Hardware Review: PlayStation Vita

13 mins read

After two months of waiting, the PlayStation Vita finally escapes the boundaries of Japan. Given the current sales situation in that region, some have questioned whether or not Sony’s latest handheld is even worth picking up. We could honestly just answer that with a resounding “yes”, but let’s indulge and take the portable for a spin anyway.

The Hardware

Included with the handheld are the basics: the owner’s manual, augmented reality cards, a charger, and of course, the big kahuna itself. What’s missing from the package? Unfortunately, proprietary memory cards. Post-launch, storage will be sold separately from the system and is mandatory for the majority of games; even retail copies won’t boot without a card. In other words, you really need memory to do anything of consequence with the Vita, and you’ll need as much of it as possible if you’re planning to join us in the digital era.  
The Vita itself is quite the behemoth in size; a stark contrast to many of the miniature devices of today. That’s not a detriment, by the way– the glorious OLED screen alone entirely justifies the console’s bulk. I did manage to squeeze it into my pants pocket, but I would not recommend this due to potential system damage (more on that later).
Each button on the system is of the clicking variety, though thankfully this does not affect gameplay in a negative way as I initially feared. The directional pad in particular is now a full “pad” rather than four arrows placed near each other with space between them. There are reports of squeakiness occurring, but this is relatively uncommon from the sounds of it (your mileage may vary).
Vita’s rear touch panel
The dual analog sticks, however, will be more controversial than the clicky buttons. These miniature sticks are noticeably flimsier than those on, say, a Dualshock 3, but did you truly not expect that? Once you adjust to the slightly slippery pads, they’re as good as any and grant plenty of possibilities for gaming. The only real downside is that they protrude and could be damaged if the system is put in your pocket.  
Also on show are the two touch pads. Both pads are capacitive (think iPhone rather than 3DS) with multi-touch support. I personally found it rather difficult to utilise the rear pad, but as with the analog sticks, it’s just a learning curve.
When you’re not playing, you’ll have to take good care of your Vita. Thankfully the system’s not too needy.  It lacks as many crevices as a 3DS, so there won’t be too much opportunity for dirt build-up and rendering the rest fairly easy to clean. The touchscreens, however, will require a bit more maintenance. Putting down the Vita on a surface is often a questionable decision, since the surface easily gathers fingerprints and scuffs. Buy yourself a case or save cash by carrying around the system in the sleeve it comes wrapped in.

Last of all, don’t be worried about the battery life. It will last you between three and five hours depending on your usage, but if this isn’t enough for you, you still have options. Since you’re probably getting a case with the system, you might want to invest in a cheap external charger or the bulkier and more expensive power grip if you don’t feel content. While yes, there is a cost, you have plenty of options to work with and the console on its own will probably suffice. 
The Software
Setting up the system is quick and easy for the most part. Find the power button and you’ll be guided through a few steps to get your new console going.  It’s all self-explanatory, aside from one strange quirk I assume will be addressed (the system asks you to login to your PlayStation Network account, but you need to update the system to do this, so you’re forced to make a temporary account regardless of whether or not you have one).  
The new menu screen
When you’re all set up, you can feast your eyes on the brand spanking new home menu. The new interface ditches the classic XMB for a new setup comparable to iOS with a Sony twist. The home screen is entirely controlled by the front touch screen, with applications separated into rows. You can rearrange them to your heart’s content and swap pages with a simple slide of the screen. Especially great is that you can assign a wallpaper to each individual page rather than a universal one, so you’ve got plenty of room to show your creativity. If the theme music grinds your gears, there’s an option to turn it off.
The comparisons iOS don’t stop there. A bar at the top displays whether Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are on, the system’s battery life, and the time. Heck, when your system goes into sleep mode, you need to slide the screen to unlock it and can even set a 4-digit pass code to function in the exact same way as Apple’s devices.
In terms of built-in software, there’s plenty to do. Welcome Park does an admirable job of teaching players how to utilize all the Vita’s features, from the camera and microphone to the rear touch-panel. If you’ve got Internet access or the 3G version, you can browse the PlayStation Store and connect to the network to view all your trophies. You can also get social with friends by chatting them up or using the new “Near” feature to find out what people around you are playing. Last are the self-explanatory multimedia options for playing music, snapping photos, recording videos, and browsing the Internet. Simply put, there’s a lot to do outside of gaming with this machine.
Multitasking is arguably one of the most impressive features of the Vita. Whilst playing a game, you can have tons of applications running in the background and switch to them with a mere tap of the PlayStation button. For the sake of testing, I tried opening as many things as possible and managed to get up to five apps running simultaneously during a game…with custom music playing in the background, no less. The only drawback is the lack of a browser in-game, but if this is rectified, the Vita will be the jack of all trades.
The Games and Store
We don’t focus on the retail aspect of things at Digitally Downloaded, but it’s worth noting that game cases include much less information in the manuals than games on other systems. In the case of several launch titles, that is to say none at all. You pay for box art, a cartridge, and maybe an online pass. So long as you’re not an avid collector, this is indisputably better since developers now have no excuse not to provide a colourful and informative virtual instruction booklet. Hot Shots Golf’s (aka Everybody’s Golf) well-formatted manual in particular is a shining example of what we should be expecting as instruction booklets continue to shift over to the digital era.
The PlayStation Store
How is the PlayStation Store with regards to games? Outside of the highly respectable PSP library, it’s less than enticing. PlayStation One support is entirely absent and the majority of my Minis were incompatible with the Vita. Minis and PlayStation Portable games suffer from being stretched a bit, but I still found a few to be particularly attractive in spite of this.
Keep in that the above criticism of the current library will be rendered useless when future updates hit the scene to increase compatibility. In the future, Vita is going to be a very digital system, perhaps even more so than even the PSP Go.  Virtually the entire retail library will be available for download for a cheaper price. This also erases the issue of having to drag a bunch of tiny cartridges around with you. On that note, both Vita cartridges and memory cards are very small, so you’d best take care of them.
The launch line-up has more than enough quality games to hold its own, with more heavy hitters not far off. From the get-go, you can download Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Rayman Origins, Wipeout, Hot Shots Golf, and several others of note. You should be able to find a game with some appeal, whether it be upcoming, currently available, or a classic game on the PSN.
I should remark that you can purchase a system warrantee from the PlayStation Network itself. This is a brilliant move on Sony’s part as it drops retailers from the equation and allows you to custom-tailor your warrantee. For example, you can choose to get accident protection instead of the standard system failure deal. You’re only given 30 days to buy a plan, but that’s more than enough time to decide (and 30 more days than most game shops would give you).
Even by removing potential from the equation, the Vita may still be the most impressive handheld I’ve used yet. Budget-oriented gamers will want to wait before taking the plunge, but the keyword there is “wait” – not miss out. Virtually every complaint I have about the handheld is disposable or will improve with time. 
-Clark A

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