Sony's PSP was a game-changer in the handheld gaming market. Though Nintendo reigned over this category for quite a long time, Sony stole its thunder in a flash. The PSP was the first handheld game device to use an optical disc format, the UMD (Universal Media Disc) and memory stick pro duo as its primary mode of storage. Over the years, the PSP hasn't changed much in terms of its form factor apart from getting a bit slimmer. But seven years on, Sony continues its PSP legacy with the PS Vita (earlier code-named NGP or Next Generation Portable) and it is definitely a huge leap from its predecessors in terms of graphics and performance. Vita means 'life' in Latin. It seems apt for the rich entertainment services the device offers. So, are you ready to upgrade to a Vita yet?
Design & Build
We received the Wi-Fi only version of the Vita inclusive of a 16GB removable memory card along with a PSN voucher code. This black beauty came buried in a hardbound white manual, which we thought was quite creative. Open the manual and each page defines a feature of the Vita that actually appears to be engraved into the manual. Further on, the pages list the games available for the device slowly revealing the Vita bit-by-bit. And after the pages end, you finally get a first look of the Vita and it was a breathtaking moment!
The first thing we noticed was the 5-inch OLED screen and the neatly laid out controls that are evenly distributed on either side of the screen. The left side houses a slightly smaller D-Pad with the primary analog stick sitting just below it. Adjacent to the stick is the left speaker. And further down, is the PlayStation Home button that takes you to the home screen when pressed.
On the right side, you have the classic Sony controls; the triangle, circle, x and square buttons below which resides the second analog stick and the right speaker. The familiar Start and Select buttons are placed at the bottom we're all familiar with. Sony's motion sensor technology debuts in the Vita with Sixaxis motion controls just like the PS3.
A metallic plastic strip runs around the circumference of the device. There are two slots on the top edge. The Vita-labeled slot accepts the proprietary game card while the other one is an accessory port. The shoulder left and right buttons are transparent and are perfectly placed for use. The power/sleep button is situated next to the left shoulder button while the volume buttons are located adjacent to the right one. The base of the console has the headphones/microphone jack, the charging/connecting port and the Vita's new game memory storage slot.
The Vita's biggest attraction is its 5-inch OLED capacitive screen with a qHD resolution of 960x544. Though it still doesn't compare with the iPhone's retina display, it is quite brilliant. It's a first we've seen on any portable gaming device. It looks stellar with the colours appearing really sharp and vivid. This is however when you're indoors. But outdoors, even at full brightness, it couldn't compete with the sun. It is very reflective and attracts fingerprints quite easily.
It supports multi-touch and most games make excellent use of the screen during gameplay. The PlayStation-patterned touch panel accompanies the capacitive touch-screen across the back with two grip pads on either side. It is a very unique feature that keeps you thoroughly engaged while playing.
The Vita sports identical 0.3MP front and rear cameras. Though the camera finds use in games like Reality Fighters, it isn't the best feature. The stills produced are low on quality and don't really match up to the expectations. You can take screen shots by pressing the PS Home and Start buttons simultaneously. Both the front and rear facing cameras record video but unfortunately the quality of recording isn't that great. This is a dampener for a device of this caliber.
OS & Interface
The Vita's UI is very user friendly. The LiveArea screen has various bubble-like icons representing apps, games, photos, the PS store, browser et al. The device has multiple screens piled one on top of the other. The screen can be unlocked with a cool page-flipping animation. The technique is also used while closing applications running in the background. You can skim through running programs with a horizontal swipe. A great addition is the accelerometer and the gyroscope, which allows you to play games by moving the device in your hand.
There aren't many pre-installed apps on the Vita. Content sharing is possible with Content Manager to and from the PS3 via a USB cable. Remote Play allows you to control your PS3 with the Vita over a network, which means you can play PS3 games on your Vita. You can also use the Vita as a controller and operate most of the features on the PS3.
No one comes close to the PS Vita in this area. As a handheld gaming device, the Vita offers a fabulous portable gaming experience. You may think that the analog sticks look and feel pretty small especially if you're used to the dual-shock controllers, don't be fooled. They're easy to get used to and happen to be very accurate. The device allows you to control characters on-screen in 5 different ways: the 5-inch OLED touch screen, the rear touch panel, the traditional PS buttons, the dual-analog sticks and the built-in gyroscope to tilt the device in different directions.
The game titles are either available for download from the PS Store or can be purchased as flash-based memory cards. Uncharted seems to be like the benchmark when it comes to game sizes at 2.8GB. For a country like India, this might be quite a task if you do not have a good connectivity speeds. Also, the system needs to be updated with the latest firmware before you decide to download anything from the PS Store or use other applications.
Games on the Vita are just heavenly. The detailed futuristic environments in Wipeout 2048 completely blow you away. The gadget allows you to explore augmented reality gaming using the front and rear cameras with games such as Reality Fighters. And if you still want something more to prove the Vita's capabilities, then load a copy of Uncharted Golden Abyss and be amazed with stunning visuals that appear crisp and are very high on detail across the OLED screen. Initial loading of games takes a while, but once a game is loaded into the memory, you can fire up saved games rather quickly.
A great feature on the device is cross-play that allows you to play games between your handheld and the PS3. If you're already playing a game on the PS3, you can save it and continue playing on your Vita.
For someone who is transitioning from the PSP to the Vita, the controls might take a little time to getting used to; with the introduction of the touch screen and rear touch panel and a secondary analog stick. For instance, when you're engaged in melee combat while playing Uncharted, the screen prompts you with arrows that you need to swipe to take down the enemy at once. For this you actually have to hold the device with just one hand for a brief second which could be risky. But basic controls still remain the same.
The device certainly feels bigger and better as opposed to the PSP but all the more comfortable to hold. As far as games are concerned, with the abolition of the UMD drive, PSP titles when digitally released will be available for the Vita along with PS1 classics.
There are 25 launch titles available since day one and according to Sony a few 100 games are in the pipeline including prestigious titles such as Little Big Planet, Call of Duty, Mortal Kombat and Assassins Creed. Here's a list of titles exclusive to the Vita: