Handheld gaming consoles have been around for a very long time, and the market has largely been dominated by Nintendo in the last couple of months – until Sony PlayStation released their Vita gaming console in February.
This is not Sony’s first dip at the handheld console market – they launched the highly-successful PSP (PlayStation Portable) in 2004, and it managed to sell 71.3 million units up until 2011. So with a lot of pressure and building public anticipation, they unleashed their latest unit into the market.
In terms of the design, the size and shape is comfortable – to a degree. The size is perfect for sitting snug in the user’s hands, and even long fingers do not feel awkward when reaching for the buttons and sticks, but the shape does feel a bit strange.
In a design aspect that almost mimics the feeling of a PlayStation controller; the Vita does have a degree of awkwardness to it. It is almost like it was not designed to fit comfortably, instead going for a more flat feeling.
But with that said, it is very easy to reach all the different buttons, although pressing the shoulder buttons might cause users to loosen their grip on the device – increasing the risk of a drop. It is also a little bit difficult to access the back touchpad, due to the straight design of the unit. Using the touchpad is not the problem – using it correctly is the key.
In terms of the sound, the output is great. Many handheld devices suffer from either overpowering the user or under-delivering in the audio department. The Vita managed to strike a balance between comfortable audio volume and going just slightly louder for noisy situations. The volume is also easily accessed by a button on the top of the casing.
The unit makes use of two small speakers on either side of the analogue sticks, and with the right game and distance from the speakers, will create an almost 3D-type sound. Although they can go pretty loud, the Vita also has a port for headphones, so users will be able to plug in their 3.5mm jacks straight into the unit.
The buttons are all well placed, but the only problem that we found, was that the Start and Select buttons were very small, compared to the rest of the console. All the buttons on the Vita are smaller replicas from the PlayStation 3 controller, but the Start and Select buttons seem to be at a smaller ratio.
On the inside, the Vita sports a four-core ARM Cortex-A9 MPCore processor and a four-core SGX543MP4+ graphics processing unit, making it one of the most powerful handheld gaming devices on the market. Thanks to the powerful GPU, it has the ability to produce really stunning graphics for such a little device.
Moving onto the software, the unit makes use of the LiveArea software as its main user interface, which lets user navigate through the menus by touching the screen and swiping their fingers. The system is very accurate and responsive, which is very important when playing games.
Most of the games released for the Vita make use of both the analogue controllers and the touchpad for gestures, so having an accurate system for finger swipes is crucial. The same with the back touchpad, it is highly sensitive towards touch, making for a great gaming experience.
In terms of battery power, the Vita provides gaming pleasure for about four to six hours. We tested the Vita on a flight to Ethiopia, and it lasted all the way there and halfway back. Granted, we played with reduced brightness and low volume, but it is still a great feat.
The amount of games that have been released for the Vita since its own release date has just grown by each passing week. Some really good titles are available, such as Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Little Deviants, ModNation Racers and Everybody’s Golf.
The PlayStation Vita is definitely one of the best handheld gaming units that we have played around with in a long time. If users have a PlayStation 3, they will also be able to connect the Vita to it for added functionality.
Its well worth a look, and will provide hours of fun. There is currently two versions available – a Wi-Fi version and 3G one. The 3G unit only becomes a necessity if users would like to play Vita games online with friends, otherwise the Wi-Fi version will be prefect. As of the end of February, 1.2-million units have been sold already.
Our score: 8.5/10
Charlie Fripp – Consumer Tech editor