Every year Isaac chooses my birthday gift. He chooses it... I buy it. That's how it is. For my most recent birthday (last November) he choosed a Sony PS Vita. Now I wasn't feeling that great about the idea but we got it.
It seem as if Sony has done little to nothing for promoting their most recent handheld console. Now that we own a Vita I can praise just how amazing it is... and finally Sony seem to be on the right path to make it a success.
We got the Wifi 3G model on special, a memory card (way too expensive) and a few retail games.
The Vita is a rather big device at a whopping 7.2 inches wide. It is wider then the PSP, Nintendo 3DS XL and iPod Touch. The 3G Vita weighs about 10 ounces. A meticulous balance of soft curves and hard lines makes the handheld appear plush and powerful yet playful and welcoming. The rounded metal edges conform perfectly to the curve of your index fingers as you grip the sides, while a rounded plastic bevel on the backside makes sure there are no sharp corners to press into your skin.
The Vita's massive physical size provides space for a luxurious and gorgeous 5" OLED touchscreen. The screen is actually bigger then an entire iPhone 4S. The screen's 960x544 pixel resolution might not sound like much compared to the retina screen of Apple's product but it looks incredibly sharp and bright. Glare or reflections aren't really a problem and its easy to lower the screen brightness to increase the battery life. The Vita screen is also a touchscreen, and a highly responsive one at that. There's no need for a stylus.
The Vita takes about one-and-a-half hours to charge completely when plugged into the included wall charger, or you can charge it through any standard USB power source using the included cable. A full charge will provide about five hours of gameplay. Of particular convenience is how a game can return to the precise moment when the battery died out - without any loading screens - after just a few minutes into recharging. This is due to the state-saving properties of the Vita itself, along with its hidden reserve battery.
Tapping the power button immediately puts the Vita into standby mode, shutting off the screen and inputs without fully shutting down any currently running apps or games. The system can last a couple of days in this mode when fully charged, but those who want to keep their juice longer should hold down the button and turn the system off completely (though you'll have to suffer through a 20-30 second startup sequence when you flip it back on). When in standby, tapping the power button or the PS button brings the system back to life almost instantaneously.
For hardcore gamers, we get two analog sticks, a first for a handheld system. They have a rubbery feel and work perfectly. We also get the standard button and D-pad layout. Two clear, rounded shoulder buttons on the top corners of the system round out the major controller inputs. The rear touchpad is a cool concept but so far I haven't had the chance to experiment with it so much. Both capacitive multi-touch screens are as reliable and responsive as any high-end smartphone, though the obscured rear-pad requires too much finger-position guesswork to be considered particularly useful.
The Vita comes with both rear and front-facing cameras, which can be used to takes pictures and videos as well as to provide "augmented reality" options in certain games. Both cameras take functional pictures at VGA, 640x480 pixel resolution with no flash or even a digital zoom function. Sadly, they are as terrible as one could expect from such device.
The Vita has three protected slots to insert various cards. They are a incredibly awkward to open and feel kinda cheap and plastic. The Vita connects to its charger or to an external PC, Mac or PS3 via a proprietary jack at the bottom of the system. There's a headphone jack at the bottom along with with two volume buttons on the top edge of the system. The system's built-in speakers are surprisingly loud, crisp and clear.
The Playstation Vita features a completely touch-based interface interface. To get to the system's main menu, you make a quick, satisfying swipe on a little overhanging paper-fold in the upper right corner to peel away that intro screen. You get customizable wallpaper that shows the date and time, as well as recent notifications like new messages or completed downloads. Flicking left or right, on the other hand, cycles through screens for up to six concurrent multitasking apps. To close an app, you flick the folded paper corner of its screen using the same swiping motion you used to start the system, pulling the card away into the ether.
While the app circles are a good idea, I would have preferred a more stylish and designed interface. This feels too much like something designed for toddlers. It feels very anti-Playstation. Tapping a circle on the menu launches a full-screen "LiveArea" card for that app. These cards serve as a sort of quick launch menu, letting you perform certain functions or jump to certain areas of the app or game immediately—without having to launch it directly.
When you're inside an app or game, new alerts and notifications such as messages, trophy unlocks, friend requests, and completed downloads appear in a small message in the upper right corner. After returning to the main menu with a tap of the PlayStation button, you can bring up a nice, compact list of recent notifications by tapping the bubble in that corner. Tapping any entry in that list takes you directly to the appropriate app for further action. It is subtle and not annoying.
The handheld allows for six apps to run in the background (unfortunately, selecting any more will close others without warning), and only one of these can be a game. It will frequently be observed that some memory-intense apps cannot be opened until others are closed.
It comes already with some apps like "Welcome Park" in which you get to learn how to use your Vita through some mini games. "Party" in which you can chat and play games with up to 7 friends. "PS Store" which you will find yourself going a lot to get games, dlc and more. The interface is clean and easy to navigate. And there are lots of awesome games available only through the "PS Store".
"Near" is a very cool Vita exclusive social networking app that's primarily based around physical proximity. When you use Near to check-in with your location, you can see how many people nearby are playing games that you've played. You can send challenges to those players and make new friends. There's even a mini-game of sorts built in to Near that lets you download "Game Goods," such as soundtrack and character unlocks, that are dropped by people who have been near your current location. Personally I love "Near".
There is also "Group Messaging", "Trophies", "Photos", "Browser", "Music", "Videos", "Remote Play", "Content Manager", "Maps", "Email" and "Setting". In "Trophies", you can see your games progress from you Vita but also PS3. You take transfer your photo, music and videos from your computer to your Vita but you will need one of those Sony memory card. The "Browser" works well and could be useful for some limited web surfing. With "Content Manager" you will be able to backup on your computer the games you downloaded on your memory card. "Maps" is actually Google Maps. As you can see, there are lots of great apps already available.
Most problematic for Sony is that nearly everything associated with Vita adds to an overall impression that it's a prohibitively expensive device. Just look at the memory card. 32GB goes for $100, which is simply too much.
Yet with the Playstation Plus now also for the Vita, the hundreds of Playstation One, PSP, PS Mobile games available we are getting a huge catalogue of great games. Cross-Controller, Cross-Play, Cross-Save and Cross-Buy are all great indications that Sony believes in the Vita. Cross-Play lets Vita and PS3 owners of the same game play against each other. Cross-Save, meanwhile, can allow someone to switch their game between the PS3 and Vita versions on demand. With Cross-Buy, those that buy PS3 editions of certain games will be given the option download the game on their Vita for free.
As you can see, we seriously love our new Sony PS Vita. So much that I even started a blog about it so that I would keep us informed with everything released.
Back with more toys tomorrow!