The Sony PlayStation Vita is the spiritual successor to the PSP, which was launched almost seven years ago. But it's more than just a portable gaming machine, with two cameras, a web browser, Bluetooth, WiFi, and even optional 3G mobile data service from AT&T.
The Vita officially launched with a $250 WiFi-only model and a $300 3G/WiFi model. This review covers the First Edition bundle that released early with a 3G/WiFi Vita, a 4GB memory card, limited edition case, and a copy of Little Deviants.
While the Vita may be a handheld gaming console, it most definitely is not a pocketable one -- this device is very large. At 7 1/8-inches wide, 3 1/8 inches tall, and roughly 3/4 of an inch thick, it's slightly larger than the original PSP device, but not unbearably so. Surprisingly enough it doesn't feel all that big when you're actually using it, mainly because your eyes are so drawn to that gorgeous OLED screen that you're not thinking about anything else.
It's also surprisingly light; when I first tried a demo unit a couple of weeks ago, I was suspicious that it didn't have a full battery since it was designed to be tethered to an in-store display. When I received the retail device, however, I was pleased by just how light the Vita really is.
All of the edges are appropriately rounded, and it's comfortable to hold in your hands, even during longer gaming sessions. My fingers naturally find the grips on the back, and all of the controls are in reach. Though it is very large and you'll need a case or a gear bag to carry it around, I find the Vita to be elegantly designed and as sleek and slim as possible considering the large screen that dominates the front of the handheld.
The screen on the Vita is absolutely huge, and it's stunning. It's a 5-inch OLED touchscreen with a resolution of 960 x 544 that displays more than 16 million colors. While I was always pleased with the quality of the original PSP's display, the new Vita simply blows it away when it comes to clarity and brightness.
Text is extremely sharp and clear, colors are rich and saturated, and there's no pixelization to speak of. When you look extremely closely, you can see some slight jaggies around the edges of the icons on the home screen, but that's something you probably won't see unless you're looking for it specifically.
The touchscreen is quite accurate, and whether I was entering text on the virtual keyboard, scrolling up and down web pages, or playing a few rounds of Lumines or Touch My Katamari the touchscreen responded to my input exactly as expected.
The Vita has a virtual keyboard on its touchscreen display, and it works very well. The screen is large, so the buttons on the keyboard are big and there's enough space between the "keys" that I didn't have any problems with hitting the wrong ones.
The secondary keyboard with punctuation and numbers is accessible with a single tap, and I am really happy with its layout. The number keys are grouped together as on a numeric keypad or telephone, instead of being spread out across the entire top row of the keyboard. They're much faster and easier to use that way.
One very slight disappointment-there's no caps lock function, or else I haven't found it yet. I was hoping that a double tap on the shift key would turn on caps lock, but it doesn't, meaning that you have to hit the shift key every single time you want to capitalize a letter. That's something that could be easily fixed with a future firmware update, and I hope that they do.
Other Buttons & Controls
There's a lot to talk about here, because one of the things that sets the Vita apart is all of the buttons and controls that make gaming so much more precise than you can hope for in a touch-only interface.
Starting at the top of the device, you'll find the power button, the the slots for Vita game cards and memory cards, followed by the volume up and down buttons. The clear buttons on each side of the top are the left and right triggers, and they feel nice -- tight without being difficult to activate.
On the bottom of the Vita you'll see the charge/sync port (yes, it's proprietary), the headphone jack, and the SIM card slot (if you purchased the 3G model). All of the card slots, the SIM card slot here on the bottom and the game and memory card slots on the top, are covered by small doors that are permanently attached. They're slightly difficult to pry open with a fingernail, but then again the only card you'll likely be changing on a regular basis is the game card.
The front of the device is where all of the gaming action takes place, so there are lots of buttons and controls there. The D-pad is on the left with the traditional PlayStation buttons on the right, with the dual analog sticks on each side, just below the buttons. Like the shoulder triggers, the face buttons are tight and responsive, and "clicky" rather than mushy. They are very small, all things considered, but they work well and I haven't had any trouble with unintended consequences during gameplay.
The PlayStation button is one you'll be using a lot -- to switch between apps, to wake the device from sleep, and so on. Like the select and start buttons on the right hand side, it's flush-mounted with the front of the Vita itself. That low profile design is attractive, but can make finding those buttons in a hurry somewhat frustrating. That's especially true for the start button, which also doubles as the pause button as well.
The back of the Vita has grips on each side for your fingers, but most of the back is made up of the rear touchpad. It takes a little getting used to at first; the hard part is of course synchronizing your use of the rear touchpad with what's happening on the front of the screen. But once you get the hang of it you'll find that it has the potential to revolutionize portable gameplay. Some titles use the additional input only a little, as on the case of Escape Plan, where you sometimes need to poke your character into action, or in Lumines, where you can recharge a special power by drumming your fingers on the rear touch panel. Other games make more extensive use of it, such as in Little Deviants and ModNation Racers.
All PS Vita hardware purchases come with an AC adapter, power cord, and USB cable. Since the connector is proprietary, you will have to use the charger that comes with the device unless and until third-party developers start making compatible accessories. Depending on the bundle you purchase, you'll also receive a memory card (which is a necessity for game saves and media), a carrying case, a game, or a free month of 3G service from AT&T.
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