Review: Sony PlayStation Vita

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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.

IMG_1010.jpgOn 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.

Display
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.

Camera Quality
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.

Gaming
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.

IMG_1030.jpgThe 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.

IMG_0997.jpgThe 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:

  • Uncharted: Golden Abyss
  • WipEout 2048
  • Reality Fighters
  • Little Deviants
  • ModNation Racers: Road Trip
  • Everybody's Golf
  • Escape Plan
  • Unit 13
  • Hustle Kings -845MB
  • MotorStorm RC
  • Top Darts

Pre-loaded Software
The Vita comes pretty clean without too many pre-installed apps. There's a web browser, music and video players, a map tool with GPS capability and Sony's Content Manager for sharing content between the Vita and the PS3. Other apps include Friends that lists your SEN friends. Sony's Near social networking service allows you to find out gamers in your neighbourhood, see what they're playing and share gaming information. The Photos app allows you to take pictures using the front-facing camera.

Welcome Park is a tutorial app that guides you through the basic operations and features of the device blending in some light-hearted interactive games. Party is a creative app that enables you to text and voice chat with players online and also enjoy online games together. Social networking apps such as Facebook, Twitter and Skype for the Vita are expected in the near future.

You also have a web browser that needs to be reworked upon. There's no support for Flash or HTML5 and the pages take quite some time to load. While browsing through them, you often come across a blank space that is just not acceptable. We're hoping that Sony will fix this soon.

Pricing
After we've talked so much about the device, is it really worth every single penny? Well many would beg to differ. This device is going to cost you a bomb. The Wi-Fi only version costs Rs. 19,990 while the 3G+Wi-Fi version will burn a hole in your pocket at a staggering Rs. 24,990. That is more expensive than a PS3 or an Xbox.

But wait, that's just the cost of the device. Add to it the PS Vita memory card (4GB - Rs. 1,000, 8GB - Rs. 2,000, 16 GB -Rs. 3,000 and 32 GB - Rs. 5,000) and the fact that AAA titles like Uncharted Golden Abyss and Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 will be priced in the range of Rs. 2,199 - Rs. 2, 799. Now you could probably do the math yourself!

Performance
The Vita delivers exceptionally well with all that power under its belly waiting to be unleashed. This machine is equipped with a quad-core processor that from where it derives all that raw power. It is built for hardcore gaming and leaves no stone unturned. Graphics and sound deliver top class quality. A pair of headphones is not a part of the standard package. But if you have a good set of headphones to match, the system is capable of delivering amazing sound.

IMG_1035.jpgWhat is a bit disappointing is that the battery doesn't last for more than 4 hours on continuous gameplay (without network and default brightness levels). Also the device does not charge via USB (Update: The device does not charge via USB while playing or in standby mode. It needs to be shutdown to be charged. In our opinion, this greatly reduces the utility of this feature).

The Vita supports a variety of media formats including the more common ones such as MP3, MP4, Wave, H.264, Jpeg, TIFF, BMP, GIF and PNG. You can download videos from the PS store using you PlayStation Network account. However, the Vita is capable of playing only standard definition (SD) videos.


Verdict
As a handheld gaming device, the Vita offers a truly brilliant and memorable gaming experience. Sony has explored all possibilities with this one. The device ranks way above the 3DS outshining it in every way right from the user interface, the multi-touch capacitive display, the controls to the most important thing, the games line-up available at launch and those expected post launch. As far as pricing is concerned, the Vita is definitely not going to top the casual gamers' list. They'd rather pick up a smartphone or a tablet that caters to their basic gaming needs. However, if you'd like to venture into epic territory of games like Uncharted on the move, you need not look any further.

To wrap it up, the Vita has great qualities that overshadow its negativities and one thing is for certain, that currently there isn't a portable gaming device as promising as this one. Though we can't say for sure where the device is headed in terms of future upgrades, but for now it's safe to say that Sony deserves all the attention. For all you hardcore gamers out there, this one's a prized possession for sure.

To view more images of the Sony PS Vita visit our photo gallery.

Update
Thanks for all the excellent feedback we've received on the review. Please keep it coming.

We checked the Vita manual and it does indeed charge via USB but only when the device is switched off completely. Since we tried to charge while we were playing the game or when the device was is standby mode, it led us to believe otherwise. The error is regretted. The review has now been updated to reflect this fact.

Pros
Fantastic gaming experience
Sturdy build
Stunning display
Game titles available pre and post launch

Cons
Very expensive
No internal memory
Poor battery life
No charging via USB Can't charge via USB while playing or in standby mode

Price:
Wi-Fi Only version- Rs. 19,990
3G + Wi-Fi version - Rs. 24, 990

Ratings
Performance: 3.5
Features: 4
Ease of set-up: 4
Ergonomics: 5
Wow Factor: 3.5
Value for Money: 3
Overall: 4

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