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.
Dimensions: 182mm x 18.6mm x 83.5mm
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.