Playstation Vita Console Wi-Fi Only: Thorough Review
Processing power, control options, video and sound.
No internal HDD, price gouging of the early adopters.
The Bottom Line:
Give it a little time and see if the games you want start appearing before you plunk down so much cash. The hardware is there for a great system.
I got my PS Vita on day one of the US release (February 22nd2012) which was almost two months ago now so I finally feel like I have enough experience with the system to give a thorough review. When I bought my Vita I decided to buy a twenty dollar Playstation Network card as well as an 8 gigabyte memory card to go with it. I have owned and still own a Playstation One, Playstation 2, Playstation 3, and PSP-3000 so needless to say I am familiar with Sony’s track record with consoles and games. For my choice of a PS Vita I chose the Wi-Fi only version over the 3G version due to the fact that I refuse to pay a monthly fee for online gaming so I would never activate that fifty dollar feature, so the Wi-Fi only version was perfect for me.
Hardware 4 out of 5
The one thing that will never change about my experience with the PS Vita is the hardware, and that is definitely a strong point. Sony has once again put out a very high quality piece of hardware that looks and feels every bit of its quality. The Vita comes in as a little bit bigger than the original PSP in height, width, and depth, and weighs about a solid pound and simply feels solid in your hands.
Sony decided to steal a play from Nintendo’s playbook and went all out making this console push the boundaries of gaming control. Noticeably Sony included dual analog sticks to replicate the home console experience in a handheld. These analog sticks have a nice rubber grip which is comfortable and responsive to the thumbs. The analog sticks are noticeably smaller than that of its’ home console brethren but work just as well, while not protruding more than a third of an inch from the flat surface of the Vita. The Vita also features not just the dual analog sticks that are common in today’s gaming consoles, it also feature all but the L2/R2 shoulder buttons and the L3/R3 analog clickers. On the left side of the screen we have the ever present digital pad above the analog stick, this pad is fairly small but still comfortable and responsive while below the analog we have the now familiar “PS” button. On the right the square, triangle, O, and X buttons make their return, albeit smaller than normal but still a functional size (close to the size of DS Lite buttons), with the ‘Start’ and ‘Select’ buttons being underneath the analog. Plus finally we have the shoulder buttons L and R which look really nice but end up feeling odd in the hands due to their curved shape. Then finally the Vita also features the SixAxis controls that were introduced with the PS3, the SixAxis being sensors inside the system that senses what angles the Vita is being held and can be controlled via that.
While the Vita may lack the L2/R2 and L3/R3 that is really no big deal since if someone were porting a game I could foresee them easily being mapped onto the two other control mechanisms included in the Vita. First and foremost is the beautiful OLED 5” 960 x 544 (resolution) screen that also acts as a touchscreen. I for one have always been a detractor of the use of touchscreens for gaming. While it definitely enhances some game types, like the Professor Layton series, most of the time it serves little purpose. Plus my biggest peeve with having to touch the same screen that I am using to play a game is that no matter how much I try there will always be smudges and fingerprints on my beautiful screen. While it appears the world as a whole doesn’t mind these smudges and prints (based on the success of so many electronics like the iPad) but these smudges drive me batty. The touchscreen works as well as any touchscreen I have dealt with, it is generally accurate, however often times doing a swipe will get register as a press or vice versa. Then there is the inclusion of a back touchscreen on the Vita, this one doesn’t bother me nearly as much as having to use the front touchscreen. This is a peculiar idea but at least it doesn’t smudge up my viewing screen, and it is initially disorienting until you can grasp where you are touching on the back, but it honestly works better than the front screen in my opinion. The only downside I have with it is that I tend to get unintentional inputs due to my fingers wondering onto the back of the system.
One last controller input (as I’ll call it) is the front and back facing cameras on the Vita. These can be used in conjunction with playing cards (that are included) to play augmented reality games. What that means in short is for the game Cliff Diver you play as a cliff diver, but you get to build these cliffs in your real world with the cards that are included. You can set one card flat on your kitchen table, which will then sink in and fill with water on the Vita screen, and you then you could put a second card on top of a pile of books which will become the cliff that he will dive from, all the while you control what you are seeing by your view of the cards with the Vita. While a few games use these for the most part this part of the system is thus far mostly just used for the “Wow” effect and not much else.
The beautifully smudged screen is, for lack of a better term, beautiful. The increased size over the PSP does make a difference as it works very well as a movie player along with its gaming prowess. The resolution is comparable to high end computer monitors. The screen is bright and displays the full range of colors admirably. I really have nothing that I can nitpick about the quality of the screen on the PS Vita.
The sound on the PS Vita may be the most overlooked upgrade in the handheld gaming market. You have the option of either using headphones (which work as expected) or you can go sans headphones and use the built-in speakers. To my surprise the Vita actually has speakers that make enough sound that it can be clearly heard (gasp). Unlike the PSP or DS (I haven’t tried a 3DS) as long as you don’t have a lot of ambient noise you could watch movies on Netflix with it without the aid of any headphones and not miss a word of dialogue. The sound is clearly in stereo since you can see the two speakers on the system itself, there are little holes that allow the sound to exit the casing right next to the outside of the analog sticks. This location for the speakers is the only real problem with the sound since my thick thumbs will often cover up one or both speakers completely while I am playing a game.
The computing power of the PS Vita outpaces all of its handheld gaming brethren by a long shot (unless you consider a gaming laptop a ‘handheld’). With apparently nearly the same processing power as a Playstation 3 under the hood it is an impressive gaming system that fits in your hands. While the overall processing is comparable to the Playstation 3 not as much of that processing power is used on graphics, so the graphics are a notch down from its home console sister. What’s most noticeable is in the really high end games, taking Uncharted 2 for PS3 and Uncharted Golden Abyss for Vita up for comparison it is readily apparent that the PS3 can outdo the Vita in graphics. In Uncharted 2 you can see the wrinkle in his jeans is rendered and reacts with water and sunlight, while in Golden Abyss the jean wrinkles are painted on with the texture. A minute difference but readily apparent, the vast majority of the graphics look stupendous. Draw distances are far, shadowing effects are good, reflections, particle effects, and polygon counts are high. In comparing the graphics to other consoles on the market the Vita lands just below thePS3 and Xbox 360 and above the original Xbox, Wii, PSP, and 3DS.
One of the ever present gripes with the Sony handheld gaming systems is their battery life, and the Vita holds true to form here. I personally have no real issues with the fact that the system only has a life of around five hours (playing time) on the rechargeable battery. I have never come close to running out of juice since I am well aware of its charge level at all times and plugging it in is simple enough. What is nice about the battery is the fact that you can put the system to sleep for days on end before the battery dies. The sleep feature on portable gaming resurrected gaming on the go since I can now play for fifteen minutes (which is my break time at work) and not worry about reaching save points or anything, just put the system to sleep and I can wake it right back up and start right where I left off.
An annoyance for me is the decision by Sony to make several new components completely new for the Vita when they could have simply used industry standards as a much more economical alternative for us, their suckers… err consumers. First case in point is that Sony went and made an all new memory card for the Vita, which only they have made any of (goodbye cheaper Sandisks). Second of all they made their USB plug, which acts for both transferring files and managing content between the Vita and the PS3 or PC and the only way to charge the system, it is of course a brand new kind of USB that only they sell. This seems like a nice kick in the gut considering it would probably pretty easy to use one of the billion readily available and cheap USB connections already available, but instead we are tied to an overpriced USB that only they can replace if it gets destroyed. And the memory card is a double whammy because it is way overpriced and could easily worked even better with established flash memory cards such as the Pro Duo (which all of us PSP owners already have) or better yet Micro SD which can be obtained for pennies on the dollar comparatively. Truly a phenomenal way of fleecing more money out of your customers I say. True including an internal hard drive would drive up the price some, but it’s doubtful it would be as expensive as these external memory cards in the long run.
Sony did actually make an agreeable decision in disposing of the UMD format which it used with the PSP system in favor of game cards similar to that of the Nintendo DS. The beauty of that switch is that these cards can hold just as much data while not being nearly as cumbersome to store and transport. While I would like to be able to play my old God of War titles on the Vita I will survive without this.
Game Compatibility 1 out of 5
While I am complaining about the use of unnecessary cables and memory cards I had might as well go off about my biggest complaint about the Vita. Going into buying the Vita I was sold that it could play so many games including PSP games and playing games across platforms with the PS3. Was this a major letdown, first of all very few of the PSP games that you could already own via the Playstation Store aren’t playable on the Vita (none that I own are playable). Then there are the Minis which are all playable on the PS3 and PSP and once again only a select few work on the Vita (only one I own works). Now the most ghastly of all sins against us loyal Sony owners is the complete lack of any support of PSOne classics, which I have a ton of. It was conjectured that the addition of PS2 classics on the Playstation Network meant that they were planned to be supported by the Vita, once again the Vita has no support for them. Finally the much heralded cross platform play doesn’t work with all but two games at launch, and no additional games have been released since. Only the games Wipeout 2048 and the pool game Hustle Kings are the only cross platform play games on the system. Just how incredible would this system be if even a quarter (or even a tenth) of the PSN games available for the PS3 could support this feature.
The one good thing about the Vita compatibility is the fact that it could change with a firmware update, there is no reason why all PSOne, Mini, and PSP games (downloaded) could not work other than the Vita was not programmed to make them work. If Sony had decided to include all Minis, PSP, and PSOne games the Vita would have had the largest library of games available for any system ever at launch. Hopefully Sony will catch on and work on making these games compatible so that I can retire my PSP.
Game Support 4 out of 5
While the Vita was lacking a lot of the backwards and sideways compatibility that I was expecting it at least has decent new game support. At launch the system had one of the best lineups ever, although I like everyone else am completely spoiled by gaming companies now. At the two month mark the Vita still has little more than the original twenty six launch titles, several of which were quite good. Games like Escape Plan and About a Blob were excellent displays of the systems controls, while there was one blockbuster game on the list (Uncharted Golden Abyss) along with many ports from Ubisoft which included Rayman Origins. There was really a good variety of games available at launch including several sports titles such as Fifa and Hot Shots Golf. There appear to be another 100 games already announced for the system although it feels like forever for those games to be coming out (have I mentioned I’ve been spoiled by my PS3 in its sixth year with a large existing library?).
There is one nasty habit I have seen thus far on the Vita, and that nasty habit is complete gouging of its owners. For my first example is the ports that Ubisoft brought over, games such as Dungeon Hunter Alliance which cost $12 on the Playstation 3 now cost $35 on the Vita (plus apparently that port is extremely glitched to boot). There are very few games available for under $35 so far, that will eventually fix itself as the system ages but for the thrifty gamer such as myself I am not left with many options. Possibly the worst case of gouging I see is the practice of charging the gamer to buy the game and then charging them another ten dollars for full online access on top of that. If I buy a game I expect to be purchasing the full game.
Despite the gouging on prices for Vita games there is definitely hope for Vita owners. Time will drop prices, and there will be a good quantity of games to play within a year. Sony has finally grown to the point over the years that they hold largest quantity of quality first party developers of any of the console makers, along with having a good relationship with all of the major third party developers. My personal dream would be to play a Bethesda or Bioware developed game on my Vita. And neither of those seem too farfetched considering Sony’s relationship with EA, plus the fact that Oblivion was at one point in development for the PSP.
Operating System 4 out of 5
The Vita’s operating system is thankfully simple to operate and customize. The operating system appears much like you can see in the picture. Each application and game is represented by a bubble with a picture in it and text below it. You can simply jump from application to application by simply using the touchscreen to press on the icons. You can have as many pages as you want which you can flip through by simply flicking your finger up or down on the screen. Once you press on a game for example a page will open up to the right which is the games start page, from there all you have to do is press on the start button and it will start up. You can have multiple applications open at one time, and you can pause them at any time by pressing the ‘PS’ button which will take you back to their start page, and then you can simply flip through your open applications going left and right. In order to close an application you simply put your finger on the tab at the top right of the screen and pull it down much like you are ripping off a page of paper from a notebook.
My Vita is the Wi-Fi only variety, which allows unlimited data and access as long as I am within range of a network that I have access to. The Vita can handle any of the common Wi-Fi signals and all of the popular security types. The Vita did add a nice level of convenience by saving the names and settings for any Wi-Fi network that you connect to and will auto-select the relevant network that you are within range of. Now unlike with the PSP you can simply connect to your network at home and then connect with your network at work without bothering to input that information more than the first time you use them, nor do you even have to bother switching networks the Vita will do that for you.
Applications 4 out of 5
Since the Vita exists in an age of portable computing it really cannot be purely a gaming device and that is it. While the system is meant to be the most powerful handheld system available it still has a few bells and whistles to add to its functionality. First and foremost for me the Vita finally allows for portable trophy collecting, which adds to your PSN tally. It may seem sad but I rarely play a game if there are no trophies available for me to collect in it, and the Vita games get the same value as the PS3 games do. Which the PSP never allowed us to do. Then there is the Playstation Store which is a tremendous resource for me, it is where you can purchase and download many Vita games, Add-Ons, as well as movies. The odd thing about the Playstation Store on Vita is the complete lack of organization comparatively to the Playstation Store on the PS3. There is no ‘Add-Ons’ section in the Vita’s PS Store despite there being tons of add-ons for the Vita games available, so if I am interested in finding an add-on I am left digging through the “Top Downloads” and the “New Releases” departments in hope of finding them.
The Vita also has apps to connect to several of the most popular websites around directly such as Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr. There is also an internet browser which would be by far the best web browser included in any console system with the ability to scroll and magnify easily with the touchscreen. However for some stupid reason Sony has not put in HTML5 or Flash support so there are absolutely no videos that are playable via the internet (hopefully this gets fixed in a future firmware update). Then finally the thing that I use the Vita more than gaming for is the Netflix app, which works extremely well with screen and audio quality delivered by the Vita.
The front and back cameras on the Vita can be used for photography as well. No the Vita is not a great camera, it is a gaming system, but it works better than most phones as a camera. While it lacks any sort of flash the Vita does perform very well in low light conditions. The Vita can also be used to play audio and video off of your memory card, I have not tried the audio, but the video is problematic since I can’t figure out exactly what kind of video it accepts. I have around 100 videos on my PS3 but it only recognized two of those and it recognized none of the videos on my PC. This is disappointing since even my PSP can connect to my PC and have any video adapted to play on the PSP, so this is a step backwards.
Overall 4 out of 5
While the Vita has a lot of room for improvement , most of that improvement can be made in time and with firmware updates. I am giving it an optimistic four out of five stars because Sony has never delivered a poor piece of hardware to me. Every controller, every system, and every game they have made have lasted through the years, and each one has delivered on their promise to entertain. On the bright side it appears that the Vita has a healthy core of developers already working on games for it, and the hardware for the Vita is absolutely top notch. The only complaints about the hardware are the relatively minor complaint that battery technology hasn’t outpaced gaming technology, and that they did not include an internal hard drive. My personal recommendation is to wait for a year or the first price drop for the system (whichever comes first) before you buy it, hopefully by then the largest weakness of the system (compatibility and lack of built in game library) can be cured.
This review is Fat & Happy at 3,689 words.