Sony PlayStation Vita (Latest Model)- Black Handheld System (Wi-Fi) Reviews
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Sony PlayStation Vita (Latest Model)- Black Handheld System (Wi-Fi)

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SONY'S PlayStation Vita breathes new life into handheld gaming

Feb 14, 2012 (Updated Mar 6, 2012)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Awesome control options. Gorgeous screen. High build quality.

Cons:Expensive/ proprietary flash storage required. Still no L2 & R2.  No Flash/HTML5

The Bottom Line: Vita's raison d'etre is an apology for Sony's lack of wisdom designing the PSP. Fortunately,  Vita surpasses the lackluster competition with tricks learned from both handhelds and smartphones.


The PS: Vita has been on the market for a little over two months in Japan. My local importer got them during Christmas with a few of the launch games. I did not notice many major differences between the Japanese version and the US/North America launch version with the exception of the (X) and (O) button commands to cancel/confirm being swapped.  I’m upset about the long time gap between the US and Japan release because at least 50 people beat me to the YouTube review.  I prefer to be as early as possible…


Some Gamestops and some local retailers began selling the early launch Vita this morning, but, that model only comes with a 4GB memory card and the game "Little Deviants". If you wait till next week, you can get the Vita with an 8GB memory card and a free download of a PS Network game.




BUILD QUALITY


The PS: Vita is very large for a handheld because it offers an uncompromising 5” screen which dwarfs the PSP’s 4.3”.  The body of the Vita is far sturdier and forgiving to roughness than the original PSP.  It strikes a nice balance between feeling luxurious and allowing for kid hands to manipulate it.

The OLED screen is gorgeous and more importantly…huge.  Just about every portable gaming system that has been released gets the same comments about “vivid colors” and “sharp” images – so I won’t say any of that. What I will say is that the screen looks noticeably better than that on the last iteration of the PSP (3000) and will make any gamer happy with its high definition graphics which are only a smidgeon away from the actual quality of the PS3.  I don’t miss the lack of stereoscopic 3D like the Nintendo 3DS offered, and I sincerely doubt any serious gamer will.    

Play an old downloaded PSP game on the Vita and you're in for an upconverted; brighter, sharper treat.  It looks spectacular!


Sound is also crisp and clear through the Vita’s stereo speakers.  There is very little Bass performance though so you’ll want to get a good pair of earbuds. Skull Candy or BEATS will definitely be what the doctor ordered.  Volume isn’t that great due to the relatively small size of the stereo drivers.  I found the volume levels to be comparable with the PSP - albeit slightly louder.

Like other modern “smart” devices, the Vita offers dual cameras - one on front and one on back. The Vita doesn’t even attempt to offer “smartphone quality” - multi megapixel -digital imaging. Instead, it gives you basic VGA photographing abilities for in-app use or sharing over the built in web browser.  Pictures require as much light as possible or else they succumb to dreary, dark, grainy and smudgy resolution errors.

Connectivity is handled via WiFi in the regular $249 version (which won’t be released for a few weeks) or both WiFi and 3G in this $299 version. Considering the upgrade is only $50, it makes more sense to purchase the WiFi/3G version if you have a cellular carrier with reasonable data plans.  If you can’t afford the 3G access yet, you can always add it later.   If you happen to have a 4G smartphone that allows tethering, you can use that to connect to the internet. Vita allows you to connect directly to a wireless network, or to the PS3 so you can share its internet connection for updates or multiplayer gaming. Some games will allow you to transfer saved game files from the PS3 to the Vita to carry them to a friend's house and pick up where you left off. Remote Play is also available just like it was on PSP.


Among standout applications is “near”.  Near is a location-based service which allows you to communicate with nearby Vita users. You can see their user names, recent games played and other info they allow you privilege to.  If the nearby user reviews the game they play, you can read it. If you and he happen to be linkable via WiFi or 3G, you can challenge them to a game.  It isn’t so dissimilar from similar apps on iPhone, but, its implementation here is silk and opens up great possibilities for networking with other players.

There is a “Trophy” app which tracks your in-game achievements. Personally, I prefer XBOX360’s achievement system, but, for those of you used to the PS3, Vita will give you roughly the same experience.

Google Maps is available. It’s roughly the same app you’ve been using on your Android or iPhone with street view, satellite view, traffic information and the ability to display bookmarked locations. 





DUAL ANALOG STICKS!!!

The most important aspects of any gaming machine are the quality of the games and the quality of the control. 

I did my absolute best to verbally trash the PSP GO because of my anger with SONY for not redesigning it with dual analog sticks.  Had they done that, I’d have given it a thumbs up and it probably would have sold better.  Why?    Dual analog sticks make all the difference in 3D gameplay in many game genres – specifically First Person Shooters.   Modern First Person shooters require two analog sticks:  one for movement and the other for camera angles (looking).  On the PSP, I ended up being forced to use the face buttons to look around. A perfect example of this ridiculousness is found in PSP game RAINBOW 6 VEGAS.  Aiming was ridiculously difficult and the game felt unnatural compared to what I enjoyed playing on the Playstation 3 console.   Because of this continued omission, the entire PSP line was fundamentally flawed and never could reach its full potential.

Fortunately, Vita comes ready for serious 3D gaming action with a plethora of controls. The rear of the Vita offers touchpads, the front offers a touchscreen,  dual analog sticks, a D-pad,  4 action buttons and two shoulder buttons.  If all that isn’t enough, $ony took a lesson from Apple and included 6-axis motion sensing with an electronic compass. This way, a flying game such as Warhawk can be played without using the pads or sticks to fly the jets.


At first, I thought the rear touchpad would be a superfluous feature, but, it only takes one game session with Little Deviants - where you use it to manipulate the 3D game space's background - to convince you that in time,  developers will come up with spectacular ways to interact with games in the future. 


The Vita is by far the most sophisticated gaming device on the market and is now ready to go toe to toe with the best games available on any smartphone.   Whether the game you play makes use of just the touchscreen, the D-pad, or the sticks, there are so many possibilities opened up here that any gamer starving for portable action needs apply.

All is not perfect in the Vita’s control realm. The new action buttons make use of micro-switches rather than the PS3’s analog sensors. This means that a button is either activated or not activated. On PS3, you could vary the force of a button press to get different degrees of functionality.

I have big hands and I always prefer the XBOX360’s analog stick layout to the PS3’s because of the way the 360’s sticks are spaced further apart. However, the Vita’s sticks are spaced further than the PS3’s which allows them to be far more comfortable in my hands than the PS3’s controller ever was.  

What I must complain about is the action buttons. They are slightly small and adult hands may have some trouble with them. In fact, the (X) button is too close the right analog stick and I kept hitting it by accident.



OPERATING SYSTEM

SONY has dumped its now-familiar  “Xrossmediabar”  interface used on the PSP and PS3 for a more “tablet-like” browser which borrows elements you may recognize from  Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android.   This new interface  called, “LiveArea”,  is not unlike what I’ve seen on generic Chinese-made iPhone clones – although the execution is far superior.

With just 512MB of RAM on tap, you can’t keep multiple games open simultaneously. You can flick through running programs with a horizontal swipe.  To close unwanted apps, all you need to do is make a diagonal swipe motion and you’ll get a page-flipping animation, which whisks it away.  The operation is very similar to WEBOS and it’s very intuitive. 


The memory allotment is definitely a hinderance if you want to multitask. You can't simply suspend a game and go browsing the web or playing music without long load times between app switching. This is where the smartphones shine. 
 


For data-entry,  Vita makes use of an easy-to-use, gorgeous virtual keyboard.  With plenty of practice making virtual keyboards on their Xperia Play among other smartphones, this keyboard offers nicely spaced keys and functions such as auto-correct and suggestions.



Vita is also ready for online chat over WiFi. Thanks to it's bluetooth connectivity, you can easily connect your PS3 bluetooth headset (that you got with Warhawk) or a generic headset so you can talk trash online.  I connected it without a hitch to my Jabra BT800 and a Motorola S10 HD


$ony would have done better using a modified version of Android OS as the Vita's OS and Web browser like they did on the Xperia because at the moment, it doesn't offer Flash or HTML5 for playing embedded videos. Some aspects of browsing such as page rendering speed and zoom in/out are tediously slow. This day in age, that's a disappointment, but, there's a possibility it may be upgraded in the future.


MANUFACTURED OUTRAGE

When the PSP was released years ago, I recognized right away, that  $ony was going to do its best to milk gamers for cash with peripheral sales. The PSP did not have internal storage and required the purchase of a Memory Stick Pro Duo.  A 1GB stick added roughly $100 to the price of purchase because – at that time – flash memory was extremely expensive.


Nowadays, even the cheapest smartphones and media players  offer at least 8GB of internal storage on a solid state drive. If not – they offer easy upgradeability via SD cards or high capacity SDHC cards. While a 32GB SDHC card may retail at roughly $49, the lower capacity cards are ubiquitous and quickly depreciating.  Unfortunately, things with $ony are never quite that simple.


The Vita does not offer internal storage.  To make matters worse, the Vita isn’t even compatible with $ony’s now ubiquitous/inexpensive Pro Duo cards. No – you’re gonna’ have to spend long on the new “Vita Card”. Currently, Gamestop sells the 32GB version for $100,  16GB for $59.99 and  8GB for $34.99.


You will need a proprietary cable and a proprietary card reader to connect directly to a laptop/PC. 


Similar to the PSP GO, you can download games directly to the memory card. It takes just 2 games to fill the 4GB memory card and 4 games to completely fill the 8GB card. The 32GB card is a necessity if you want to carry at least 15 games with you.


Vita’s games come on their own cards and the system can only store one of them at a time in the system’s drive bay.  I can’t believe that after all these years and so many different game consoles, we are still using cartridges.  This is obviously an anti-piracy technique $ony is using to keep their money in-house, but,  at $39.99 a pop, Vita's games will also have an uphill climb whilst competing against the aggressively burgeoning game apps on smartphones which retail for less than $5 on average.   $ony truly needs to figure out a way to offer you a Vita port when you buy the console version of a game. 


 
 
BATTERY LIFE

The Vita has a very powerful processor that boasts quad cores, 128MB of VRAM and 512MB of RAM. It offers twice as much RAM as the PS3 does.  Problem is, when you add CPU’s this powerful to a handheld device, you’ve got to expect paltry battery life. 

It takes slightly less than 2 hours to charge the vita to 100%.  (2 and a half hours from a completely discharged battery)  My first full charge of the Vita returned only 4 hours of continuous use – while I was inspecting it and testing it.  On three subsequent full charges, the Vita averaged between 3 and 4 hours.  Simply put:  the longer you run games on it, the quicker the battery is depleted.   Web browsing won’t run down the battery as quickly since it doesn’t require as much horsepower. 


Maximum life can be had if you turn the screen off and simply use it to listen to the music player. However, that’s not what you bought it for. You bought it for gaming.   I’m not sure if any company will produce add-on battery peripherals, but, if they do clip on the back, they may be problematic when attempting to manipulate the rear touchpads.



SO OVERALL, WHAT DO I THINK ABOUT VITA???


I’ve used Verizon’s data delivery on the Xperia Play and I’ve used AT&T’s on numerous iPhones. I am not convinced the 3G service is good enough to give the Vita the low-latency needed for true multiplayer, but, I am convinced Verizon’s network – at least in my city – is adequate. Hopefully, Vita will one day be supported by Verizon.  Out of the box, you are given one of AT&T’s basic data plan to test the Vita on 3G for 250MB.  Once that time runs out, you’ll be subject to AT&T’s expensive data plans:  $15 for the 250MB plan and $30 for the 3GB plan.


3G multiplayer on the Vita is useless to say the least.  It does not make sense for me to criticize this aspect since data speed is related directly to location, the strength of the signal and the efficiency of the carrier. AT&T is currently overwhelmed by iPhones.  Using the Vita’s browser to do a 3G line speed test, I got just 2.54 Mbps (2543 Kbps/ 310 kB/s)  download speed and  0.56 Mbps (562 Kbps/ 69 kB/s)  upload speed.  In order to play lag free, you need at least 1.5 Mbps download / 1.0 Mbps upload.  The absolute best way to run Vita multiplayer is on a fast WiFi.  Testing on Fios WiFi returned speeds well above  1.23d/1.56u Mbps on average.


It’s a shame Sony didn’t implement dual analog control in the PSP because there is truly no reason the PSP GO couldn’t have been what the Vita is meant to be.  Without dwelling on Sony’s past blunders, what I can say is that the Vita is a must-buy investment for those of you who still play handheld games. The functionality of the Vita is right up there with that of the PS3. Graphics are top notch and control is unmatched by any other handheld – including the smartphones.  There are so many ways to interact with Vita that it will only be a matter of time before its overall software library is as gorged as the big consoles.


In time, you will see me reviewing Vita games. Of course, I’ll be waiting to get my hands on a version of Call of Duty or CRYSIS. Please remember to check back on me as I play and review these awesome titles.


Recommend this product? Yes

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