Review: PS Vita

 

 

When the PSP first came out in 2005 It was hailed as a device that would revolutionise the portable gaming market. Indeed compared to the Game Boy Advance that had gone before and Nintendo’s new Nintendo DS it seemed more than just a generational leap for portable gaming devices. However, as we all know gaming devices are based more on games than they are on hardware and history will show that while the PSP was no failure, selling over 70million units worldwide, it came second to the DS. Today we are looking at Sony’s next generation entry to the portable gaming market, the PS Vita, and once again it looks like Sony has the hardware advantage over Nintendo and its 3DS.

 

Hardware

Dimensions: 182mm x 18.6mm x 83.5mm

Weight: 260g

Screen Size: 5″ (960×544) OLED

Cameras: 0.3MP front and rear facing

 

 

Like the PSP before it, the PS Vita is a sleek looking device that once again shows off the design talent within Sony. In fact upon picking up the device one of the first things that you’ll notice is how light it is. No doubt this is due to the all plastic construction, although it must be noted that this is high quality plastic and not the sort found on cheap laptops. Fortunately the lightweight nature of the device doesn’t prevent it from feeling like it could withstand a drop or two.

 

Yet while the weight of the PS Vita may take you by surprise it is the beautiful 5” (960×544) OLED screen that will grab your attention. Not only is the screen based OLED technology but it is also a capacitive touchscreen. Staying with the front of the device you will find the traditional four face buttons, a much improved dpad, and arguably the most important feature from a gaming perspective dual analogue thumbsticks. There is also space for home,start and select buttons.

 

On the top of the device is the power button, two volume buttons along with the game cartridge slot and the Vita’s proprietary memory card slot. While the bottom sees access to a 3.5mm headphone jack as well as charge cable input. Speaking of the proprietary memory card, the Vita needs one to play games and we feel it leaves a bad taste in a new owner’s mouth having to pay extra for a rather expensive memory card.

 

Confirming Sony’s vision that the Vita be not only a next generation portable games machine, but also a next generation gadget is the inclusion of a rear capacitive touchscreen. Whether or not this can become a legitimate input method is a question for games developers to answer. The rear of the device is also home to a 0.3MP camera to compliment the front facing camera of the same resolution the Vita also has.Finally the internals of the device are both powerful and cutting edge. Inside the Vita you will find an A9 quad core CPU along with 512mb of RAM. The clock speed of the GPU is unknown but thought to be around 200mhz. Overall there really can’t be any complaints with either the externals or internals of the Vita.

 

Display

On a portable device the screen is incredibly important and fortunately Sony has realised this. Thus the Vita comes with the latest and greatest display technology, OLED. As with all new technologies, OLED screens are still extremely expensive and limited in quantity so to see the Vita with such a screen is certainly worthy of high praise. More importantly, however, is how the screen looks. In a word fantastic. The colours are crisp, vibrant and the viewing angles are some of the best we have seen and certainly rival those of IPS screens such as the one on the new iPad. It also helps that the screen resolution is four times that of the PSP, making both 3D and 2D games look great.

 

 

Controls

One of the biggest complaints with the PSP was that it lacked the necessary control inputs to be a hardcore gaming device. Fortunately Sony has rectified this problem with the inclusion of a responsive, clicky, albeit smaller dpad and the holy grail of gaming inputs, dual analog sticks. When the Vita was first announced we, like many people, we’re sceptical of whether Sony could pull off dual analog sticks on such a small device. Thankfully they have done and while not as precise or as large as there console controller counterparts the analog sticks on the Vita are a pleasure to use and are worlds away from the nubs found on the 3DS and PSP. The analog sticks feature a nice rubberised top that prevents you thumbs from slipping off during prolonged gaming sessions. In fact our only concern with the sticks are that they may be a little too small to use comfortably for more than a couple of hours. Sony hasn’t just refined the dpad and introduced analog sticks, however, but has also greatly improved its traditional four face buttons. Gone are the mushy at times unresponsive buttons from the PSP and in their place are slightly smaller buttons that produce a satisfying tactile click when pressed.

 

Moving on from the more traditional input methods on the Vita you will also find both a rear and front touchscreen. Like much of the hardware on the Vita Sony has, rightly, chosen to use high quality components and both touchscreens are as responsive as those you can find on high end smartphones. There is no doubt in our mind that whatever control method you choose to play games you will be pleasantly surprised at how comfortable and responsive the controls are.

 

Battery life, Performance and Sound Quality

Now to answer the question many of you have been wondering throughout this review, how does the Vita’s battery stand up to the power of the machine? This is a slightly more difficult question to answer than you might think but overall we’d say it does surprisingly well but not exceptionally. On average the battery lasts between four and a half to five hours although this number is slightly reduced to around 4 hours when playing GPU heavy games such as the new Uncharted. While these numbers are no where near the all day gaming heaven that was the Nintendo DS it is nice to know that you will at least be able to get in a decent gaming session before having to return to a power plug.

 

Performance on the Vita is excellent with games looking stunning and running very well indeed. Flicking around the homescreen is not quite as fluid as we would have hoped but we believe that this has more to do with the OS Sony is using (more on that a bit later). The speakers are capable of producing relatively crisp sounds and are perfectly adequate listening to the sound effects of most games but we would definitely recommend a pair of headphones if you intend to listen to music.

 

 

Software

The Vita comes with a relatively large amount of software out of the box. Games and applications are shown as bubbles on different homescreens. In order to flick between homescreens you just swipe up and down. Unfortunately for all the Vita’s power this is not quite as smooth as we would like, although has very little impact on the usability of the device. It merely takes some of the sheen of the product. We found that when trying to rearrange apps on the homescreen (via a long press) was when touchscreen lag was at its worse. In fact you may be surprised to know that all operation of the homescreen is done via touch. Apart from the underlying OS the Vita comes with a selection of mini games that show off the Vita’s features. These aren’t the sort of mini games that come with the Wii, however, and are more like brief tech demos. Sony has also bundled the Vita with a web browser which is rather unfortunately not much better than the one found on the PSP, the Vita certainly wont be replacing your smartphone or tablet any time soon on the browsing front. Finally the Vita also comes with both photo and map software which are both perfectly usable. The software on the Vita does little to detract from the overall quality of the device but we hope that in the next few months Sony will update the firmware so that time spent on the homescreen is a slightly less frustrating affair.

 

Conclusion

Like the PSP before it the PS Vita is a great leap forward in portable gaming and based on the hardware alone should be an unqualified success. Indeed the beautiful OLED screen, rear touchpad and improved controls makes this device a most buy for gadget lovers and hardcore gamers. However, to anyone else the Vita, at it’s current price, is hard to recommend. There are a lack of games on the market and while some were announced at E3 it is probably worth waiting for Sony to lower the price, probably around Christmas time.

 

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Day in Tech: 31st July 2012

 

 

Samsung angers judge by leaking information barred from court

http://www.theverge.com/2012/7/31/3209204/samsung-angers-judge-by-sending-media-rejected-evidence-in-apple-trial

 

Microsoft launches new email website, Outlook.com

http://www.engadget.com/2012/07/31/outlook-preview-email-service-microsoft/

 

Google indefinitely delays Nexus Q launch, promises all pre-order customers a free dev build

http://www.kitguru.net/mobile/blair-mcclelland/google-postpones-retail-launch-of-the-nexus-q/

 

Dropbox admits it was hacked

http://www.techradar.com/news/software/applications/dropbox-confirms-it-was-hacked-assures-its-safe-1090741

 

In other news…

Digg relaunches with new website and mobile app

http://mashable.com/2012/07/31/digg-2/

 
 

Photo credit Vectorportal

 

Day in Tech: 30th July 2012

 

 

Apple and Samsung start trial for $2.5billion in damages

http://www.techradar.com/news/phone-and-communications/mobile-phones/after-17-long-months-apple-vs-samsung-patent-trial-finally-begins-1090530

 

iPhone 5 rumours continue to grow with case supposedly leaked

http://www.theverge.com/2012/7/30/3201339/iphone-5-case-video-leak-rumor

 

Microsoft announces touch mouse and tablet keyboard case that doubles as a stand

http://www.engadget.com/2012/07/30/microsoft-wedge-mobile-keyboard-wedge-touch-mouse/

 

In other news…

OS X Mountain Lion downloaded 3 million times already

http://www.pocket-lint.com/news/46709/three-million-os-x-mountain-lion-downloads

 
 

Photo credit AlexMuse

 

PC Builder’s Guide: Part 6-Storage

 

In the previous 5 parts of our builder’s guide we have covered many of the key components needed to build your own computer. One area we are yet to cover, however, is storage and this will be the focus of the sixth and penultimate part of our guide.

 

 

Storage has gone through one of the biggest changes of all PC components over the past few years. For the last 50 years PC storage has been dominated by the traditional spinning disk drive or as many people will know it the hard disk drive (HDD). While the capacity of hard disk drives has continued to go up their speed has somewhat plateaued with most high end drives running at 7200rpm and only the most extreme of hard drives daring to run at 10,000rpm. Fortunately the last two or three years have seen the rise of the solid state drive (SSD). SSD’s contain flash storage which is up to four times faster than the traditional spinning disk drive. Not only is it faster but also consumes less power and creates less heat. In fact the only things preventing solid state drives from becoming the de facto storage device in every PC have been their notoriously poor price per GB ratio and their somewhat flakey reliability. Both of these issues have become much less of a problem over the last six months, however. Before discussing our budget, mid-range and enthusiast storage solutions it is first important to explain the importance of your hard drive and also explore some of the problems with SSDs.

 

The hard drive is possibly one of the most boring PC components and up until the advancement of SSDs probably the component that people spent the least amount of time choosing. However, SSDs have shown how big a speed increase a fast hard drive makes especially when used as a boot drive (where your operating system is stored). In fact we’d even go as far as to say that upgrading your hard drive to an SSD will make a more noticeable impact on your system’s performance than any CPU or RAM upgrade ever could. One of the computers we currently use runs Windows 7 on a Crucial M4 SSD and boot times are regularly between 12-18s. SSDs allow the computer to access data that much faster and while they still do not come in as high as capacities as HDDs this is not really a problem as there is no reason that you cannot store your music and photos on a slower, larger capacity and cheaper HDD.

 

While we may have been singing the praises of SSDs it would be wrong to not explore some of the problems they have had in recent years. SSDs are still a relatively new technology and therefore in the past three or four years they have suffered from reliability problems and exorbitant prices. However, many of these problems have been firmware based as opposed to defective parts and most of these problems have now been completely resolved. If you are still worried about reliability though we would suggest sticking to Intel, Crucial or Samsung branded drives as these are the ones that are generally regarded as the most reliable and well as some of the best performing. Pricing is also no longer an issue with many online retailers now selling 120GB SSDs for less than £100 something that was hard to imagine even last year. Even though SSD prices have come down greatly all of our suggestions will still include a traditional spinning disk drive for mass storage.

 

 

Budget: 60GB Kingston V+ 200/OCZ 64GB Agility 4 and 500 GB Western Digital Green

You may be thinking that even suggesting using an SSD in a budget build is madness. Thankfully due to Intel’s SRT caching solution it is possible to purchase a small (32/64GB) SSD which can be used as a cache. An SSD cahce works by keeping a cache of the data you access most frequently in the SSD which allows much faster operation of those programs such as booting yur OS. Therefore there are two different options for a budget build, either an SSD caching solution or just using the SSD as a boot drive. Using the SSD as a traditional boot drive is faster than a caching solution but also leaves less space on the SSD for applications and games. It is also important to note that Intel’s SRT caching solution only works with the Intel motherboard chipsets Z68 and Z77. Therefore if you are basing your PC around an AMD CPU you will have to go with the SSD as a boot drive. For those of you wanting to go with a caching solution we suggest the £46 60GB Kingston V+200. While not a small drive you still won’t be able to get more than your OS and a couple of applications stored on it Fortunately when used as a cache there is ample space here to allow Intel’s SRT to speed up your OS, applications and games. For just a standard boot drive however, we suggest the £55 OCZ 64GB Agility 4. While it doesn’t have much more capacity than the Kingston it comes with much better performance and when used as a OS boot drive will dramatically improve the speed of your computer.

The Western Digital Caviar Green drive costs only £55 and is a wonderful mass storage drive for a budget build. The Caviar Green Drive might not be as fast as other HDD offerings on the market but fortunately you don’t need a mass storage device to be that high performing, as waiting a second or two for photos or videos to appear is unlikely to affect your everyday activities. The Caviar Green also runs at 5400rpm which should make it slightly quieter compared to other high performance drives.

 

Mid-range: 120GB Crucial M4/ 128GB Samsung 830 and 1TB Western Digital Black Drive/ Green Drive

Buying a mid-range system is all about maximising the cost to performance ratio and for that reason we believe a 120GB SSD is the ideal purchase. As SSD performance increases with the size of the drive most 120GB drives are significantly cheaper than the 256GB drives on the market whilst also having a slight performance increase over 64GB drives. Manufacturers have latched onto the fact that for many consumers the 120GB capacity is the sweetspot as it is both well performing while also having enough storage for more than just the operating system. For that reason it is relatively difficult to suggest any one 120GB SSD. However, we believe that due to their reliability and performance you will struggle to go wrong with either the Crucial M4 or the Samsung 830. Both of the drives are SATA III 6GBs which means there is a noticeable performance increase over the previous generation of SSDs which were only SATA II 3GBsmeans you won’t be losing any performance due to their connection type. The Crucial M4, costing £86, is slightly slower than Samsung 830 but is famed for its excellent reliability. The Samsung 830 on the other hand costs around £80 and is probably the better alternative out of the two especially as it is a 128GB drive and so contains an extra 8GB of storage.

We also suggest going with one of Western Digital’s (£87) Caviar Black Drives as they are widely praised by system builders as being both fast and reliable. If you feel you do not need the performance of the Black Drive, especially as it will only be used for mass storage, you can always go with the £67 Caviar Green Drive, also by Western digital.

 

Enthusiast: 256GB Samsung 830 and 1TB Western Digital Black Drive

The Samsung 830 256GB SSD at only £150 is incredibly well priced for an SSD that is widely regarded as both the best performing and most reliable on the market. In a first for SSDs all components that make up the Samsung 830 are actually produced by the manufacturer itself. Whereas Intel make most of their parts they still use the Sandforce controller for example. By manufacturing all their SSD parts Samsung is able to make sure all of its components work well together, to increase its reliability, as well as fine tune them so that performance is also excellent. Indeed the Samsung 830 has sequential read speeds of 520mb/s and write speeds of 400mb/s. We feel that 256GB is an ideal amount of storage for an enthusiast build as it allows you to store as many applications and games as you could realistically want. The 1TB Black Drive, as we have previously stated, is also a superb drive and would be a perfect accompaniment to the Samsung 830.

 

Top photo credit Intel

Bottom photo credit Downhilldom1984

Day in Tech: 25th July 2012

 

Apple release OSX 10.8 Mountain Lion

http://www.pocket-lint.com/review/5920/apple-os-x-mountain-lion-review

 

 

Qualcomm shows off its new quad core chip inside developer tablet

http://www.techradar.com/news/mobile-computing/tablets/qualcomm-releases-expensive-uber-tablet-for-developers-1090113

 

Nexus Q sells out on Google’s Play Store

http://www.theverge.com/2012/7/25/3186486/google-nexus-q-first-batch-sells-out
 

In other news…

Google adds scientific calculator to Google search

http://www.engadget.com/2012/07/25/google-search-nerds-out-adds-full-button-scientific-calculator/

 
 

Photo credit kevinthoule

 

Nokia and the Two OS Limit

 

 

Last week Nokia announced that it had operating losses of $1 billion dollars in Q2 of this year. Even more worryingly is that in the US only 600,000 Lumia phones were shipped during this same period. Indeed if the problems for Nokia were not already extremely worrisome they definitely are now. By choosing to partner with Microsoft Nokia clearly hoped that it would not only reinvigorate its ailing profits but also lead Windows Phone into a dominant position in the mobile space. Unfortunately Nokia’s failings highlight the problem for both Nokia and the Windows Phone platform that is not down to their hardware or software but rather consumer’s views on technology.

 

Are Two Operating Systems Enough

The computer market has shown that while a choice of operating systems is a good thing there is only so much choice that consumers really care about. Indeed this seems the way that the mobile market may be going. There are two main operating systems on computers, OSX and Windows. There is, of course also Linux, but this has a much much smaller market share compared to the other two. The reason that two operating systems suit consumers is because most people do not use their computers because they are avid about technology but rather because they have to for work and to stay connected. Thus once people have become accustomed to how these OS’s work and have invested time and money into them they are very unwilling to change. While Microsoft and Nokia are undoubtedly huge names in the technology industry their entrance into the smartphone market was treated with reservation by the general public as they had already found mobile phones and operating systems that worked just fine for them. At the end of the day the public do not care about the inner workings of an OS as long as it works and they can use it easily. Indeed that is exactly the experience that Android and iOS were able to provide by the time Windows Phone 7 came to market.

 

 

In fact the reluctance to change both phones and operating systems is heightened by the length of most mobile contracts. These two year contracts have been crucial in allowing both Android and iOS to capture their respective markets. Even the most layman of smartphone users will have discovered the wonder of apps over this two year period and likely will have invested in them. Therefore when the end of the contract comes around they are unwilling to move to a different platform if it means rebuying all of their previous apps and even learning the ins and outs of a new OS. These two year contracts have proven extremely costly for both Windows Phone and Nokia as due to their tardiness in entering the market most people had already committed to either Android or iOS.

 

Being late to market could have been an advantage

Sometimes being late to market is an advantage as it allows you assess what consumers want and bring out a product that is much better than the first efforts of other companies. In many respects this is Apple’s approach to some of its hardware. Take the Macbook Air and its wedge design for example. Sony had in 2004 already produced a laptop like this but it had dreadful battery life and wasn’t made of such premium materials. Unfortunately in the software space this is much harder to do as there are so many different aspects that go into making successful software let alone an entire OS.

 

While the title of this article might suggest that we think the market can never handle any more than two successful OS’s this isn’t case. What we are arguing for however, is that consumers are not as willing to adopt different operating systems, even when they are made by big brands, as Nokia and Microsoft would like to believe. For most people technology is not a hobby nor an interest. Instead it is a tool to make our lives easier and therefore while Windows Phone may offer up a sublime user experience (it doesn’t quite yet), people will never leave either Android or iOS unless one of these two causes problems for that user. It seems that Nokia should have seen that this was the case before careering headlong into its partnership with Microsoft. While Windows Phone and Nokia may yet recover their market share there is no doubt that for Nokia especially the gamble of Windows Phone is yet to pay off even a little let alone at all.

 

Top photo credit bobfamiliar

Bottom photo credit keith.bellvay

Day in Tech: 24th July 2012

 

Apple wants at least $2.5 billion in damages from Samsung

http://www.theverge.com/2012/7/24/3181125/apple-outlines-proposed-samsung-patent-damages

 

Samsung Galaxy tab 7.7 banned in Europe

http://www.techradar.com/news/mobile-computing/tablets/samsung-galaxy-tab-7-7-banned-in-europe-1089975

 

USB 3.0 promoter group suggests that laptops could be charged via USB 3.0

http://www.dailytech.com/article.aspx?newsid=25241


 

Mastermind behind AMD chips in current gen consoles leaves for Nvidia

http://www.kitguru.net/desktop-pc/console-desktop-pc/henry-butt/amd-console-guru-defects-to-nvidia/

 

In other news…

PS Vita lookalike that runs android, the ultimate KIRF?

http://www.engadget.com/2012/07/24/droid-x360-goes-for-the-kirf-prize/

 
 

Photo credit xkcd

 

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