Review: PlayStation Vita
By: Jeff Rivera
Sony's first attempt in the handheld market was an interesting one. The PSP launched with great tech, a lot of developer support, and tons of hype. Over the years, piracy, a wonky media format, and diminishing developer support sunk the PSP in the West. And while it was still a good device, it was deemed as a disappointment by many for not living up to its full potential. With the PS Vita, Sony is hoping to right all the wrongs that held the PSP back.
I've spent a week with the Vita and several games. I've taken it to work with me, I've done errands around town with it in tow, and I've brought it along to family and friend gatherings. In a week's time, I think I've really come to understand what Sony has given us, and I'm quite happy with the results.
I'd assume that 90% of of Vita reviews will start the same way when discussing the hardware. They'll all say, "the first thing you notice is the beautiful screen." Well, it's true, the screen simply jumps out at you. And while I'm used to OLED tech (my cell phone as a Super AMOLED+ screen), it's still impressive and unlike anything we've seen on a gaming device before. Colors are vivid, everything is clean and crisp, there's not a hint of ghosting. Anybody who has a complaint about the screen is just crazy. The only bummer about the screen is that it has a plastic build, rather than a more durable glass construction. As a result, scratches are more likely to occur if you're not careful with how you handle the device.
The buttons and dual analog sticks are nice and responsive. I'd prefer if the sticks were a little bit larger, but they're a huge improvement over the nub that was on the PSP. It would be nice if Sony would finally ditch the convex analog sticks and opt for a far more comfortable concave design, but that is something that's at least consistent with the PS3 controller.
The touch screen and rear touch panel are both on par with the best touch devices out there. You will register a lot of accidental taps on the rear panel due to its size, but having it mirror the front touch screen is a smart design decision.
Overall, the hardware is great. The machine packs enough muscle to push some seriously impressive visuals and it has enough control inputs and variations that developers will have lots of gameplay options to work with. The removal of a disc-based format was a wise decision, but I'm not very happy about the proprietary (and expensive) memory cards. Minor gripes aside, the PS Vita is a great piece of gaming hardware.
The Vita's OS is fairly simple. It's a touch-based OS that is designed to run smoothly and get you into and out of programs quickly. Stylistically it's a little juvenile, but I do like how everything works. You can easily customize the home screens, and swiping between open applications is a quick process.
I’ve already had to update the firmware twice, which is a little bothersome, but the good news is that each update downloaded and installed much faster than it ever has on the PlayStation 3. The PlayStation Store is also easier to navigate on the Vita thanks to the touch screen, and it’s much more enjoyable to search/type with a software keyboard on a touch screen than with a controller.
There’s a little oddity with connections to PSN. The system constantly disconnects from the network, seemingly to preserve battery power, but it’s a little jarring when you log in to see your friends, open up a game 30 seconds later only to see it connect to the PSN once more. Hopefully in the future they’ll have an “always connected” option for those that aren’t too concerned about saving a little battery.
The browser isn’t very good, but if you have a smartphone you’ll rarely use it anyway even if you do opt for the 3G data plan. At home you’ll be best off using a full-fledged browser, so I see the inclusion of a browser as more of a bonus than anything to worry about when it comes to features.
The software, as with any device with upgradable firmware, is a work in progress, but what we have so far is really nice. There are some strange inconsistencies in the UI and UX, but overall the Vita is enjoyable to use. When it comes right down to it, most your time will be spent playing games, and the Vita OS makes getting in and out of games an easy experience.
The PS Vita is a great handheld gaming device. It’s solidly built, it has a good OS powering it, and there’s tons of gameplay possibilities presented by all the different control options. If Sony can keep developers interested and if they can do a good job at producing original and compelling content, the PS Vita will be a fantastic gaming platform. I am just hoping that developers don’t take the easy route and treat the Vita as a destination for ports or scaled back console style games.
At its asking price, the Vita isn’t cheap, espeically when you consider the additional memory card purchase, but if you’re a big fan of handheld gaming, I think it’s worth the price of entry. If you’re more casual about on the go gaming, it might be good to wait out the first price drop on the Vita. Overall, I think that Sony has given us a quality product and I definitely recommend it.
My video review is live on YouTube. If you're interested, it's embedded below.