Who can forget the PlayStation Meeting that happened on January 2011 in Japan? Yes, the PlayStation Vita was shown there – and gamers have been waiting for one ever since. Well, that time is almost here now with Vita on the cusp of release. We, the GamingBolt staff, will be vigorously covering all the games, accessories and the hardware, so that our readers get to know more about the system. This is a comprehensive hardware review – detailing all the features, OS and other minor things about the system that you never knew.
The Vita is priced at Rs. 19,990 in India for the WiFi only model and Rs. 24,990 for the 3G/WiFi model, and while the pricing is slightly suspect, you can be rest assured that what you’re getting is a quality Sony product. Everything from the build quality to the overall design of the system gives a premium feel. Yes, the Vita makes a spectacular first impression. In the age of smartphones dominating with their small form factor and powerful applications, and hardware, can the Vita set itself apart and shine on its own? Two things – software support and the price — will dictate that.
What makes it Special?
As I mentioned earlier – Vita is a stunner. The 5-inch juicy OLED screen will make plenty of people stop in their tracks, guaranteed. It also has two analogue sticks that is a major differentiation factor between it and its predecessor, the PSP. They both have the same brick form factor – and the Vita is slightly bigger. Sony hasn’t really held back while designing the Vita, this thing is supposed to give people console experiences on the go, with gaming as its primary function. It isn’t called a dedicated gaming portable device for no reason. The one thing that was immediately noticeable when holding that Vita was that – it’s remarkably light, or should I say, it has the perfect weight. It also has a new addition compared to the PSP, which is the back touchpad. I was a little sceptical of this when they showed the device but I’m sort of cozying up to it now. The device is completely touch based, and the screen is pretty receptive – what more could you ask for, really?
Vital accessories to spurge on!
What can be termed as a negative thing, the proprietary Sony memory cards are back! They come in sizes 4GB, 8GB, 16GB and 32GB – the latter isn’t available in India or the EU for now, but the unit I got for review came with a 16GB card. It’s very tiny, almost as small as your fingernail and fits in quite well in the card slot. It’s a given that you will get better loading speeds with them. The reason I’m calling these tiny cards “vital” is because you absolutely need one for doing basically anything with the Vita. I thought these deserved a special mention just because of these two important factors: price and utility.
Relevance in a turbulent world
I wrote this review with my Apple iPad 2 and Samsung Galaxy 2 staring at my face, and my Nintendo 3DS desperate for attention. Tough times, you know! But hey, what can I do if the Vita outclasses all of these monstrous products in looks? I’ll be comparing the Vita with these devices – but you cannot be oblivious to the fact that these are strong competitors waiting to make the Vita irrelevant. It’s clear that Sony has thought about it when designing the system, when you look at the PS Suite and a glut of Smartphone like functions that the Vita can provide you. Yes, you can access Twitter, or go on Facebook and post pictures, which I’m going to do right now! Or just browse the net leisurely. As a dedicated gaming device, Vita has functions that outstrips the PS3 itself – not really shocking considering the PS3 is like what, 5-years old now? I’m talking about the online functions: Cross chat, party invites, profiles, Skype and a lot more. All these things are well integrated and provide the Vita necessary features to appeal to a hardcore demographic initially.
Do you need to have one?
Are you the sort that enjoys casual games on the iOS platform? Or the one that totally despises the games it offers? The PlayStation Vita’s first main problem is the size. How exactly do I justify this device to people who place a lot of emphasis on portability? I can’t, but that’s no reason to overlook this device. Smartphones will always be the jack of all trades, but each and every experience they provide cannot match up to something that has a dedicated function; in this case – gaming. If you desire a portable device that can provide you a competent gaming experience, with gorgeous visuals and proper control inputs, the Vita is the ultimate device that is available right now. I simply cannot put it any other way.
Uncharted on the Vita is as close as you will get to a proper console experience on the go. Sony also realizes the mistakes they made with the PSP, considering it didn’t really have games that utilized its strengths well. It’s different with the Vita; you will find plenty of, so called, ‘original’ games like, Escape Plan, Gravity Rush and so on. The current launch titles are the strongest I have seen for any gaming hardware, and it offers content for every type of gamer. You can also download Angry Birds and give it a go on that luscious OLED screen if you want.
Control me now
The emphasis on controls is what sets Vita apart from the rest. Plenty of people were disappointed with the PSP and its single analogue nub. Sony has fixed that here with the Vita. You can never go wrong with two analogue sticks ever, and gyroscope functions if you need that jazz. The sticks are quite small, but feel just right to use, and the main part is that, they are extremely responsive with limited deadzone. It has the class PlayStation buttons, which are quite small but efficient. L1 and R1 buttons for you know what, and the rear touchpad which allows you to manipulate the screen without getting your fingers in the way. It’s quite ingenious, I might add. The d-pad is the best that I have ever used, and it’s quite better than the one in the DualShock 3 controller. Everything else is quite straightforward, and I have to mention one very important thing; the build quality is through the roof. This is a premium device and will notice that immediately. You don’t even have to touch the damn thing!
Sending a pulse over the network
Sony tried to make people see the ways of a digital distribution model and a digitalized future via the PSP Go. While the Go was a splendid device with in-built flash memory, the time wasn’t right for it, and it didn’t succeed. Sony isn’t giving up, however, on that idea so fast. The Vita is backwards compatible with the PSP, and no, it doesn’t have an UMD drive, but most of the PSP titles can be downloaded on the Vita, and enhanced by the device itself. How great is that? Not that much – if you own a stack of UMDs and don’t live in Japan.
Fortunately, if you happen to get a 16GB or 32GB memory card – the Vita games can be bought for quite cheap on PSN, and you can also download those fantastic PSP games that you always wanted to play. Some of them even offer a patch for enabling two analogue stick based controls – how cool is that? I’m thinking of going digital only with the Vita, and so will you. Unless you like those small cutesy Vita retail game boxes. Ah, this internal conflict is tearing me apart, but cheaper games on PSN and easily accessible game library trumps everything in the end.
The Vita Operating System – bubbles galore!
Sony has ditched the XMB, and while my heart is filled with sadness, the XMB was never really feasible for a touch based device. We have bubbles instead! And you click on them. Sony wants to penetrate the market as soon as possible with an accessible UI like this – it clearly shows. It’s completely noob proof. I mean, clicking on bubbles, how simple can it get? While the hardware is clearly created by Aliens, the OS breaks that illusion by bringing you back to earth – there is no consistency between the hardware and system software, but you can understand why. Lure in masses with beautiful hardware and ease them in with the simple and colourful UI.
I generally am not too fond of this, and see this largely as a negative thing. But the good thing is that it’s quite responsive, and works well. Multitasking is great too and you can keep six apps open while playing games. The Vita is loaded with RAM, and it shows.
Was it necessary?
One of my main beefs with the system is that, it is locked to one PSN id. Now, this can be an utterly terrible thing, as no one else can use your Vita, until they know the password to your PSN account. This is simply not a hardware that is intended for the entire family. Your PSN id is locked to the Vita memory card, and the memory card is locked to the system itself. I don’t know whether these are anti-hacking measures, but it makes the entire process a little cumbersome.
The Vita has a glut of online features, but they are also integrated so well into the OS, and locked down like Fort Knox. Some may see this as a good thing, but I certainly do not. It takes some getting used to, but overall it really wasn’t that necessary to implement all these measures. Vita’s camera also is quite underwhelming, I guess, it would have raised the cost to go with something better. In proper lighting conditions it does a good job of capturing an image – but all cameras of that specification do that, don’t they?
It does pack a punch!
The Vita’s battery has been a revelation so far. My fully charged Vita took almost 4:30 hr to discharge until no power was left. It is definitely much better than the PSP’s battery, which couldn’t even go over 2:00 hrs with normal use. Of course, the Vita’s size explains why it has a good battery life, but still, for a portable device anything under than 5:00 hrs is pretty poor. But I must give credit to the Vita here, it certainly does its job well, when conserving battery power is concerned. The battery life of the Vita is almost equal to that of my 3DS, but my iPad 2 trumps them both in a big way. I do wish the battery tech evolved at a rapid rate – these times for dedicated portable devices are seriously depressing me in a way. If you aren’t satisfied, you can always buy some Nyko accessories which do their job pretty well. The one they made for the Vita claims to offer a battery life of over 10 hours!
The OLED screen brings the games to life with crisp and clear picture quality, but hey, you knew this was going to be the case from day one, didn’t you? The visual fidelity that the expensive screen offers is second to none. You will want to play games on this thing, and ultimately that’s where it succeeds.
Trophies! Near! Gifts!
Vita has a Trophy system. That means, get ready to be attached to the system and its games. And it’s mainly due to the fact that it’s never been done on an handheld before.
Near – contributed by Shubhankar Parijat.
The Near functionality of the PS Vita is much like the 3DS’ StreetPass function, only a lot more complex, and perhaps much better. The Near functionality basically shares save data, in-game items, and usernames and passwords (if you want) with any nearby Vita owners. All nearby Vita owners are shown on an intuitive and user-friendly map of sorts. From there, you can get extra information on the users, including what games they played last, how they liked the games they’ve played (represented via emoticons, which is a particularly charming feature), and much more. It’s amazing how the UI manages to capture so much data and represent it properly and in a user-friendly way. Near is much more complex than you could have thought, and it’s a little inaccessible (takes some time to get familiar with), but ultimately, it’s a neat addition.
In a nutshell
The PlayStation Vita is an amazing hardware. You will actually be surprised when you hold the thing, and get immersed in that beautiful OLED screen. As a purely gaming device, it delivers with a glut of social media options to enhance your overall experience. There are a few quirks for me like the UI style, and how it is completely locked down to one id, but the bottomline is – the Vita is a personalized device. It remains to be seen how Vita can stand the test of time, and how Sony supports the system, but if there is adequate developer support for it in the future, dedicated gaming handhelds aren’t going to die anytime soon. The Vita is a must own system, if you like portable console experiences on the go with great network features.
Gorgeous OLED screen. Superb control options. Great launch lineup. Adequate battery strength. Plenty of network features, and ergonomically designed hardware. Near is a fantastic feature that will help you make new friends.
The UI is underwhelming. The device is locked to one PSN id. Proprietary memory cards can be a pain.