Model Name: Playstation Vita (WiFi Only Unit)
Availabilty: February 22nd
Full Specs: Click Here
[Please Note: This is a pre-launch review based on European retail units, some system features may change or vary depending on your region]
Last year I called the Playstation Vita “the best device I’ve ever held in my hands” after just three hours of play time. Now that I own a Vita not only do I stand by that statement, I actually believe it more now than I did then. Of course when it comes to gaming devices software will always take precedence over hardware but until our game reviews start rolling out next week I thought I’d give a quick review of the WFi unit which will be hitting European and American stores on February 22nd.
On the surface the Playstation Vita is an absolutely gorgeous piece of technology. The 5” OLED multi-touch display is beautiful; the compact d-pad is the best I’ve felt in years and the dual analog sticks have the potential to revolutionize portable gaming like the Nintendo DS did back in 2004.
In term of controls, the Vita has the full suite of buttons found on the PSP in addition to a rear touch panel, six-axis motion sensors and both front and rear facing cameras. The face buttons are surprisingly small and are raised further than the inputs found on the Playstation 3’s Dualshock or the PSP. The L & R buttons aren’t analog but their curved shape feels great beneath your index fingers. On the down side, nether one of the Vita’s cameras are great especially in low light situations. They’re good enough to allow for some pretty sweet in-game features but if you were hoping to capture Kodak moments you’ll be sorely disappointed.
They say ‘Seeing Is Believing’ and with the Vita that really is the case. Once you power on the device its hard not to gawk at the stunning 960 x 544 display. This coupled with the system's impressive specs and outstanding graphical capabilities make the Vita a joy to behold. Launch titles such as Uncharted: Golden Abyss look comparable to some PS3 games and things will only improve once developers familiarize themselves with the hardware and learn how to maximize it.
As you probably know by now, Sony has ditched their XMB interface for the Vita in favour of a new icon-based menu. Each of the system’s games and applications are presented in the form of badges which can be rearranged across up to 10 vertically scrolling pages.
From any one of those 10 pages you can swipe the screen to the right to view any of the apps which are currently running in the background and from there you can either 'continue' them or 'close' by peeling down the top right corner of their display image. Tapping the home button while on the Home Menu displays your background applications in bookmark form for even quicker access.
It’s worth noting that the entire Home Menu is touch based and does not support regular controls. I found this to be slightly frustrating when using my Vita on the train whilst wearing gloves but navigating with your finger does feel natural and allows you to speedily zip from one app to the next.
Out of the box there are a handful of apps pre-installed on the Vita which are pretty basic but help the system feel connected to the outside world. Below is a quick rundown of each of these applications:
“Trophies” lets you view and sync both your PS3 and Vita trophies in a beautifully presented app which almost puts the PS3 to shame.
“Friends” allows you to view which games your PSN buddies are currently playing and compare trophies with them in a matter of seconds rather than minutes (take notes PS3!). At the moment PS3 users can’t see your Vita trophies or games but I’m hopeful that this will change once the system is officially released.
“Party” lets you create group of up to 8 friends so you can finally cross-game chat on a Playstation device!
“Photos” lets you view your photo library, take new photos or record video using the Vita’s ok-ish cameras.
“Welcome Park” is an interactive tutorial which shows off the Vita’s hardware and rewards you trophies for not sucking!
“Maps” lets you view where you are in the world in case you forget. This is probably only useful if you own the 3G Vita but not a smartphone.
“Connect Manager” is a brilliant tool which allows you to transfer data to and from your Vita via a PS3, PC or Mac.
“Web Browser” lacks both HTML 5 and Flash support.
“Remote Play” is back allowing you remotely log in to your PS3 from from anywhere in the world using your Vita. It’s a great concept but unfortunately most PS3 games and app’s don’t support Remote Play. Retail games can’t be played remotely either and of the 200+ PSN games I tested only Peggle and the PixelJunk games worked.
“Music/Video Player” Thanks to Content Manager, transferring music and video content to your Vita is an extremely quick and simple process. I don’t think I’ll ever use the Vita as my MP3 player and the lack of AVI/DivX support renders the Video Player completely useless for me. I guess Sony didn’t get the memo that MP4’s are dead.
“Group Messaging” is a pretty standard messaging app that lets you converse with your Party or compose/respond to PSN messages.
“Near” is the Vita’s most interesting app and lets you see what games Vita owners around you are playing. It also lets you view and accept challenges from near-by players and share your feeling on each game so you can discover what titles are currently popular amongst your peers.
And finally, “Playstation Store” allows you to check out the latest PSN releases and download games and apps directly to your system.
Additional apps such as Netflix, Twitter, Skype and Music Unlimited will be available to download once the system has been released and I’m hopeful that YouTube, Facebook and some neat photo apps will follow.
At the moment almost 300 downloadable PSP games and Playstation Minis are currently playable on the Vita and Sony promises that more titles will be made available “In the coming weeks” (click here for more info). I would have loved if PSone and PSN games were also supported but currently neither one of them are. I spent a few minutes playing God Of War: Ghost Of Sparta on both the PS Vita and the PSPgo and as expected the game looked remarkably better on the PSPgo’s smaller display but felt better on the Vita.
As much as I’ve enjoyed my time with the Vita, it still has many flaws which prevent it from being a device that I’ll take to work with me on a daily basis. The main reason for this is the sheer size of the device. Unless you own a pair of Hammer Pants the Vita probably won’t fit in any of your pockets but even if it could you’d refrain from doing so out of fear of damaging the raised analog sticks. Therefore carrying around the Vita requires both a bag and a protective case with is hardly ideal for any portable product.
Another issue is the system’s battery life which gives you roughly 4 hours of game time with max brightness and WiFi turned on. Thankfully the system charges relatively quickly when connected to a power supply and the ability to charge via USB makes it easy to keep your battery juiced up once you’re indoors. Finally, the lack of internal storage is a bummer and forces users to invest in Sony’s proprietary (and slightly overpriced) memory cards. A courtesy 4GB card should have been included with all Vita's, especially since it would have encouraged users to start shopping on the Playstation Store.
While the issues above may seem like a deal breaker you’ll quickly find that none them really matter when you’re scaling gorgeous environments as Nathan Drake or speeding down the futuristic streets of Wipeout 2048. Maybe I’m in the minority but I’ll gladly sacrifice a bit of battery life and portability to have amazing console-like experiences on the London Underground.
Simply put, if you love your PS3 or you're looking for handheld device that celebrates hardcore gaming the Playstation Vita is an essential purchase. Sony went all out to ensure that Playstation Vita would live up to the initial promise of the PSP and it looks like they've finally succeeded!