The PS Vita, Sony's second generation portable gaming console, hardly needs an introduction. It's been 7 years since the PSP launched, and even though the device is about deep gameplay and quality titles, the hardware was more than a little rusty. The world was more than ready for something new from Sony. The PS Vita sells for $249 for the WiFi only version and $299 for the WiFi plus AT&T 3G version. The $349 first edition bundle that includes the WiFi + 3G PlayStation Vita, a nicer than average rigid zipper case, 4 gig memory card, 6 AR games cards and the game Little Deviants went on sale February 15, one week before the non-bundle versions.
The Vita is simply an inspired piece of hardware. This is the Sony of old that made cutting edge hardware with exquisite designs. The Vita's overall design is reminiscent of the PSP with a long oval shape, a relatively large display and analog and digital controls. The Vita adds a second analog joystick for truly excellent console-style gaming. This sets it apart from the PSP, Nintendo DS family and all other mobile gaming platforms. For serious gamers, it's a game changer. The PS Vita is gorgeous to look at, feels solid (I haven't ripped out those analog sticks yet, despite 30 hours of inspired play) and it's loaded with every feature in the book. The Vita has a capacitive touchscreen, a rear touch panel, 6 axis control (gyroscope, accelerometer and a digital compass too), front and rear cameras (great for augmented reality gameplay, not so great for taking stunning photos and video) and wireless access to the PS Store, social networking and multi-player gaming.
The 5" OLED display runs at 960 x 544 pixels and the colors are eye-popping yet not overdone like Super AMOLED smartphone displays. Blacks are rich and the screen is extremely sharp. It's a touchscreen, and that means entering info using the virtual keyboard is easy rather than the tedious affair on the PSP. Games can use the touchscreen, the rear touch pad, gyro, accelerometer, the cameras and GPS. Yes, it has a GPS and Google Maps too along with Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR for headphones and headsets (not HID devices like keyboards and mice). The console has front-facing stereo speakers that provide surprisingly good separation but less than earth-shattering volume. It also has a 3.5mm headphone/mic jack and a built-in mic.
The UI is designed for touch interaction and is very intuitive (watch our video review to see it in action). A child could learn it in a matter of minutes, as could even us less savvy adults. Tap an icon to launch an app. Swipe sideways to switch between running apps. Tap the top taskbar to view notifications, just like Android. It's simple, trust me.
All isn't perfect: the glossy front face loves fingerprints, though it cleans up easily. The glare isn't forgiving outdoors, and while the AMOLED display looks stunning indoors, it's not the best outdoors. A beach buddy this isn't unless you've got some good umbrella shade. There's currently no video out to connect the Vita to a TV, but the as of yet undefined expansion port up top under a door next to the game card slot might provide a future video out solution.
The WiFi + AT&T 3G model has a full size SIM card on the side under a door, and you can get 250 meg (laughably small) or a $30 3 gig/month plans from AT&T sans contract. Personally, I'd pick the WiFi only model and use my smartphone with its mobile hotspot feature for occasional wireless multi-player gaming and social networking, but if you plan to use the feature heavily and frequently, 3G can make sense. Likewise, if you're buying the Vita for your child who won't have access to your smartphone, 3G could be handy. Obviously, you won't download many Vita games using 3G given their average 1 gig + file size. All models have WiFi 802.11b/g/n single band 2.4GHz.
Deals and Shopping:
PS Vita Video Review
Here's our 20 minute video review. Please note that in the video I had a brain boggle and said there's a 3G only version for $249 when I meant to say a WiFi only version for $249. Whoops.
The Vita runs on a quad core ARM Cortex-A9 CPU (as does the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime Android tablet), and it has a quad core PowerVR SGX543MP4+ GPU (the quad core version of the dual core GPU used in the iPad 2 and iPhone 4S). It packs impressive power and should be plenty good for several years of good quality games. The launch Vita titles run fluently and our only complaint are long load times at game start and when loading new chapters/levels. CPU speed isn't disclosed. The Vita has multi-tasking apps (though you can't run two games simultaneously), and doesn't bog down with several apps running.
The Vita can play PSP downloadable games from the PS Store on the Vita, and there are trial versions of many Vita titles so you can test the game first--nice. You can transfer PSP/PSone compatible games and media to and from a PS3, Mac or Windows PC using the included USB cable (it's a removable part of the charger cabling and is included). Quality games shouldn't be a problem, and the launch titles include Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Rayman Origins, wipeout 2048 and the ever-popular Lumines. Game prices range from $9.99 for downloadable-only Vita titles to $39.99 for most tier 1 games (Uncharted is the only $50 title at launch, and Lego Harry Potter will cost $50 when it launches). There are plenty of PSP games available for download from $5 to $20 on average, with a few coming in higher. You can use two devices on a PSN account, so you can download games you'd purchased for your PSP to the Vita. Sony uses a Wallet system, where you'll use your credit card to put funds in the Wallet or Playstation Network cards that are sold in $10, $20 and $50 amounts at retail outlets like Best Buy. The UMD optical drive used in the PSP is gone, instead the Vita uses a small cartridge that looks (and is) like a small memory card. So your PSP UMD cartridges won't work, unlike downloadable games.
The PS Vita has a memory card slot that uses proprietary cards (some things never change). These aren't cheap: a 4 gig card costs $20, the 8 gig is $30, 16 gigs is $60 and 32 gigs is $100. Ouch. And you'll need a card since there's no accessible internal storage. Game saves, downloaded games (1 to 1.6 gigs apiece for Vita titles) and downloaded movies and TV shows require a memory card. I suggest you start with a larger card if you plan to download Vita games or game trials and movies because swapping cards is a minor pain (you must shut down before swapping a card, and who knows where your currently needed game save is stored). Sony has an on-device video store with solid movies for rent and purchase as well as TV shows. Netflix is included, but there's no Adobe Flash or HTML 5 video for the otherwise capable web browser.
Why a Dedicated Portable Gaming Device?
This thing is downright fun. Smartphone games are rarely this immersive, deep and long. There's no freemium plague here as there is with smartphones where a game is free, but you've got to pay some serious dollars to progress or avoid tedium. Yes, Houston, there's still a place for dedicated portable game consoles, though Sony pushes the Vita into multi-purpose territory with multi-tasking apps that include a decent web browser, a video player (and video rental/purchase service plus locally stored MP4 H.264 content), music player with background playback (MP3 and AAC), Google Maps, a web browser, PSN social networking, Twitter, Facebook, Netflix and Skype to combat the iPod Touch. Seriously fun and long lasting games take major resources to develop, and game houses won't stay in business long selling them for $5 per title. There's definitely a place for $20 to $40 games that offer immersive gameplay like their full size console and PC counterparts.
And then there are the Playstation Vita's excellent controls that mimic Sony's Sixaxis controller: I can't tell you how much these improve the gameplay experience. I'm not a hardcore gamer, yet I appreciate how much more control they give me in games. That means less frustration and lots more fun. If you're looking for a mobile gaming platform with quality games, best in class hardware and attractive video playback on a vivid 5" display, the PS Vita is for you. If your kids are hogging your smartphone to play games and watch videos, the Vita might be for both of you. Better yet, it won't nag you with meeting reminders, email attachments or PowerPoint presentations. It's all about fun.
Price: $249 for WiFi model, $299 for WiFi + 3G model
Dimensions and Weight: 7.16 x 3.29 x 0.73 inches. 10 ounces.
Audio: Built-in stereo speakers and mic. 3.5mm combo headphone/mic jack. Bluetooth stereo.
Wireless: WiFi 802.11b/g/n (single band, supports infrastructure and ad hoc modes), Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR (audio only: A2DP/AVRC/HSP). AT&T 3G on the WiFi + 3G model.
GPS: Has GPS and Google Maps. Has electronic 3 axis compass.
Camera: Has front and rear cameras.
Sensors: 3 axis gyroscope, 3 axis digital compass, 3 axis accelerometer, back touch panel, front touch screen.
Audio and video formats: MP4 H.264 baseline, standard and high profile video. MP3 and AAC audio files.
Controls: Dual analog sticks, d-pad, action buttons (triangle, circle, square, cross), Playstation button, Start button, Select button, left and right shoulder buttons. Volume controls and power button.