PS Vita and a PS3 – the PS3 would win hands-down.

Indeed, even as I sat playing Uncharted on my couch, I couldn’t help but feel like I was robbing myself by choosing the hand-held over the big-screen, full-HD glory its bigger brother could offer me.

People who are going to buy a PS Vita have already justified their purchase in their heads – they know why they want the console, what they will do with it, and why it suits their needs.

If you’re still undecided, or don’t have any clear answer for “why” you need to have this portable console – it’s probably a good idea you check your gaming habits and preferred styles before dropping a load of cash on something you might rarely use.

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