on March 4, 2012
Today is the 12th day since I got the Wi-Fi PS Vita on launch day and what is my take on it so far? I have to say it is the ultimate gamer's portable dream! It trumps any handheld gaming experience in history and the hardware just oozes with groundbreaking potential.
Out of the box, you will notice that it is satisfyingly larger than its older brother, the PSP-1000 (and its various slimmer versions), but it's noticably lighter because of the absence of the UMD drive. Also, despite of its size, it is still certainly surprisingly pocketable, not skinny jeans pocketable, but it will fit slacks pockets when needed. The exterior is still made of plastic, even the silver toned sides (ala iPhone 4), but it still feels solidly built and it has this comfortable heft. I would say, compared to the old PSP, I prefer the Vita's size because my hands don't feel as cramped and my thumbs fall naturally above the d-pad, buttons and the sticks without the constant contortions I had to do with the PSP, especially when pushing the X button. The Vita fits snugly in your palms and all the controls are ergonomically appropriate.
Turning it on, you are welcomed by the star of the show: the brilliant 5 inch OLED screen. The resolution is 960 by 544, not exactly Retina Display, but for a 5 incher, it remarkably screams HD. Play games like Uncharted Golden Abyss, Rayman Origins or Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus and you would say it's as close to PS3 graphics as you could without lugging around a TV. The old PSP-1000 screen looks dull. washed out and so SD in comparison. Colors are brilliant, blacks are amazing, contrast is excellent and since the screen is standard for all Vitas, everyone will see the game like the developers intended them to be seen. I notice some strange blotches in black loading screens, though, but I read that these are normal and it's an inherent flaw with OLED screens. It's a non-issue because they're gone as soon as images are displayed.
Now back to the controls. This is what makes the Vita finally a full-blown home console alternative: Dual analog sticks! The Vita's sticks are full-fledged sticks this time around and they mimic the PS3 Dual Shock 3 sticks admirably. Unlike the PSP analog nub though, the Vita's sticks are partially raised but because of this, they have excellent movement play. I would say the analog sticks were designed and positioned perfectly on the Vita. I just wished they they made them clickable as well (for L3 and R3).
The D-pad and the main buttons on the Vita are clicky and have less travel than the PSP and are less spongy. They are also smaller than the original PSP's but I prefer the Vita's despite of their size because of their perfect positions. Also, the shoulder buttons on the Vita are smoother and feel more solid than than the PSP's shoulder clickers.The Vita's Select and Start buttons I'm not a fan of though. They're flush and pressing them is a chore. This gets annoying with games like Uncharted where you constantly check the map and it is mapped to the Select button. Annoying but just my slight complaint.
Now, here's where the PS Vita sets itself apart from anything you have seen before. Coupled with the usual six-axis motion controls (gyroscope and accelerometer), it has a rear touchpad! The touchpad feels like your regular front touchscreen and owing to the Vita's great design, my fingers just fall on it naturally. Never did it feel awkward or forced. Some launch games incorporate the rear touchpad but its more like a shoe-horned feature. The only game I've seen so far that makes the touchscreen and all the other Vita's functions an enjoyable necessity is Little Deviants.
The PS Vita is also equipped with serviceable but so-so front and rear cameras. They're not meant for taking stellar photos but they're in the Vita more for their augmented reality gaming potential. The Vita comes with Augmented Reality cards out of the box and there are free AR games available in the PS Store. I have tried these games and although they're not exactly great, I can't wait what game developers could come up with in the future.
The Vita's built-in stereo speakers are more or less the same as the PSP's but they sound a bit crisper and fuller. You could still definitely game without headphones on and are definitely better than the iPhone or iPad's paltry single external speaker.
Headphone output is crisp and clear with the right headphones.
The slots for the game cards and the accessory port plus the volume controls are located on the top. The memory card slot and the charging port (which is proprietary) are located on the bottom. I am not really fond of the slot covers. You need fingernails to latch them open and the doors feel flimsy.
So, that I think covers what I think about the hardware, what about the built-in software? Well, since the Vita is reported to have a quad-core processor, 512 MB system RAM and 256 MB VRAM, everything feels zippy. There is no lag at all in the menus and since the games are all optimized, everything runs smoothly. There is even slight multitasking while gaming. Within a game, you could go back the menu and fire up certain things like the Vita's Twitter client, check your Friends via Near, update trophies, etc. So far, so good, no problems so far. I just hope future apps will remain optimized and won't cause any problems.
The main thing Sony is touting about the Vita, aside from the console quality gaming, is its location based features, The built-in software Near is surprisingly interesting. Although clunky, it lets you meet players around your current location, see their activity, check out what games are popular, exchange 'game goods' (these are in-game items) and add them as friends. It's like gaming with a social networking twist. I think Near may be the only main reason why you would want the 3G Vita instead of the Wifi one.
The other apps I have tried are your basic ones like Facebook, Livetweet (like I mentioned), Flickr, Maps, Foursquare and Netflix. All of these apps are formatted and optimized for the Vita. Netflix looks pretty much like the PS3 or the Smart TV version. Facebook was buggy on launch but they fixed it but it's still a little slow. Livetweet is great. You could even grab a screenshot of your game (by holding the Home button and Start simultaneously) and tweet it instantly.
The Vita browser, unfortunately, is like its PS3 brother. It's buggy and slow. Right now, it is even less usable because it doesn't support HTML5 nor Flash at all. I hope they resolve this soon but I don't really see myself using the Vita browser all the time.
I also haven't used the Vita's native music or video player which brings me to my next point. I am not planning on making my Vita my all around device. I got a Vita because I want cutting edge portable gaming technology right now. For all other stuff, I have a smartphone or a tablet, which frankly, I don't find really suitable for long gaming sessions. I still prefer tactile buttons against frustrating touchscreen controls and I want full-sized console quality gaming on the go and not the watered down games we get on today's all around devices. I know it's another device to carry, but for sheer satisfying complete gaming experiences you could get anytime, as a long-time gamer, it is worth it.
The only real downside for me about the Vita is the lack of internal storage. For storage, I had to buy a proprietary 8 gig memory card which is a bit overpriced. I could understand that there may be standardized card speeds that Sony is implementing to optimize the Vita's performance but they are still on the expensive side. And I think 8 Gig is the minimum if you planning on downloading game demos and other items from the PS Store.
The retail games also come in a tiny SD card sized cartridge with a relatively, ridiculously oversized case. There is just so much wasted space on the game cases, I just wished they designed them to have built-in compartments for other games. At this writing, the launch games are still hovering around $40-50, so they're not really cheap. There are cheap games on the PS Store called Minis and there's a catalog of backward-compatible PSP games you could buy and download. What I'm waiting for are the Playstation One games. As of this writing, they're still not available.
Oh, and about the Vita launch games. So far I have Little Deviants, Hot Shots Golf, Rayman Origins, Uncharted Golden Abyss and the Vita port of my favorite game of all time, Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus. All of these games, I'd say are must buy if you want to experience a bit of what the Vita could. Eye-popping graphics, innovative control schemes, epic and complete gaming. (Ninja Gaiden is a pixel perfect port. Although it's just running 30fps, it's the Xbox and PS3 version in its entirety.)
So there, I have been gaming as long as I could remember and for me, I consider the PS Vita as THE next-gen of gaming, console or otherwise. I haven't touched any other gaming console since I got the PS Vita because it is more convenient, more relaxing and more personal than any existing gaming device right now. And most of all, it is a COMPLETE gaming experience on the go. So f you're getting bored with the current consoles, or you are totally afraid that this current casual gaming trend may take over because of smartphones or if you simply want your portable gaming mojo reinvigorated, do yourself a favor and GET A VITA now.