The PlayStation Vita is languishing. In a recent interview Sony senior vice president Masayasu said that there are no first-party titles in development for the PS Vita.
The PS Vita is the most powerful, dazzling and impressive handheld games console ever built.
It packs not one but two quad-core processors, a sparkling 5-inch touchscreen OLED display, dual analogue stick controls and games that go way beyond what any other portable device is currently capable of.
That includes the Nintendo 3DS, which may wield 3D optics as its trump card, but nonetheless simply cannot compete with the Vita in terms of graphical fidelity. What the PlayStation Vita offers is more akin to a home console experience on the move, and that puts it in an elite class of one.
Of course, whether or not there is a big market for such a device is an interesting question, and we’re in the process of getting some early answers. A sluggish start in Japan has been followed by some less-than-stellar sales figures in the first weeks of its International launch. It doesn’t come as much of a surprise.
After all, it’s a luxury item launching post-Christmas into a Western world ravaged by financial floundering, and further hindered by Sony’s desperate need to make money at a time when the strength of the Yen makes exported Japanese products very expensive.
But we’ll get to that a little later, and as far as this PlayStation Vita review goes, we’re looking at the product as a stand alone piece of hardware, how it stacks up against the competition and whether or not it offers value for money.
In many ways, despite the new name, the PlayStation Vita is another revision of the Sony PSP legacy with plenty of much needed evolution on top.
The same basic form factor returns and it doesn’t look too different from its predecessors. But this is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. A beast among men. A veritable fire-breathing monster compared to those long-dead PSPs in the sky.
The curvy oval shape returns, and measures 7.2-inches (18.3cm) from end to end. So it’s the biggest Sony handheld ever, with a height of 3.3-inches (8.4cm) and a thickness of 0.73 (1.9cm).
Sony’s reasoning has clearly been: if we’re going to make the world’s most powerful handheld console, we might as well make it the best it can possibly be. That involves packing industry-leading visuals, hence the 5-inch OLED screen which on its own is as big as the entire PSP Go console was.
We think the enlarged size is a worthwhile compromise, and this Wi-Fi only model weighs in at just 260g which is 20g lighter than the original, smaller PSP 1000. So when you pick it up you’ll react to its apparent lightness.
On the table
The front of the console is a smorgasbord of hardware delights.
To the left of the screen you’ll find the classic Sony D-Pad, a left analogue stick, a left speaker and the PS Home button.
To the right you’ll find your classic PlayStation triangle, circle, square and X buttons, as well as a right analogue stick, right speaker, a 0.3MP front-facing camera and the Start and Select buttons you’re most likely very familiar with already.
On the top side of the Vita are left and right shoulder buttons – there are no trigger buttons like you’d find on a PS3 Dualshock controller. Between the shoulders you’ll find the on/off button, volume controls, the PS Vita Card slot (which we’ll discuss in a moment) and a terminal to plug in any number of as-yet non-existent peripherals.
The base of the console houses the proprietary USB connector for charging and connecting to PS3 etc, as well as the headphone/microphone adapter and the Memory Card slot.
And finally, the rear of the PS Vita is home to the brand-new rear Touch Pad, a rear 0.3MP camera and a microphone.
At launch the PS Vita will set back UK gamers around £209.99 (RRP £229.99), while the 3G version will launch a little later for £259.99 (£279.99). At the time of writing, the cheapest deal for the PS Vita is £197 at ASDA, while Amazon have matched that price.
There are bundle deals if you shop around, and these include different combinations of PC Sivta with memory cards and games.
The PlayStation Vita’s immense power is provided by the 32-bit Quad-core ARM Cortex-A9 MPCore CPU – the same beating heart you’ll find in many other devices including the iPad 2. Graphical grunt is thus supplied by the A9’s defacto GPU of choice, the similarly quad core PowerVR Series5XT SGXMP+ chip.
That makes the Vita more graphically capable than the iPhone 4 or the iPad 2, despite its far more modest price point.
Memory is provided by 512MB RAM and 128MB VRAM for the GPU. There were rumours prior to launch that Sony was attempting to slash that memory allocation to 256MB in order to save money, but it’s a good thing it’s been left in.
That’s because the Vita is able to hold even a game like Uncharted: Golden Abyss in stasis while you return to the Vita menus and change some settings etc. As soon as you want to return to the game, it resumes instantaneously, even if you put the console to sleep and leave it alone for 48 hours.
It’s the same seamless experience you get with Sony’s other games console, the PS3 which itself only has 256MB RAM.
Of course, the big stand-out feature of the Vita is that incredible screen. It’s a real stunner, and discards with LCD tech to jump straight into bed with sexier, brighter and more efficient OLED.
It’s a winning feature, and it packs a qHD resolution of 640×960. That doesn’t make it the sharpest screen in the business – the iPhone 4S’ retina display has a pixel density of 326ppi, while the Vita rocks up with just 220ppi – but it’s plenty enough to make Vita’s games resonate with graphical beauty beyond anything else on any other portable device.
It’s a capacitive touchscreen jobby too, which means you use gestures on the screen to navigate the PS Vita’s brand new interface, instead of using the D-Pad, and most games make heavy use of that touch input too.
Underneath the screen you’ve also got three-axis accelerometer and gyroscopes, meaning you can control many of your games simply by moving the device in your hand.
This enables you to aim simply by moving the device around – great for games like Uncharted, though if you’re sitting down you might need a swivel chair or things start to get tricky!
No internal storage
As we mentioned on the previous page, one criminal drawback is the lack of internal storage. For this, Sony really needs to take a long, hard look at itself because it’s really not a very clever move. Talk about a put-off.
So in addition to the console, you’ll have to fork out for one of Sony’s proprietary Vita memory cards, essentially a proprietary stick similar in shape but smaller than an SD card.
When you buy games, they’ll come on their own cartridge-style cards with storage space for saves and updates so if you’re only gaming it’s less of a concern.
The device has two ports, one for the generic memory card and one for game cartridges. So if you want to take music, pictures or videos with you, or if you want to download digital-only games from the Sony Entertainment Network, you’ll have to pay extra for the Vita storage cards. There are a range of sizes planned from 2-16GB and you probably won’t like the prices.
As of launch day, Amazon UK is selling the 4GB card for £15, 8GB for £28 and 16GB for £40.
We’d recommend holding off buying one in case prices come down a little – ideally you’d be much better off with the 16GB model but £40 is simply too much to pay in our eyes (it has to be said, at the time of writing, Amazon UK is offering a deal whereby you can get an 8GB Vita card for free when buying the console).
Connection-wise both models come with standard Bluetooth and WiFi connections while the 3G model also includes, well a 3G connection.
In the EU the 3G service is provided by Vodaphone, and the £279 price tag includes a free 4GB memory card, a PAYG SIM card which when topped up with £5 will get you a free downloadable game – WipEout 2048 – and 250 MB of data lasting up to 30 days with full Vodafone 3G connectivity.
The PlayStation Vita 3G will also be available at other high street and online retailers with the option to top up £5 and get the WipEout 2048 game free of charge.
Interface, Battery life and Services
We’ll be honest with you, while the PS Vita’s brand new touchscreen interface is well laid out and very easy to use, we think it looks just a tiny bit naff.
The layout includes a number of homescreens stacked one on top of the other, with all the different options represented by circular icons. Each icon denotes an app, which can be either a game, the settings menu or a Twitter client, for example.
It’s intuitively designed, and you can tell Sony has been very careful to differentiate it from any of the other mobile OS’ out there – you’re unlikely to find sue-a-holics Apple or Samsung litigating against Sony on this one. But we still don’t think it looks quite fitting for such a mean-looking, monster of a console.
It’s very twee, and in that respect it’s quintessentially Japanese, so that’s why we won’t waste anymore time moaning about it.
As with the Sony PS3, you can quit from any game or app using the PS button. This will pause the app you were in, and to close it you peel the app off the screen from the top right corner. It’s a satisfying way to close games.
The PS Store allows you to download games direct to the console provided you’ve bought some storage. These titles range from full-blown Vita monoliths, to older PSP games, right down to cheap-as-chips sub £1 PSP Minis.
The other basic apps pre-loaded are ‘Friends’ which lists your SEN friends, and ‘Party’ which is a cross-game chat system that lets you communicate with said friends on your aforementioned SEN friends list. There’s ‘Near’ which allows you to find fellow gamers in your vicinity and see what they’re playing, ‘Photos’ which allows you to take pictures and video using the albeit mediocre 0.3MP cameras and ‘Browser’ which enables you to clunkily browse the web.
There’s no ability to re-orientate the screen, leaving you with a letterbox view that only loads what is visible. Attempts to scroll through sites simply reveals a blank screen as you wait for the Vita to catch up. It’s not what we’ve come to expect from Sony, frankly and we were expecting it to be patched out before the UK launch. But as of firmware version 1.61, the bugs remain.
There’s also a remote play feature, which allows you to use the Vita to take control of your PS3. In theory this means you can play PS3 games on the PS Vita over a network. Some titles work already though many don’t, and Sony is keeping its cards close to its chest about how functional the Remote Play feature will be moving forward.
These are the supported media formats. The Vita focuses on the more commonly used ones but it’s worth bearing in mind that PS3 added extra formats to it’s original line up though post release firmware updates
Music: MP3 MPEG-1/2 Audio Layer 3, MPEG-4 AAC, WAVE (Linear PCM)
Video: MPEG-4 Simple Profile (AAC), H.264/MPEG-4 AVC Hi/Main/Baseline Profile (AAC)
Photo: JPEG (Exif 2.2.1), TIFF, BMP, GIF, PNG
It’s hard to know how to judge the Vita’s battery life. We’re not going to lie to you – it’s not great.
The iPad 2 might troop on for up to 10 hours, but you’ll be hard pressed to squeeze as much as 5 out of the PS Vita. And that’s with screen brightness turned right down and wi-fi turned off etc.
In real-world conditions, battery life during constant gaming is something more like 4 hours which will be plenty for anyone with regular access to a power socket – and the Vita does at least charge up extremely quickly (it also has a fantastic sleep mode, so if you turn the screen off and leave it, it will consume almost no power at all even if you pause mid-game – we left FIFA Football in standby for a whole week and returned to find only one percentage point missing from the battery).
But for anyone hoping to mong-out with the Vita on a long trans-Atlantic flight, you’d better hope your plane provides power at your seat. Business class travellers might be in luck there, but for the rest of us there is one other alternative which is to buy a portable USB charger.
You’ll need to get one that provides enough whack to get the Vita’s cogs turning though as it’s a hungry animal and won’t even charge from a standard computer USB port.
The battery cannot be removed or replaced either, so don’t be thinking you can keep a spare in your bag – that’s out of the question.
The charger itself consists of three parts, the wall socket and power lead, a small transformer and a proprietary USB 2.0 lead.
Would it have been too much to ask for Sony to have chosen a non-proprietary lead? A replacement costs a ridiculous £8.99, so keep each piece safe.
As a mobile games console, the PS Vita has no equal. Games look amazing, and that’s what’s important here.
Fire up a copy of Uncharted: Golden Abyss and you’ll soon notice that it takes a good while to load up. Once you’re in, you can open your saves relatively quickly but the fact is that these are full-size games, some of them more than several gigabytes in size.
The pay off is that once a game is loaded into memory, you can hop in and out of it at will.
Wipeout 2048’s futuristic racing looks absolutely beautiful, with sharp, detailed environments blasting past as you race. It’s also one of the games to utilise cross play, letting you race against PS3 opponents on certain Wipeout HD tracks.
The dual analogue sticks are perhaps smaller than you might imagine – especially if you’re used to the DualShock 3 controller – but they’re easy to master and offer the kind of very precise inputs that most hardcore gamers will demand.
Combine this with the ability to literally move the console around in the air in order to change your in-game view, and you’ve got a device that will respond to the smallest twitch of your thinnest muscle fibres.
It’s not all about the hardcore gamer though.
Take a game like Escape Plan. It has a dark children’s cartoon vibe as you guide little claymation-type characters past a series of slicing, electrocuting death traps. What stops it becoming a simple platform puzzler are its lovely animations and touch controls that have you jabbing and swiping at the screen. You can even ‘pinch’ the little heroes using the front and rear pad together to make them run.
And that brings us on nicely to that rear touchpad. It’s one of the things that makes the Vita unique – basically you can control many of the games by touching the back of the screen with your fingertips. It’s an idea that’s not been tried before and takes a good bit of getting used to.
In truth, we’re not totally sold on its ability to enhance rather than confuse, but we do think that this is more to do with the launch games’ implementation of the input rather than the design itself.
For instance, in FIFA Football, if your player is in a shooting position, you can choose to shoot in the normal way by lining your player up and using square or circle to send the ball goalwards, or you can touch and hold your finger on the rear touchpad.
The idea is that you imagine the entire rectangular touchpad as the goal, and you put your finger on the spot you want to aim for, and hold it there for however long you think will charge up the right amount of power. It’s not easy to master. At all. But when you get it right, it’s very rewarding.
For any FIFA players used to the traditional controls, it’s a very big change and we had to force ourselves to use the rear touchpad instead of going with what we were used to. The lack of finger triggers under the shoulder buttons is also jarring for anyone playing familiar PS3-like titles so whether it be FIFA or Uncharted, you’ll be needing to learn and get used to some new control methods.
But we imagine that as developers gradually get a handle on their new craft, the implementations of these different inputs will be refined to the point where each game makes the best use of the hardware available, instead of using a bit of everything just for the sake of it.
For example, in Uncharted: Golden Abyss, to give a buddy a boost up to a ledge, you’ll need to swipe up on the front touchscreen. And because the screen is so big, that will usually mean letting go of the other controls with one hand. Stretching your fingers to the correct points on both touch surfaces can be a bit of a challenge and will be more so the smaller your hands are. It’s a pain.
We’d prefer to not have to use the touchscreen for things like that as it felt more like a chore than fun. Remember though, that’s a criticism of the game, not the console.
And we’re not saying that most of the games are frustrating and unplayable, either. Far from it. Uncharted is one of the most impressive, if not the most impressive game ever released on a mobile device. The graphical fidelity of its jungles nearly rivals those even in the first Uncharted game (Drake’s Fortune) on PS3 – which is admittedly looking very dated now compared to its two sequels.Storytelling, voice acting, graphics, sound effects, music, score – it’s all absolutely brilliant and the mind boggles at what might be possible with this console further down the line.
Some people will tell you you’d be better off just buying an iPod touch and playing Angry Birds, but if you want to play epic games like this, there’s only one console in the running and it’s called PlayStation Vita.
The PS Vita is the most spectacular mobile games console ever conjured by humankind.
It improves on its PSP predecessors in every conceivable way and has a lasting appeal that has perhaps been lacking in the Nintendo 3DS since its launch.
Much depends on the games of course, but as a hardware device the Vita is spectacular. We don’t think it’s even that expensive. That sentence might get under some people’s skin, but have you seen how much the iPhone 4S costs right now? It’s £500 for the 16GB version.
Mobile devices are expensive. This is cutting edge technology we’re talking about here, and you get what you pay for, it’s as simple as that. It’s a massive shame that lots of every day folks can’t afford to snaffle one (us included!) but compared to many devices, the Vita is not that pricey.
It’s already been discounted online to £209.99 and you can bet that price will drop further if they don’t fly off the shelves, so if you think the price is a little high, bide your time and it’ll come to you.
The hardware is as cutting edge as it comes. There are some extremely powerful innards at play here, and as soon as you fire up a copy of Uncharted, you’ll see what your money has bought you.
The screen is a joy to behold and we love that Sony went for an OLED panel instead of an LCD. The colours are more vivid and the brightness is stunning. In a couple of years time, the extra cost will have been worth it for sure.
The build quality is also first rate – it would take some serious abuse to harm the Vita, though we’d advise you buy a protective case anyway – a set of keys in the wrong pocket could ruin that lovely screen quicker than you can say “ain’t no Gorilla Glass!”
The launch games are numerous and on the whole excellent. FIFA Football will delight any fans of the franchise and no doubt some PES gamers will be lured in as well. Uncharted is the undoubted launch king though, and you really should think about picking up a copy at some point – we hope the price comes down soon.
Battery life is the main one. It’s a tough debate because with that much power on board, what are you going to do? Reduce the power of the system or just put up with charging it more often? Sony has found some kind of balance, but ultimately there is no escaping the disappointment on this score.
The lack of internal storage is another black mark in our book. Sony is really letting its loyal fanbase down here – it sucks that the Vita comes with a hidden cost. We can only imagine how many people will buy the console without realising they’ll need to buy a memory card to get the most out of it.
The web browser is the other biggy. It’s a software problem though, so we can only hope that Sony will sort it out as soon as possible. We’ll update the review as soon as the magic firmware update arrives that solves this little bug but until that day arrives, the browser remains a bit of a stinker.
It’s an absolutely brilliant handheld gaming console, held back from true greatness by a few small niggles. Said niggles will no doubt become less of a big deal over time – and the likes of Amazon are already selling the console for less than its list price.
Hardcore gamers with cash to spend should snap this monster up and fire up the big launch games with great haste.
For anyone else, it’s a case of working out if you think it’s worth it. If you just want to play 99p puzzle games, by all means stick to your mobile phone or tablet. But don’t be fooled into thinking that your iPod is anywhere near capable of what the Vita can offer, because it’s not. Vita is one of a kind.
Have you bought yourself a PlayStation Vita? Tell us about your experiences in the comments