When the PlayStation Vita was first unveiled during 2011′s E3 there was a cautious optimism in the crowd. Sony hasn’t exactly been a smooth operation, and only recently found some positive tread with the PlayStation 3; however it was only after several missteps. Is the PlayStation Vita the portable gaming device hardcore gamers have been waiting for?
It has been a long time since a device has captivated me as much as the PlayStation Vita. It’s sleek, sexy, fast, and has a strong line-up of varied titles that makes it one of the most compelling devices to hit the market in a very long time. The PlayStation Vita addresses several of the issues and lacking features that still haven’t been addressed with the PlayStation 3, which includes the addition of cross-game chat, and a much faster built-in software application; making it one of the most complete devices in PlayStation history.
Several PlayStation 3 owners, including myself, have been yearning for a new software update to address the current and sadly outdated XMB. Sony decided to move away from the XMB with the Vita and instead opted for a more touch-based interface that has been made popular on other mobile devices. The result is a much more intuitive, streamlined interface that allows hardcore gamers to sink their teeth into, however easy enough for a more casual crowd to grasp. While it doesn’t use Android or any of the other popularized software packages, Sony did a surprisingly good job of crafting it. Perhaps I had lower expectations given Sony’s recent track record, but it’s indeed a drastic step up from any of their current offerings. Below you can check out a list of pre-loaded software that comes with the Vita.
- Near – A GPS-based social app that shows nearby Vita users and allows users to gather Game Goods, like unlockable add-ons.
- Maps – A Google Maps app that provides directions.
- Photos – A camera and photo/video viewing app.
- Party – Connect with other PSN friends with voice and text chat.
- Friends – Friends list viewer.
- Group Messaging – Text communication with friends and PSN users.
- Trophies – Trophy viewer.
- Video – The system’s viewer for downloaded or synced video content.
- PS Store - Access to the PSN Store.
- Browser – Basic web browser.
- Content Manager – An app that allows you to copy content to/from your PS3 or PC.
- Remote Play – App that allows you to access a paired PS3 remotely via Wi-Fi.
- Settings – Primary system settings interface.
Each of these applications are on one of a few pages (pages increase based on how many apps) and can be touched via a bubble icon. There has been some complaints that it takes more than 1 press to fire up an app, however I appreciate that it doesn’t automatically start an app in case of accidental presses. Hardcore users who become very familiar with the device might see this as needless step, but its nice buffer for new users to the device. Given how fast each app opens and closes, it’s a pretty mild compliant and most users won’t notice or care that there’s an added step. However, there is an issue with there being too many apps. Some of these particular apps could have been just one instead of 2 or 3. Trophies, friends, and party could have been 1 app instead of being split into three. To be fair there are benefits to splitting them into separate apps as it reduces clutter that could appear within 1 app.
My favorite app out of the bunch has to be Near, which has drawn similar comparisons to the Nintendo Street Pass featured on the 3DS. Near is a GPS-based social app that allows player to interact with other nearby Vita users. It’s a great way to meet new friends, or stalk (if you’re into that kinda thing) people in your city. Near also allows players to share their activities and even get in-game goods, which amount to unlockables for several games and demos. It’s a very cool app, and I was initially worried that not many people would be around my area to full utilize it. Thankfully there were around 20 people in my area using a Vita and Near. The biggest issue with the app is that it doesn’t allow the user to send a friend’s request from Near (from what I saw), which becomes a pain in the ass if you want to meet some fellow gamers.
There are some outstanding negatives to the line-up of software. The browser, like the PS3 iteration is atrocious. It’s slow, cumbersome, and really just a total nuisance for the user. Given the vast improvements across the board it’s strange that the browser is so terrible. Hopefully in the future, Sony will be able to add a Firefox or Chrome application to solve this problem. The Content Manager is also far from perfect, and features the same sluggishness and interface problems as the browser. Despite how great the operating system is, some of the pieces of software fall into the cliche developed over the years about Sony’s software capabilities.
From a hardware standpoint, the PlayStation Vita is an extremely well-realized device. The display features an absolutely beautiful 5-inch OLED display capable of displaying around 16-million different colors. The display also features a capacitive multi-touch screen and on the back of the Vita has a rear touch pad. The additional of a rear touch pad was interesting, but to be honest not really necessary, and seems more like a gimmick rather than a meaningful addition to the hardware package. It would have been much better if that particular pad had been scrapped in favor of a lower price point or better cameras. There are two cameras both front and rear, however they’re not any better than the ones you get on a smart phone. For instance the Vita takes much grainier pictures than my HTC EVO 4G, but captures video at a much higher framerate. You can view some of the hardware specifications below.
- ARM Cortex A9 core
- (4 core)
- OLED 16:9 display
- 5 inches (diagonally)
- 960×544 resolution
- Approx. 16 million colors
- Capacitive multi-touch screen
- Main Memory: 512 MB
- VRAM: 128 MB
Rear Touch Pad
- Capacitive multi-touch pad
- Front camera, Rear camera
- Frame rate: 120fps at 320×240 (QVGA), 60fps at 640×480(VGA)
- Maximum 640×480 resolution
- Stereo speakers
- Built-in microphone
- Bluetooth 2.1+EDR device
- Six-axis motion sensing system (three-axis gyroscope, three-axis accelerometer)
- Three-axis electronic compass
The PlayStation Vita attempts to replicate a console experience by offering dual-analog sticks, a d-pad, and the face buttons present on the PS3 controller. The difference is night and day between the PSP and its successor. While the analog stick (PSP) could only be pushed slightly, the Vita’s bulge out allowing for much more flexibility, without the spacing that could possibly break them under pressure. Each of the buttons, pads, and analog sticks are study even with a decent amount of pressure placed on them. It looks and feels like a quality product, in comparison to the 3DS, which comes off as cheap.
One of the biggest issues with the Vita is the proprietary memory cards used for the games. It’s understandable, given how freely hacked the original PlayStation Portable was, however the cost of the memory cards is significantly more expensive when compared to similar forms of memory. There’s also no memory card included with the purchase of the Wi-Fi model. Battery life has also been a huge point of contention; however I can happily report that it hasn’t been much of an issue. Typical play time can last anywhere between 4-6 hours depending on the brightness settings and depending on whether Wi-Fi is turned on.
The PlayStation Vita is arguably one of the best day one pieces of hardware that has been available in a very long time. For PlayStation owners wanting a console-like experience on the go, the PlayStation Vita is the definite portable device. While it’s certainly not perfect, the excellent launch titles, fantastic hardware, and responsive software prove that mobile gaming isn’t dying, if anything, it’s just evolving.
Over the next few week, TheParanoidGamer will be reviewing several of the launch titles now available on the PlayStation Vita.
A Wi-Fi version of the PlayStation Vita was purchased for reviewing purposes.