Newest Review: ... multitask. When you're on an application, you can click the PS button to access the LiveArea and visit another one, before closing it when... more
Great device and great games, shame you have to pay through your nose to save your progress.
Sony PlayStation Vita
Member Name: illogicology
Sony PlayStation Vita
Date: 05/03/12, updated on 05/03/12 (48 review reads)
Advantages: Beautiful screen, great games, nice controls.
Disadvantages: Expensive memory cards, no internal storage, pain to get videos running on it.
Ah! Another year, another game's console. The PS Vita launched at the end of February and is Sony's successor to their PSP console. The device retails at around £230 for the Wi-Fi model and £280 for the 3G version, but if you shop around you can beat those prices by at least £20. This review will not cover the features of the 3G model, but I will cover why I chose the Wi-Fi model.
In marketing the PS Vita, Sony have boasted of some of the best graphics on a handheld device as well as two analogue sticks and double touch inputs. The Vita is being pitched as a real gamer's device, and retailing at the same as the 3DS did at launch, Nintendo could be looking at some serious competition if the device lives up to Sony's claims. After taking the time to play about with it as much as possible, I'm ready to give my thoughts and they're mostly very positive.
- - -
Construction and Quality
At first glance the device looks a lot like a PSP. It's somewhat bigger and sits comfortably in a two handed grip. The central feature is the big shiny screen which is larger than most phones and takes up most of the face. Either side are the D-Pad and face buttons to match any Playstation controller along with the two little analogue sticks which are much smaller than they seem in pictures. Honestly, the buttons feel a little cramped but it doesn't take too long to adjust. The front also contains the Start, Select and PS button generally used for OS and Menu functions. I can't say they're particularly well placed, they're stuck on the sides and you really have to break from what you're doing to use them, but you're rarely going to need to find them in a second so it's tolerable.
On the back there are two wide grooves to rest your fingers and the touch pad which has a nice Triangle, Square, Circle, Cross motif from the Playstation brand. Presumably the grooves are to stop your fingers trailing onto the rear touchpad when you don't want them too, but I find them a bit close to the edges. The device feels rock solid and the plastic doesn't seem cheap or tacky. Games consoles rarely look as premium as Apple devices or expensive phones, and this is no exception, but among gaming handhelds this is pretty tidy and sharp.
- - -
A lot of reviewers have raved about the PS Vita's screen and I'm going to join them. It is, without a doubt, the best screen ever seen on a handheld device and beats a lot of pricey phones and tablets too. It uses a five inch OLED screen with a resolution of 960x544. While this is still less than HD's minimum resolution of 720p, on a five inch screen it is beautiful. However, where it really shines is in black levels and colour. This screen is plainly gorgeous, in my first few days I loaded a few videos and photos onto it and all looked dramatically improved. It is vibrant, sharp and responsive with none of the smearing that ruined the early PSP models. Anything you run through it will look beautiful. The only drawback is that you'll have to continually wipe your smudgy fingermarks from it.
- - -
User Interface and Basic Features
Firstly, I think it has to be said that the PS Vita is one of the few devices to really surprise me once I got it into my hands. If you have asked me to describe the Vita before launch I would have told you it was a modern incarnation of the PSP, a handheld gaming device with some added touch inputs and two analogue sticks. It's incredible how much you perception of the device changes once you have a little play with it. I'd now say the PS Vita is a very competent iPhone style device with PSP style controls fitted to the sides. The distinction between those two descriptions might seem subtle, but it actually changes the whole philosophy of the device once you get it booted up.
Upon starting you'll be greeted to the usual Mobile device setup wizard everything seems to have these days. Name, timezone, location etc. and you'll also be prompted to put in your Playstation Network details if you have an account. If not, it's worth signing up for one as some of the Vita's best features use it. More on that later. When you're done setting up and you get into the system it'll request you play a little game called Welcome Park. It's basically a collection of tutorial minigames that cover the various Vita control options and is worth doing.
Once you're done and ready to explore, you'll find an OS that's similar to a lot of touch devices now. If you're used to navigating a PSP or PS3, the familiar XMB is gone and instead is a touch screen, App desktop type display. Instead of the familiar little squares of an iPhone, you're got the Vita's bubbles, but everything else works the same. Tap a bubble to launch an App, swipe down to see more pages of Apps, swipe right to see Apps currently running. You will never use the analogue sticks or D-Pad for navigating the OS, this is a touch device at its heart.
Anyone who has used an iPhone or Android phone will probably be up and running in no time, but there's a downside. While it emulates modern touch operating systems, it's not as smooth or simple. There's always a little too much on the screen when you really start using it and you have to view a sort of splash page before you launch any app. These pages aren't too bad as they give you the buttons for user manuals and websites and other extras, but often you just want to launch into an app without the extra steps.
I don't want to sound too down on it, everything works well and you can navigate to anything without too much hassle, but it's hard to shake the feeling that this is a sort of B-List iOS. In some respects, this is a good thing. It is far more suitable for the device than the XMB and it's far ahead of the fiddly, slow interface on the 3DS. For those who have never used similar devices, it might be a revelation, for everyone else it's functional but cheap.
On the plus side, there are lots of extras hidden away without remembering button combinations. A lot of the time, simply holding a finger on the touch screen will reveal extra settings related to whatever you're currently doing. Often these will contain helpful tweaks or customisation options.
The device features two cameras, mostly for AR games and video chat though you can take pictures. They're really feeble quality though and probably won't see much use.
- - -
Games and Gaming
I don't want to delve too far into details of specific games as I think they'd be better served in separate reviews, however I think it's important to discuss the PS Vita's capabilities as a gaming device in at least a general sense. The device runs Vita games from a cartridge or download, it also runs downloadable PSP games. At launch all games are available as both physical copies and downloads, some games also have cross compatibility with the PS3, allowing you to buy the game once and play it on both systems. This includes the ability to share your progress across both versions. You can start a game on your PS3 in the morning, switch to the Vita on your bus ride into work and then sync up and finish on the PS3 in the evening. This is a great arrangement that makes the PS Vita better value to anyone who already owns a PS3.
Games themselves are wonderful to play on the Vita and the much touted hardware power shines through. The very popular Uncharted series on the PS3 has sprouted on the Vita with Uncharted: Golden Abyss as a launch title. On the PS3 the series is known for its incredible graphics and while Uncharted on the Vita doesn't look as good, it's hard to believe just how close it gets. This is a monster of a handheld, capable of games that really do look as good as a lot of home console games.
But, looks aren't everything, and the Vita really delivers when it comes to controls. How well a game controls will always differ from title to title, but the Vita offers some very nice analogue sticks that work as well as most I've used. I wouldn't say they're drastically better than the 3DS Circle Pad, but they're definitely an improvement. The console also makes use of touch inputs on the front and back. Altogether, the console offers a variety of inputs that felt comfortable and responsive in most of the games I've tested.
One in particular, Motorstorm RC, makes use of the dual analogue sticks almost exclusively. It also handles well, looks great and connects with the PS3. At £4.79 it is easily one of the Vita's best value titles, as well as the most fun. Most titles are priced at the same as PS3 and Xbox 360 titles, but if Sony can keep offering great titles on PS3 and Vita for less than a fiver, this console has a bright future.
Overall, games will vary, but your experience with the Vita will probably only be limited by the time it takes you to adjust to its layout. It offers controls for both action packed giant games and small iPhone style touch apps, and both seem to work equally well. It seems sometimes you can please everyone.
- - -
PSP Backwards Compatibility
If you're an owner of a PSP or PSPGo system then the Vita will also play your PSP games. However, it has no UMD drive and so is limited to games downloaded from the store. The selection on the store is good, but not great, and you'll find some favourites are missing. However, if you already have a library of titles in your download list, the Vita does a great job with these games.
The Vita's screen is so much better than any PSP that it's almost hard to believe. If you're upgrading from a PSP or PSP 2000 you might not believe you're playing the same game. Colours are stark and without the aggressive smudging, you'll probably find your PSP games looked better than you thought they did. The Vita screen is also exactly four times the resolution of the PSP which means there are no scaling errors. Things can be a bit pixellated however. Included in the options is a "bilinear filter" which tried to scale the picture a bit more intelligently. It improves some games and not others, but it's easy enough to switch on and off so you can play it by ear.
The Vita also allows you to map the right analogue stick to different PSP controls. Often on the PSP shooter titles would operate by having the player walk with the analogue stick and look around with the face buttons, now you can get a basic dual-analogue setup in these games. It's not perfect, but it's much better than the alternative.
Backwards compatibility really helps a console feel more full at launch. Including a UMD drive would never have been a good idea, but I'm glad they've worked so well to get the Vita playing nice with downloadable PSP titles.
- - -
Like most portable devices today, the Vita will play music and video. Transferring can be a bit fiddly though and requires installing a programme called Content Assistant onto your computer. This software doesn't work like iTunes or the PSP's MediaGo though, and just lets you pick a folder where your Vita can look for media. The transferring is all done on the Vita and is easy enough to do, though transfers are a bit slow. Music is easy enough with most popular formats support. Sound quality is reasonable through the Vita's little speakers, but better through headphones. The Vita also does a good job with metadata like Artist, Album, Song and Covers. It's a fairly nice device to listen to music on, but it's not going to replace anyone's iPod. However, as an added bonus, any music on the device can be used as a custom soundtrack for your games. Personally, I don't use custom soundtracks, but I know a lot of people will like the option.
As for video, things get a bit more tricky. Technically, you can put video on the Vita and it looks absolutely beautiful when it's on there. The only problem is that the Vita will only take one kind of video, .MP4 and as most people in the world work with .avi for SD content and .mkv for HD, you're going to need to do some converting. There's software out there to do it, but if you don't know what you're doing it can be an unpleasant job. It's a real shame considering how decent the movie player app is and the quality of the screen on top of it. Of course, you can also download films and TV shows from the Playstation Store, but I find the prices quite repugnant.
- - -
With the Vita Sony have tried hard to correct a lot of the mistakes they made with the PS3. Online is prioritised right out of the box and features a lot of really good features. You can chat to any Vita owner in your friend's list no matter what else you're doing on the console. Online play is supported and seems to work quite well. The device even includes Trophy support on all its games, something that was very much missing on the PSP.
You can also download social apps like Facebook or Twitter. These work well and are much better than trying to use the Vita's browser which is not so well designed. There's really not that much to say about Online features, save that they work. That's great, but it's really to be expected now.
If you decide to buy a 3G Vita, you'll have some extra options. There's a Foursquare app on the store which is a bit pointless for the Wi-Fi model, but very handy with 3G. The Vita also features an app called Near which tells you about other Vita users nearby and what they're doing. You don't have to share with Near, but if you do it will let you make friends and swap data etc. This works on the Wi-Fi model but only when you're connected so unless Vita users start crowding the Wi-Fi hotspots it's a bit useless.
However, the 3G Vita is only really useful for these little updates. You can check messages, use the social apps and brows a bit, but you can't download from the store or play online. As with most 3G devices, in my opinion, the benefits are very nice, but won't really justify the extra cost until 3G bandwidth increases and prices drop.
- - -
If I've made the Vita sound like a great little device the good, it is. It's a great balance between powerful gaming device and portable gadget. However, there's a negative that looms over the Vita. The device itself is great, but it features no internal storage. You have to buy memory cards. These memory cards are small, expensive and proprietary. This is no optional extra either. To play games, buy apps, take pictures, you're going to have to buy a memory card. Games don't save to their cartridge they save to a card, plenty won't even play without a card in the machine. Despite being largely the same as SD cards in construction, Sony want you to buy their special shaped branded cards with the cheapest being around £15 and only 4gb. The largest in the UK, the 16gb is around £40. This is unfair and expensive. A comparable SD card would cost around half that. While Sony claim this is motivated by a need for parity between users, with everyone operating from a fast enough class of card, Sony's own cards have been tested and they are miserably slow. It's a cash grab, plain a simple.
Furthermore, it fundamentally weakens the whole device. Sony have made a tremendous push into digital distribution with this console, and yet the biggest memory card available in this country would be maxed out in no time. Games aren't small, and if you want to put on some music or a film, you're going to be even more tightly squeezed. The 4GB stick is expensive and practically useless, I made the mistake of thinking it would be sufficient and filled it with one small Vita game, a PSP game and an episode of Doctor Who which I'd already compressed quite some way.
It's a real shame that will do a lot of hard to a device that could do so well with 2GB of built in memory, and slightly cheaper memory cards. This would satisfy people would are just going to buy games on cartridge not download, and make Sony seem less harsh to those of us who want to download.
- - -
Is the Vita a good device? Yes. It's a very nice touch screen device that feels a like a reasonable, if slightly cheap, alternative to iOS or Android devices. Its got a lot of functionality including cameras, facebook, twitter, good online services and more. On top of all that, it's built into a real gamer's shell with great control inputs. The variety between all the different ways to play should please most people, and while the device doesn't sit as nicely in the hand as an iPhone, it's still comfortable. The highlight of the device is its stunning screen which makes gameplay, video playback and just using the device an absolute pleasure.
The games themselves are great, looking like real big budget titles that really impress. Together with the more App style games and the cross compatibility with the PS3, the Vita is a device that offers a lot to gamers. Particularly those who already own other Sony products. If you have a back catalogue of PSP games and videos from the Playstation Store, you're going to be able to use a lot of those on this device. It really feels like an extension of your PS3.
Media functions are nice, but a little limited by video formats. If you put the work in to get stuff onto the device, viewing and listening is a pleasant experience.
However, overshadowing everything is the lack of internal storage and the hight price of mandatory memory cards. The system is pretty much unusable without one, and it could easily have been made to support SD cards. It inflates the price and if you buy a smaller card you're forever going to be swapping games in and out which is not something you can do quickly. It's a cheap move by Sony that really spoils an otherwise excellent all round effort.
Summary: A very well designed device that offers so much but really messes up when it comes to storage.