Feb 13, 2012

Sony's latest attempt to lift a slice of the handheld pie so ably scoffed by Nintendo is the PS Vita: a chunky black slab of portable PlayStation. So here we have our full-blown PlayStation Vita review.
It's a substantial revamp of the company's handheld legacy that started with the PSP and has evolved, until now, through five largely identical models since its 2004 debut.
Each step saw minor revisions - three of which, the PSP-1000, 2000 and 3000, were basically size revising updates - and attempts to chase a rapidly changing market.
The PSP Go added a sliding-case design further shrinking the device, and ditched Sony's original proprietary UMD disk format in favor of download only software.
Even now the original device is lives on with the latest PSP, the E1000, undergoing a budget focused strip down with a cheaper build and removing all but the most basic features to squeeze the last out of it as a piece of (almost) throw away fun.
In many ways, despite the new name, the PS Vita is another revision of the PSP legacy but one with plenty of much needed evolution. The same basic form returns and it's still a dedicated games machine. If you want a PlayStation Phone then you'll need the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play, an Android based device that can play Android games and PS1 titles.
The PlayStation Vita does have wireless options, with one of the models sporting a 3G connection but it's for updates and online gaming rather than communication.
It's even got a certified killer app with Uncharted: Golden Abyss proving that this is a full fat gaming experience, capable of providing PS3 quality fun on the go.
the twin front and back touchscreens, the motion control (using a three-axis gyroscope and three-axis accelerometer sensors) a microphone and dual cameras. There are uses for all of them with high profile touchy, wavy and visual gameplay mechanics across the launch line up.
the twin front and back touchscreens, the motion control (using a three-axis gyroscope and three-axis accelerometer sensors) a microphone and dual cameras. There are uses for all of them with high profile touchy, wavy and visual gameplay mechanics across the launch line up.

There's no denying that there's some impressive grunt inside the PS Vita's black plastic case.
The combination of the Quad-core ARM Cortex-A9 MPCore CPU and PowerVR Series5XT SGXMP+ quad core graphics chip mean that this is running near PS3 quality games, helped along by the 512 MB RAM and a separate 128 MB of VRAM.

A game like Uncharted: Golden Abyss is a clear system seller largely because it looks ostensibly like the original game on PS3.
There is no sense of any lowering of aesthetic standards that you might get on 3DS or iPhone. Visually this is competing on a PS3/Xbox 360 level with the same advanced rendering capabilities and dynamic lighting. Although frame rates can dip when a lots happening it's still and impressive leap forwards for handheld gaming.

The standout feature is its 960 × 540 qHD resolution OLED screen. At 5-inches it's a bright and sharp joy to watch, despite its being a touch down the resolution and pixel density ladder from an iPhone 4S' 640×960 screen which rocks 326ppi over the Vita's 220ppi.
It's also a capacitive touchscreen which is used in games and navigation, while there's a second touch pad on the rear of the machine, used almost exclusively for gaming inputs.
The other control mechanisms are an arrangement of buttons and sticks familiar to anyone who's ever picked up a PS3 Dualshock (there's no haptic feedback, mind). The triangle, square, cross and circle buttons sit on the right of the machine, the D-pad on the left. There's also a home button to navigate between open apps, and separate start and selection buttons.

You've also got three-axis accelerometer and gyroscope, meaning you can control 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!
On the top of the machine are the triggers, a power and volume control as well as two ports. One for game cards, the other is an accessory port. The Vita SD storage card slots in at bottom and a standard sized sim used by the 3G model pops in the left hand side.
One odd form factor is that the machine is slightly too wide for easy typing. The on-screen keyboard is a good size and responsive but the width of the machine means that in a natural holding position your thumbs can't reach the middle. As a result you either have to use a slightly stretched grip or resort to single digit stabbing.

As previously mentioned gaming on the Vita looks incredible. After all the talk of CPUs and GPUs, the key thing is that games look every bit as good as their larger console counterparts.
Uncharted: Golden Abyss really does look as good as any launch PS3 game and better, even, than a handful of more recent console games. Visually it blows the iPad/Phone and Nintendo 3DS out of the water.
Because these are more akin to full size console games there are also equivalent full size loading times. You can get back into any game you've left running in the background almost instantly but firing up something like Uncharted from scratch can take a couple minutes.

Battery life:
Gaming also takes it out of the machine's battery, though it's actually not too bad considering the processors and screen. Play something constantly with a sensible screen brightness and you'll get about four and half to five hours out of it. So, okay for short trips but best to keep the charger in your bag, a habit i-devices have ingrained into most of us by now anyway.
Loading and battery concerns aside the quality of the entertainment on offer is strong.
Wipeout 2048's futuristic racing looks beautiful with sharp, detailed environments blasting past as you compete. It's also one of the games to utilise cross play, letting you play against PS3 opponents on certain Wipeout tracks.

Then there's something like Escape Plan. It has a dark children's cartoon feel as you guide little claymation flavoured characters past a series of slicing, electrocuting death traps. What stops it becoming a simple 2.5D platform puzzler is its lovely, characterful animation 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.
Then there are the games built around the new controls. Little Deviants is a series of party games - variants on Whac-a-mole games, ball rolling challenges, motions controlled shooters and more - that has you stabbing at the screen and waving the entire machine around you.
Similarly Frobisher Says is a Bishi Bashi Special style assortment of madness as you race through challenges that last seconds - counting the number of cats that appear on screen for a fraction of a second, say. It's numerous instructions are yelled out by a manic Kevin Eldon creating a genuinely funny if short lived experience.
There are also more traditional offerings. Games like Unit 13 is a fairly traditional third person military shooter, and as such has little use for the extra control methods. Instead it makes logical use of them by letting you tap on screen to select options and change weapons.
t's a wide range as well with everything from more 'hardcore offerings likeUnit 13, Uncharted: Golden Abyss and Ninja Gaiden, though to more casual offerings like Plants vs Zombies and Motorstorm RC. Sports fans get things like FIFA, Hot Shots Golf and F1. Plus there are kid friendly titles like Ben Tenand Lego Harry Potter.

The PS Vita is a simple device to use. You swipe up and down through pages of apps and games that appear as little floating Smartie like buttons. Anything you have open, Apps, games and media, stack up on a series of pages you can scroll through left to right, or shut down by 'tearing' the page off.
It's an intuitive and tactile system with buttons wobbling and the screen stretching and warping gently as you interact with it. It's easy to see why Sony chose to forgo the PlayStation XMB they'd previously rolled out across various TVs, cameras and other areas of their electronics division.
In terms of apps on the console there are currently things like Near, a location-based service much like Nintendo's Street Pass system. It collects information from the area, people and games around you. Party is the previously mentioned chat system and there's also a Group Messaging app.
The Vita specific PlayStation Store isn't yet up so there's no way yet of knowing what the full range of additional applications will be in Europe. Things like Facebook, Flickr, Skype, Twitter and foursquare are on the way, though, through Social Essentials - Vita's take on social networking.
These are the currently 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

One area that does need serious attention is the almost unusable browser. There's currently no support for Flash or HTML5 with the machine only getting friendly with the bare minimum of Javascript and cookies. There are serious and basic functionality issues eitherway, however.

Before you decide to 'go Vita' you need to be sure about what hole you're hoping to fill. If it's mainly games on the go then knock yourself out. It mixes the best of everything out there with games that are PS3/Xbox quality right down to Angry Birds level bits of fluff.
The controls, both traditional sticks and the motion and touch stuff, are all great.
It's also a capable media player with the various social apps also looking promising. But this is really a games machine and should be viewed for purchase as such. It won't worry more versatile i-Things, tablets or media players anytime soon but if you want fun first, and a few other features second then it's worth investigating.